A Coaching Power Tool Created by Barbara Busi
(Career Coach, FRANCE)
You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength. Marcus Aurelius
How many times have you been captured by negative thoughts and were you unable to act due to a belief generated by your mind? How did you feel? How did you react?
As human beings, oftentimes we can find ourselves in mental captivity, which is the manifestation of negative thoughts in a given situation based on past events, on the inputs of our environment or on personal beliefs:
- I do not deserve love
- I will not succeed in this exam
- I will never find the right partner
- I will fail as a mother
- I do not deserve this promotion
- People do not like me
Does any of this sound familiar?
As newly born babies, we were free of experience, of judgment, of rules and we came on Earth with a pure soul and mind. As we grow, our environment has more and more influence on our physical and mental development. Our parents, teachers, friends, the religion, the economy, etc. can heavily contribute to the construction of our belief & value system and our personality will be shaped in response to the inputs that we receive from our environment. Lise Bourbeau explains in her book “Les 5 blessures qui empêchent d’être soi-même” that at young age we are victims of “injuries” (rejection, abandonment, humiliation, betrayal, injustice) against which we try to reinforce ourselves by growing “masks” (fleeing against rejection, dependency against abandon, masochism against humiliation, controlling against betrayal, rigidity against injustice). A mask represents a type of person that has been shaped by the beliefs and these beliefs will impact his / her attitude and behavior in certain situations. According to the Business Dictionary attitude is a predisposition or a tendency to respond positively or negatively towards a certain idea, object, person, or situation. Attitude influences an individual’s choice of action, and responses to challenges, incentives, and rewards (together called stimuli). The repetition of these thoughts and a continuous negative narrative about yourself can even lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The more you describe your ongoing experiences in a particular way, the stronger the neural circuits that represent those thoughts will become. John B. Arden, Ph.D.
The major risk is that we let our mind enter into a whirlpool that is pulling us deeper and deeper and it can lead to anxiety, depression, fear, stress, lack of self-confidence or even psychosomatic symptoms & diseases.
You are not your thoughts, so what if you could break this chain of captivity and become free of negative thoughts?
If you don’t like something change it; if you can’t change it, change the way you think about it. Mary Engelbreit
According to John B. Arden, we have three levels of thoughts: automatic, assumptions and core beliefs.
- Automatic: momentarily flash thoughts during the day that can be conscious or subconscious.
You enter a room full of unknown people and you have a thought that you do not want to stay and become anxious. Whereas, you could see it as an opportunity to meet new people.
These thoughts can be rewired by adapting your self-talk
- Assumptions: are halfway between automatic thoughts and core beliefs. They can also be rewired by reflecting reality instead of worries
In a room filled with unknown people instead of saying I am bad creating contact, you could phrase differently: Maybe I am shy, but I find it exciting to liaise with new people
Similarly to automatic thoughts, assumptions can be rewired
- Core beliefs are generalizations about the world and yourself based on past experiences (as described above). Negative beliefs can cause insurmountable challenges on a daily basis and can result in continuous failing.
Thinking that you are unable to create new relationships, whereas, you could reformulate and say I am a lovable person and people around me realize it
Reframing core beliefs takes a long time and more investment
We have the power to create our own mental freedom, reframe negative thoughts and replace them with positive ones. Through coaching, we can reach impactful results and in the following chapters, I am going to present some techniques and tools that I applied successfully to help my clients change perspectives and reframe core beliefs.
- Either we continue to nourish them by listening to them, reflecting them to a given situation, worrying about them
- Or we can decide to acknowledge and embrace them but do not let them impact our feelings and the situation
- Avoid black and white thinking and consider several possibilities/opportunities. This will help to see the reality in a more objective way
- Check the context; it is possible that thoughts only reflect your own perceptions and opinions. They need to be considered in relation to a given context
- Be optimistic and consider each situation as an opportunity
- Detach yourself from repetitive negative beliefs
- Externalize problems when an unfortunate event occurs and consider it as a problem rather than a reflection of your worth
Next time it happens to you, just listen to them, acknowledge these thoughts and realize that these are just thoughts, so you have absolute control over them. Let’s see together how coaching can help to reframe perspectives and change negative thoughts to positive ones!
Susan came to the session with a professional issue that she has been facing for a while and wanted to find solutions to get out of the unpleasant situation. She is a senior consultant in the insurance sector and works for one of the biggest international insurance companies. However, each time she has to present her topics she feels insecure and loses all her means. She thinks that she is unable to perform at the expected level. She has this feeling for several months and as she says, she is becoming more and more stressed, tired, suffers from sleeping disorders and wants to cry before presentations. She felt desperate and could not find a way out of this situation.
Step 1 – searching for underlying beliefs
First of all, through Powerful Questioning, my aim was to make her discover what is hidden behind this feeling of insecurity, more specifically, what are the underlying beliefs. The following questions can be helpful to get close to these beliefs:
- What are the repeated thoughts that you have about this issue?
What are the feelings, emotions, voices that come over and over again?
Where do they come from?
What are the examples from your life that validate these thoughts?
- What does make you feel that way?
- How does it impact other areas of your life?
- Which situations or experiences always lead to the same negative thoughts?
- What values are being challenged here?
Thanks to powerful questions we managed to dig deeper and realize that her inner feeling of insecurity was coming from a lack of self-confidence. She did not trust her own capabilities and skills. She thought that people have a negative judgment about her. It turned out that no manager or employee has ever told her that her presentation or work was not satisfying. These ideas were sources of her own judgments. But self-confidence did not seem to be the real root cause, so I invited her to look deeper.
Downward arrow technique
With the help of a downward arrow technique, she managed to get to the real root cause. During the session, I was asking “What does that tell about you?” 2-3 times and she came to the conclusion that the real cause was that she thought that “She was not good enough”. This moment of awareness was shocking to my client and made her understand why she acted in certain ways in different areas of her life.
Step 2 – reframing perspectives
In this second phase, reframing perspectives, powerful questions can again be very useful. But this time, the focus is not on defining core beliefs, but on changing, reformulating them in a more positive way. The following questions can help to identify these new perspectives:
- What if these assumptions were not true?
- What else could be true?
- What would you need to make the change?
- What would you tell to your friend if she would be in the same situation?
- What would you rather believe? What would that feel like?
We can also invite the client to observe himself/herself as an external person. What options can help to overcome the difficulty and to change the point of view? It helps clients to detach emotions from the situation and come up with more objective solutions.
My personal experience is that visualization is a very powerful NLP technique that can help clients to move forward because it breaks limits and the client let his / her spontaneous thoughts to come. I usually invite them to imagine the desired situation, where there are no limits, burdens. Where they can express their true self and ask them to describe how it would look like.
I would like to underline that not all clients are receptive or wish to be part of such an experience. That is the reason why I always explain how it works and ask permission before starting the visualization.
Step 3 – anchoring positive thoughts through a clear action plan
Reframing already existing core beliefs takes time. That is the reason why it is important to anchor the expressed new, positive thoughts. In order to reach the desired transformation, it is important to support the client in the definition of a clear action plan and build in tools, techniques in the daily activity that can help to reinforce positive thoughts. The role of the coach is to use powerful questions that can help the client defining future actions and SMART goals. Some tools & methods can be useful for the client and could be incorporated into daily practice, such as:
We can invite our clients to think of themselves as the narrator of their life. They can construct a positive narrative around a specific situation that describes how they are going to use this situation as an opportunity. According to Martin E.P. Seligman, we can shift our explanatory styles and optimism can be learned. A higher level of optimism can help to achieve more, have a healthier and enjoyable life.
Attitude of gratitude
Being grateful for things/people / powerful moments that we have in life allows us to focus on positive things and reinforce them. It can also serve as a reminder when we feel negative thoughts coming.
The exercise can be even more powerful with the introduction of a gratitude journal in which we write down things that we are grateful for, proud of or excited about on a regular basis. Reading positive moments, events from time to time will reinforce our self-confidence and will make it easier to believe in our positive affirmations.
Mindfulness is also a wonderful exercise that can help the client to be in a state of mind in which we observe thoughts, emotions or actions without judgment. We are aware of them but we do not find it against them. In the mindful state, we appreciate the present moment and do not worry about the events of the past or what the future might bring since we have no impact on them. Studies show that regular mindfulness meditation can decrease stress, anxiety, and depression and can improve overall satisfaction levels. The exercise also allows cultivating more awareness and be less captured by negative thoughts.
Step 4 – verbalizing learning
Through the coaching process, the client can learn a lot about himself/herself and the situation. Verbalizing them can be beneficial and help to summarize the progress that the client went through. It is also a great opportunity to invite the client to think about how this learning can be used in the future when similar challenges arise.
- What did you learn about yourself?
- How could you use this learning in similar future situations?
Step 5 – celebrating success
The process of moving from the captivity of negative thoughts to mental freedom can take time. It is important to respect the pace of the client and celebrate achievements. Acknowledging what the client has accomplished will encourage her/him to take the next step and is a perfect reminder of the investment done.
Before starting coaching, I used to worry about everything and wanted to have control over my whole life. The more I wanted to control things, the more I lost control. I had negative thoughts about life, lost self-confidence and I have seen the glass half empty all the time. I was in a hamster wheel and could not find the way out. When I started to have health problems I realized that the only person who can change things is me, nobody else.
That was the moment when I decided that I want to heal myself and become strong enough physically, mentally and spiritually to be able to support my beloved ones and partner with people who are ready to start their transformation journey.
My personal opinion is that a good coach has to start work with self-reflection. We can easily be captured by negative thoughts and can only be an authentic and strong support to our clients if we are in a sound mind. That is the reason why I have my ritual before my coaching sessions and get myself prepared for coaching. It starts with a short meditation that allows me to be in a mindful state and to regain focus.
I realized that I am much more powerful as a coach when I am free from judgments, negative thoughts. Of course, negative thoughts can come to my mind as well, but I have learned to manage them. I am aware of them, but as soon as I realize them, I think about different opportunities and try to reframe them.
Since I have gone through this personal journey, I feel emotionally more balanced, calmer, and present in the moment and tasks that I do. I simply feel happier.
Freedom is a state of mind, unlock the cage and fly by changing your thoughts!
- What kind of thought do you have in mind right now?
- How do you feel about yourself?
- What is your current energy level?
- Consider a time when you were in the captivity of negative thoughts but you managed to make the shift and replaced them by positive ones. What did help you to make this shift? How did this shift make you feel?
- What are the strengths that can help you to replace negative thoughts with positive ones?
- What are those events/people/circumstances that bring you joy and generate positive thoughts?
- Think of a person who is always joyful and spreads positivity. What does this person do differently? What are the values that this person has?
Lise Bourbeau (2000): Les 5 blessures qui empêchent d’être soi-même
John B. Arden, Ph.D. (2010): Rewire Your Brain Think Your Way to a Better Life
Business Dictionary, the definition of attitude:http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/attitude.html
Martin E.P. Seligman (2006): Learned Optimism, How to Change Your Mind and Your Life