How to change self-limiting beliefs through coaching?
Beliefs are not necessarily easy to change, but they tell you where to begin Carol S.Dweck
Clients come to coaching because they want a change. They want a better life – MORE love, fulfilling and meaningful work, better relationships, more revenues and prosperity. They want LESS stress, confusion and suffering. And sometimes, they have important goals to achieve – to become fit, to start a business, to get a job.
Clients may have tried to make the changes on their own albeit without lasting success. Change is not easy, especially changing beliefs that have been so ingrained that they have become a part of who we are. Clients come to coaching because they face obstacles and barriers that stop them from achieving all of the above. Often, they find themselves stuck and unable to move forward:
Coaching value proposition is essentially about 3 things: awareness, choice and action. Through coaching, clients gain awareness and clarity about where the gaps and opportunities are for growth in their lives. They explore their choices about the actions they can take or not to take. They act based on their awareness and choice and they learn from their actions.
Coaching allows clients to gain access to a wider range of perspectives and therefore add more choices. Clients’ choices are essentially about changing their beliefs (perceptions of themselves, their relationships and the world) and their attitudes and behaviours (ways of showing up in the world).
This thought leadership paper aims to explore the ways a coach can support clients through the process of changing their beliefs, in particular the self-limiting beliefs that hold them back from reaching their goals and dreams.
What are beliefs? Why are beliefs important?
According to Oxford dictionary, belief is
an acceptance that something exists or is true, especially one without proof.
Carol S. Dweck defines beliefs as
the mental representations and workings of the self, of their relationships, and of their world.
He argues that focusing on people’s beliefs as opposed to their simple preferences and habits or broad personality traits helps because
beliefs can typically be defined very precisely, measured very simply, and altered through interventions to reveal their direct impact. In contrast, broad personality traits can be assessed, but they contain no implications for how you might change them.
He claims that “beliefs are not necessarily easy to change, but they tell you where to begin”.
In the research paper “Can personality be changed? The role of Beliefs in Personality and Change”, Dweck argues that “ beliefs lie at the heart of personality and adaptive functioning and that they give us unique insights into how personality and functioning can be changed”.
More and more research suggests that far from being simply encoded in the genes, much of personality is flexible and dynamic thing (Mischel & Schoda, 1995): it changes over the life span and is shaped by experience (Robert, Walton, & Viechtbauer, 2006). Indeed, Allport (1964) defined personality in terms of consistent patterns of experience and action that are evident across multiple situations or life contexts. As such, beliefs, with their power to mold experience and action, are central to the definition of personality.
Lion Goodman, creator of the BeliefCloset Process for transforming beliefs, proclaims:
Here is an uncomfortable truth: Every limitation, block and barrier you experience is produced by a limiting belief inside you. You adopted each of your beliefs for a very good reason at a time. Most of your beliefs were indoctrinated into you by your parents, teachers or friends. You may have come to conclusions about yourself based on your experiences. You formed some beliefs in reaction to someone else. Regardless of their source, they’ve been preventing you from living your life as a full expression of your True self.
According to Goodman, there are three important facts about beliefs:
1) Beliefs operate like tiny reality-creating machines. Once a belief is created, it continually creates its reality until it is consciously destroyed or eliminated from your subconscious mind.
2) We have thousand of beliefs stored in our subconscious. They operate invisibly in the background, creating and filtering our experience of life and the world.
3) Beliefs can be permanently eliminated and replaced if you involve the conscious mind, the subconscious mind and the super-conscious mind simultaneously.
This is where it gets tricky as in coaching we work with clients on a conscious level, as the process of coaching is a cognitive process. Goodman argues that belief-change methodologies that use a thought-based approach never touch the deep emotional issues stored in subconscious. According to him,
all techniques produce some results, but mental-only approaches produce results that don’t go very deep, or don’t last.
Hence, I wanted to explore the following two questions:
Is it possible to change beliefs through the process of coaching?
and if yes,
How can coaching help clients change their self-limiting beliefs?
How to change self-limiting beliefs through coaching?
In coaching, we may frequently come across clients who struggle with self-limiting beliefs. For example, if our clients have the limiting belief that mistakes and failures are bad, they may avoid experiences that require them to get out of their comfort zones and try something new. They do not want to take the risk of feeling bad if they end up failing. Another example is when our clients have the limiting belief that “they do not belong”, which may lead to avoiding meeting other people and missing out on building enriching connections.
It seems that coaches can help clients to change their beliefs in two ways: by helping the clients identify and acknowledge their beliefs and by supporting clients in taking actions and creating experiences that lead to the elimination of self-limiting beliefs. The process is very much similar to Cognitive Behavioural Therapy process (CBT). CBT is a type of psychotherapeutic treatment that helps patients understand the thoughts and feelings that influence behaviours. The basic premise of CBT is that suffering is caused, not by people, places, conditions and things, but by thoughts about them. CBT is commonly used to treat a wide range of disorders including phobias, addiction, depression and anxiety.