A Research Paper By Debora Hofmann, Leadership Coach, GERMANY
The Stories We Tell Ourselves
As a coach, I am focusing my work on young female leaders. They often work in organizations and systems that are constantly changing and evolving. While young women have many more opportunities today than a couple of decades ago, they are still confronted with barriers in those systems that are influencing their work.
At the same time, most of these young leaders are very often battling with limiting beliefs about themselves and the opportunities they can see for themselves. Those beliefs are not just holding the individual leader back to give her best, they are also a limitation for the whole organization. If she is in doubt about her possibilities, she might just not share the idea that she holds in her head. With this in mind, both the individual and each organization with young female leaders have a strong interest for the leaders to leave those limiting beliefs behind.
My goal as a Coach is to always be as effective as possible in my work with clients. So, in this work, I dived deep into different coaching approaches that might help my clients to overcome their limiting beliefs.
I´ve taken a closer look at Cognitive Behavioural Coaching (CBC), Neuro-Linguistic-Programing (NLP), and the “Clear Beliefs” Method by Lion Goodman to see if I can use them in the work with my clients.
But first, I’ll start with a couple of short definitions and I’ll also look into the question of how one can become aware of her limiting beliefs.
Limiting Beliefs Definitions
Here is a very broad definition to give a first understanding of limiting beliefs.
“Beliefs” are thoughts or thought patterns that first form the thinking and then the behavior. They also influence how one perceives the world and its possibilities.
Beliefs become “limiting” when they’re negative and stop someone from reaching goals.
Beliefs are “underlying” when one is not aware that they are at work. They are unconscious.
How Do We Become Aware of Limiting Beliefs?
Many of the limiting beliefs we are carrying around are underlying and therefore in the subconsciousness, yet still strongly at work in our life. Becoming aware of them is a crucial step so that we can deal with them.
Here are different strategies that could help ourselves and our clients to become aware of limiting beliefs.
Awareness of thoughts is something that needs to be learned and practiced. I remember clearly when I attended a course in university and the psychologist took us through mindfulness meditation. It was the first time that I heard someone say: „You can sit down and watch your thoughts as they come up and then leave again like clouds on the sky. You don’t need to act on them.“ That was quite revolutionary for me. 
The ICA paper on „underlying beliefs“ states that in any situation where you try to follow a personal commitment and you can’t execute it, there is a limiting belief working against you. You might have feelings of frustration, disempowerment, disharmony, sadness, and other negative emotions. That is always a good point to start exploring.
“General conclusions and life itself”
When you find yourself making general conclusions about yourself or life in general, that is another place to look for limiting beliefs: „This is just how I am, how life is, how it’s always been, and how it’s supposed to be. It just is.“ (Canning 2014, p.24f)
As a Coach…
As Coaches, it is one of our most important jobs to listen for limiting beliefs at work in our clients. Here are ways how we can support our clients.
Mirroring the words of our clients: “You just said: I’m always too afraid to speak up. What is coming up when I play those words back to you?
“What belief, opinion, or judgment are you reinforcing when you reinforce this same outcome again and again?”
“What is getting in the way of you handing in this application?”
“What hidden rules (or idea, thought, opinion, beliefs) do you think you have that could be stopping you from making the progress you desire?”
Once our clients are aware of their limiting beliefs at work, we can look for the best way to support them in overcoming those beliefs.
Underlying and Limiting Beliefs in Different Coaching Approaches
Limiting beliefs are always seen as something slightly different, depending on how the Coaching Approach is trying to solve and overcome such a belief. A short definition of a belief and introduction into the approach is therefore necessary, followed by a brief overview or examples of the techniques.
1. Cognitive Behavioural Coaching (CBC)
CBC was developed on the foundations of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, which was developed in the 1960s and 70s. This therapy form focuses on changing the thinking first and emotions will follow that change (Whitten 2009, p.11).
A. What Are Limiting Beliefs In CBC?
A limiting belief usually starts with „thinking errors“. A „thinking error“ once thought is not a big problem. But over time it can develop into a thought pattern and the usual „go-to“ explanation for a situation. This becomes then a limiting belief that is not helpful.
Helen Whitten, a Cognitive Behavioural Coach, lists typical thought patterns that we as Coaches can watch out for. (Whitten 2009, p. 34):
B. How to Overcome Limiting Beliefs Through CBC?
CBC has a very distinct way of working on limiting beliefs. A Coach will always start with the client listing certain situations that she finds frustrating or stressful. One situation needs to be chosen so that the Coach and the Client can work with it. The following ABCDE model is not only used in coaching sessions but also taught to the clients so that they become empowered to go through the process for themselves.
A= the Activating event or situation the client faces.
B= the Belief thought or expectation the client has concerning the situation.
C= the Consequential emotion and behavior resulting from B
D= Disputing the belief, questioning whether the client’s thinking is rational, empirical, and helping her achieve his desired goal.
E= Exchanging the thought for another thought that is constructive and supportive of the goal.
When the client and the Coach are finished with working their way through the ABCDE model it is recommended to go through A, B, and C again, only now with the exchange though that was just developed under E. This helps to deepen the new thought into the client’s thinking.
C. Discussion of CBT Approach
This approach might be helpful to identify a certain belief and find them as “not true”. However, the technique is only working on the cognitive level with the conscious mind. Lion Goodman says: “It’s like putting out the bulk of a forest fire but leaving the embers burning underground. One good wind can re-ignite the conflagration. Those old beliefs creep back in like unwanted ghosts.“ (Goodman 2020) He also says that the CBT approach is an “outside-in” approach that works for many people, but it can take many sessions and lots of practice to see long-term changes.
For my clients, I do believe this is a good starting point and helps to become aware of limiting beliefs and how they might show up in our thinking. Particularly the question of whether a thought is helpful I found interesting and it did move me forward in my process.
2. NLP (Neuro-Linguistic-Programming)
Neuro-Linguistic-Programming has its roots in California in the early 1970s at the University of Santa Cruz. Richard Bandler and Dr. John Grinder studied people “who they considered to be excellent communicators and brilliant at helping their clients change”. (Ready/Burton 2015, p.11)
After identifying what those people did and how they behaved, they were used as models for others that wanted to follow their success. “Modelling” is the very basic idea of NLP.
A. What Are Limiting Beliefs In NLP?
The idea that you shape your world through the way you see the world is crucial in NLP:
„In NLP a Limiting Belief is a Belief or decision we make about ourselves and/our model of the world that limits the way we live. That limiting belief will be inside the system within our internal world, therefore, shaping our responses to the external world and opportunities around us.“ (NLPworld.co.uk 2021)
B. How to Overcome Them ThroughNLP?
NLP offers different techniques to overcome limiting beliefs.
One very easy technique is “reframing”. You change the meaning and perspective of the limiting belief. “It might be hard now, but it will pay off over time.” (integritycoachingandtraining.com 2021)
Another technique that needs more teaching and training has to do with “changing the submodalities” of a limiting belief.
Here is an explanation of (sub)modalities:
“When you think of a belief, you make a picture, have a feeling, hear something or experience some combination of all three of these sensations. These qualities or your beliefs – visual (pictures), auditory (sound), and kinaesthetic (feelings) – are called modalities.” (Ready/Burton 2015 p. 52)
If we have a picture of a belief in our mind, in our imagination we can switch it to black&white, we can add color, we can make it bigger or smaller or move it around or play a scene backward. With those changes, the belief is supposed to have another or no impact at all in the future. (Bandler/Roberti 2014)
This technique is also working if we want to have an empowering belief at work in our life.
C. Discussion of NLP Approach
Reading through lots of NLP literature, watching videos, listening to audiobooks – I got the impression that NLP is a really interesting approach for anyone that wants to achieve things in life and finds herself limited. Some of the techniques are easy to learn and understand and might be already in use without any of us realizing that their origins are in NLP. Yet there are a ton of techniques that do need a lot of learning and training. And yet: Even a long-time NLP practitioner and NLP Coach that is accredited by ICF (Mike Bundrant) says that sometimes those techniques fail. That is when subconscious attachments are at work.
For me, this means that lots of these techniques might help my clients. But I must be aware of the limitations they have.
3. Clear Beliefs
An approach that is going a lot deeper than CBC or NLP is the “Clear Beliefs” approach by Lion Goodman, who is also accredited with ICF. For many years he had studied all sorts of different approaches, but the problem he found is: Most of the results they produce are neither complete nor permanent. He developed his very own set of techniques to get rid of limiting beliefs once and for all.
A. What Are Limiting Beliefs in the “Clear Beliefs” Approach?
For Lion Goodman limiting beliefs are like filters through which we experience our whole life. They are indoctrinated into us in early childhood and work from there for the rest of our life (Goodman 2020, p.13). And they are powerful.
„Our beliefs create our experience of reality by acting as colored lenses we see life through.“ (Goodman 2020, p.9)
They are experienced in all aspects of the self: physical, mental, emotional, energetic, and spiritual. To clear these beliefs a holistic approach is necessary that involves all areas of the Self ( Goodman 2020, p.16)
B. How to Overcome Limiting Beliefs Through “Clear Beliefs”?
The challenge with this approach is: There is no published literature on these techniques. You can get two e-books for free, in which Goodman explains what limiting beliefs are, how they form, and quite a bit of how you can learn to recognize them. Nothing about clearing them. To learn this you have to book an extended program.
You only see him demonstrating the technique “The Body as a Doorway to the subconscious”, which is an embodied mindfulness technique. That demonstration in a webinar is really impressive and it becomes clear that you need to be well trained to use this. You could easily do major damage to your clients.
About the techniques to clear beliefs we only know this: “In the Clear Beliefs Method, we use the power of guided imagery and visualization to produce dramatic results. When the brain/mind experiences something in the imagination, it accepts it as if that experience occurred (Goodman 2020, p.20).”
C. Discussion of Clear Beliefs Approach
This approach seems to be powerful and with a really deep impact on people’s life. I find it a bit scary as you get fast to those sensitive parts of your client. I feel intrigued and yet too novice as a Coach to see myself doing this work. But it might be a perfect thing to work towards in the next couple of years.
It was fascinating for me to see how differently these Coaching Approaches handle limiting beliefs, what they say how they should be treated but also becoming aware of the limitations they have.
I feel that CBC and NLP are a great starting point for me to work on my own limiting beliefs but also for my work with clients. And who knows: Maybe in a couple of years I feel experienced enough to get to the real juice with the approach of the Clear Beliefs approach.
It is a great learning journey that lays ahead of me.
Brown, Brené: dare to lead. Brave work. Tough conversations. Whole hearts.
Bandler, Richard/ Roberti, Alessio: How to Take Charge of your life. The user’s guide to NLP (audiobook)
Canning, Nancy: Your Life’s Calling. Getting unstuck and fulfilling your life lessons.
Minzlaff, Kathrine: The BEST-OF-ME Coaching Model (in the ICA forum)
Goodman, Lion: Clear Your Clients’ Limiting Beliefs… and clear your own limiting beliefs while you’re at it.
Free e-book: https://clearbeliefs.com/resources/
ICA paper on “underlying beliefs”
inlpcenter.org: Modul 1. The Deepest Dynamics of Change
integritycoachingandtraining.com: Reframe Those Limiting Beliefs!
NLPworld.co.uk: “Limiting Belief”
Ready, Romilla/ Burton, Kate: Neuro-linguistic Programming for Dummies
Whitten, Helen: Cognitive Behavioural Coaching Techniques for Dummies
 This quote is true for me as well: “I define a leader as anyone who takes responsibility for finding the potential in people and processes, and who dares to develop that potential.” (Brown 2018)
 Katherine Minzlaff wrote in her Coaching Model on the ICA forum that she wants to involve mindfulness exercises in the coaching session. That sounds like a really good idea to both help m clients to be more present and calm in the session itself and also learn the technique for everyday life as well.
 You can find his talk about this in the free recorded video that appears everywhere on his side. It has the title: Module 1. The Deepest Dynamic of Change (inlpcenter 2021)