If Entrepreneurship is a battle, most casualties stem from friendly fire or self-inflicted wounds. Noam Wasserman
Many people start their own business because they want to follow their passions and live life on their own terms. They’re often driven and are willing to do just about anything to get what they want.
Although entrepreneurs may have the “drive”, there are times when they can’t seem to get out of neutral or discover that they are not the ones driving. According to Noam Wasserman, an associate professor at Harvard Business School,
One of the key things about entrepreneurs is that they have far more potential to make decisions with both head and heart… When you’re taking the world on your shoulders, you have to ask yourself, Why am I doing this? If you only listen to your head, the decisions you make at every fork in the road can drive you farther from your personal promised land. (Buchanan, 2012)
It’s at those times when entrepreneurs’ heads and hearts are diverging that coaching can help bridge the gap and bring them back into alignment.
This paper will explore how coaching can be used to help entrepreneurs overcome their limiting beliefs when they are stuck at that fork in the road.
The Head and The Heart
The head and the heart are sometimes referred to as the thinking brain and the emotional brain. When they work together it becomes easier to see the big picture and resolve issues more effectively instead of simply reacting and making hasty decisions which can lead to less than optimal solutions. In addition, they feel more balanced and more positive,
Positivity opens us. The first core truth about positive emotions is that they open our hearts and our minds, making us more receptive and more creative. (Fredrickson, 2009, p.21)
Individually the head and heart are fully functional but a person can never feel sure that they are making the right decision.
The head, or thinking brain, is able to separate itself from the heart allowing it to view problems without emotion, as if they were happening to someone else. It can compare different scenarios and visualize the best solution by stepping out to see the bigger picture and looking back in to plan what to do next.
The heart, or emotional brain, is most comfortable and happiest when everything is familiar. It is resistant to change and will do anything to maintain long-term emotional patterns and habits. While the thinking brain can provide different solutions from the outside looking in, the emotional brain looks inside for past experiences with similar emotions attached to them. It then blocks the thinking brain and simply repeats the patterns of those past experiences. It views the situation as black or white, yes or no and nothing in between, as Atkinson and Chois put it
this either/or response… can be readily observed when people are immersed in fear-based thinking. (Atkinson, Chois, 2009, p.24).
The emotional brain is what protects people emotionally, which is why it is also called the “heart”. It looks at a problem and decides to stay with what is familiar and avoids pain at all costs in order to protect the person.
Fear often kicks in when a person moves beyond their comfort zone and begins treading into unknown waters. When this fear-based thinking sets in their limiting beliefs begin to surface. They need to ask themselves what their heart is telling them as well as what their head thinks before deciding on which path to take. It is when the head and heart are in alignment that confident decisions are made and purposeful, committed action can happen.
Beliefs are the rules people live by, whether they are conscious of it or not. They are based on the person’s experiences, not necessarily on fact, and they shape who they are and how they do things. “Beliefs act as self-fulfilling prophecies. They act as permissions as well as blocks to what we can do” (O’Connor, 2001, p.18). For example, if a person believes they do not deserve success, they will begin to act undeserving and sabotage their own success thus confirming their belief. If they believe that they do deserve success, they will appear more confident and the likelihood of their success increases, again confirming their belief.
A person may not be aware when a belief is holding them back because some beliefs lay hidden in the emotional brain. These limiting underlying beliefs change how people see the world, they warp reality, and they create a world that is only true to that person. When the thinking brain and the emotional brain are working together the person can become aware of these beliefs and then change can happen.
Entrepreneurs and Limiting Beliefs
A personal survey on Limiting Beliefs Entrepreneurs Have was posted on Linked In and Facebook. The survey consisted of ten limiting beliefs found while searching Linked In Entrepreneur Groups. The responders were asked to rate each belief on a scale of 1 to 5, 5 being a belief they definitely had. While most of the twenty-eight responders indicated they had all ten limiting beliefs at different levels the top 3 were:
- Fear of not being able to execute
- Fear of failure
- Fear of putting themselves out there
While all of these limiting beliefs are unique, they all have fear as the common thread. Fear that they aren’t good enough, they don’t know enough, that they will be judged, that they will disappoint their families, and that their decisions will cause their business to fail.
Most fear is generated when they begin thinking about either something they have never done before, or they have tried it and it didn’t work. When self-doubt seeps in, negative self-talk begins, and their emotional brain takes over. If they are not careful they will make these beliefs come true unless they manage to think with their heads and hearts, not just with their hearts alone.
Knowing When Limiting Beliefs are Present
A coach can indentify when limiting beliefs are present with the language their clients use. In coaching conversations the client will often use expressions that reveal their limiting beliefs, like “don’t”, “didn’t”, “can’t”, “should”, “shouldn’t”. These are indicators that they are talking about their beliefs.
According to NLP innovators Dilts and DeLozier, there are 3 main ways people limit themselves.
Hopelessness: The person believes there is no hope; they don’t believe it is possible to achieve something.
Helplessness: They may believe it is possible but they don’t think they are capable to do it.
Worthlessness: They believe they are not worthy of something and they don’t believe it’s possible to attain it.
Coaching can support entrepreneurs to move pass these beliefs by helping to merge the head and the heart. The first step is helping them become aware of these beliefs so they can make a choice to change it.
There are many tools a coach can use to help entrepreneurs become self-aware and pinpoint their limiting beliefs. The tools that will be explored here are Brainstorming, Story-telling, and Forward Thinking.
Coach: “I’m curious about something, you mentioned that you don’t feel you’ll be able to finish the project, can you tell me a bit more about that?”
Client: “Well, I just don’t think I can do it. I don’t know what I was thinking saying I could have it done with such a tight dead line. It’s ridiculous to even think it’s possible! I’m going to lose this client!”
Coach: “Just so I’m clear, you believe that if you don’t finish the project in time for the deadline you will lose your client. Is that correct?”
Client: “Yah, I’m going to disappoint him, he is really depending on me to get this done.”