Whether we admit it or not, all of us harbour limiting beliefs that impact our effectiveness in one way or another. That’s true regardless of our career stage, level of performance, ethnicity, gender or age. And so it follows that those of us who have fewer limiting beliefs or who have erased or diminished them will ultimately be more successful and/or content with our business and/or personal lives.
These limiting beliefs are also ‘bread and butter’ for the coaching industry. You might even argue that they’re the reason that coaches exist in the first place and why the industry has grown so rapidly. Whereas coaching used to be perceived as a remedial and a possibly ‘hush, hush’ practice, it is now considered almost a badge of honour for a C-suite executive or senior manager to have a coach. This suggests that successful individuals are more willing to acknowledge the damage that limiting beliefs can inflict and so more likely to seek out a coaching relationship that can help them erase or diminish them.
A limiting belief is a profoundly negative force within our own minds which hold us back from being the person we want to truly be. Even in familiar situations - a job interview, public speaking/presentations, a critically important meeting - the overwhelming majority of us will feel a level of conscious nervousness at some stage. It is that little inner critic in our heads and it is powerful. So powerful, in fact, that sometimes we can almost hear it.
Limiting beliefs can be a chronic - and sometimes very acute - malaise in the business world. And they are a seriously authentic barrier to outstanding individual and team performance. These negative beliefs are real and they will ultimately hurt your business if individuals are held back because of them. From experience, here are my top 10 in no particularly order (except the top one, which is significantly more commonplace than you might think).
- I am not good enough
- I must please people (my boss/team/colleagues/friends/family)
- I am a fraud (or I’m just lucky)
- There is never enough time in the day
- It or I must be perfect
- I am not motivated
- I don’t have enough experience or credentials
- I don’t need help / I am better than my peers
- I can’t handle failure / I need to succeed
- I must stay silent / not challenge
I am willing to bare my soul and admit that I have experienced most of these limiting beliefs at some stage. In fact they sometimes try their best to rear up even now. Luckily, I now view this as a light-hearted game to engage in, work through it very quickly and respond how I really want to.
In becoming an ICF Coach, I was fortunate to study (and unashamedly subsequently use) The Chimp Paradox by psychiatrist Dr Steve Peters. In it, he refers to our unconscious mind as our ‘autopilot’ or ‘computer’ and explores why we sometimes behave in an irrationally or impulsive way and why we react to certain situations with fear, trepidation and self-doubt. Many psychologists agree that much of our daily being or modus operandi is undertaken ‘unconsciously’. So if you think or feel any of the above, you can be sure that your unconscious mind will be holding you back even more. Pause and digest, because that is a very scary thought. I always challenge my coaching clients to imagine just how much lighter and easier it would be to operate at work without this mental baggage weighing them down all of the time - and then encourage them to commit to doing something about it. Essentially, that means re-wiring their habitual response or their ‘autopilot’.
Almost all limiting beliefs are merely perceived & embellished creations formed by authority figures in our childhood. They need to be challenged with a good dose of objectivity and logic, as they take commitment and hard work to erase or diminish. It can take as little as 20 minutes, 21 days (the period when new habits can be formed in the brain) or a lifetime, depending how hardened the belief is (and how hard you are willing to work at it).
It’s impossible to explore such a potentially complex area in a short article. But it is worthwhile examining how one might approach coaching someone through a limiting belief. It is also worth noting that you can also ‘self-coach’ if you feel this is beneficial to you:
- It is important you can generate true commitment from the person who wants to be coached. Without this, it’s game over!
- What is the real evidence for their belief? Discuss this in detail, as there often isn't any objectivity to support it. Revealing this is a key part of the process.
- Discuss how the limiting belief is currently 'paying you' or benefitting you.
- Imagine how their ‘ideal self’ would like to deal in the given situation instead
- Discuss the options available to the ‘ideal self’ to handle the situation differently
- Ascertain a realistic and short term action plan, with a review window within 4 weeks
- Review, discuss, preview, and repeat as necessary
To illustrate just how hard this process is, can I ask you to fold your arms? Now unfold them in the opposite way. Did the unfolded posture feel a bit strange? Working through a limiting belief will feel this awkward until your new response shows early signs of being a habit. Once this has been achieved you are close to success.
A critical final stage in cementing a new habit and erasing a negative one is to go right back to point 2) above and objectively review the positive benefits you have felt, experienced and genuinely delivered. The brain needs proof it is worth it to sustain the change. Without question, it is the most satisfying part of my profession when I witness or hear feedback from an individual or team. The impact on your people and your business will be profound - and this is an understatement.