Limiting beliefs are based on evidence

Written by Matt Somers on . Posted in Coaching principles

Limiting beliefs are based on evidenceJo and Sam both work on the Organisation Development (OD) section of a large local authority and their work involves submitting proposals for OD to projects to the Senior Management Team for approval.

Jo believes that Senior Management do not support new ideas. She backs this up by explaining that her budget submission for this year was turned down flat and that this particularly upset her given that her previous year’s budget had been approved. She goes on to point out that in the last six months six out of ten project inception proposals had been declined. She feels that senior management are just too conservative and tend to reject anything new.

Sam believes that Senior Management are supportive of new ideas. To illustrate this he points out that although his budget for this year was turned down, last year’s submission, which was far more radical, was approved. He says that four out of every ten project inception proposals are approved and that many of the ones rejected should never have been submitted in the first place. In Sam’s view the Senior Management team are very conservative and so need a compelling case to support a new idea.

Same roles, same circumstances, same management team, but utterly polarised beliefs about them.

Believing the senior management team to be unsupportive Jo is likely to work on her budgets without any real enthusiasm and to do only what is necessary on her reports knowing they’ll probably be rejected anyway.

Believing the senior management team to be supportive, Sam is likely to produce a highly detailed budget submission and to make sure his reports show a strong supporting case for his suggestions.

Jo is likely to be turned down, Sam is likely to be supported, adding further supporting evidence to each of their beliefs.

The reinforcement of beliefs is further strengthened by an area of our brains known as the Reticular Activating System (RAS). Our RAS is a filtering system that prevents us being overloaded by the huge array of stimuli that assail our senses every day. Have you ever noticed that if you see a car with an unusual colour that you suddenly seem to see them everywhere? This is your RAS at work. Cars of that colour were always there but your RAS has now been alerted to notice them.

In our story above, Jo’s RAS will provide lots of supporting evidence to reinforce her belief about the senior team. Her brain will filter out anything that runs contrary. Sam’s on the other hand will do the opposite, providing proof that the team are supportive and confirming his beliefs.

The message for coaches is a simple one. If you uncover a limiting belief, challenge the evidence. Offer an alternative point of view and encourage your coachees to widen their perspective and to consider other points of view. You may not take away limiting beliefs overnight, but you can certainly loosen their hold.

Coaching and Limiting Beliefs

Written by Matt Somers on . Posted in Coaching principles


Limiting BeliefsThere is much talk in self-help and business improvement literature about beliefs. There is also much talk about vision and values, culture and ethos and much blurring at the edges of them all. So, let me firstly be clear about what I mean when I talk about beliefs. It is those things you hold to be ‘true’. For example, ‘the purpose of business is to make money’.

I attended a seminar recently and the first speaker clearly held this particular belief. At one point, he said that he defied anybody to claim that they were in business for any reason other than making money. A hand went up and a young man explained that no, for him business was about providing opportunities for people and building something from scratch. This was particularly galling and embarrassing for the first speaker as the young man was due to speak next and was clearly not ‘on message’.

Limiting beliefs are therefore those that interfere with our potential being released. They are the things which we hold to be true that prevent us taking action or doing things differently. Here are some of the ones I’ve come across on many occasions:

  • I will be in trouble if I get this wrong
  • Senior management will never support this idea
  • I’m the manager, I’m supposed to have all the answers
  • I must win at all costs
  • I am working, I am not here to enjoy myself

Some of you might believe some of these statements to be ‘true’ for you, and you might be right. Beliefs can never be proved as ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ or they’d be facts and not beliefs.

Our role as coaches is not to agree or disagree with such statement of belief; rather it is our job to encourage deeper thought and challenge the assumptions on which such beliefs are often founded.

Let’s imagine we’re coaching someone who wants to implement a new shift rota because they feel it will be fairer and more efficient but who also articulates the belief that I will be in trouble if I get this wrong. Some might say, ‘don’t be silly’ or ‘of course you won’t’ or ‘to hell with them, do it anyway’, but this is unlikely to prove helpful as none of these responses challenge the basis of the limiting belief. Instead we could ask, ‘How do you know you’ll be in trouble?’, ‘What sort of trouble will you be in?’, ‘Have you been in this situation before?’, ‘Do you know other people who’ve handled this situation?’, ‘What can you do now to ensure it won’t go wrong’

We can see that these questions would encourage our coachee to think in greater detail about why they believe they would be in trouble and to consider whether to risk it. None of our questions are judgemental and so we are unlikely to get into an argument over who’s right and who’s wrong.

Simply inviting the people we coach to re-consider the basis of their limiting beliefs is often enough to leave them feeling mobilised to do something despite them. Other times, when the belief is deep rooted, it may be necessary to explore further and to consider how such beliefs come to be formed.

We’ll look at that next time.

Internal Interference – A cause of yet more problems

Written by Matt Somers on . Posted in Coaching principles

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Internal Interference – A cause of yet more problemsA typical list of sources of internal interference would likely include the following:

  • Previous negative experience
  • Negative expectations
  • Negative self-talk
  • Fear of failure

Previous negative experience

My first assignment as an independent consultant was a disaster. I was asked to facilitate some sales training for a group of sales managers from a major airline. I misjudged the ability of the group and was ill-prepared to answer their questions. I got my timings all wrong and my sessions overran leaving my co-facilitator some serious remedial work to rescue the project.

Some months later I found myself assigned to a similar project. Reflecting on the first experience I was beginning to worry that the same thing would happen again which, given what I now know about self-fulfilling prophecies, it probably would have done. Luckily my coach at the time was able to help me make rational sense of my first experience, to put it into some perspective and, most importantly, take action in terms of preparation to avoid repeating the same mistakes.

Negative expectations

Some people see the glass as half empty and for others it’s half full. Some people expect the best to happen while others assume the worst. Critics of the coaching approach often accuse coaches of insisting every situation be viewed with breathless, naive optimism, but really the point is this: We tend to attract the circumstances we think about the most and so expecting the worst to happen increases the chances that it will. Coaching helps people shine a light on their expectations and check whether they are accurate or based on false assumptions.

Negative self-talk

Many people are in constant conversation with themselves, but the nature of this internal dialogue can have a profound effect on how well they might perform. ‘You’re gonna blow it you fool’, ‘who do you think you are?’, ‘Why on earth would anyone buy from me?’ and ‘I’m so tired’ are just some of the ways in which we get in our own way and make things more difficult than they need be.

Fear of failure

This is a classic but is based on an entirely false premise. Failure is an abstract concept; there is actually no such thing as failure. There is only results. We take action and results ensue. These are either results we want or do not want. They are either expected or unexpected but they have no absolute link with success or failure. This exists only in our own minds. In my experience it’s the consequences of ‘failure’ that people really fear in an organisational setting. They fear that they’ll be told-off or embarrassed or that they’ll miss out on promotion or whatever. There’s a clear link with the blame culture phenomenon we looked at before. How do you want people in your organisation to feel when something has gone wrong? Do you want them to go and hide in a corner or pick themselves up, learn from it and move on?

I stress again that these are only examples and this list is far from exhaustive. They differ from external sources of interference in that they are felt rather than observed. They can have a huge effect on reaching one’s potential but it also follows that coaching can pay huge dividends in dealing with them.

At the core of each of these symptoms runs a central theme which we’ll call Limiting Beliefs. In many ways the factors we’ve discussed serve to militate against my potential only if I believe them to be true.

We’ll examine this in more detail next time.