'Your beliefs become your thoughts, your thoughts become your words, your words become your actions, your actions become your habits, your habits become your values and your values become your destiny' - Mahatma Ghandi.
We all hold beliefs, assumptions about ourselves and the world around us which we’ve formed based upon our experiences. Beliefs that are primarily formed in our childhood, but can also be shaped by significant emotional experiences later in life.
Beliefs aren’t facts, they are just something that we 'believe' like children who believe in Father Christmas, the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy. If you believe it, then to you it is 'real' even if it is not (sorry should have added a spoiler alert here!)
So whilst beliefs aren't facts, they are often so ingrained within us, we treat them as though they are. We use these ’truths’ we hold to create the rules in which we live by and often the rules in which we expect others to live by too. You can probably start to see a problem emerging here.
The beliefs we hold will have at one time served a purpose, especially as young children, they will have likely kept us safe in some way - physically or psychologically.
But we were children then and now we are adults, we don't need these beliefs anymore and yet we hold onto them. Even though they are outdated and rather than serving us, they now work against us, holding us back, keeping us stuck in old thinking habits and patterns of behaviour. Still we hold onto them.
Beliefs are a core pillar of coaching and noticing a belief a client holds and drawing their attention to it can be key. They may be completely unaware they hold that belief or the impact that belief is having upon their outcomes. But noticing and acknowledging a belief that isn’t serving you is the first step to being able to make the change you want to make.
Like with values (another core pillar of coaching) our beliefs act as a filter for our experiences, we run an experience through our belief system to determine how we think and feel about something which then dictates what we do, or don't do, as the case may be.
For example If we hold a belief of ‘I am not a confident person’ as soon as something comes up that requires us to act with confidence, a new opportunity perhaps, it's the first thing we tell ourselves, it's our inner voice and usually it's a critical one. We plant the seed of doubt and then we continue to water it and so unsurprisingly it grows.
Not all beliefs are negative and limiting. There are two types of beliefs and we all hold both.
These are the positive beliefs that you hold about yourself that help you to feel motivated, empowered and drive you forward. Examples might be:
I am a good person
I am considerate of others
I am resilient
I can achieve anything I put my mind to
I am fun to be around
What's your evidence of these things? You will likely have built these up based on experiences you've had, feedback you've received, things you 'know' are true about you.
These are the negative beliefs that you hold about yourself that undermine you, keep you small and hold you back. Examples might be:
I am not confident enough
I am not special enough
I am forgettable
I am boring
I am not as good as others
The beliefs we hold, the limiting and empowering, typically fall into three ‘buckets’
Possibility or what we believe is possible.
Ability or what we believe our abilities are.
Worth or what we believe we are worthy of.
Quick Activity No. 1:
Take a moment to list out all of your empowering beliefs - all of your strengths and the good, positive things you believe about yourself.
Take a moment to list out all of your limiting beliefs - the recurring negative thoughts you believe about yourself.
Which bucket would your limiting beliefs fall into the most?
Which bucket would your empowering beliefs fall into the most?
Are there any patterns? What are you learning about yourself?
Overcoming your limiting beliefs isn’t easy, you’ve likely had them since childhood, they won’t go away overnight but changing them is fundamental to your success.
Coaching can help with this process. In my coaching programme - I will typically work with beliefs in session 3 or 4, rarely do we jump into beliefs from the off, it can be quite ‘deep’ work and it’s important we’ve built a relationship and the necessary trust first.
Working on beliefs really helps to raise self awareness, If we work to improve your emotional experience, it will have a positive impact on your behaviour, performance and confidence.
It starts with making a conscious decision. You can choose to form new beliefs, ones that better suit the life you want to lead in the future. A decision that usually comes from a dissatisfaction of the way something currently is.
Quick Activity 2:
Consider the list you made earlier. What is the limiting belief that holds you back the most in the area of your life you most want to make change?
Where did this belief come from? Who gave it to you? How do you feel about that person? Were they always right? What evidence do you have that says this belief is ‘always’ true?
How is holding onto it serving you in your life today? How is not?
What would a better belief be? Write it out and say it to yourself. How does it make you feel?
We tend to treat our limiting beliefs as much more rigid and absolute than our empowering ones.
We can say 'I am kind' knowing that we will have done things at points in our life that were not kind because we are human and we are not perfect. But we still believe that fundamentally we are kind.
However when we say 'I am not confident' we believe that as an absolute. We just aren't a confident person - despite the fact that we display confidence every day of our lives - confidence to get out of bed, to have a conversation, to drive our car to work, to do a hundred other things in any given day.
Dig a little deeper, instead of saying 'I am not confident' try 'I feel less confident when......' and see what comes up for you. The more you can understand what triggers the limiting belief, the quick you can set about changing it.
Strong, empowering foundational beliefs such as ‘I am equal’ ‘I am capable’ ‘I am worthy’ are held by those that are most secure and confident in who they are and typically live their best lives. That's what we all want isn't it?
You can grow into these beliefs, it is possible and it's also ok to ‘fake it until you make it’ A bit like a superhero, put relevant cape on when you need to, to help you get through a particular situation. Over time you’ll need that ‘cape’ less and less because it will just become part of who you are.
So from today, make yourself a promise, notice when that limiting belief shows up and nip it in the bud. Replace it with the new empowering belief you’ve come up with instead and step into that, put on your cape if you need to. See the difference it makes (it will be uncomfortable at first) but like anything it gets easier with time. Then as the weeks go on, notice the progress that you’ve made. It really is quite liberating.
Thanks for reading.
A passionate advocate for conscious leadership and the power of coaching in making work and life (work) better for everyone.
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