How To Find And Clear Your Clients’ Core Beliefs

Published in Coaching World, the magazine of the International Coach Federation.

Your client offers another excuse as to why they didn’t do what they committed to in your last session. You’ve seen this pattern lead to failure, and know you need to focus on the underlying cause of procrastination and rationalization.

How can you determine the cause, and help them transform it? If you could, it would change their ability to move forward toward success.

Almost all reported problems have, at their core, some negative or limiting beliefs.

Coaches are taught to focus on the present and the future, leaving the past “to mental health professionals.” There’s a problem with this philosophy. Clarifying goals, making plans, engaging in practices, and being accountable works well for some clients. But in the many cases, our clients return to their old patterns of behavior, frustrating both client and coach. Significant and sustainable shifts are rare, and yet they came to us for a profound change in how they’re showing up what they’re able to accomplish.

If you could help your client change the beliefs that are driving their misperceptions and unproductive behavior patterns, you could create the substantial, long-lasting transformation they’re looking for.

The usual definition of belief is “a commitment to an idea.” I’m using the term to refer to the infrastructure of the human mind, the “mental molecules” that form the substance and structure of our perceptions, personality, and responses. Other names for this basic building block include maps of meaning, mental scaffolding, assumptions, lenses of perception, perspectives, and unconscious biases.

This is the subconscious meaning-making structure that determines our view of ourselves, others, and the world. It includes our memories, interpretations, and internal narratives. Beliefs affect our ideas of what we’re capable of and how we should behave. They influence our circumstances and create our limitations and possibilities. Beliefs are thus the greatest leverage point for helping our clients succeed.

When your client expresses dissatisfaction with their life, you can assume that their view of the problem is being filtered by their beliefs about themselves, and their circumstances. Beneath the surface of every “presenting problem” is a limitation in perception and thinking about the issue.

New possibilities emerge when you help them change their beliefs about what’s happening or what’s possible. This approach offers true empowerment. It more efficient than trying to change their behavior, which is often temporary, because the inner patterns haven’t changed.

Since most of our beliefs were formed in the past, in childhood, we need to delve into our clients’ past to understand the subconscious cause beneath the pattern. Change the past to create a better future.

The first step is to identify the core beliefs beneath your client’s presenting problem. Ask questions that dive down, layer by layer, to the subconscious programs that have driven their perceptions, conclusions, and responses.

The ICF Core Competency, “Powerful Questioning,” is key to discovering beliefs beneath the surface. This is a way to “evoke discovery, insight… and challenge the client’s assumptions,” or core beliefs. Here are some powerful questions you can ask. They foster self-inquiry and further exploration:

What do you believe about this situation you want to change?
Are those assumptions absolutely true? Or are there other possibilities?
What would you need to change inside yourself to enable that shift?
Do you believe you’re capable of making that change?
What are the repeated thoughts you have about this issue?
Do your inner voices say the same thing over and over? What do they say? Who said those things to you earlier in your life?
How old does that voice think you are? Is any of what it says true about you now?
Would you treat someone you love the way that way? How would you respond if someone else said that to you?
What do you believe that makes you feel that way?
Where did those beliefs come from?
Were they indoctrinated into you? Or did you choose them consciously?
How is it impacting other areas of your life?
What do you believe about other people? The world? Is that always true?
What’s underneath that belief? And what’s underneath that one?
What would you rather believe? What would that feel like?
Are you aware that you can change your beliefs?
Once you discover your client’s core beliefs, there are many methods of belief-change you can employ. For example, Byron Katie’s The Work, Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), Neuro-linguistic Programming (NLP), or the ICF-accredited Clear Beliefs Method.

This is the real test of any belief-change method: Did the old belief disappear completely, and not return? Did it produce a significant change in perception, feelings, and behavior? The best methodologies remove the belief completely from all aspects of the self: physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, and psychological, impacting the conscious, subconscious, and superconscious mind (higher self). It could also reach into the distant past to release inherited family, cultural, societal, and even karmic beliefs.

When your client changes their beliefs, their perspective changes, and so does their world. When you can evoke change at that level of the psyche, you become a powerful agent of change – a more masterful coach.