Self Limiting Beliefs and Defeating Thoughts


The real work begins with cognitive based coaching.  What often blocks the way in moving the client forward are self-limiting/defeating thoughts and beliefs (I can’t afford to make any mistakes), counterproductive behaviors (indecisiveness) and troublesome emotions (prolonged anxiety). CBC helps clients to identify, examine and change such thoughts and beliefs, develop productive behaviors and become more skilled at emotional management. The focus is on the client’s current concerns. The ultimate goal of CBC is for the client to become her own coach to tackle present and future challenges (Neenan, 2008).

CBC is a two fold approach to goal attainment –  psychological and the practical.  The psychological is to remove the stumbling blocks to change such things as procrastination, self-doubt, self-limiting beliefs and inability to take action.  The practical steps are to help clients develop clear goals with actionable steps.  At the end of each session, it’s helpful to have the client establish three “take aways” or action items to would work on before the next session.


Bachkirova and Cox suggest that it would be useful if we as coaches were proficient in the use of the methods of at least one counseling approaches as it could enrich the repertoire of our skills when dealing with the clients underlying issues and blocks.  A CBT framework for understanding and dealing with psychological blocks in coaching is the ABCDE model (Dryden and Neenan 2004; Ellis and MacLaren 1998) and is explained as follows:

Situational A (activating event) = client’s objective description of the situation -‘Not presenting or voicing her opinion at meetings about changing the meeting length from three hours to one hour’

Critical A (activating event) = client’s subjective account of the most troubling aspect of the situation—‘My ideas might be viewed as worthless and I’ll look like a fool’

B = self-limiting/defeating beliefs triggered by the critical A—’my ideas must not be disregarded at the meeting. If they are, this will prove I’m a fool’

C = consequences: emotional – intense anxiety at every meeting, behavioral – keeps quiet, looks down to avoid eye contact, physical – continual tension, headaches, interpersonal – keeps distance from colleagues, makes excuses for keeping quiet, cognitive – catastrophic thoughts and images about the aftermath of being exposed as a ‘fool’

D = disputing or examining these self-defeating beliefs:  Is this belief rigid or flexible?  Does it allow for outcomes other than the one demanded which is that her ideas not be ignored or disregarded?  Is it excessive for the person to call herself a ‘fool’ because her ideas might be criticized or rejected?  Does this belief make sense?  Because she wants an outcome not to occur (her ideas not being disregarded) does it follow logically that this outcome must not occur?  Is this belief realistic? Is she able to control her colleagues’ thoughts?  Is keeping this belief helpful or are the costs greater than the benefits?

E = new and effective outlook (adaptive, compassionate, balanced self- and performance-enhancing): ‘I now realize that my belief is rigid, unrealistic and keeps me stuck. The only way I’m going to find out about the quality of my ideas is by presenting them. If they are rejected, it is important for me to distinguish between my ideas being rejected and me rejecting myself because my ideas have been. If someone does think I’m a fool I certainly don’t have to agree with them.  The foolish thing I’m doing is keeping quiet and thereby not developing myself as a leader and possibly jeopardizing my position (Neenan, 2008).

ABCDE Model In summary:






Through discussion, reflection, and cognitive restructuring (belief change) the client is able to see poor assumptions and unreasonable key beliefs.  Stepping away from the belief and allowing space for a new belief to form is vital for change to happen.  This is the most empowering view of how change occurs because it allows for other beliefs to be developed.  D leads to E (about A) and modifies our reaction to C.  A – Events or other people don’t cause C (but contributes to it); B (beliefs) determines C (consequences).  If A caused C we would be at the mercy of events or others, but we aren’t.  We have the power to change how we view the event based on our old patterns and belief systems.  Clients are more likely to modify their beliefs when change is gradual and stays within their value system (Dowd, 1996).


It’s helpful to get the client to recognize and become aware of their own twisted thinking, such as:

  • All or nothing thinking – viewing events in either/or terms, ‘Either you’re for me or against me.’
  • Over generalization – drawing sweeping conclusions on the basis of a single incident or insufficient evidence, ‘Since I didn’t speak well at the last event, I’ll never speak well again.’
  • Mental filter – only the negative aspects of a situation are noticed, ‘Look at all the things that have gone wrong today.’
  • Catastrophizing – assuming the worst and, if it occurs, the inability to deal with it, ‘It will be terrible if I don’t put up with these long meetings. I’ll be stuck forever if I make a change or make a bad decision.’
  • Musts and should – rigid rules imposed on self and others, ‘I must never show any weaknesses to my colleagues’; ‘Everyone should work as long and as hard as I do.’
  • Fallacy of fairness – believing in a just world, ‘Bad things won’t happen to me if I’m a good, hard working, honest person.’
  • Perfectionism – striving for standards that are beyond reach or reason, ‘I must do everything perfectly or else I’m no good. A competent performance equals failure’ (Neenan, 2008).

By having the client experiment and test the soundness of their beliefs or “predictions” allowed for an opening of new possibilities and behaviors.  Self-acceptance is about rating one’s abilities but not judging the performance in a definitive way that labels or limits oneself.  The client can then realize that she needs to acknowledge all her positive qualities as well as her weaknesses that she want to change by learning from her mistakes so that she could make less and less of them.

Neenan reminds us, “Self-condemnation adds nothing of value or clarity to problem-solving. If clients doubt this, they can spend a week, for example, noting how much time they waste on self-condemnation and feeling frustrated when things go wrong instead of focusing on immediate problem solving. Self-acceptance can be difficult to learn but its practical effects can be seen and felt through higher levels of performance and motivation.”

He goes on to remind us of three key insights, “These can act as an aide-memoir for present and future problem-solving;”

1) How you feel and behave is mainly determined by the way you think (‘mainly’ because you are influenced, but not controlled, by other factors). You can control your emotional destiny to an extent you may never have realized by paying attention to how you think when you get upset.

2) No matter how you acquired your unhelpful beliefs, you still choose to adhere to them today (‘I didn’t get a degree so I have to keep proving I’m not stupid’) and acting in ways that strengthen these beliefs such as trying to impress graduates you work with how smart you are.

3) The way to get rid of or weaken these beliefs is to continually and firmly think and act against them by adopting more helpful and realistic beliefs, ‘I am an intelligent person because I now look at a wide range of factors connected to intelligence instead of the very narrow one of either a degree or stupidity’, and the person stops trying to impress others and lets them make up their own mind about who they really are.


Below are some inquiry questions to help the client reflect:

  • What thoughts are going through your mind in that situation?
  • What stops you from (following a particular course of action)?
  • What are the short and long-term costs and benefits of change?
  • What is the clear and specific goal you want to achieve?
  • What’s the problem with making mistakes or experiencing failure?
  • What advice would you give to someone else struggling with the same issue?
  • What would be the first concrete steps towards reaching your goal?
  • How will you know you are making progress towards your goals?
  • What would make this easy?
  • What are the most valuable ideas and techniques you have received from coaching?
  • Acting as a self-coach, how will you maintain and strengthen your gains from coaching?


Bachkirova, T., & Cox, E. (2005). A bridge over troubled water: bringing together coaching and counselling. Counselling at Work, 48, 2–9.

Dowd, E.T. (1996) Resistance and reactance in  Cognitive therapy.   International Cognitive Therapy Newsletter, 10(3), 3-5.

Neenan, Michael (2008) From Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) to Cognitive Behaviour Coaching (CBC), Springer Science + Business Media, LLC, Published online.

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Coaching Skills 101

“You know, like nunchuck skills, bowhunting skills, computer hacking skills… Girls only want boyfriends who have great skills. Forget flower bouquets and work on developing some captivating skills.” Napoleon Dynamite

I previously wrote a blog about Active Listening at Levels 1, 2, and 3.  This is a follow up to that blog.  When you are listening at Level 2 or 3, you are fully engaged with heightened awareness.  The next step is to add these additional skills to your toolbox:

Articulating – this is a skill that helps the clients connect the dots so that they can begin to see the whole picture of what they are creating by their actions or inactions.  You have to be able to succinctly describe what is going on.  Clients don’t know what they don’t know. Through articulation you help them see the big picture as clearly as possible without judgment.

Clarifying – Am I hearing you right?  Clarifying brings the message into sharp focus, like the lens of a camera.  They may be drifting in the fog of fuzzy thinking and this is where you need to be the beacon of light in the distance to rescue them by helping them get clarity.

Meta View – This is the big picture, the 30,000-foot view.  This is a useful tool when the client is stuck or struggling and feels overwhelmed. The coach might say, “What do you see from here?”  When you get them to “float” above their problem, or step out of their body to view from a different vantage point…they will get a fresh, new perspective.  Remember — how do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time, of course, while you keep an “eye on the prize.”

Metaphors – creating rich imagery and pictures can engage the client at a different level making comprehension faster and easier to absorb. “Are you drifting at sea?” is a better way of saying, “Are you confused?”

Acknowledging – when you acknowledge a client for their progress you are celebrating their strengths.  When you acknowledge their strengths, you are giving them more access to their own power.  Notice what happens when you deliver the message and observe what impact it has on the client?

Great coaching is about inviting the client to look “not only with their minds, but with their hearts, souls, and intuition — into places that are familiar but that they may see with new eyes and into places they may not have looked before” (et al, pg. 76).

Whitworth, L., Kimsey-House, K., Kimsey-House, H., and Sandahl, P.  (2007) Co-Active Coaching:  New Skills for Coaching People Toward Success in Work and Life, Davies-Black, Boston, MA.

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Active vs. Passive Listening

“I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.”  Robert McCloskey

With today’s fast paced world, it’s a challenge to be a good listener.  Just like anything else, mindful listening is a skill and can be developed with practice.

There is a natural tendency to get caught up in our own feelings and emotions during a conversation, we evaluate, we judge, we take things personally.  But that’s not the ideal situation of a coach.  Masterful coaching requires masterful listening in order to maximize the interaction of the coach/client relationship.  Listening is not about being passive but about “active” listening.

According to Whitworth, there are two aspects of listening in coaching.  One is with our ears and the information we hear and one is through awareness – what we feel with our senses. With awareness we hear, see, feel, and have experiences.

The second aspect is what we do with our listening.  The way you listen or don’t listen is extremely important and you need to be conscious of not only what you are listening to but also the impact your listening is having on the client.  Do they feel heard, understood, can they trust you, is there rapport, do they feel supported?  What you do with your awareness, the choices or decisions you make will have a huge impact on the coaching relationship.

Whitworth presents three levels of active listening:

Level 1 – Internal Listening

This is where we are focusing on our own awareness.  We may “listen to the words of the other person, but our attention is on ourselves.  At Level 1, the spotlight is on my thoughts, my judgments, my feelings, my conclusions about myself and others.  It’s like a diode: a one-way energy trap that lets information in but not out.  At Level 1, there is only one question:  What does it mean to me?”  Clients need to be at Level 1 in order to understand, to feel, to process, and to think, etc. but coaches should not spend any time at this level.

Level 2 – Focused Listening

There is when there is a sharp, distinct focus on what the other person is saying.  You will be listening for words, emotions, and expressions, everything that they bring to the table.  You not only notice what they are saying but what they are not saying.  You pay attention to what they value, where their energy comes from and how they look at the world around them.  The coach’s job is to mirror back empathy, clarification and collaboration.  If you are focusing on what’s the next latest, greatest powerful question you are going to ask then you are back at Level 1 listening.

Level 3 – Global Listening

This is where you are in the zone, or flow (as in The Concept of Flow by Mihaly Czikszentimihalyi) and your awareness is focused on what you see, hear, smell, and feel as well as the tactile and emotional sensations around you.  It includes the action, the inaction and the interaction.  It’s as though you and your client are at the center of the universe and the world around you disappears.  When you are at this level of listening, you can easily tap into your intuitive self.  Intuition simply becomes more information that is available.  “You must be very open and softly focused, sensitive to subtle stimuli, ready to receive information from all the senses – in your own sphere, in the world around you, in the world around your client” (Whitworth, pg. 39).

It’s best to not be attached to the intuition – you could be way off base.  But explore and throw it out there to see if it is something that the client wants to investigate.  A long as you are present, aware, and practice active listening you are well on your way to being a completely competent and resourceful coach or consultant.

Whitworth, L., Kimsey-House, K., Kimsey-House, H., and Sandahl, P.  (2007) Co-Active Coaching:  New Skills for Coaching People Toward Success in Work and Life, Davies-Black, Boston, MA.

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How to Develop Intuitive Coaching

Albert Einstein said, “The only real valuable thing is intuition.  “But what is intuition?  Is it something that comes from the gut?  Something that you “just know” and can sense?  It is sometimes called the “sixth sense” but how do you know when to trust it?

Whitworth says, “A thing is known when others corroborate it and come up with the same data.  Intuition, however, is not directly observable – although sometimes its effects are.  Like the wind in the trees, it may not be visible but we can see and hear its effects” (pg. 52).

There seems to be a correlation between what we can observe as fact and the confidence of knowing by what we feel in our gut.  Intuition is the non-empirical information we gather in response to a question, which can be through interpretation of spoken or unspoken words.

Answer these questions to explore the nudge of intuition.

  • What day is it?
  • What season is it?
  • What’s the weather like in that season?
  • What’s your theme during this season of your life, in this particular year, on this particular day?

Do you see the difference between the questions?  One answer comes from your memory; one may come from your logical mind and one from history, or perhaps from an intuitive place.  Intuition is a nudge we get that bubbles up and wants to be expressed.  It can show up in many different ways such as visual images, observations, physical sensations, a shift in emotion, energy or both.

You could say to your client, “Something doesn’t feel just right.  Help me out here if I’m getting this wrong, but it feels like you are holding back.  What’s your sense of what’s going on?”  The challenge then is in practicing awareness, trusting your gut, and yet staying completely unattached to the outcome of the situation so you don’t appear as if you are jumping to conclusions or being judgmental.  You can speak your intuition but it is up to the client to decide if your message is useful or not.  Remember, you the catalyst in guiding the client to come up with their own conclusion, not to adopt your own.

Intuition can enrich the coaching relationship when we take the risk of asking questions in a way that inspire our clients to dig deeper.  If your client says, “I’m fine” but you “sense” that things are not fine, you might start by asking, “My intuition tells me that there is something else, something that you are holding back and not telling me.  Is that true?”

Just like Emotional Intelligence, everyone has some innate intuitive ability, but more importantly Intuitive Intelligence can be developed the same way a person develops any new skill by practice and focus.  Whitworth suggests, “By shifting your attention to the question or the other person and opening the channel, you can more easily find the answer.  The key seems to be to take a soft focus, be open.  Your intuition is there, giving you messages or clues, just below the surface.  This is the paradox of intuition: an open hand will hold it; it will slip through a fist” (pg. 57).

“The two operations of our understanding, intuition and deduction, on which alone we have said we must rely in the acquisition of knowledge.” Rene Descartes

Reference: Whitworth, L., Kimsey-House, K., Kimsey-House, H., and Sandahl, P.  (2007) Co-Active Coaching:  New Skills for Coaching People Toward Success in Work and Life, Davies-Black, Boston, MA.

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Client Distractions?

“Technology… the knack of so arranging the world that we don’t have to experience it.” — Max Frisch

How do you coach a client who can’t stay focused?  The daily email, crackberry, texting, Skyping, Facebooking, etc., etc., all of these great tools of technology are great don’t get me wrong I understand their value but they are constantly interrupting our focus and zapping our presence.

Robert Heinlein said, “In the absence of clearly-defined goals, we become strangely loyal to performing daily trivia until ultimately we become enslaved by it.”

As you well know, there are multiple other things that vie for our attention that are potentially addictive as well, things like; sex, idolization, amusement/escapism, trivia, getting one’s own way, sitting down (yes, believe it or not), laziness, keeping up with the Jones’es, being right, the internet, etc., etc.

The coaches job is to facilitate the client’s awareness in a way that the client becomes mindful of the activities that are getting in their way of creating the change that they want to see in their life.  The executive coaches job is to eliminate “organizational anxiety” which enhances work/life balance and allows for greater meaning and purpose.  But what happens when the anxiety is self-created with the use of those addictive techno gadgets?

How can you be supportive, provide your client with some sense of cohesiveness in a world that is unpredictable and traveling at a faster and faster speed because of the amount of information now at our fingertips?

“The virtual coach faces a difficult task in helping his client make sense of her world.  It is not only a matter of digesting a large amount of information; it is also a matter of thinking and acting at a very high level.  Kegan (1994) suggests that we, of the postmodern era, are “in over our head” (certainly a challenge to existing patterns of meaning are a source of profound anxiety).  It would seem that coaches to these virtual, postmodern leaders are particularly needed to help their clients address these major twenty-first-century challenges” (Drake, pg. 295).

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Stress in the Workplace

There are so many demands, expectations, conditions, and workplace processes that cause stress for employees.  How do you help your clients handle the stress?

In the figure below you can see how the potential hazards in a workplace can have negative effects on not just the employee but the employer’s bottom line (ROI) as well.

Source:  Drake, D.B., Brennan, D., and Gortz, K (2008). The Philosophy and Practice of Coaching. Hoboken, N.J., John Wiley and Sons (pg. 151).

It’s been said that coaching is useful in reducing stress but there is currently a lack of definitive research examining coaching and stress reduction.  A study was conducted by Wales (2003) that analyzed “stress management” and “work-life balance” in which the participants reported high levels of stress at the onset of coaching and felt calmer, more able to deal with pressures, and experienced a greater level of self-management after being coached.  Coaching had in fact helped them reduce stress in the form of encouragement to take time out for themselves – realizing the benefits of “self-care.”

What are the benefits of a coaching relationship to the organization?  According to the Harvard Business Review’s Answer Exchange, organizations who coach employees, reap many benefits such as:

  • Overcome costly and time-consuming performance problems
  • Strengthen employees’ skills so you can delegate more tasks to them and focus on more important managerial responsibilities—such as planning
  • Boost productivity by helping your employees work smarter
  • Develop a deep bench of talent who can step into your shoes as you advance in the company
  • Improve retention; employees are more loyal and motivated when their bosses take time to help them improve their skills
  • Make more effective use of company resources; coaching costs less than formal training

When employees are coached, they:

  • Build valuable skills and knowledge they can use to advance in their careers
  • Feel supported and encouraged by their manager and the company
  • Experience the pride and satisfaction that come with surmounting new challenges


Harvard Business Review (2010). HBR Answers Exchange. Retrieved from

Wales, S. (2003). Why coaching? Journal of Change Management, 3, 275-282.

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Powerful Questions

What is the issue?

What makes it an issue now?

Who owns this issue/problem?

How important is it on a scale of 1-10?

How much energy do you have for a solution on a scale of 1-10?

What are the implications of doing nothing?

What have you already tried?

Imagine this problem’s been solved…What would you see, hear and feel?

What’s standing in the way of that ideal outcome?

What’s your own responsibility for what’s been happening?

What early signs are there that things might be getting better/going all right?

Imagine you’re at your most resourceful.  What do you say to yourself about this issue?

(If I could give you a magic potion, which contained all the courage, and insight you needed, what would you do?)

What are the options for action here?

What criteria will you use to judge the options?

Which option seems the best one against those criteria?

So what’s the next/first step?

When will you take it?


Rogers, Jenny, (2009) Coaching Skills A Handbook Second Edition, McGraw Hill Publishing, New York, NY. (Pages 69-71).

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Assessments, Exercises, and Competencies


  • MBTI – Myers-Briggs Type Indicator
  • Enneagram
  • FIRO-B – fundamental interpersonal relationships orientation-behavior
  • HBDI – Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument
  • Emotional Intelligence (E.Q.I.)
  • Strong Interest Inventory
  • Thomas Kilmann Conflict Model
  • Parker Team Player Program
  • Clifton Strengths Finder
  • VIA – Values in Action
  • 16PF – Sixteen Personality Factors
  • FFM – Five – Factor Model
  • Big 5 Personality Questionnaire
  • HPI – Hogan Personality Inventory
  • Belbin Team Role Questionnaire
  • Career Anchors
  • Birkman Method
  • Social Style Model
  • Holland Codes/Hexagon
  • LSI – Learning Style Inventory
  • CIP 434 – California Psychological Inventory
  • 360 Feedback
  • VIA
  • Meyers Briggs
  • FIRO-BTM (Fundamental Interpersonal Relationships Orientation –Behavior)
  • Gallup Organization
  • Tom Rath, Marcus Buckingham
  • StrengthFinders, MBTI (less than $30, as low as $20).
  • Lominger, MRG, Hogan, PDI run in the $160 to $300 categories depending upon the pricing and discounting.


  • Wheel of Life
  • Needs/Values Clarification:  what’s important, altruism, learning, security, status, affiliation, variety and achievement.  MMFI – make me feel important
  • Johari Window


  • Multiple intelligences – Gardner
  • Overacting daunting challenge
  • Co-ability
  • Self-esteem – Nathanial Branson
  • Erik de Haan – blog
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Culture and Gender

Differences/Aspects of how culture can affect relationships: (Trompennars & Hampden-Turner)

Universalism vs. particularism

Individualism vs. communitarianism

Neutral vs. affective

Specific: vs. diffuse

Achievement-oriented vs. ascription-oriented

Aspects of culture as they relate to attitudes of time:

Past time vs. future time

Sequential vs. synchronic time orientation

Inner-directed vs. outer-directed towards nature

Cultural Intelligence: requires skills of cognitive, behavioral and motivational level (highly adaptive, motivation to persevere, self-esteem and consistency).      


Gender & Development of Morality: people are wired differently (Carol Gilligan)

Gender & Conversational Styles: Status vs. support, independence vs. intimacy, advice vs. understanding, orders vs. proposals, conflict vs. compromise (Deborah Tannen)

Gender and Female Leadership: awareness that they may not fit the mold (Sally Helgesen)

Systems theory – work life balance issue (family, home, work – they sometimes collide)


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Communication Strategies

Conversational Styles Theories:  Information and Politeness, Power and Solidarity, Directness and Indirectness, Interruption and Overlap (Deborah Tannen)

Theories of Dialogue:  Monologue, Technical and Genuine (Martin Burber)

Collaborative Language Systems: forming partnerships (Harlene Anderson)

Coordinated Management of Meaning (CMM): Dialogue from a communication perspective (Pearce & Cronen)

Appreciative Inquiry:  what we focus on becomes our reality (Srivastva & Cooperrider)

Narrative:  telling stories to change self-concepts (Mandy Aftel)

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