When working with clients in your ICF certified professional coaching practice, one of the biggest roadblocks your clients face is … themselves! Consider the following premise: Beliefs control thoughts, thoughts control feelings, and feelings determine actions and reactions.
Contrary to what your client—and you as a coach—believes, he or she is an illogical thinker. Why do I say that? Because we do not live according to our logic, but according to our experiences.
For example, let’s say a client is extremely intelligent, successful, and in a great marriage. However, this individual comes to you looking for help to overcome a self-defeating behavior they have struggled with throughout their life. Now, it makes no sense on a logical basis that such a person would have any self-defeating behaviors. However, the self-defeating behavior is based on what the client believes to be true about themselves, i.e. “I am worthless” or “I am inadequate.”
A Deeper Look
One of the most effective coaching techniques you can apply in your coaching practice is helping your clients understand their belief systems and their effect on their lives. Here is a deeper look.
Based on our belief system, we create our own social reality. The way we view the world is completely subjective because we all have what is known as “cognitive biases.” This concept was introduced in 1972 by two psychologists, Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman. A cognitive bias is a systematic pattern of thinking errors that directly affects our judgements, feelings, decisions, and actions. Here’s a fascinating link to the 106 decision-making realities based on related cognitive biases. No one is exempt from these types of unhealthy thought patterns.
With practice, your client can avoid some thinking patterns that negatively govern their perceptions, thereby improving their decision-making, which ultimately controls their lives.
Let’s take a look at three unhealthy thought patterns a client might have and how you can help him or her take steps to correct them.
1. A Victim Mentality
To address this unhealthy thought pattern, let’s look at the cognitive “attentional bias,” or the tendency of perception to be affected by recurring thoughts. This means that our lives are a direct result of our beliefs, which control our thinking—not the events that happen to us.
Think about the following saying: Your perception is your reality, but reality is not necessarily your perception.
Let’s say your client has a victim mentality and wants to move past this and create a better life. She must get in touch with her inner thoughts or self-talk. By identifying thought patterns, your client can then recognize what she believes to be true about herself—even if it isn’t logically true.
2. Thoughts Can Always be Trusted
Our brain has two functions: conserve energy and keep us alive.
Our mind has two functions: to interpret life and navigate life.
The “confirmation bias” tells us that our minds cannot be trusted. Confirmation bias is the tendency to search for, interpret, focus on, and remember information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions.
Let’s say that your client feels he is unlovable. The proof: Every relationship he’s been involved in ends up in a disaster. Here is a human principle that governs such thoughts: We draw to ourselves people who will prove what we believe to be true about ourselves.
In the situation your “unlovable” client is in, he will inherently search for information, clues, and signs in a relationship that proves his unhealthy belief. In other words, your client will do anything and everything to prove he is not wrong about himself.
3. I Always, I’ll Never
How many times have you told yourself, “I’m so stupid, I always do ____________” or “I’m an idiot for _____________and I’ll never do that again!” A certified professional might recognize this as an inner vow or a self-fulfilling vow. Extreme statements stem from our tendency towards the cognitive bias called “focus event.” This bias is the tendency to place too much importance on one aspect of an event. We focus on a specific negative circumstance or situation and catastrophize it with polarizing words such as “always” and/or “never.”
Let’s say you hear your client say, “I’m just a doormat; I’m always giving in to what other people want.” You recognize that she is caught up in an “I’m worthless” belief and thought pattern.
What is your role as a certified coach?
For the client with a victim mentality, you can present the premise that perceptions determine actions and decisions, which directly affect our lives. Thus, the negative thought pattern, “I’m a victim in life,” leads to having a negative and helpless perception of life. Next, you can help your client explore her thoughts and corresponding beliefs to see how these are played out in everyday life. Through asking insightful questions, you can also help your client identify external negative stimuli, such as people in her life, conversations she has, books she reads, and TV shows she watches.
After your client identifies negative thoughts and influences, you can help your client identify ways to control what she is exposed to and what she is thinking about the circumstances she’s in. When your client has control of her life, she can choose to think differently, and make decisions that have a positive impact.
For the client with a “conformation bias” you can help him identify beliefs and thoughts that are guiding him towards a specific outcome. A great way to combat this bias is to help your client “tell himself the truth.” This means you help him challenge the validity of what he thinks and believes in the light of reality.
For the client who speaks inner vows or self-fulfilling vows about themselves, you can help her identify the negative thought patterns that lead into a particular circumstance or situation. You can ask questions such as, “Is this really always true?” “Do you really believe that you’ll never do that again?” You can also help your client identify scenarios that trigger a particular belief. This will help her become self-aware of what she is saying or doing that leads to the negative outcome.
Why do people—including us—get caught up in cognitive biases? They all come down to what we believe to be true based on our experiences in life. Human nature is not based on logic but on experience. We’re not logical beings, despite our best intentions. As you build your Christian life coaching practice, this is something you must always remember; otherwise, unhealthy beliefs and thoughts will continue to control your clients’ lives.