One story that has left an indelible impact on me is that of a baby elephant, chained to a tree to prevent it from straying into the jungle and getting lost. Each time it tried to free itself, the chain held it back. Gradually, it resigned itself to captivity and gave up trying to escape. Time passed, and even when he grew into a full-sized pachyderm, he remained chained like before, to the same tree. The adult elephant continued to believe that the chain and tree were too strong, and that it was impossible to break free. If he wanted, the chain could have been broken and the tree uprooted. His belief, however, kept telling him that the chain and tree were stronger.
We, as humans are no different. As we grow, our beliefs are formed from our experiences and get embedded in us. Very often, these beliefs works on the sub-conscious mind and keep holding us back every time we wish to bring about some change. Most of our behaviours emanate from these beliefs.
Belief as a lens
What then is belief all about? Belief is a feeling of certainty, assurance and permanence leading at times to rigidity. A belief is formed over a period of time, based on experiences one goes through, and stands on the pillars of reference and interpretation. The origin of a belief is more often from a logical understanding, which leads to an opinion, and over time, it results in conviction. A belief is a feeling of certainty about something — how we see ourselves, others and the world. Beliefs are an important filter and serve as a lens through which to interpret the world.
Types of Beliefs
Beliefs are not always negative as most people think. They can also be positive.
1. Empowering belief: Explores and releases the potential and makes one feel that something is possible; has sufficient references of success
2. Self-limiting belief: This kind belief controls one’s potential and gets influenced by social proof and belief. These beliefs hold one back from achieving what one is capable of.
3. Conditioned belief: These are the thinking patterns that develop at a young age. Usually they are solidly in place by the time one starts school. They become the foundation for one’s future decision-making and problem-solving. The sneaky thing about conditioned beliefs, though, is that as an adult, one may not be aware of how much one is dependent on them.
Belief-shift with coaching
Like an iceberg, only part of a whole person is visible. During a coaching conversation, apart from paying attention to the words, facts and data, professional coaches also practise deep listening.
The International Coaching Federation (ICF) defines coaching as partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximise their personal and professional potential. The process of coaching often unlocks previously untapped sources of imagination, productivity and leadership.
As a leader, it is invaluable to have a coaching approach towards the team. It is important to listen to what is happening below the surface – to understand their beingness, which emanates from their beliefs, assumptions and values. Looking below the surface means being aware that there may be more going on than meets the eye. For instance, what beliefs, values and assumptions may be driving their thoughts, decisions and actions.
The behaviours that one sees above the surface have their origins below the surface. It is recommended to use deep listening to create space for the other person to be heard and understood. One will then be able to figure out the belief, which is driving their behaviour.
The belief system makes people get into an auto-pilot mode and keeps rejecting any new inputs that come their way. However, the good news is that new beliefs can get formed. The reflections and introspections in a coaching engagement can lead to a shift in belief and make way for transformations.
In the coaching conversations, I personally have seen certain behaviours in my clients or coachees, which are only the tip of the iceberg. On deep-diving together, my coachees go through reflections that lead to an exhibition of their beliefs.
I have often noted that people respond to their perceptions of reality and not to reality itself. As I listen to them, there is a change in their perceptions, and a newfound awareness, The human mind gets rewired, which in turn, leads to the shift in beliefs. The new beliefs are formed due to re-wiring of references and experiences leading to new interpretations. This leads to the coachees’ potential getting unearthed as a shift in their belief takes place in the coaching journey.
As a leader, the more one builds the coaching muscle, one’s ability to ask killer questions makes the coachees reflect on their references and experiences and change their interpretations.
While crafting this article, I was reminded of all the transformations the coaching sessions have led to, for my clients. By simply listening deeply and asking thought-provoking questions, I helped them become aware of their beliefs and then shift their beliefs to make them feel empowered and live at full potential.
Watch Judy’s story and discover how coaching can help leaders and teams in your organisation reach new heights
The International Coaching Federation (ICF) is the world’s largest organisation leading the global advancement of the coaching profession and fostering the role of coaching as an integral part of a thriving society. Founded in 1995, its 35,000-plus members, located in more than 140 countries and territories, work toward common goals of enhancing awareness of coaching and upholding the integrity of the profession through lifelong learning and upholding the highest ethical standards. Through the work of its six unique family organisations, ICF empowers professional coaches, coaching clients, organisations, communities and the world through coaching.
In India, ICF is represented by six vibrant chapters, all led by volunteers — ICF Bengaluru, ICF Chennai, ICF Delhi, ICF Mumbai, ICF Pune and ICF Hyderabad.
Adhir Mathur, the author is a trainer from the Mumbai chapter of ICF, with a deep interest in facilitation and coaching. Passionate about bringing transformation in people’s lives through coaching conversations, he is an ACC certified coach by ICF. The purpose of his life is to make a difference in every individual, so that they live at full potential and thereby spread happiness and joy all around them. He loves to harvest the wisdom of his participants. He is a learning professional with a strong belief in life-long learning.