Working with our clients’ belief systems

James McLeod

Senior Faculty member James McLeod shares his insights into belief systems and how we can engage with clients in that space. He also shares some personal experience and how he went about addressing beliefs that were not serving him.

It is hugely beneficial to our clients if we are able to help them shine a spotlight on their deeply held beliefs and gain an understanding on how these beliefs help or hinder them.

Our clients can get stuck in ‘thinking traps’ which blunt their productivity and prevent them from working in an optimal flow state.

We pass on to our clients a great gift if we are able to help them to understand the power of their beliefs and how to use them to think, feel and behave in resourceful ways.

If we are talking through beliefs in a coaching session, I start by inviting my client to give their definition of a belief. Here are the definitions given by Oxford and by Collins:

‘An acceptance that something exists or is true, especially one without proof’ (Oxford Dictionary)

‘The state of believing; conviction or acceptance that certain things are true or real’ (Collins Dictionary) 

I follow this by asking my clients to rate how aware they are of their beliefs and how they influence their behaviour and choices on the following 1-4 scale:

  1. Very aware – I am conscious most of the time about how my beliefs influence my actions
  2. Somewhat aware – I am conscious some of the time about how my beliefs influence my actions
  3. Not really aware – I rarely think about my beliefs and how they influence my actions
  4. Never – I never spend time thinking about my beliefs and how they influence my actions.

The client gives me a real case example of where a belief has helped them to achieve a goal or desired outcome and one where where a belief has hindered them from achieving a goal or desired outcome.

Here is a way of building out this exercise to give your clients a practical framework for reflecting on and evolving their beliefs to help them move closer to whatever overarching objectives they are aiming for and for which you are actively facilitating as their coach. 

A Framework using my personal story

Part One

In the spirit of openness and transparency, here are some beliefs that I held for many years that prevented me being an honest, open and transparent communicator and from revealing my true self to others in my workplace.


Fixed/Rigid Belief One:  It is best to be self-sufficient

I was bought up in a traditional way where self-reliance was seen as one of the highest virtues. 

Fixed/Rigid Belief Two: It is weak to ask for help from others

Linked to self-reliance, I fell into the trap of believing that I would somehow be judged negatively by others if I reached out for help and guidance or looked for mentors to help navigate me through the inevitable pitfalls of life. 

Fixed/Rigid Belief Three: Only weak people display their emotions

See the pattern here😊 My belief was that strong and silent and just toughing things out would make me look like a reliable, solid and trustworthy person. 

Fixed/Rigid Belief Four:  I am immune to stress

I mistook stress management for pressure tolerance and failed to observe the corrosive effects of stress on my physical health, emotional health and my cognitive decision-making capacity.

Fixed/Rigid Belief Five: It is better to keep my private life under wraps

I thought that a closed book was a better face to present to the world, failing to see that ‘cold and distant’ is not the best way to present yourself if you want people of all types to engage with you and willingly volunteer their ideas, hopes and dreams.

I finally realized that by holding these beliefs, I was not conveying my true, authentic self to those I was partnering with and that I had to address these beliefs as they had become self-limiting and were holding me back from being the best, most authentic version of myself that I could possibly be. 

This is how I went about changing my attitudes to these beliefs.


Evolved Belief One: It is best to be self-sufficient

By relying on yourself, you are denying yourself the wisdom and experience of others. We are all standing on the shoulders of giants and every advance we make as humans is the sum total of all of human experience down the ages. Seek and welcome advice from others.

Evolved Belief Two: It is weak to ask for help from others

How can I become the best version of myself that I want to be without the input and guidance of others? I have been seeing this the wrong way around. Having the courage to ask for help is a strength. Failing to ask for help is actually a weakness.

 Evolved Belief Three: Only weak people display their emotions

Being ‘strong and silent’ will act as a barrier and will demotivate people from wanting to connect with you. Being prepared to open up will make you more ‘human’ and approachable. You will benefit greatly from sharing more and having people’s counsel as you navigate the roller coaster of life.

 Evolved Belief Four: I am immune to stress

If this is the case, why have I made so many decisions that have turned out to be impulsive and extreme and therefore ended up compounding my stress load?

How have I been able to make good decisions without having any plan in place to manage the stress of a super-active business life? What can I do in the realms of physical health, emotional health, cognitive health and spiritual/creative health to manage my stress load more effectively? What is the first step that I can take? 

Evolved Belief Five:It is better to keep my private life under wraps

I don’t need to tell people all of my intimate details but if they know nothing about my life, how can I build rapport and find commonalities with them? Which parts ARE worth revealing and how might this impact in a positive way on my key relationships?

Part Two 

Practice with your clients to help them evolve their beliefs and develop a flexible mindset

Using Part One as a guide, list your own self-limiting beliefs:

  1. Identify all the deep-rooted beliefs that may be currently hindering your authenticity and write them down
  2. Choose the 2 to 3 beliefs that contribute most to the problems or issues you are experiencing
  3. Substitute these limiting beliefs with positive supportive beliefs
  4. Focus on the new beliefs by repeating and affirming the new beliefs
  5. Remove any contradictory thoughts and focus on the new belief
  6. Start to action your goals and objectives to live your authentic self

I would like to finish this short piece by quoting Mahatma Gandhi:

“Man often becomes what he believes himself to be. If I keep on saying to myself that I cannot do a certain thing, it is possible that I may end by really becoming incapable of doing it. On the contrary, if I have the belief that I can do it, I shall surely acquire the capacity to do it even if I may not have it at the beginning.”

After reading this piece, I invite you to make the following two reflections

In considering the role of beliefs in how we think, feel and act:
1. What was your biggest insight?
2. What one small action step can you incorporate into your client sessions as a result?

James Mcleod

Senior Faculty Member-Kingstown College

After a long career in international media sales, James moved into training and coaching in Shanghai, China in 2009. He worked exclusively with multinational corporations based in Greater China including Ericsson, Siemens, Novartis, Carrefour and Rio Tinto. He moved to Ireland in 2014. As a Senior Faculty Member of Kingstown College, James has been running modules for their Advanced Diploma in Personal & Executive Coaching, the Advanced diploma in Mental Health and Well-Being and for their Train the Trainer (6N3325/6N3326) accreditation programmes. He is a regular speaker and facilitator at events focussing on Coaching and Leadership Development. Outside of the training arena, he is an avid long-distance runner and has completed his 100th Marathon in 2018! He is a passionate believer in running as a philosophy on life and advocates that the principles of distance running can be applied successfully to strengthen self-awareness, improve self-management, grow and retain self-esteem, heighten performance and increase happiness, meaning, focus and purpose.