As a coach, I must develop an understanding of the power and the nature of beliefs. These are not beliefs in the religious sense of the word but rather those that individuals have about themselves. So, what is a belief in the context?

The dictionary definition says a belief is, “A principle accepted as true or real without proof. An opinion, a conviction”.

The American personal development expert, Anthony Robbins, maintains the ‘the most important opinion a person will ever hold is the one that they hold about themselves.’

These beliefs are the thoughts and ideas that are no longer questioned. Because they have the power to create or destroy because every thought, expectation, and action is a direct result of such belief and because they shape the direction of our lives, they need serious examination.

So, how are these beliefs formulated, where do they come from and how do they become so well established?

Where do beliefs come from

Initially, they come from other people like parents, teachers, peer group, friends, family, the media and religion. In fact, from anyone who ever exerted, or still exerts any influence over us. They are formed in childhood and during adolescence.

Think back to your own childhood. How was your behaviour affected by what someone else said about you? Perhaps a cutting remark from a teacher or friend such as, “what a stupid answer!” made you think twice about raising your hand again in class, for fear of ridicule and humiliation.

Can you remember any strong beliefs that you formed about yourself or your situation? It is very likely that those beliefs still influence your behaviour today. If you received positive encouragements from your parents, teachers, and peers, you will have the foundation of good, healthy and positive self-beliefs.

If you were subjected to criticism, ridicule or blame, either real or perceived by you as such, then your belief pattern will be more negative and disempowering.

All children receive some negative messages. Behavioural scientists and child psychologists generally accept that children, under the age of five, receive ten more negative phrases from their parents for every positive one.

Some of these for the child’s own protection but the subconscious mind accepts all negative messages with equal value, whether they are for their own good or not. The impact of these early messages is so strong that child psychologists now recognise ‘verbal abuse’ as a significant issue and an identified syndrome when dealing with troubled children.

Very often there is a push from others to conform. For many, this is difficult to resist because of the very strong need to seek approval, to fit in and to be accepted. Thus initial self-image originated from your reaction to the attitudes that other people had towards you

Observe a baby. It reflects back the non-verbal signals it receives. It smiles when someone smiles at it and will probably cry if someone frowns at it. In this constant interaction of ‘receive and reflect back,’ a behaviour is learned and instilled in the mind.

If a schoolteacher, carer or parent makes a careless remark like, “ You are clumsy,” the child will have the seeds of clumsiness sown in their mind. Then, every time that the child drops something, the thought, “I am clumsy,” may spring to mind. The more they think of it, and gather evidence to support it, the more this is reinforced, the clumsier they will become. It may culminate in a self-fulfilling prophecy.

If that same teacher had said, “Well done, you really tried hard,” the child’s response would have been different. It’s likely that he or she would have gone on to seek further approval by trying out new things. They may have been encouraged to take risks and would view getting things wrong sometimes, as a natural part of the learning process.

How your beliefs are strengthened

Adolescence and puberty are times when most people become acutely aware of their self-image, and this is an age when many belief patterns are formed and which if left unchecked, may last a lifetime.

By adulthood, self-image is a collection of all the lifetime attitudes and opinions that have been received from others. And self-image creates the belief of who or what you are. Every human being has developed initial beliefs in a similar way.

Eric Berne, who wrote ‘The games people play’ in 1964, investigated the topic further. He suggested that, by the age of 4 or 5, the life script is written. By 7 it was polished and had the essential characters. By 12 years old it was further polished and was beginning to be lived out.

Coaches and their clients get to the chance to re-visit that script, to rewrite it and to do something different. That is the reason that clients seek a coach. They want help to make a change.

As a coach, you must have a clear understanding of your own belief systems before you are able to help clients come to terms with their own.

So how can childish thoughts still influence adult behaviour?

Consider an intelligent, hardworking young man who left university with good degree in computer studies. His creative and innovative ideas are often taken and developed by other colleagues because he simply lacks the confidence to voice them in team meetings. His conversations are peppered with phrases like “I know this might sound daft”, or, “this probably won’t work”.


He is hesitant and always seeks approval before proceeding with anything. His beliefs have developed from an early age. The youngest of a family of three, he was completely dominated by two older sisters who made fun of all his ideas, who thought they knew best and who took over and made all his decisions for him. His resultant belief that he has nothing really useful to contribute completely disempowers and limits him.

Old beliefs established in childhood are projected forward on to new and current situations. The good news is that those beliefs can be changed and turned around. It is just a question of reprogramming the subconscious mind.

The subconscious mind does not evaluate things, it is non-judgemental. This means that it is unable to distinguish between the genuine and the true attitudes and those that are false. They are all given the same credence because the subconscious mind takes in everything it is given.

The human brain has a cluster of cells that act as a filter to perceptions. It accepts information that is consistent with your beliefs and goals and that fits your picture of your life. At the same time, it filters out any information that is irrelevant and that does not fit with your picture of life.

The perceptions that make up your picture of life are well-worn and reinforced regularly. What you expect to happen to you often does, like a self-fulfilling prophecy. You interpret life and what happens to you in light of your beliefs. You search around to find evidence to support your stance to the exclusion of all alternative points of 

If you have ever been in a conversation with someone who is determined to be miserable and who rejects every bright idea, positive thought or slant on a situation, you have been speaking with someone who is simply acting out their beliefs system.

Someone who fundamentally believes that the world is a hostile place, where everyone is ‘out for what they can get.’ Will be less likely to take risks or open up to share their life, gifts, and love with others.

Conversely, the person who believes the world is an exciting place, full of abundant opportunities, has a far more optimistic view of life. They are open to the love and involvement of others and share their lives more freely. It is the same world that each inhabits. You get the picture of the two very different lives, based on two very different sets of strongly held beliefs.

 Negative Thinkers

Some people are such negative thinkers that they are unable to see any positive future possibilities and are totally lacking in confidence. Even if they achieve some success, they quickly negate the results to make them consistent with their beliefs.

They say, for example, “It was a fluke” or, “It was a one-off, I don’t normally do that.” In the same situation, a positive thinker would say to themselves, “I can do this consistently “or, “I will do it again in the future.” When faced with a poor performance or defeat, a positive thinker says, “This is a one-off,” “that’s not like me,” or. “I will perform better next time.” They set themselves up for success.

However, in the same situation, the negative thinker will say,” That’s typical,” “What else can I expect?” or “It’ll be the same again next time.” They set themselves up for failure.

Many people are unaware they hold beliefs about themselves and that those beliefs have such a powerful influence on the quality of all aspects of their lives. As a coach, I need to be sensitive and aware of the beliefs that limit and hold my clients back.

I must learn to recognise them in my client, identify the language and behaviours associated with them and have the courage to challenge the client in order to raise their awareness, to encourage them to take responsibility for their own beliefs and to change for the better.

Some clients cannot understand why they are not achieving their goals. If their aims and goals are incompatible with their underlying beliefs, there will be conflict. Their subconscious mind strives to achieve the goal but to ensure that it cannot succeed. The beliefs have to change for the goal to be achieved.

Viktor Frankl is a wonderful example of this. A world famous psychiatrist. He spent three years as a prisoner in Dachau and Auschwitz concentration camps. In his book, ‘Man’s search for Meaning’, he describes the horrifying events, the suffering and degradation that he and many others experienced. Throughout the book, he highlights that those who survived the horrors all had strong sense of attitude. He writes:

“Everything can be taken from a man except one thing: the last of human freedoms-to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way”.

In spite of their horrendous situation, they were still able to maintain their inner dignity and a sense of who they were.

Your thoughts and speech reflect your attitude. The words that you use indicate just how you think. If you want to change from a negative to a positive, then start with your language. Just notice how many people respond to the greeting ‘How are you?’, with ‘Not too bad’. ‘Not and ‘Bad’ are words with negative connotations. If you catch yourself saying, ‘Not too bad’, stop and change your reply to ‘Good’, ‘Great’ or ‘Fantastic’.