Coaching Questions 101: 5 Easy Ways to Identify Your Clients' Limiting Beliefs!

Client Pondering Limiting Beliefs on Yellow Background
Limiting beliefs are often so much a part of us that we don't realise they're there. In fact, asking a client what their limiting beliefs are could be likened to asking a fish, "What is water?": our beliefs are so deeply a part of us that we can't see them.

When our clients are stuck: when they have a goal and aren't making progress, or when the client is keen and knows their next step but avoids or won't commit—it's often a limiting belief at work. So this is the ideal time to ask questions and dig a little deeper to bring those limiting beliefs (or rules) into the open.

Here are 5 sets of questions to help identify and work through limiting beliefs:

IMPORTANT: Remember to use lots of silence. Give your client lots of time to ponder and reflect—especially after their initial responses. Wait quietly and give them space to see what ELSE arises...

    • Where in your body do you feel stuck or held back?
      1. Describe the feeling (what, where, frequency, motion, intensity, how it physically FEELS).
      2. What do you think that feeling is trying to tell you?
      3. What do you think that feeling might be trying to protect you from?
      4. How can you honour the intention behind ________ (the feeling/fear) AND still move forwards?
  2. BREAK THE RULES (Rules are often just limiting beliefs!):
    • So, what rule/s would you be breaking if you did ________ (the client's goal/action)?
      1. Thinking back for a moment, where do you think that rule might have come from?
      2. Who do you think may have given that rule to you?
      3. What do you think was the original purpose behind the rule?
      4. How does that rule apply now?
      5. If the rule doesn't apply any more: So, what are you going to do with this new information?
      6. If the rule still applies: How could you update the rule so that it's more flexible and you can still achieve the ________ you want?
  3. BE SILLY!
    • Let's imagine that there's something else getting in the way we haven't identified yet.
      1. What might you be embarrassed to look at that could be stopping you from ________?
      2. What might you feel silly to say out loud?
      3. That sounds perfectly rational to me: If part of you thinks ________, no wonder you haven't done ________
      4. So, where do we go from here?
    • What rules do you have about how you should behave, that are getting in the way of you moving forwards?
      1. How specifically does ________ (rule) affect your ability to move forwards? (REPEAT for each rule)
      2. Tell me about that. What is that like?
      3. What would you like instead of ________ (negative affect of rule)?
      4. Who do you need to be to achieve that?
    • When client is not completing actions/moving forwards (ensure you're in full rapport, and say with genuine curiosity/without any judgement):
      1. The evidence suggests (mention behaviour/whatever they're NOT doing) you're not that interested/committed to ________. So, how important is ________ to you really?
      2. What rules (or beliefs) could be stopping you from making the progress you desire?
      3. What else do you think could be getting in the way?
      4. This is interesting. What will you do with this new information?

Tip: Another way to approach limiting beliefs is to look at our inner critic or gremlin. Get your client to Draw Out Their Gremlin and then ask questions like

  • What rules does this Gremlin/Inner Critic insist that you live by?
  • What does your Gremlin/Inner Critic most often beat you up for doing—or not doing?
  • When are you most likely to feel that your Gremlin or Inner Critic is watching and judging you?

If you liked this article about limiting beliefs, you may also like:

Emma-Louise Elsey Headshot

Contributing Author:

Emma-Louise Elsey has been coaching since 2003 and is the Founder of The Coaching Tools Company and Fierce She's passionate about coaching and personal development. Originally a project and relationship manager for Fortune 500 companies she combined her love of coaching, creativity and systems to create over 100 brandable coaching tools, forms and exercises including 30+ completely free coaching tools. She now serves coaches and the coaching world through her exclusive newsletter for coaches, Coaches Helping Coaches Facebook Group and many other great tools for coaches, plus resources and ideas for your coaching toolbox. The Coaching Tools Company is an official ICF Business Solutions Partner.

Learn more about Emma-Louise & see all their articles here >>

Image of Client pondering where limiting beliefs ome from on yellow background by Dean Drobot via Shutterstock


  1. Brian

    Hi Emma Louise, I am just 6 months into starting my coaching career and love it after having spend 30 tears in Media and and am about to become ICF certified. This is a fantastic tool, so much to learn. Thank you.

  2. Lorraine Meaker

    Emma Louise thank-you for your resources. I have been out of coaching for some time and am finding your notes helpful as a refresher course. Thank-you.

    • Emma-Louise

      Dear Lorraine, first - thank-you for taking the time to comment! 🙂 And it's lovely to hear you find our articles helpful! Warmly, Emma-Louise

  3. Delene Edwards

    Thank you. Enjoyed this. Been out of coaching for a while and getting back in so refreshing my techniques. Just landed my first client this week. Grateful for your easy to read article!

    • Michela Phillips

      So glad you enjoyed the article, Delene! Congratulations on your first client!
      - Kindly, Michela


    As a coach, I found these are very valuable questions, really we need to understand the depth and intention behind each question

    • Michela Phillips

      Agreed, so glad you found the questions valuable 🙂
      - Kindly, Michela


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