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

Limiting beliefs are often so much a part of us that we don't even realise they're there. In fact, asking a client what their limiting beliefs are could be likened to the metaphor of asking a fish for a glass of water: It's so much a part of them that they don't see it.

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

So, 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 answer the questions - especially after their initial answer - see what ELSE they say if you just wait quietly...

    1. How important is ________ to you really?
    2. That's interesting because the evidence suggests (feel free to mention whatever they're NOT doing) you're not that interested/committed to ________.
    3. What else do you think could be getting in the way?
    4. What hidden rules (or limiting beliefs) do you think you have that could be stopping you from making the progress you desire?
    5. Interesting. What will you do with this new information?
    1. Where in your body do you feel stuck or held back?
    2. Describe the feeling (what, where, frequency, motion, intensity, how it physically FEELS).
    3. What do you think that feeling is trying to tell you?
    4. What do you think that feeling might be trying to protect you from?
    5. How can you honour the intention behind ________ (the fear) AND still move forwards?
  3. BREAK THE RULES (Rules are often just limiting beliefs!):
    1. So, what rule/s would you be breaking if you did ________ (the client's goal/action)?
    2. Thinking back for a moment, where do you think that rule might have come from?
    3. Who do you think may have given that rule to you?
    4. What do you think was the original purpose behind the rule?
    5. How does that rule apply now?
    6. If the rule doesn't apply any more: So, what are you going to do with this new information?
    7. If the rule still applies: How can we update the rule so that it's more flexible and you can still achieve the ________ you want?
  4. BE SILLY!
    1. Let's imagine that it's something else getting in the way.
    2. What might you be embarrassed to look at that could be stopping you from ________?
    3. What might you feel silly to say out loud?
    4. That sounds perfectly rational to me: If part of you thinks ________, no wonder you haven't done ________
    5. So, where do we go from here?
    1. What rules do you have about how you should behave, that are getting in the way of you moving forwards?
    2. How specifically does ________ (rule) affect your ability to move forwards? (REPEAT for each rule)
    3. Tell me about that. What is that like?
    4. What would you like instead of ________ (negative affect of rule)?
    5. Who do you need to be to achieve that?

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?" and "What does your Gremlin/Inner Critic most often beat you up for doing or not doing?" or "When are you most likely to feel that your Gremlin or Inner Critic is watching and judging you?".

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  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


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