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Belief Systems: What Are They, And How Should We Navigate Them As Coaches?

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October 22, 2021
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The Everything Life Coaching Podcast, featuring JRNI Coaching founders John Kim and Noelle Cordeaux, is a deep dive into the experience and business of being a life coach. In this episode, we explore where personal belief systems come from, and how to navigate them in a coaching relationship. Subscribe to get new episodes weekly!

Belief Systems: What Are They, How Do They Rule Our Lives?

Belief systems are the principles that guide us through our everyday life. They’re unique to each of us, and consist of a set of principles and facts that help us interpret our reality. Often they are codified in large societal structures such as religious, political, and philosophical systems. 

Our beliefs have a profound impact on our identity. And yet, many of the beliefs that form our very foundation reside in the unconscious. That’s not so surprising when you think about it! Our brain is exposed to a vast amount of information over the course of our lives, but we’re only consciously aware of a fraction of it. 

Over time, our personal beliefs are shaped by a variety of factors: 

  • Our knowledge on a certain topic
  • The way we were raised
  • Peer pressure 
  • What we’ve learned about concepts of right and wrong, proper and improper, and other ideas we may have picked up about “The way we do things around here”

Our subconscious mind tucks away so much, absorbing messages from the world around us. As a result, most of us end up with a grab-bag of beliefs that have been heavily influenced by forces outside our direct control. In addition to what we take in from our family and community, this includes factors such as where we happened to grow up, and the physical body we were born into. 

In the early part of our lives, there isn’t a lot of choice and free will around the messages and beliefs we are exposed to. It’s only as we mature and become adults that we develop more conscious choices around what we want to believe.

We are living through a time where people are having seismic shifts in their relationship to deeply held beliefs. Coaches can be of real service to this process, walking together with our clients through these massive - and often difficult - changes.

How to Navigate Beliefs In the Coaching Space

Coaching is a place where our clients gain self-awareness in order to move forward with goal accomplishment. In this process, core belief systems are often challenged. When a client discovers that certain things they held as true may instead be based in faulty belief systems, things can get uncomfortable. 

In coaching, it’s important to be aware of how our clients are experiencing their own belief systems, especially during times when those beliefs may be under fire. This can happen both as a person questions their own beliefs, as well as when a strongly held belief is being challenged from the outside. 

A great example of this on the collective level that's been unfolding in real time is the shift in public perception of employers and corporations. In 2020, the British think tank WelltoDo published the results of a study showing that the general public in Western society held more trust in corporations and corporate leaders than in governmental or religious sectors. Their findings at the time revealed that consumers expected transparency, and that employees expected their employers would serve as a stable and protective force. 

In 2021, those beliefs completely changed. As the pandemic raged on, trust in employers sunk to an all time low. And as we record this podcast episode, the corporate sector is reeling from the “Great Resignation.”  

“Workers aren't just looking for higher pay, more time off, or more days at home (though those things would surely help in the short term). They're actually questioning the whole meaning of the daily grind. Why do we put so much of ourselves into our careers? And are we getting a fair deal from our employers in return for all this stress and heartache?” - Jessica Stillman, Inc.com 

This is just one example of a rapid and massive belief system shift, and one you may be encountering directly in your work with clients.

Practice Tips for Coaches

As you’re thinking about how to incorporate an understanding of belief systems into your own coaching practice, consider the following.

1. When someone’s core belief is challenged, anger is a normal response

This is where coach training comes into play - we learn to allow for strong emotions in session. When held properly, processing big emotions like anger, fear and regret can result in increased gains in self-awareness.

When a coach shies away from the Big Feels, this does not serve the client. The right way to handle it is to hold space. Allow your client to vent, clear, experience and work through all of those feeling. This is a necessary part of opening up internal space for a new way of being.

Clearing and venting is only one part of the coaching process, however. The following step involves exploring the question: “What next?” When it comes to moving from processing to action, the standard for coaches is to work at the pace of the client. If your client is not ready to start exploring what’s on the other side of that anger, it isn’t your role to push.

2. Take your own feels out of the equation

We are all in this collective cognitive meltdown together. It would be faulty to assume that we as coaches are not challenged by the very same issues that our clients might be experiencing at this time.

As helping professionals, we need to be hyper-focused on this so we can become part of the solution. If you are not actively aware of your own belief systems - and how those may collide with your client’s own beliefs - that's a problem. Strife, disappointment, conflict or sadness are likely to result.

One of the core International Coaching Federation standards of coaching is to employ a coaching mindset. What this asks of us is to consciously work to identify personal triggers alongside holding space for a client’s personal response. This is an art, and a core competency of coaching that is essential for all coaches to master.

This is one reason why formal coach training is so important.

Without proper training, it’s much more likely that your unconscious beliefs and views will enter into the coaching space. For more on how to hold space effectively as a coach, explore: How To Hold Space for Others.

Here's how to manage your own triggers as they arise in a coaching session (and you're human, so they will!):

  1. Observe any feeling of “ouch,” judgement or anger that comes up.
  2. Note to yourself: “This is mine.”
  3. Put a pin in it mentally so you can return for further reflection at a later time.

Do take the time to reflect and take care of yourself. This might look like journaling on what came up for you and considering any of your own core beliefs that may have been challenged. It may involve a follow up conversation with your client. If you feel this is a trigger point that has potential to become recurring, seek guidance and support from a mentor, coach or therapist.

This is an ongoing process and something that helping professionals have to be very aware of, and especially at this time. 

3. Check in with your client

Before diving in, find out if they are ready to start exploring what's arising for them as a result of new awareness. Not everyone is ready to immediately dive in and get to work when a really big belief system is first challenged. As a coach, you might be more ready than your client to move to the next level of awareness, but the pacing is not up to you. In coaching, we always follow the pace of the learner.

Above all, be gentle with yourself or others. The past few years have been a challenging time collectively. Assume that every single person you encounter is carrying a heavy internal load. We are in this as one big human family, and the only way out is through.

Want to Become A Coach?

One of our values at JRNI is that we dare to be different. Our coaches ignore the expectations society tries to impose on them, and seek to live from their own truth instead. If you are ready to step into your power and you’d like some partners in the process, come check out JRNI Life Coach Training. Grounded in science, our ICF accredited program features authentic instructors, a robust curriculum, and business instruction to prepare you for liftoff.

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