“I believe that each of my clients is a unique, creative person with all the resources to make the changes they deem necessary, towards their happiness. As a Coach, I feel honoured to be able to participate in this process of developing your life.”
This sentence is part of my draft “Coaching Contract” that I sign with my clients, and translates, in a very clear way, a conviction or, if we want, a “belief”: “I believe that each person is unique, creative, and has all the resources they need to make the changes they decide to make in their life.”
But what do I base this on to state this with such conviction? Naturally this is a ‘good’ belief because it leads us into a process of discovering these resources in the partnership relationship we establish with our clients. But will all beliefs have this effect? And how do they arise in our lives? And can we eliminate existing beliefs and replace them with new ones? This is the work that I propose to do: to answer these questions, with the invaluable help of three authors: António Damásio, Bruce H. Lipton and José Figueira.
Beliefs are our “truths” that we construct throughout our lives, and they are of two very different types:
Positive sign (+) beliefs are called “Liberating Beliefs” because they refer us to the multiple possibilities created by new angles or prisms of observation of reality. This type of belief gives us the power and strength to make changes in our lives, reflected in our physiognomy and attitudes: people who hold liberating beliefs are more energetic, more positive and have more capacity for achievement. An example of positive beliefs can also be sentences like this:
- I know I can do it!
- I am not a person who gives up!
- I believe that everything is possible, as long as I want it!
- I believe that every problem has a solution.
- I am always on the side of the solution and never of the problem.
Beliefs with a negative sign (-) are called “Limiting Beliefs” because they limit us and reduce the possibilities of observing reality. This type of belief takes away our strength and power to face any kind of change necessary in our life, which is reflected in our physiognomy and our attitudes: people who hold this type of belief are more passive, less positive and with less capacity for achievement. An example of negative or limiting beliefs could be sentences like this:
- I would like to … but I know I can’t;
- I don’t believe it’s possible;
- I only see problems in my life;
- I tend to always see the negative side of something;
- I am afraid to expose myself;
- I’m going to do it but I already know it won’t work.
1. How are Beliefs formed?
I start at the beginning, which in this case is a book: “The Biology of Belief” by Bruce H. Lipton, cell biologist, researcher in the area of cloned cells and one of the pioneer scientists of the new biology or Epigenetics. In this work, Bruce Lipton presents all the discoveries related to the study of cells in a chronological way, ending with the presentation of his own scientific evidence on how all our cells are affected by the biochemical processes of brain functioning – that is, how our thoughts cause changes in our cells. This statement is not unimportant, because if our cells are influenced by the outside (in this case by biochemical processes produced in the brain), this also means that our genes and DNA are also influenced by the inputs they receive from the environment/external to the cells. So, a first and great conclusion for humanity, is that we humans are not fatally determined to be this way or that way because of our genetic inheritance or our DNA. Yes, it is true that genes reflect at birth our “potential”, but it is we who decide throughout life our destiny!
This scientific evidence of Epigenetics, corroborated in the meantime by Neuroscience, is particularly important for us to understand how the first beliefs are formed in the first six years of life of any Human Being. To this end, I transcribe from Chapter 7 – Conscious Parenting, some sentences that elucidate this process.
“Evolution has endowed our brains with the ability to rapidly load an unimaginable number of beliefs and behaviors into our memory. We can better understand how this rapid loading works by analyzing the electrical, fluctuating activity of the brain, as measured in electroencephalograms. These increasingly sophisticated images reveal a graded range of brain activity in humans. Both adults and children, exhibit variations in EEGs ranging from low frequency ‘delta’ waves to high frequency ‘beta’ waves. However, researchers have noted that EEG activity in children, reveals, at each stage of development, predominance of a specific brain wave!
Between birth and 2 years, the human brain operates predominantly at the lowest EEG frequency (0.5 to 4 cycles per second (Hz) known as ‘delta’ waves.
Between the ages of 2 and 6, the child begins to spend more time at a higher level of EEG activity characterized as ‘theta’ (4-8 Hz)
To better understand the effect of these ‘theta’ waves we need to add that hypnotherapists reduce their patients’ brain activity to ‘theta’ because low frequency brain waves put them in a more suggestible and programmable state.
Children closely observe their environment, and directly download into subconscious memory the knowledge of the world provided by their parents. As a result, their parents’ behaviour and beliefs become their own. Given the precision of this behavioural recording system, we can imagine the consequences of hearing a parent say “you’re stupid”, “you’ll never amount to anything in life”, “you’re a hothouse flower…”.
During the initial phase of development, the child’s conscience is not sufficiently developed to critically evaluate these statements from parents or relatives. As a result, these insults become “truths” that unconsciously shape the child’s behavior and potential throughout life.”
Now that we know how beliefs are formed in the early years of life, it is easy to see that using the same process we can create in our children, beliefs of a positive sign such as: “I am so proud of you”; “see how you can do it!”; “you can be anything you want”.
But… can these negative beliefs that are installed in the first years of life be eliminated or replaced in adulthood? The answer is yes! Let’s see how…
2. What effect do beliefs have on the perception of reality?
To answer this question, I resort to NLP – Neuro Linguistic Programming, and to its “Communication Model” that explains how we perceive the reality that surrounds us. Let us now look at these filters and their impact on the way we see the world. These mental operations play a very important and useful role. Let us see:
Omitting external stimuli allows us to select the information that interests us most.
Generalizing allows us to synthesize large blocks of information into levels, classes or categories.
Distorting allows us to create new realities based on old information.
All this is “functional” except when we do it subconsciously or on “autopilot”, which happens 95% of our time (Szegedy-Maszak, 2005 and António Damásio, 2010). Yes, the conscious mind only “runs the show” for the remaining 5% of our time. As a result, we miss valuable information, see-hear-feel what is not there, and believe our generalizations to be facts and not linguistic abstractions, with tragic effects such as racism, xenophobia, social discrimination, etc.
Beliefs are part of these filters, alongside memories, values, convictions, and attitudes. With these filters we create our “internal representation” of reality. It is not Reality, it is our reality or Map of the World, which in turn refers us to emotional states that are reflected in our physiognomy and define our behavior.
If these filters or lenses let the light and sunshine through, we will have a greater chance of becoming more attentive, optimistic, and confident people. If these filters or lenses darken our reality, we will probably be more pessimistic and insecure in our decisions. The positive or negative sign of our beliefs is determinant of the type of lenses with which we view reality. The good news is that these lenses can be changed!
3. Change the Programs
“We are personally responsible for everything that happens in our life, from the moment we realize that we are responsible for everything that happens in our life!”. Bruce H. Lipton
I chose this sentence because it refers to a very important moment in the Coaching process: the moment when clients become aware of something that until then had not been revealed to their consciousness. There is a “before” and an “after” whenever this happens.
In the previous point I talked about conscious mind and subconscious mind. I will explain briefly:
The subconscious mind is mainly a large storehouse of knowledge originating from instincts and past lived experiences. It is a behavioral programmed with millions of data stored and always available in our daily lives. Genetic inheritance and the beliefs and behaviors acquired through parents, teachers, and environment, make up a giant database, always available and prioritized to tell us what the behavior for each stimulus is. It is the subconscious mind that dictates to us what to do and what to think in 95% of our actions. It is also, and for this reason, called “Autopilot”. This is where all beliefs reside!
The conscious mind – which represents the seat of our personal identity, origin, or spirit – is the creative mind. It can see into the future, review the past, or disconnect from the present moment while solving problems in our head. Thanks to its creative capacity, the conscious mind holds our wishes, desires, and aspirations for life. It is the mind that conjures up our “positive thoughts”. Although the conscious mind is only active in 5% of our actions, it also has two extraordinarily important characteristics:
it is self-reflexive, i.e., it is a sensory organ that observes our own behaviors and emotions.
it has access to most of the data stored in our memory bank (subconscious).
Armed with this capacity for self-reflection, the conscious mind is extremely powerful! It can observe any programmed behavior we are having, evaluate it and consciously decide to change the programming! We can choose whether we want to react to most environmental signals, and how we want to react to them. This ability of the conscious mind to override the programmed behaviors of the subconscious mind is the basis of free will.
Having arrived here, we can now answer the last question we asked at the beginning of this reflection:
- And can we eliminate existing beliefs and replace them with new ones?
Yes, we can! We possess a conscious mind that helps us identify pre-programmed thoughts (beliefs) and behaviors. This same conscious mind also helps us to create the habit necessary for the construction of a new belief with a positive sign, which cancels and replaces the previous one (in computer language we would say that it is a matter of installing a new version of beliefs and behaviors). Of course, this is not a simple process, much less a quick one.
Once a “limiting” belief has been identified and a decision has been made to replace it, time is needed to process the change.
About this “time”, I transcribe the explanation given by António Damásio, in The Book of Consciousness
“Conscious deliberation is largely concerned with decisions made over the course of long periods of time, days or weeks in the case of some decisions…. Conscious deliberation has to do with thoughtful reflection. We apply reflection and knowledge when we decide important issues in our lives. We use conscious deliberation to govern our loves and friendships, our education, our professional activities, our relationships with others.”
And further “… most important decisions are made long before the moment of execution, in the conscious mind, at the time when it is possible to simulate and test them, and where conscious control potentially makes it possible to minimize the effect of non-conscious predispositions.”
Of course, none of this is new. Any Coaching professional knows that change needs time for the client to make the transition from their EA-Current State to their ED-Desired State.
Here, what seems important to me to highlight is the importance that the Coach has in this process:
- Contribute for the client to get out of his “autopilot” and access his conscious mind to identify the beliefs, as well as the gains and losses of his existence as such.
- Contribute to the elaboration of a plan that leads to the replacement of these beliefs by others with a positive and more functional sign.
- Accompany the client throughout the process because, as we have seen above, the conscious mind needs time to make its creative simulations of what it wants to change, even before beginning the process of change or transition.
Having arrived at this point, I believe that it is very clear that, since this is one of the themes that comes up most frequently in our Coaching sessions, it deserves our attention and deeper knowledge. I hope that this small work contributes to this better knowledge.
As professional Coaches, in continuous training, we need to deepen all the themes that come to us in the Coaching sessions brought by our clients. Only in this way can we guarantee the level of excellence that our clients expect from us.