The Problem With Over-Diagnosis of Limiting Beliefs in Coaching
In an industry rife with claims of manipulation, there has been a preference for stressing limiting beliefs as the culprit.
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"You're very resistant. It sounds like you have a lot of limiting beliefs. We could help you with that."
This was the response I received from a business coach who was trying to get intimate details about my business over private messenger. They asked questions like:
- What's your monthly revenue?
- What's your revenue goal for the year?
- How many clients are you working with right now?
This was our first conversation. They were already doing their best to extract details to stuff me into their funnel. When I pointed out that I didn't know them at all and didn't want to share that information, that very first sentence was their response. We're suffering an overdiagnosis of limiting beliefs in the coaching and consulting industry, and it needs to stop.
What is a limiting belief?
A limiting belief is an opinion that you hold about yourself or the world around you that is holding you back. Unfortunately, you find what you're looking for. So when you go about your life carting around these false beliefs confirmation bias kicks in. Confirmation bias happens when your brain filters out information that's contrary to your beliefs. Limiting beliefs paired with confirmation bias is a combination that can keep you unconfident and afraid to shoot for the stars.
According to Google Trends data, limiting beliefs as a search term started seeing consistent month-to-month traffic between 2010 and 2011. These days, you can't enter a discussion with entrepreneurs without hearing them talk about limiting beliefs. Especially if any of those entrepreneurs are coaches.
There are many self-proclaimed coaches in the business space. I've seen examples of shallow diagnoses and even the weaponizing of limiting beliefs during sales calls and coaching sessions. This is as much a detriment to the coach as it is to their clients.
What happens in a person's mind when someone labels their belief as limiting?
Instead of creating an environment where the client arrives at this conclusion, many business coaching clients are told what their limiting beliefs are. This can trigger many things in a person's mind. Largely because it plays to the insecurities they may already have about their ability to achieve the many great things they see other entrepreneurs accomplish on social media. It makes us reactive instead of responsive. It may shortcircuit our critical thinking as we become defensive or even accepting of the limiting belief diagnosis.
Being told on a regular basis that limiting beliefs is the problem, without any true work to change those beliefs, can have long-term effects on the self-regard of the client. This can show up as negative self-talk, lack of confidence in their decision-making and loss of trust in their intuition.
Labeling something as a limiting belief can mask other issues
The client's ability to think critically isn't the only one that's short-circuited. For the coach wielding the limiting belief hammer, everything looks like a limiting belief. If a client has a limiting belief, then the coach needs to work with them to stop thinking that way, or do they? I've watched coaches talk clients in circles about their limiting belief statements without digging to the root of the statement. The limiting belief label is tossed out as if it were the cause instead of the symptom of a deeper issue.
What types of issues can a shallow limiting belief diagnosis mask?
Have you ever heard someone complain about how they can't get excited about posting on social media? It's a common occurrence in many group business coaching programs. And it's something that is often labeled as a limiting belief or as a resistance to trying something new. The client gets coached through this, telling them why they shouldn't feel the way they feel. The next time this thought pops up, the client typically engages in thought-stopping to avoid it. Thought-stopping is a technique used in cults to keep members from questioning the leader. Does that sound like it has a place in a cutting-edge coaching model?
But what if we ask more questions: What if this client can't get excited about social media because they don't truly believe in their offer? Or perhaps their skill level isn't actually worth the amount of money they're asking prospects to pay? Then we see that the root cause isn't actually social media at all. With a great coach, a few questions and a discussion could eventually pull back the curtain for a client. But not if we teach clients that everything holding them back is a limiting belief.
Weaponizing limiting beliefs in coaching sales conversations
We move from overdiagnosis or shallow diagnosis into the weaponization of this concept. This happens when coaches or consultants use it to explain away prospect objections or rejections. The short story I shared at the start of this article actually happened. There was no way that the coach on the other end of our private messages could know enough about me to tell me my refusal was rooted in limiting beliefs.
But this counter to an objection occurs on sales calls as well. Typically, in the emotionally-charged environment that the coach has carefully curated over the length of the call. By the time the coach has revealed the fee for their program, any objections the prospect reveals can be labeled as fear-based decision making or rooted in limiting beliefs. This type of response can cause a prospect to move forward, because who wants to make fear-based decisions?
This type of prospect/client analysis isn't possible in the short time the coach or consultant has been interacting with the prospect. There are a variety of reasons someone may say no to a coach, and a lot of those reasons have nothing to do with the coach.
Coaches, take care with your limiting belief diagnoses
As a coach or a consultant, be sparing with your limiting belief diagnoses. Is it really a limiting belief issue? Or is there something behind that statement your client or prospect uttered that you should help them investigate? Coaches and consultants should be empowering their small business clients. Not creating situations where clients are afraid to trust their instincts. And if it's a sales call, there isn't enough time to actually determine whether or not it's a limiting belief holding that prospect back from working with you or weaknesses in your own marketing. So don't weaponize this concept against them to get their payment information.