Rembrandt painted this self-portrait while he was suffering significant problems. In this blog, I will cover a theme that stays pretty constant for coaches – when a client comes to you at a significant transition point in their lives. Misquoting Shakespeare (on greatness in Twelfth Night) – some are borne to cope with change, some become able to cope with change and some have change thrust upon them. It is the last case, where a client seeks coaching to help them cope with a situation, ranging from personal tragedy to changes they find extremely difficult to accept. However, for the most part, even though these may be extremely painful, they are far from unexpected in the course of a lifetime. Some examples can be around redundancy, retirement, illness and personal loss. Perhaps most significantly, when clients reach a point in life when their success is not delivering the ‘promised happiness’, the bewilderment that comes about can lead to a profound sense of a lack of meaning.

Part of coaching can be to provide a witnessing presence, but without an underpinning philosophy to withstand natural changes in life, a client will suffer unless some challenge to their existing beliefs are made. However, the very term limiting beliefs, implies a judgement – on what basis is the decision that a belief is either limiting or not?

In this blog, I want to cover how an adoption of a basic life philosophy can help inoculate clients from these sufferings and provide clarification for the ‘judgements’ as to why a belief is limiting.

What’s Your Philosophy?

Firstly, let’s consider some various forms of general philosophies of life which I will group as Materialism, Hedonism and Principle based (both secular and religious). Speaking personally, I started out with some simple and probably common types of philosophy: to gain independence from my parents and become self-sufficient. That was a path of materialism with hedonism as a way of reward or relief. My first major turning point was in my early 30s when success in business and an unhealthy lifestyle started to feel wrong. This understanding was intensified when my father died and my first child was born. I realised that I lacked meaning – but importantly – I also had the responsibilities of parenthood which meant that hedonism wasn’t practical for me if I was to fulfil my value as being a good parent with a reliable temperament.

What Can You Control, And How Can That Help You?

I then read the book the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey, which I now realise was underpinned by stoic philosophy, especially Epictetus’s Dichotomy of Control – breaking down life into things you can control and things you can’t control. Covey talked about two key phases:

  1. You are the programmer

Limiting beliefs are when you want to have control over things you simply don’t have control over. For instance, you can’t control if other people will change and you certainly can’t control unpleasant things that happen to everyone. By that I mean everyone suffers loss – be that of your wealth, health and relationships. They may not happen anytime soon, (and some are no doubt reversable) but when they do, and they will – feeling it is unfair and grieving beyond a reasonable period is simply going to make you more unhappy. The things you can control in life are your attitude and your principles. If you can shift those so that these truths enable you to have beliefs that help you, then so much the better.

A quote I heard from Robert Dilts was, “Geniuses have very few beliefs.” Beyond basic beliefs that protect you from injury, most of our beliefs probably do us more harm than good. Therefore – you are the programmer – implies changing the design of your expectations to things you have control over and to accept situations where you don’t. Losses will still feel bad for a time, but you will not wind yourself up by constantly telling yourself stories such as ‘it is unfair’ or ‘I could have done something to prevent them’. Bad things happen to everyone and ongoing suffering is caused by not accepting them, not only by the things themselves. Good coaching is then not only enabling a client to identify what their beliefs are but providing criteria when these beliefs are actually misguided. I have found it most effective when I share personal stories where I have used these principles to overcome a similar issue. Hopefully clients may well go and reflect upon them and then later agree.

2. So – Now write the program

Once a client can embrace these ideas, they naturally want to develop a more coherent philosophy of life. For this they can do well to develop what Covey called principles. There is an interesting difference between what Covey defines as values and principles: he states that values are personal while principles are universal. One might personally value competition and winning, but a principle of wanting to do your best is more useful than a value of winning.

This may sound like an overly liberal excuse where children are no longer encouraged to compete for fear of losing –  I believe this is actually the reverse. We learn that winning and losing is a part of life; to focus on doing your best most probably increases your chances of winning, as it is something under your control. You will thereby be satisfied, even if you do in fact lose, as you achieved your goal of doing your best. You will also have worked out what to do better next time, rather than feeling like a loser.

The program is then discovering a group of principles (which are likely to be universal) to guide your life which you can construct into your own philosophy.

I hope this blog has given a flavour of the some of the ideas needed for NLP coaching – in order to help clients live a happy life, we ourselves need a practical philosophy to help clients learn to accept the inevitable shifts that take place over the course of a life.

I’ll be covering coaching for life transitions in two upcoming courses – the Environment, Identity and Vision workshop this coming 16th – 17th November in Paris, and Advanced Coaching – Processes for Personal and Professional Transformation from 4th – 6th December in London. I hope to see you there.

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