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4 April 2022


Getting to grips with holding yourself back

I recall someone once telling me there are four perspectives in a relationship between two people:

  • How A sees B
  • How B sees A
  • How A sees themselves
  • How B sees themselves.

How aligned the perspectives are may widely differ. 

A may appear to B to be calm, in control and confident and yet A may see themselves totally differently. Whilst holding it together externally, they are nervous and lacking in confidence internally. 

Maintaining this calm exterior, whilst feeling anything but calm internally is hard work and distracts from giving your best performance. Clients sometimes describe this feeling as being similar to that of a duck, gracefully skimming the water surface and yet beneath the water, they are paddling like mad to keep moving.

The same may be true for how A sees B and how B sees themselves. The fact that B sees A as calm, in control and confident, suggests that A is doing something right, so what is it that is telling A otherwise?

What A is experiencing are known as self-limiting beliefs, which are negative thoughts we have about ourselves that often hold us back. They eat away at our confidence in the situations that relate to them, and for some people create a fear of being found out for not being good enough, which is also known as Imposter Syndrome.

Classic examples of self-limiting beliefs include:

  • I’m not good enough to go for promotion
  • I can’t do public speaking
  • I can’t do confrontational conversations
  • I can’t do budget management
  • I can’t manage people.

One of the biggest challenges relating to self-limiting beliefs is that we typically keep such beliefs to ourselves, because they are a little embarrassing, and we don’t want to admit to them for the very reason we don’t want others to know we don’t think we are good enough, or that we can’t do X, Y or Z. 

The Johari Window.

As such they often sit in the “hidden self” quarter of your Johari Window; the area which captures what you know about yourself that others don’t know.

The Johari window is a technique designed to help people better understand their relationship with themselves and others. It was created by psychologists Joseph Luft (1916–2014) and Harrington Ingham (1916–1995) in 1955 and can be used as a simple model for developing self-awareness around how you and others see you. 

Luft and Ingham named their model "Johari" using a combination of their first names.

In coaching, the Johari Window is a useful model to help a client think about what they may want to work on in coaching, based on:

  • What they know about themselves that others know, or “open area” 
  • What they didn’t know about themselves that others know, or “blind spot” (this can be identified through asking for feedback) 
  • What they know about themselves, that others don’t know, or “hidden area” (the confidential safe space that coaching provides is a great way to encourage people to share what may be in their hidden area that they feel is holding them back) - it’s a hot spot of self-limiting beliefs.

Once a client has identified and shared their self-limiting beliefs, it is possible to then work with them on what is behind this image they have of themselves, how strong a belief it is, how it impacts them, what triggers it, whether they are sometimes able to manage or calm it, to identify situations when they have delivered despite it and, in doing so, identify approaches that hopefully reduce its influence over the client’s thought processes and slowly through practice remove it or reduce it to a manageable level.

In addressing a client’s self-limiting beliefs, the intention is to build confidence in how they feel about themselves and, in doing so, create a greater sense of calmness and control so the client's energy and attention can be focused on delivery and not wasted on maintaining of façade. 

Telling someone with self-limiting beliefs that their beliefs are wrong and they just need to listen to what people are saying about them is unlikely to help on its own. This is where coaching can be of real value, as a safe confidential space in which the coach can facilitate the client to explore what is behind their self-limiting belief and what can be done about it. It addresses the cause rather than the effect and is undertaken by the individual themself, creating greater self-awareness and ownership of the way forward. 

For a client who is experiencing Imposter syndrome, addressing their self-limiting beliefs will hopefully remove the fear of being found out for not being good enough. As the self-limiting beliefs diminish, so should their self-doubt concerning their worthiness in their role.

As always, please get in touch if you have any questions on these, or indeed any of the points raised above.

From the author:

As coaching is not an advice-giving service, these blogs are not written with the intention of proposing solutions to common leadership challenges. Instead, they are thought pieces with the aim of prompting the reader to think more deeply about the topic and reflect on whether it warrants further exploration, with or without a coach.

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