Breaking down mental barriers by asking good questions

Every now and again, I practice coaching myself. I have two decks of cards (one purchased, and one I made myself) with open ended “powerful questions” that I use on myself. I get a double benefit of practicing the questions, and also coaching value for myself. Today, I actually broke through a mental barrier I’ve been wrestling with for a while now, just by a lucky draw of cards. I want to share it here with you, so that you can see what a coaching conversation might look like.


Q:  What is it you want

I want to be able to live more comfortably with uncertainty, with confusion, to not feel the need to wrestle control in an uncontrollable situation (so that I then beat myself up when I can’t wrestle control)

Q: What type of uncertainty do you want to be able to be with? (get specific)

A: It’s uncertainty about the outcome – uncertainty where there could be big consequences, where failure could mean financial trouble, or I am afraid failure would lead to social abandonment (“I told you so”, “you’re an idiot and should have known better”, etc.)

Q: What value has this belief provided you?

A: This belief has kept me from taking chances that could lead to significant problems financially or socially – it’s “kept me safe”. This belief has also kept me from fully living MY LIFE, in the way that I want to engage the world – it’s kept me playing small out of fear

Q: Why is it like that?

A: If I am honest with myself, its because of how I was raised – my parents would insult me, and get really angry at me if I failed or messed up – because “I should have know better, I should have worked harder, I should have been more careful, etc.” – it’s all about how “I am the problem” and “I am the reason for my failure”, whether or not that’s true. There was no space for accidents, no tolerance for a thought that I might have been unlucky, no room for error because ‘if I did my [job] right, it would have worked perfectly’

Q: How do you want to engage uncertainty?

A: I want to be able to see where I have confusion, and feel confident that even if something does go bad, that I made “the right choice” up front – so that I’m not afraid of failure and avoid action, but that I engage with action knowing that the outcome is uncertain

Q: Let’s get more specific – how do you want to do this?

A: I want to learn to feel the uncertainty, I want to acknowledge what I am feeling (which is fear/lizard brain/saboteur), then make a mindful choice of action.

Q: Where if your life do you want to do this right now?

-With building my business, I’m feeling torn between working hard to “define a niche” right now, but also feeling uncertain about what I choose – I feel like I’m working hard to define who I want to serve (which may be valuable), but at the same time, by keeping myself behind a computer, I feel like I’m wasting time that could be used meeting with people and building relationships which I know will be powerful.

-I’m not writing as much as I would like, because I’m uncertain who I want to niche down into, so then I “don’t know what to write” – and I’m keeping myself from expressing what I am thinking because of a fear of not writing the right things – I want to stop letting my uncertainty keep me from expressing myself in the ways I want to speak up.

-I feel confused around my specific business niche – I feel like there’s a HUGE opportunity (there are a lot of great coaches dedicated to other people, but this group isn’t represented). This community, in my experience has two massive challenges to overcome – the first is a belief in their own potential. They feel they can do more, and are suffereing from not doing it, but they worry that they can’t actually be successful doing more (they feel that their lot is to just follow the crowd, get a job you hate, work it to retirement, and then have some time and money to do something that makes life worth living). The second challenge is fear – they have a family, they have a mortgage – and they worry that by wanting to step into a greater experience of life, they are afraid that they will lose what they do love. If I can engage with them one on one, it’s possible to help them start to shift, to start to see what is possible in their life, what they are capable of, and what it means to live into your potential, but the writing often feels like I’m speaking to someone from the far side of a chasm. Somehow, I wandered my way over the chasm – and I need to figure out how to tell that story. But, back to my uncertainty – I feel like if I stick with this, when it’s not providing dividends yet, I am concerned whether I’m wasting time in a cul-de-sac, or if I’m in a dip – and I can see here the uncertainty is keeping my from fully thinking through how to discover whether it is in fact a cul-de-sac, or a dip, and then live powerfully into what I am doing, and learn from it. If I can determine my metric, what to measure to define if I’m getting traction, then I can make a commitment to working hard for 6 months, check in once a month, and then make an informed decision then. That’s what it means for me to live powerfully into uncertainty – I can see how I could fail, but I’m going to walk in anyway, and learn from it.

That’s what I want.

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