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Coaches Q&A – What Do I Do With a Client Who is Fixated on Why?

signYOURQuestionsCoach’s Question:

Hi Emma-Louise, I have a client who is fixated on “Why?”. They get really trapped in one line of thinking and it’s stopping them from moving forwards. I’m wondering if you have a relevant tool that you’ve created that would help them work through it?

They can be really focused which is great, but focusing on this “Why?” is hurting them and keeping them stuck. If you have anything that they can work on, that would be great.

Emma-Louise ElseyEmma-Louise’s Response:

Hey – great to hear from you! So, this is a toughie. It’s so easy to get caught up (and stuck in) trying to understand WHY – our brains just love to solve problems.

Of course asking, “Why?” CAN lead us to fruitful inquiry – a NON-judgemental analysis can help us learn from our mistakes and move forwards. But when we get stuck, when the reasons “Why?” are out of our reach, we need to let go and move on.

Why people get stuck asking, “Why?”:

Asking, “Why?” is a great tool for us to avoid feeling our pain. Instead of acknowledging our painful thoughts and feeling our difficult emotions (rejection, I am a failure, worthless, unlovable) – we can instead jump into analysis or “fix it” mode. Why did they cheat on me/end our relationship? Why didn’t I get that job? Why aren’t people signing up for my  program? Why did that happen? Why didn’t it go the way I expected?

And as long as we keep analysing and searching for answers,
we get to avoid experiencing the ‘unpleasant’ thoughts and feelings.

You asked for exercises and tools – which I will share in a moment. But before getting into exercises, I would do some gentle exploring around what they’re feeling, what they’re saying to themselves. And help them acknowledge what’s really going on for them. What do they get to avoid looking at or feeling by asking, “Why?”

Two Great Questions for your Clients to Ask Themselves Instead:

It can be great to give the client something to do when they notice they are headed down the why spiral. So, when a client gets caught up and stuck in “Why”, I give my clients two great questions to ask themselves instead:

  1. “How is this helping me move forwards?”
  2. “What do I need to do to take care of myself right now?”

7 Coaching Exercises – and Angles – to Move Forward from “Why?”:

So, you asked about exercises and tools. As a next step in coaching it’s great to get your clients doing something, anything, rather than being stuck in the brain loop of why? why now? why me? etc. Here are some suggestions:

  1. Boost Their Strengths: Use our coaching tool, or simply ask, “What are their Top 3 Strengths?”, “How could they use these strengths to move themselves FORWARDS from this situation?” Then, identify 5 ideas for each strength and coach them to pick the best action/s to move forwards with.
  2. Build a Bridge. First, identify a goal – to run a workshop with 25 attendees, get more cashflow, work through the painful feelings – whatever it is. And now there’s a bridge to cross. Your client can’t see the other side YET, but what are the next 3 steps they could take to move forwards? Then from those 3 steps they will have more knowledge to move forwards from (and pick the next 3 actions).
  3. Letting Go. Identify 10 things you’re holding onto that are slowing you down, draining your energy etc. THEN, CRUCIALLY, Ask: “What do you GAIN by holding onto each of these things?” (the secondary benefit!). In fact you could simply ask this question and ask them to list 5 or even 10 things they gain by holding onto this issue.
  4. Imagining a Mentor. Ask, “If you had a mentor, what would they suggest you do?”
  5. Let Go of What is Outside Your Control: I LOVE this tool. 3 circles. In the middle, what is IN your control, next – what you can influence. Finally outside the two circles – everything else. Of course the trick is to FOCUS on what is in our control. The second priority is to focus on what we can influence. And then to LET GO of the rest. After all, if we can’t influence or control the issue then we really are wasting time…
  6. 5 simple Questions – What could they do less of, more of, stop doing, start doing – and stay the same?
  7. Change direction completely. Help them discover What Makes Their Heart Sing?  Help them identify what they LOVE – what makes their heart sing. In life. Get them out of the current thinking fog – and break the ‘state’ they are in.

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De-Stress Series: A Simple 4 Step Process to Help Your Clients Cope With Stressful Feelings

manMH900448338[1]Sometimes our clients come to a session feeling stressed, overwhelmed, guilty, pressured or anxious. It’s hard to coach people when they’re caught up in these thoughts and feelings, so it can be helpful for us to have a way to help calm them down.

This technique may seem overly simple – but it’s often the simplest techniques that work the best…

NOTE: If you have corporate or executive clients this technique is great. You may want to tone down the touchy-feely language (eg. stick to the first 3 affirmations in step 3). AND you may also find this is a great technique BECAUSE it is so practical with a learning element (step 4)  which can be done by themselves at home.

So, here’s what I do:

4 Simple Steps to Help Clients Cope With Stress and Stressful Feelings:

  • Step 1) BREATHE. Ask them to pause and take a few deep breaths – making sure to breathe deeply into their stomach. It can be really helpful to ask them to place their feet flat on the floor, and place a hand on their stomach – and feel their stomach rising and falling. TIP: Sometimes this first step is enough on its own.
  • Step 2) Ask them to simply NOTICE, WITHOUT JUDGEMENT, what they’re feeling. It could be overwhelmed, guilty, pressured, stressed, anxious etc. Ask them to say out loud, “I’m feeling __________”.
    NOTE: If you notice they’re judging themselves, ask them to repeat the statement without the judgement, until you are satisfied they are simply stating how they feel.
  • Step 3) Ask them to AFFIRM themselves, preferably out loud, with a supportive affirmation or mantra. It could be one they create for themselves, or one of the examples below:
    i) “I am doing my best.”
    ii) “I can handle this feeling – and manage my day.”
    iii) “This feeling of ___________ (overwhelm/anxiety/guilt etc) will soon pass.”
    iv) “I am safe and I am loved. I can handle whatever I am feeling.”
    v) “I love myself. I will take care of this feeling later on today.”
    NOTE: Now they can use this mantra throughout the session or day, whenever they notice they’re feeling anxious or stressed again.

So, steps 1 – 3 of this technique help our clients notice what they are feeling – without judgement – and be present so they can have an effective session or get on with their day in a calmer frame of mind. However, there may be an important message or learning in the stress or difficult feelings. Therefore I also recommend a final step to help clients cope with, and learn from, their stressful feelings. This step proves that we can – and will – take care of ourselves. And as we get better at it, our stressful feelings become less burdensome in the future:

  • Step 4) REFLECT AND LEARN: Ask them when would be a good time to look at this feeling and take care of themselves? They may want to explore it with you in the session, but if not, ask them to commit to taking a few moments to reflect on their stressful feelings – it could be over a cup of tea when they get home or before they go to bed. Ask them to consider:
    i) “What’s important about the feeling of __________ today?” and
    ii) “What do I need to learn from this?”

IMPORTANT NOTE: Avoiding our unpleasant feelings and stress may help us get through a difficult day or week, but it can be a destructive habit which actually increases our stress in the long run. Our feelings show us who we are – and when we avoid looking at what we feel we literally abandon our ‘selves’ – removing the ability to learn what our feelings are telling us. When we allow our feelings and look at them without judgement, we not only learn from them but we also find that our feelings ‘move on’ – because we’ve got the message – and they’re not needed any more…

“She had finally allowed her negative feelings to surface, feelings that had been repressed for years in her soul. She had actually FELT them, and they were no longer necessary, they could leave.” Paulo Coelho

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Coaching Questions 101: 5 Easy Ways to Identify Your Clients’ Limiting Beliefs!

Limiting beliefs are often so much a part of us that we don’t even realise they’re there. In fact, asking a client what their limiting beliefs are could be likened to the metaphor of asking a fish for a glass of water: It’s so much a part of them that they don’t see it.

When our clients are stuck, when they have a goal and are not making progress or when the client is keen, knows what the next step is but avoids or won’t commit to it – it’s often a limiting belief at work. So this is the ideal time for coaches to ask questions and dig a little deeper to bring those limiting beliefs (or rules) into the open.

So, here are 5 sets of questions to help identify and work through limiting beliefs:

Important: Remember to use lots of silence. Give your client lots of time to ponder and answer the questions – especially after their initial answer – see what ELSE they say if you just wait quietly…

    1. How important is ________ to you really?
    2. That’s interesting because the evidence suggests (feel free to mention whatever they’re NOT doing) you’re not that interested/committed to ________.
    3. What else do you think could be getting in the way?
    4. What hidden rules (or limiting beliefs) do you think you have that could be stopping you from making the progress you desire?
    5. Interesting. What will you do with this new information?
    1. Where in your body do you feel stuck or held back?
    2. Describe the feeling (what, where, frequency, motion, intensity, how it physically FEELS).
    3. What do you think that feeling is trying to tell you?
    4. What do you think that feeling might be trying to protect you from?
    5. How can you honour the intention behind ________ (the fear) AND still move forwards?
  3. BREAK THE RULES (Rules are often just limiting beliefs!):
    1. So, what rule/s would you be breaking if you did ________ (the client’s goal/action)?
    2. Thinking back for a moment, where do you think that rule might have come from?
    3. Who do you think may have given that rule to you?
    4. What do you think was the original purpose behind the rule?
    5. How does that rule apply now?
    6. If the rule doesn’t apply any more: So, what are you going to do with this new information?
    7. If the rule still applies: How can we update the rule so that it’s more flexible and you can still achieve the ________ you want?
  4. BE SILLY!
    1. Let’s imagine that it’s something else getting in the way.
    2. What might you be embarrassed to look at that could be stopping you from ________?
    3. What might you feel silly to say out loud?
    4. That sounds perfectly rational to me: If part of you thinks ________, no wonder you haven’t done ________
    5. So, where do we go from here?
    1. What rules do you have about how you should behave, that are getting in the way of you moving forwards?
    2. How specifically does ________ (rule) affect your ability to move forwards? (REPEAT for each rule)
    3. Tell me about that. What is that like?
    4. What would you like instead of ________ (negative affect of rule)?
    5. Who do you need to be to achieve that?

Tip: Another way to approach limiting beliefs is to look at our inner critic or gremlin. Get your client to Draw Out Their Gremlin and then ask questions like, “What rules does this Gremlin/Inner Critic insist that you live by?” and “What does your Gremlin/Inner Critic most often beat you up for doing or not doing?” or “When are you most likely to feel that your Gremlin or Inner Critic is watching and judging you?”.

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10 Essential Questions to Help Your Client Identify Their Strengths!


Many people can easily reel off their flaws and faults and yet stumble when asked, “So, what do you think your strengths are?” Which is why helping our clients identify strengths is a great service we can perform for them.

Marianne Williamson said, “We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?” Who indeed? Imagine if everyone in the world played to their strengths in their lives. Imagine if your clients consciously used their strengths and customized their work and/or play to their talents…

So, here are 10 Essential Questions to Help Your Client Identify Their Strengths:

  1. “What are three of your greatest strengths?”  (A simple starter to ease them in!)
  2. “Tell me about some of the biggest challenges in your life? How did you overcome them?”
  3. “What do you like about yourself?”   (You can also ask yourself, “What do I like about my client?”)
  4. “What do you enjoy doing?”   (We usually enjoy what we are good at!)
  5. What do you yearn to do?   (Yearnings suggest possible talents!)
  6. “What are some unusual skills you have?”   (The word ‘unusual’ forces them to think what’s different about themselves – make sure to delve deeper to find the underlying strength/s)
  7. “What are you proud of in your life?”
  8. “Tell me about your first achievement.”   (Encourage them to share even it seems boring or small now – this gives pointers to early success – and strengths)
  9. “What would not be like it is – had you not been part of it?”   (eg. a work or volunteer effort)
  10. What do you get complimented on most?   (This is a great question because it assumes they GET complimented – and asks what is most FREQUENTLY mentioned)

Tip: Get into the detail. Look for things they may have glossed over and drill your clients down to SPECIFICS. Often our strengths are so taken for granted that they may not even have registered!

Another Tip: Give positive feedback. “So, how did you do that, because I wouldn’t know where to start!” Again, look for the strengths in the DETAILS of how they did it.

To wrap up: At the end of the questioning and drilling into details, summarise the overarching strengths and themes you noticed for your clients. Acknowledge and celebrate your client – and watch them glow!

If you liked this article about How to Identify Strengths, you may also like: 

  • A common coaching tool called a Personal SWOT. The SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. This tool is used in the corporate world to analyse how a business is doing and what to do next to move forwards – and it’s simply been adapted for human beings! See our version of the Personal SWOT Tool here.
  • And our Simple 360 Feedback Tool that will throw up a few more strengths to add to the list!