The coachee’s commitment to change and the hard work associated with it may be undermined by six major self-defeating and goal-blocking beliefs (Neenan and Dryden, 2014).

‘I cannot take constructive action until I can be certain of success’

Wanting to know how the journey ends before taking the first step means there’s no point in putting on your walking shoes. People who worry about uncertainty ‘equate the unknown with danger. However, uncertainty is actually neutral with regard to outcome’ (Leahy, 2005: 105; emphasis in original). In other words, there could be a range of outcomes to consider instead of the person being fixated on only one: failure. Doubt and uncertainty are the usual concomitants of change and therefore require acceptance of their presence rather than fear of what you think they portend.

‘I cannot take constructive action until I feel comfortable to do so’

If you believe that only when you feel comfortable will you be able to start the change process, then the starting date will recede into the distant future. If you’re not looking forward to carrying out a particular task, then why should you feel comfortable about doing it? When you start to take constructive action, you will feel uncomfortable as you’re now facing your difficulties rather than avoiding them. Yet as Ellis (2002: 155) states: ‘Make yourself do the work you dislike, force yourself to do it and do it. Deliberately push yourself to be uncomfortable – yes, 64uncomfortable – until you finally find the work easy and comfortable.’ In a nutshell, discomfort first, comfort later.

‘I cannot take constructive action because I don’t have a sense of control’

Coachees who believe they must be in full control of their responses to events are actually reinforcing their fear of losing control as well as how they will be judged by others, ‘My colleagues will think I’m weak’. Demanding self-control is the illusion of control. Real control means not being afraid of losing it, being self-accepting, not self-condemning, when this loss occurs, and looking for constructive ways to regain it. For example, a coachee who dreaded being the centre of attention because they would start blushing ‘and show myself up as nervous and pathetic’ eventually decided to accept, rather than try to suppress, their blushing: ‘If I blush, so be it.’ They started putting themself in situations where they would be the centre of attention, e.g. speaking up at meetings, asking questions at workshops. Their blushing was evident to others but the coachee discovered, to their delight, that the frequency, intensity and duration of their blushing episodes decreased dramatically once they’d internalized this ‘control through acceptance’ strategy.

‘I cannot act differently because I don’t feel competent yet’

Competence is not usually achieved in one fell swoop. Trial and error is the normal procedure, so expect to act incompetently. Through conscious awareness of what you’re doing wrong, correcting your mistakes and persistent practice of the new behaviour or skills, you will eventually learn to act competently. That’s how it’s done. It’s highly unlikely that you will be able to avoid this learning process (‘How do I become instantly competent?’) and the time wasted in trying to find an answer to this unrealistic question could have been spent productively learning how to move from incompetent to competent behaviour.

‘I cannot take new action which is strange to me because I don’t feel confident to do so’

It’s perfectly natural to feel unconfident when acting in new and strange ways; sometimes a coachee will proclaim ‘But this isn’t me!’ This dissonant state – the conflict or disharmony between 65old and new ways of thinking, feeling and acting – can lead to some coachees leaving coaching in order to feel natural again, but they return to the status quo in their lives which they were keen to change a few weeks or months earlier. Accepting and persisting with this dissonant state until it passes means that new habits become ingrained and old habits now seem unfamiliar. Hauck (1982) likens this dissonant state to wearing in a new pair of shoes.

‘I cannot undertake constructive actions, particularly those which are risky for me, because I don’t have the courage to do so’

Going after what you want in life involves some risk, including the prospect of failure and rejection. Courage means doing things that you’re afraid of without giving way to the fear, such as setting up your own business, public speaking or asking someone for a date. Building courage in facing your fears comes from taking action, not waiting for courage to arrive miraculously and then you can get started. Familiar expressions such as ‘pluck up courage’ and ‘take one’s courage in both hands’ exhort doing, not delaying. The longer you wait for courage to arrive, the more likely you are to convince yourself ‘I haven’t got the guts to take these chances’ and settle for second-best in life.