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Developing Mental Muscle

by Frances Coombes(more info)

listed in nlp, originally published in issue 171 - June 2010

Software for the Brain Strategies

Computers expand our knowledge and make information easily accessible to us. They can help us clarify objectives and reach our goals. The danger is that as we depend more upon them; we are not just working with computers we are becoming more like them. We manage our diary time on screen in chunks; conversations that once spanned sentences are completed in sound bites. We spend less time thinking and produce forms with handy tick boxes so that others don't have to waste time thinking either. The result is that many people are limiting themselves to analytical and process type thinking, similar to the software they use, and shutting down on their full potential to use a wider range of thinking styles.

Yet, if businesses are to stay ahead of the competition, they need creative ideas, the sort that can only be generated by people who think for themselves. Failing to question what seems obvious frees us from the need to make changes, and then change (like that happening in our economy and workforce sectors) is forced upon us.

Developing Mental Muscle

With practice, you can increase your thinking skills and develop your own mental software between your ears. You can build and accumulate thinking strategies in order to 'power up' your brain.

Begin by questioning the familiar. What are some of the messages you receive every day, ones that you don't seek to question, that may limit your search for solutions? It might be:
  • They are in charge; they must know what they're doing?
  • I'm only a 'admin assistant', 'clerk', 'sales assistant', 'nurse', 'yoga teacher', ..... my word does not count;
  • It is the economy; this is how it is done.  I have no control over the outcomes.
Now start clearing mental roadblocks. Take one of your commonly held beliefs and question it. Ask yourself 'Is what I am saying about my commonly held belief a Truth, a Possible Truth, or a Limiting Assumption?
  • Truth / Fact?
  • Possible Truth / Fact?
  • Limiting Assumption?
This question may seem deceptively simple, but it forms the basis for a very powerful way of uncovering our own and other peoples' limiting beliefs and stumbling blocks.

Recognizing Limiting Beliefs

If you watch public enquiries on TV you may notice that the committees are seeking to answer enormous questions using this same deceptively simple form of questioning a frame at a time. For instance, questions such as:
  • How did the banking crisis come about? Who was responsible? And could we have foreseen it?
  • Or what were the steps that lead us to the Iraq war? Who questioned decisions?  How can we prevent a similar situation from happening again?
At each stage the inquirer seeks to establish whether the answer the person being questioned gives, is a truth/fact? a possible truth/fact? or a limiting assumption?

It is vital to establish at what point our thoughts deviate from truth/fact, possible truth to one of limiting assumption, because once we convince ourselves that a limiting assumption is a truth, we search for information to substantiate our belief and exclude all else. This occurrence can be seen in appeal cases where the wrong person has been imprisoned. On re-examination it often turns out that once a likely suspect has been apprehended, the information gatherers shut down on all other possibilities. Once our thinking becomes derailed we search only for patterns that match our assumptions - and we find them. We can so strongly believe our assumptions to be the 'truth' that even when we are shown evidence to the contrary, we may still argue passionately for our limiting beliefs.

There is a saying 'A familiar sight provokes no attention'. Examine some of the everyday messages that you accept as truths. Start to question your own limiting assumptions by listing the phrases you use each time you include the word 'should' in a sentence. List your six most commonly held 'should' phrases to start with. i.e. I 'should' know all the answers, i.e. I 'should' have got it right, i.e. I 'should' have seen this coming.

When you have six. I 'should' phrases on your list, ask yourself, is this belief you hold a truth/fact? a possible truth/fact? Or is it a limiting assumption?  Either way you will learn from the experience.
  • Truth / Fact?
  • Possible Truth / Fact?
  • Limiting Assumption?

Precision Questions

Challenge each of your limiting beliefs further with the following precision questions. For example, to the limiting belief, 'I should be more productive' ask:
  • How do you know that you can't more productive?
  • What would happen if you could more productive?
  • What are you assuming that is stopping you from achieving that goal ....being more productive?
Now stop and listen for the answers.

Asking precision questions lets you shine a light on unhelpful thinking and encourage more helpful beliefs to emerge.

Extract from Frances Coombes book Get Motivated and Reach your Goals, release date May 2010, publisher Hodder Education.


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About Frances Coombes

Frances Coombes Advanced Dip CBT/REBT Dip CBT offers one-to-one therapeutic coaching in North West London and on Zoom.  She is a is a CBT/REBT psychotherapist in North West London, a NLP Master Practitioner and Rational Emotional Behaviour Therapist and runs life coaching groups in London and on Zoom.  She teaches NLP at The City Lit in Central London and tutors at the City Lit and Mary Ward Centre in central London on Using REBT for Managing Stress and NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming). She runs goal setting and REBT coaching groups for vulnerable people for inner London authorities and charities.  

Her most recent book is Motivate Yourself and Reach Your Goals, pub, November 2013, Hodder Headline. Available on and  For extract visit To inquire or book personal development courses contact Frances on Tel: 07818 896 795; 


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