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Extracts of a Life Coach: Trouble with ‘de math’

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This week, Emma Ranson Bellamy looks at negative attitudes and reflects on her own woes with maths and the problems that number crunching had to her self-belief.


Last week we talked about how values are the essential building blocks for a value based life. This week I am looking at our belief system. If our values are the foundation, our beliefs are the supporting walls.

‘A belief is not merely an idea the mind possesses, it is an idea that possesses the mind’ or as Adlai Stevenson, the 1950’s US presidential candidate said, “It’s hard to lead a cavalry charge if you think you look funny on a horse.”

What we do or do not do is based on our beliefs. The talking that goes on in our head (self-talk) steers us to go forwards or backward, to try something or avoid a situation, ‘To believe we can or believe we can’t, either way we are probably right.’

So where do these beliefs come from? When we are born, we are at our most vulnerable as we are reliant on others to care and protect us, we have an immediate self-belief that this will be done on demand.

It is adult input that changes that. Up to the age of about five most parents will have said, ‘don’t do that’ or ‘you can’t do this’ or ‘stop doing the other’.

Parents do this to protect their children from the dangers that are very real. Don’t touch the fire/kettle/oven/hot water or you can’t eat sweets/stay up late, stop running near the road etc, etc. These parents aren’t being bad parents they are teaching their children the boundaries. However, within those ‘don’t, stop’ and ‘can’t’ there may also be words used like clumsy, noisy, naughty, greedy, lazy or spiteful to name but a few ‘labels’ pinned subconsciously on our children.

Over the years the children, having heard these words may begin to feel, clumsy, noisy, naughty, greedy, lazy or spiteful and so begins the self-fulfilling prophecy.

When I was younger I went to a number of different schools. I was always very good at English but my maths was weak. I come from a family of great speakers and writers but none of them are great mathematicians. When I was put down a maths stream no one in the family expressed any worry or surprise.

I was backing up their own beliefs that as a family we are poor at maths, and they had all done alright so why did it matter. On the other hand a couple of years later I began to struggle with English tenses.

A family debate ensued, buoyed on by a lot of tea drinking and my fall from grace resulted in a private tutor who came to the house every Saturday to get me back on track.

So I can see now as both a parent and a trainee life coach what was going on in that episode of my life:

  • Firstly, I was supporting my families idea that there is a strength for English that runs in our veins.

  • They believe that maths is not an important life skill.

  • This belief was passed on to me and also backed up when a similar situation occurred in English and the ‘big guns were called in.’

  • It all became a self-fulfilling prophecy. I have never done a maths exam in my life. I get confused, suffer from cold sweats and even had to leave a BTEC college course as I found statistics brain numbingly difficult. (I actually became physically ill with tonsillitis on the day of one of those exams, which completely disappeared when my house mates returned) and I’ve done ok!

  • Over the years I avoided any situation where I may have to use a strange calculator, I am still using a solar powered freebie which I got from a conference in 1996.

  • My five year old bought back his maths prep a few days ago, the old feelings of butterflies in the stomach and pure lethargy came back to me.

What I have learned is that I must stop this cycle of negativity in relation to maths. There is no reason why my children should not be good at everything, maths, English, history and sport. Who says if you are good at English you can’t also be good at maths? And who says that if you are talented on the sports field you won’t be an academic?

I wonder whether some of our most powerful families in history including the Bush, Kennedy and Redgrave clans had similar issues? Is it a genetic strength or is it self-belief, self-fullfiling prophecy and opportunity?

What happens if you don’t embrace the family culture? Are you outcast as the black-sheep? Your very existence put in doubt with whispers of the milk-man being muttered in secret undertones.

Beliefs is a huge area of coaching. I will look at this area again next week but for now I’d like to set you a challenge: admit to yourself a negative belief and turn it around by saying, “I am good at … ” and see how it feels!

Emma can be contacted at [email protected]

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