Coach long enough, and you’ll likely find yourself in a situation like this: You’ve helped someone identify a compelling vision of the future. They say they want to change. They even make faltering steps forward. But when you step back and look at it, you know deep down in your gut that they’re stuck.

And so are you!

What to do? I suggested a few things in a previous post but a recent article in the Wall Street Journal about Sacred Beliefs gave me new grist for the mill. It basically argues that people often make decisions less from a pure logical point of view and more based on deeply held beliefs – so deeply held that they’re sacred to them. They don’t naturally examine them, much less toss them out. And they can act like quicksand, sucking them backwards from the change they say they want.

Here’s an example: I had a client once who was wildly successful in her business. She was top of her class, VERY well paid, and climbing every ladder in sight. The only problem was that she was working so hard that she felt constantly in tension with her family. Her health wasn’t what it had been at one time. She regularly missed nights of sleep because of late work at the office.

She said that she wanted to establish clear boundaries, to re-align her work to a more sustainable pace. But months later, there really wasn’t much progress. In talking more, we realized that she was holding onto a sacred belief that was getting her stuck. She had been through a very difficult season with this same business years before. She and her colleagues had gotten out of the jam by burning the candle at both ends.

She was still living that way. But the funny thing was that the company (and her personal performance) had been out of sight for almost five years. She was just stuck in the past, hanging onto the belief that “if I stop now, it will all come crashing down.”

Of course, the opposite was true. If she didn’t change soon, it may all come crashing down! But that’s hard to see when it’s your belief.

So the question is, how do we get visibility into sacred beliefs: ours and those of the people we coach?