Archive for the ‘Coaching’ Category

For the past six weeks, I have been taking a course called “A Beginner’s Guide to Irrationality.”  There is something about the title that immediately captured my attention.  I am so often baffled by the things human beings do.  Things that are seemingly irrational and counter-intuitive.  The course put a lot of that into context and explained some interesting things.  I kept meaning to write about different topics the course covered: lying, choices, motivation, and on and on, but here I am after finishing the last week of video lectures and writing about Emotion.

coursera course participants(As an aside, I took the course through Coursera, an online education site that allows you to sign up for courses taught by professors at major universities for free!  My course was taught by a Duke University professor of Behavioral Economics and Psychology, Dan Ariely, and I have to say I was impressed by the content and enjoyed it a lot.  In addition to the material, it was a fascinating process noticing my I-Need-to-Do-Well self coming forward, feeling great joy (well, maybe not great joy, but definitely some level of joy or validation) from getting 100% on the first quiz, and then deciding not to take any more quizzes, not do the reading and not to write the paper.  I was determined to go into a learning environment that could be purely about enjoyment/learning and not about performance.  I was shocked, but not surprised how hard it was.  The thing that helped me let go and try it this way was this graphic on the course webpage showing where the more than 30K participants are from…yes, 30 thousand people!  10K in the U.S., 51 in Nigeria, 51 in Kazakhstan, 287 in Czech Republic and on and on.  I am but a drop in the bucket and no one cares how much I do or do not participate.  Freedom from everyone but myself!)

So, back to emotions.  The professor starts his first lecture of the unit on emotions explaining that emotions are really our core, our most ancient self.  Yes, we know that, even if we often forget it.  His two following points about emotions are not surprising either:

  • When they arise, they take over
  • They are more short-lived than we think

That brought up a few thoughts for me.

When they arise, they take over:  Yes, makes sense.  Crimes of passion, unsafe sex, freaking out in a disaster.  Logic out.  It also makes sense that they are more short-lived than we think they will be.  Apparently, studies show that people always assume that emotional states will last longer than they end up lasting.  Like in a divorce…people predict they will be miserable for a long time, but turns out that feeling goes away faster than they thought.  Or, in a new love.  People predict the great feelings will last for a long time, but they also fade out fairly quickly.  It’s kind of like we go back to our set-point.  That place where we usually hover.  (This New York Times article about happiness looks at that idea of a set point.  If you read it, ignore the researcher’s comment about life coaches being light weight!  We’re not trying to be academic and precise.  We’re trying to support individuals in an authentic and yes, imperfect way.)

That all makes sense to me up to a point.  I think while the actual emotions probably do fade more quickly than we think, I feel like many of us are left with something else: a shadow emotion or something like that.  An emotion that may not be active, but that is there influencing how we live our lives.  And that shadow emotion can stay with us for a long long time and dictate how we live our lives.  What I’m curious about is whether it is an emotion that didn’t get fully expressed and that’s why it stays or is it that the memory of the intensity of the emotion is so strong that on some deep level we will do anything not to experience it again.  Maybe it depends.  Maybe it’s something else.

What I do know is that is that feels like many of us are ruled by our deepest most primal emotions to one degree or another.  Not the ones that are flaring up now, but these shadow emotions that stand in the way.  They’re so deep and core that often we don’t even really know what they are, which makes them harder to deal with.

The thing that really strikes me here, and I think bares repeating is how powerful emotions are.  How in a non-emotional state we can and would make a whole series of decisions about certain things, while in an emotional state that all goes out the window and we make completely different decisions.  But are we ever is a completely non-emotional state?  I suppose that is the deeper question.

I recently read a New Yorker article (Oct. 3, 2011) about coaching by Atul Gawande,  Personal Best: Top Athletes and singers have coaches.  Should you? The article is about all different types of coaches…more traditional athletic coaches and voice coaches, as well as an innovative coaching program for teachers, and his own quest to be coached on his surgical techniques by a retired surgeon.

I read the article from the perspective of a life coach and asked myself how his observations related to what I do.  The big take-away for me is that no matter what type of coaching he was talking about, it always came down to fresh eyes and a different perspective.  There is great value at having fresh eyes look at a situation and give input and observations.  An athlete can’t observe herself in the way a coach can, a teacher can’t see what he’s doing the same way an outsider can, a surgeon can’t notice the subtle things she does out of memory and habit, and we as individuals have a hard time seeing some of our patterns because they are all we know.

The big question Gawande poses at the end of his article is:  are people ready to accept that everyone has room for improvement?  Are we ready to hear what those fresh eyes see?  Are we ready to consider a different perspective?  Of his own first experience with a coach, he says “That one twenty-minute discussion gave me more to consider and work on than I’d had in the past five years.”

Whether you’re an athlete, executive, parent, teacher, surgeon or just someone trying to figure it all out…what might fresh eyes tell you?

Lots of people ask me these days if I am a career coach or if I know one.  I’ve been tempted to add career coach to my site because in fact, nearly all of my clients have come to me about something related to their careers.   And it seems that’s what people are looking for these days.

But I hesitate to change things because I consider career to come under the banner of life coaching.  And the way I support people looking for a job or career change is the same way I support them in other things.  I’m not as a consultant with a specific plan for how someone should look for a job.  I come at it from the perspective that a career/job should fit into a client’s whole life and so the client, not me, has to be an integral part of designing a search strategy.

So what do I do?

  • I’m there to listen;
  • Offer different perspectives…it’s sometimes hard to remember that there are different ways of looking at situations;
  • Hold the client accountable for what she says she’ll do (no, not that!);
  • Push him to step out of his comfort zone if it might mean getting what he really wants (not that, either!);
  • Be a cheerleader…not with pom poms, but someone who sees your potential reminds you of that.

And my clients keep getting jobs…good jobs despite the dire economic reports about hiring.  So, yes, I’m a career coach, a parenting coach, a relationship coach, a get-your-ass-in-gear coach…a life coach.

I’ve continued to think about the idea of happiness since my last blog post, so when my sister sent me a link to a TED talk about happiness, I watched.  What I saw and heard really resonates with me.  It’s a 2004 TED talk by Eve Ensler, the woman who wrote The Vagina Monologues (click here to listen). The talk is about how she found a new type of happiness while doing that project, and in the work that has come out of it.

She describes her realization very clearly.

Happiness exists in action, it exists in telling the truth and saying what your truth is, and it exists in giving away what you want the most.

This strikes a deep chord with me, especially the telling the truth part.  And she is not talking about the truth as in “Did you cheat on your test?” or “Did you eat the last cookie?”  She is talking about a deeper truth, the truths that so many people refuse to see or can’t face.  The truths that individuals, families, countries hide every day.  For Ensler, the truth she found while doing The Vagina Monologues, and in her work that has followed, is that women and girls are suffering and all too often are not given a chance to express that.  She talks about that being her experience as a child, and how working to give voice to girls and women she has been able to heal.

I feel like our society discourages truth.  We are meant to be happy, put on a good face.  We are not meant to talk about the pain and difficulty of growing older.  We just get plastic surgery.  We are not meant to talk about the difficulties of pregnancy or the stress that having children puts on a marriage.  We are supposed to revel in our sweet babies and buy the best strollers, clothes and toys, and send a boasting holiday card each and every year.  We are meant to be grateful for our job because it’s a “good company” and we have benefits.  We’re not supposed to talk about how it’s killing our soul.

For better or worse, I am a truth teller.  It doesn’t always serve me well, but it’s all I know.  As I have gotten older, I’ve learned to be more skillful and sometimes subtle in telling my truth with others.

It was a relief when I started to train to be a life coach.  It was all about telling the truth!  And people wanted me to say more, tell more.  I had learned to hide my truth and people were asking me to bring it out again…they wanted more.

And now my job is to hear people’s truth.  It’s exactly what Ensler says about happiness existing when we give away what we want the most.  That’s me!  What I have always wanted in my life, personal and professional, is to be seen and be heard.  As I coach, I am able to give people a place to be seen and heard…to speak their truth.

It feels right, and I’d even say I’m happy, in this pursuit.

What is your truth?

I find that a lot of my clients have that list of things they should do, want to do, think would be good for them.  But for whatever reason, they don’t do it.  It just hangs out there making them feel slightly guilty or bad about not taking it on.

The thing about many of those “to dos” is that we have a story about what it will bring us if we do it, and yet often we actually have no idea.   “I will feel better if I get up every morning an hour earlier,” “I will be a better person if I read the news every day,” “I will be more satisfied with my life if I go out in the evening more.”  The list goes on and on.  But do you really know the effect any given action will have on your life. Even if it’s something that has worked in the past, things change and maybe it will be different.

So, I say, try it on!  Imagine that thing you want to do is an article of clothing on a hanger.  It looks beautiful and you covet it.  But who knows what will happen when you try it on.  I sometimes try beautiful and expensive things on with the hope I won’t like them on me.  Then I can let go coveting them and move on happily.  And if they are as beautiful as I thought, then I just might be ready/willing to splurge.  The point is that now I am fully informed and am not acting based on assumptions.

So, pick one of those things:  gardening, cooking more, exercising, spending time with friends, making jewelry, listening to music, stretching and try it on!  You don’t have to buy it, but at least you’ll know more.