Yesterday I received a PM from an old friend who said she desperately needed coaching. We talked, and she described a situation of work stress—a possible promotion triggering resentments and resistance, knocking her off balance so that she responded with inauthentic emotions and “masks.”
I don’t know her office dynamics, or the people involved. Developing specific strategies and tactics would require deeper discussion. But what I DID know is that our emotions are not caused by external events, they are caused by the way we interpret those events.
First thing to do in coaching? Build rapport with the client. Second? Understand the situation. Third? Be certain that they are motivated to change: “get leverage.” If they are in a negative spiral, interrupt the pattern. In my mind, the difference between a coach and a therapist is that a therapist is like a doctor who sets broken bones. A coach works with healthy athletes (physical, mental or emotional) who want to improve performance.
So my task is to identify the parts of the client that already work, and then create a context in which those healthy aspects can grow like yeast in warm bread dough.
In other words, I believe that people have within them everything they need to succeed, but sometimes don’t have access to that. But their hands on the wheel, and they can drive their own vehicle.
This leads to the standard initial advice I give people: five times a day, stop and breath for sixty seconds. Do this every three hours, deep, low, and slow.
This accomplishes the following things:
1) It interrupts the “pattern” of focusing on the negative and the external. Puts change under your control.
2) Stress isn’t the problem. “Strain” is the problem—more stress than you can healthfully adapt to. And before stress becomes strain, your breathing will change from deep and slow (restful and centered) to high in the chest, shallow and rapid (fear based). If you can keep your breathing low and slow, you are “tricking” your brain into believing that it can handle whatever is happening…and improve your ability to do so.
4) Avoiding tunnel vision. Panic creates psychological and physiological tunnel vision, as well as behavioral and conceptual rigidity. But a state of relaxed focus is conducive to creativity. I start with the belief that THERE IS AN ANSWER if you could only see it. I’m sure that’s not literally always true, but so far, I’ve never seen a situation where it wasn’t. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
5) Everyone has five minutes a day. Everyone. If you say you don’t, you are lying. It is extremely valuable to show people where they are being dishonest with themselves, where they cheat themselves and are in denial. Under stress, we often blame the outside world. “They made me feel X” is the frequent line. Well…under any normal circumstance, other people don’t “make” adult human beings feel anything. I’ll take that line from a child, but not from a supposed adult. Adults are responsible for their own emotions. (Note: this is not a license for cruelty, and denying that we have any influence over others. I’ve seen people do that. There is no such thing as a fool-proof statement: fools are so damned ingenious!)
6) Want to change how you feel? Change your focus, and change your physiology. The “Five Minute Miracle” does both. And you have total control over it. It costs nothing, and takes almost no time. AND YET QUITE OFTEN, PEOPLE IN EXTREME EMOTIONAL TROUBLE WILL NOT DO IT. This is one of the best diagnostics imaginable. It opens the door to serious questions about the self-image, about self-destructive programming, about lack of self-love and self-respect. Sometimes worse, it identifies patterns of “I’ll show them by killing myself” behavior that literally DOES NOT WANT to get better. Vile, destructive, horrid patterns. And yet…even those patterns are potential allies, if you can align them properly and understand what they are about.
7) Once the 5MM pattern is established, you can “load” additional tactics, strategies and technologies into each of the five slot. You begin to notice the difference between resourceful and unresourceful states. You gain confidence in your ability to control your life. You learn the basics of meditation. You can go to a yoga or Tai Chi teacher and deepen your understanding and use of breathing—an infinitely deep topic. You can apply that breathing to every step you take, practice it while driving, or watching television, or during sex, or falling asleep…
And on, and on, and on. Incredibly powerful, incredibly flexible. And incredibly diagnostic.
Try it yourself, please. It costs nothing, and can change your life for the better.
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