The Tiring Business of Overcoming Yourself

By |2019-05-28T10:53:18+11:00May 21st, 2019|Comments Off on The Tiring Business of Overcoming Yourself

 

 

Experienced coaches are able to use a number of models and interventions to help their clients. I argue that it is also beneficial to consider the impact of worldviews.

In my decades working as a coach I have—albeit slowly—arrived at a few conclusions that I would place in the category of “personal truths.” A personal truth, to me, is something a bit more robust than an opinion. Goat cheese pizza isn’t very tasty is an opinion. A personal truth, by contrast, has the appearance of deeply held values or faith in a particular way the world works.

One of my truths, to give you an easy example, is “process over destination.” By this I mean that people naturally focus on desirable goals yet sometimes forget to emphasize the process of pursuing those goals. It is a small bit of attentional wandering yet it can rob a person of a sense of well-being.

Too much focus on the ultimate outcome can distract a person from appreciating her progress, savoring the enjoyment of effort, or understanding that the pursuit of a goal itself is a learning process. You get it.

A more recent and—to me—more powerful realisation is “People are unnecessarily at war.” Let me explain. I’ve have noticed a tendency in my friends, my clients, and myself to treat many elements of the world as if they are toxic. Sugar is a poison that we must avoid. Negative self-talk is a danger we must overcome. Difficult relationships are threats that must be managed. Again, you get it.

It occurs to me of late that this is a fairly hostile view of life. It treats food like a minefield upon which we must step so gingerly. It treats meaningful goals like exercise as tasks that must be managed and crossed off our mental to-do lists. Worse, it treats our own private thoughts as poisons.  When I hear my clients beat themselves up for their performance or vilify themselves for simply having an experience, I think it must be exhausting. I am reminded of the carnival game “whack-a-mole” in which you use a giant hammer to smash pesky rodents who pop up. It is a Sisyphean task.

The alternative to this embattled approach to living, I would like to argue, is grounded in a more positive view of the world around us. I do not mean to suggest that we should all naively pretend that hardship doesn’t exist.

Instead, I mean to suggest that coaches can use a number of techniques to help clients fundamentally shift their relationship with themselves, their food, their colleagues, or other important elements of their lives.

I’ll give you an example: Just this morning I was coaching a woman who was procrastinating on an important work project. It was a long-term project and she had put months of hard work and expertise into it. As she rounded the bend on her deadline, however, she found herself dragging her feet. She complained to me that she just didn’t get it. She wanted to gain insight into this unproductive behavior so that she could overcome it and trundle forward. You can hear in that language—complain, unproductive, overcome—that she felt she was at war with something. In this case, the behavior of procrastination.

I used a technique developed by Laura Lewis Mantell, an American doctor and coach, called the “two selves technique.” I began by asking my client about the importance of finishing this piece of work and she was able to rattle off why the work is important and how it will benefit others. Next, I asked her about this “other self;” the one with a penchant for procrastination. Specifically, I asked her what that self’s agenda is. My client had never really considered that the procrastination might have a purpose.

After reflecting, she admitted that this “other self” was just saying “Hey! I am really tired. This work has been going on a long time and is taking a lot out of me.”  When framed that way, it seems strange, if not a little harsh, to think about “overcoming this unproductive tendency.” My client’s worldview shifted then. She came to see the procrastination as a signal and as an opportunity for self-care. As a result, her mood lightened, her motivation grew, and she relaxed. At its heart, this intervention embodies my personal truth: you should be your own ally, not your own enemy.

You don’t have to agree with me. You may be invested in overcoming your gremlins, your temptations, and your weaknesses. If so, I would hold out to you this simple idea upon which to reflect: you are trying to overcome yourself. As an alternative consideration, I offer you this last reflection: what if, instead, you supported yourself?

Dr. Robert Biswas-Diener, a leading authority and major pioneering voice in the field of coaching, is a published researcher and a practicing ICF certified coach. Robert will be coming to Melbourne in July, to run a one-off ‘Building Coaching Skills’ course, where he will introduce you to a fresh approach to coaching, presented in his inimitable and engaging style! Click here to learn more.

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