A Coaching Model Created by Mark Johnson
(Spiritual Coach, USA)
A Brief Summary of a Coaching Model to Help Clients Use Wisdom, Compassion, and Skillful Means to Reach Their Goals
The Cycle of Change: Three Elements and Nine Stages of a Buddhist
This coaching model draws from numerous others in its observation that coaching at its best can spark a catalytic change process in the client. The increased awareness, alignment with values, emotional support, accountability, and education that a coach can provide, all help the client to reach goals they were never able to attain before.
What is different and unique about this model is that it is designed primarily for the spiritual practioner, that is, someone who has committed to a path of enlightenment within a wisdom tradition, and who considers that commitment and goal to be the central axis of their life. I am tailoring this model specifically from the Buddhist tradition, but it can be adapted to anyone following other lineages, such as the Sufi schools, the paths of the Higher Yogas, Taoism, and so on.
And because it is tailored to someone more or less conversant in Buddhist thought and practice, the actual steps of the external process of coaching will have a different flavor, as well as the perspective on the catalytic process of change.
As we will see, the central cycle in the graphic demonstrates we are talking about ‘chemical’ laws of catalytic change and the elements involved in catalysis: there is an agent, reagent, catalyst, and new substance created; and the outside, larger circle describes the stages of the process of change.
Or, to use our chemical analogy, for catalytic change to occur we need those elements of agent, reagent, and catalyst. But to make it happen, we have to go through the process of each step of the experiment — understanding the theory behind the experiment, setting up the lab, obtaining the chemicals and the apparatus, applying heat in the right way, following instructions for the experiment, measuring and observing heat exchange, chemical bonding, and transfer of electrons, reporting on the results, and so on.
The Inner Dynamic: The Three Critical Elements
The Three Elements for Change to Occur
In the graphic for this model, in the center you will notice three circles in a cycle, representing the dynamic between the three basic elements. These elements must be at play and interact with each other in order for significant change to happen in the coaching process:
- Client’s Readiness to Take Action
- Internal and/or External Conditions Are Right
- Coach as Catalyst
The first element in the catalytic process is the client’s own readiness and motivation to initiate change and to follow through on the actions necessary to accomplish a goal. The second element consists of the conditions necessary for change, and these can include environment, time and timing, resources, and support from other agents. The third element consists of all the catalytic factors the coach brings into the coaching process — their presence, emotional support, clarity, accountability, etc. — which altogether can act as a catalyst.
Client’s Readiness and Motivation
This key element in the chemical process concerns how deep the client’s motivation goes. Is it only wishful thinking, a pipe dream, a desire that has little spark, or an intellectual exercise that has very little energy or juice behind it? Motivation in the Buddhist tradition is considered extremely important for the individual’s spiritual journey, as it must become refined and strengthened along the way, like the tempering and forging of steel.
In Buddhism it is said that most people have only motivation to pursue their desires from the lower ego, i.e., selfish cravings for money, power and sex, etc., but eventually they evolve to aspirations of enlightenment for themselves, and then for others, and then for all sentient beings. Analogously, we can see that clients who desire change in their lives can come from very different places, from the superficial to the profound.
When a client’s motivation is deep, and aligned with their moral and ethical values, we have a much greater likelihood of success. It is part of the coach’s job in this model to discuss this reality with the client and help them assess whether or not they need to deepen their motivation.
Internal and External Conditions
And yet, no matter how strong our motivation, and no matter how skillful, wise and compassionate our coach, if the internal or external conditions are not right it may be difficult to achieve certain goals. Sometimes patience is one of the most important elements in growth and change, and that can become the most important area for the client to work on.
Let’s say that the client wants to find a life partner, to be married and to have a family. In this model, the coach may help the client work through relationship issues, and encourage the client to even take on certain Buddhist practices that call on invisible energies and beings to aid and assist the client’s heartfelt desire.
But in the Buddhist tradition it is well known that some things just take time. The individual may need to keep working on themselves while waiting for conditions to ‘ripen.’ This is sometimes known as fruition in the Eastern traditions, and refers not to the chemical process of catalysis, which is often extremely fast, but the process of growth in fruit-bearing trees and plants. They, too, must go through stages of growth, from seed to germination, to sprout, to sapling, to young tree, to maturation, and finally, fruition.
This is why that in this model it is very important for the coach to assess the client’s understanding of real change and growth, and to make sure that they do not have too many unrealistic expectations about how quickly something can take place.
Coaching as Catalysis
As we know, catalytic change in chemistry involves an agent, reagent and catalyst that then produce a new composition, without changing the nature of the catalyst itself. Like many other coaches before, I am using this analogy from chemistry to illustrate my belief that coaching facilitates change in a lawful way. Drawing parallels with processes in nature can help both client and coach understand the forces at work, the elements and ‘laws of nature’ that are involved in human psycho-spiritual growth.
That the coaching process can be catalytic can be seen in the compassionate space the coach holds for the client. For many people, hiring a coach to help them change or achieve goals represents an admission that they need help, and they may well be vulnerable to criticism in this embryonic stage.
By removing any stigma, judgment or negative belief about the client’s history of failure, or lack of fulfillment, or being frustrated in whatever domain, we help to create a safe and comfortable learning environment, where they will be challenged but not criticized, encouraged and held accountable, but not shamed.
Often this requires reframing an issue, seeing frustration and obstacles not as enemies but as teachers or challenges. In addition, understanding that we all need catalysts in our lives to help us is another key foundational principle. As coaches are fond of pointing out, the top athletes in the world still need coaches, as do the top CEO’s. Even the greatest spiritual masters in the Buddhist tradition are extraordinarily humble, readily admitting their mistakes and limitations, and they continually seek out guidance and feedback from their peers.
The Outer Dynamic: The Nine Stages Of Growth In Buddhist Coaching
In the outer circle of the graphic, the cycle of change in coaching according to a Buddhist perspective, we see nine stages or points of process that are identifiable. This is not necessarily a linear process, like the stages that an apple tree we mentioned above, which in its growth, goes from seed to germination, to sapling to young adult, to fruit-bearing maturity.
Sometimes, for example, when we hit an obstacle, (Point # 7), we may need to go back to the stage of aligning our goals (Point # 3) and realize we need a new perspective, a new goal, or even a new and deeper understanding of our values. In no way should we minimize the complexity of human behavior and change.
Nine Stages of a Buddhist-Inspired Coaching Process
We will keep in mind that we understand these as ‘stages’ with a loose definition of the word. Still, it is useful to demarcate the steps so that we do think of it as a process that can be broken down. This gives the client a useful model and some idea about what to expect, even if in the end it may not be a linear process, and requires some cycling back through earlier stages before we reach an end goal.
For example, we could have a goal of starting a business, and get all the way to Stage Seven where we encounter some internal obstacles — perhaps the client isn’t ready to leave the security of their present employ. It would then be necessary to go back to the stage of Clarifying Goals, or Aligning Values, in order to restart the process.
1) Why a Buddhist-Inspired Method — Initial Sessions to Clarify the Methodology
This first part of the process is valuable because the client may never have thought about achieving goals from the Buddhist perspective and what that means. This discussion would begin perhaps with what is the nature and intention of the goals that the client wants to accomplish.
Intention is considered critical within the spiritual frame of the wisdom traditions, because two people can approach the same goal, for example, wealth, with two very, very different inner motivations. In this model the coach would help the client process and understand their goal from the perspective of working with one’s higher motives, dedicating, or aspiring to dedicate, the effort to at least in part benefit other sentient beings.
With the intention purified from baser motives, then the client and coach can envision the goal from another, ‘cleaner’ place, and the coach can suggest that the client evoke both their own higher spiritual energies, and those of the archetypal figures that appeal to the client’s spiritual frame of reference (for a Tibetan Buddhist this could be evoking and calling on Tara for assistance in obtaining a particular purpose or goal).