A Coaching Power Tool created by Deborah Pendleton-Maurice
(Executive and Life Coach, UNITED STATES)
Of course motivation is not permanent. But then, neither is bathing; but it is something you should do on a regular basis. Zig Ziglar, Raising Positive Kids in a Negative World
The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.
This quote from the Robert Burns poem “To a Mouse” sums it up. We can set a goal. We can even define a set of actions that are meant to result in the attainment of our goal. But as sure as the sun will come up tomorrow – there will be glitch. And when that happens your client will not only need a back-up plan, but will need to be motivated to work through the challenge. You as the coach can help your client understand their current perspective – is he or she motivated enough to push through. Or, are they entrenched – providing reasons for not moving forward, perhaps out of fear, a sense of being overwhelmed, or simply confused about the next step.
Let’s take look at the definition of each of these perspectives.
Motivated: to feel enthusiastic, interested, committed to something. The motivated person is likely to take action, and has a reason or incentive that is strong enough to inspire that action.
A person who is motivated may feel that this perspective will hold – that their desire and will are both strong enough to carry them through to the end. The bump in the road will come when something challenges that motivation. The reason or incentive to take the steps required to move to the goal is weakened, and the person faces a crisis.
Entrenched: to firmly hold a position and show no likelihood to change. The entrenched person might be so out of fear, inertia, or simply because they cannot discern how to proceed.
Their new perspective is that whatever has challenged their reason or incentive is “true.” They may say “I just can’t do this and it wasn’t that important to begin with.” Or, “That goal is really not that important – what was I thinking? I’m fine with how things are now.”
A story about quitting smoking
Many years ago, my husband and I finally decided that we had to quit smoking. As you may know, smoking is one of the most powerfully addictive habits we humans have. The addiction is tricky because it is both physical and psychological. In fact, many believe that the psychological addiction is the more difficult to overcome.
We were fortunate in that we selected a stop-smoking program that acknowledges and deals with the psychological addiction. And the key to the program’s success is that the participant is encouraged to take daily actions that reinforce the motivation to quit.
Here are just a few examples:
- Keep a daily log of reasons to quit. And, by the way, “for health reasons” is not good enough. That typically won’t do the trick. There has to be a piling of reasons that outweigh the reasons to keep smoking. Examples: expense, messiness, social reactions, setting bad examples for your children, ruining clothes, smelling up the house, car, hair. By the time we finished, we had upwards of one hundred reasons between us.
- Throw all of your butts in a big jar, add water, smell it daily. Truly disgusting, believe me!
- Set your quit date (five weeks after the first day of the program) and a very special reward on that day. We joined the San Diego Zoo and went for a very long walk that first quit day – and then returned over and over to relish the freedom.
- Keep track of when you are smoking by logging each smoked cigarette. Determine if there are triggers that may be challenging your resolve or motivation to quit. Are there triggers that are likely to overcome you, and if so plan your coping strategy. Go for a walk, call your smoking cessation partner, or pet your dog.
- Weekly add times that you can’t smoke – when you are on the phone, in your car, immediately after eating. Again, the point is to break habits and triggers, and come up with mechanisms that strengthen motivation in the face of challenges.
The program is quite successful – for us, and for many, many others. Why? Because it encourages us to motivate ourselves, using proven tools. It recognizes that we are going to be challenged along the way no matter how strong our motivation was at the beginning.
The other thing that I believe makes the program work: The motivation comes from the individual. Although the verb “to motivate” often refers to an outside person inspiring one to action, I don’t believe that’s sustaining. Just like I don’t believe anyone can make us learn (they can teach but that doesn’t mean we learn; we have to do that ourselves) we are instrumental in motivating ourselves.
Let’s dig into the challenges. If we are entrenched, why? Are we fearful of the difficulty of the change? Is the goal no longer important? Is that true? Are you prepared for the times you drop your resolve and are tempted to succumb to the challengers? Or, will you be able to recognize the challenge for what it is – something that is not true (I can’t do this, I’m not strong enough, it wasn’t important way) and that pushes you to entrenchment? How can a coach help their client retain a strong, motivated perspective?
Here are some possible coaching approaches to use with your client to first understand how important the goal is. The more important it is to the client, the more likely they will be to face and overcome challenges that threaten derailment. And once the import is established and rings true, challenge the client to think about things that might threaten their resolve.
First: Importance of the goal.
Ask the client to rate the goal on a scale of one to ten, ten being most important. The next is a technique that David Rock espouses in his coaching. Once the client has rated the goal, ask them how often they have thought about this goal over the last week, or month. The point here is that if the answer is not often, the coach may need to challenge how important the goal is. If the answer seems to reinforce the truth of the goal’s importance, you’ve helped your client build a strong foundation for success.
As demonstrated in the smoking cessation program, the reality is that even very strong motivation will be challenged. By thinking through the potentialities, you can help your client prepare by putting structures in place to support their success. This should be done by focusing on past failures or challenges. Instead, encourage the client to think about future issues and visualize facing and overcoming them.
Questions might be:
- How is this goal going to impact your life?
- What will you be able to do that you are not doing today when you reach your goal?
- Do you have any concerns about threats to your success?
- What are they?
- Let’s take the first one - can you visualize yourself overcoming that threat? How does that feel? How did you do it? Is that something that might serve you in future?
- Have you experienced situations that have threatened goals that were important to you? How did you handle them? Were you successful?
- On the contrary, have you encountered situations that caused you to reconsider the goal?
- How will you help your client understand how important the goal is to them? How do you think doing this will help them?
- Can you think of someone in your life you admire greatly for an incredible achievement? Did they face challenges? How did they overcome them? How can you use that learning in your coaching?
Burns, Robert. Poem: To a Mouse, 1785.
Rock, David. Quiet Leadership, HarperCollins, 2006.