A Coaching Power Tool created by Marco Giacobbi
(Executive Coach, ITALY)
Many of us feel a bit stressed from time to time. We feel overwhelmed by the situation and sometimes we can’t control our mood. Sometimes we are so affected by external causes that our mood changes and it is very difficult to go on with our lives. Nature has not thought about happiness. Evolution is about gene transmission and survival. According to an evolutionary theory (B.Grinde, 2002) Humans, and all other life forms, evolved to reproduce. Those creatures that reproduced successfully in the past are still here today, those that didn’t have died out. Were it an aid to reproduction to be miserable, we would all be miserable. Pleasure has a function, and adaptive purpose, and it serves an end. The end it serves is reproduction.
On the other hand culture and the ability to create complex emotions has helped us developing coping mechanisms that are not so conscious and not so well known. On e of these mechanism can arise when we are in a stressful situation (a new job, a difficult exam). Our mind sometimes goes to past moments charged with emotions. It happens the first period on a new job, when we find ourselves thinking about past jobs and success. Or in front of a difficult task, we tend to remember with nostalgia previous tasks we faced successfully. The memory is characterized by positive emotions (happiness) and negative emotions (sadness) because that time is gone. What I want to point out is the probable overall positive effect on stressors, emotions as nostalgia have. Nostalgia and similar emotions are mixed emotions, where happiness clashes with sadness (Zhou X, Sedikides C, Wildschut T., 2008).
Laura was a busy manager in a demanding job. She was also the mother of two young children and . She felt quite stressed because she really needed to be a businesswoman and a mother at the same time. She started suffering from a slight sadness and at the beginning she did not pay too much attention to it. It always seemed she had to do more important stuff than taking care of herself. At the end of the day she was exhausted, and wonder when she would ever get any time to herself so she could simply enjoy doing something just for her. In the meantime that new sensation and low mood was increasing, especially in the first hours of the morning just after breakfast. Laura as a Client was introduced to me in my studio by a friend we had in common.
She asked for help and so we begun our sessions. This is what we did in the first sessions:
Her overall mood at our initial session was overly optimistic and forgiving of the contribution of others to her difficulties [e.g. abuse perpetrators]. She credits this attitude as coming from the principles of her Christian faith, saying she has “forgiven all the people that took her time because God taught her the importance of forgiveness. She openly talked about her history putting herself behind everything else. She started saying her life seemed empty and she kind of lost the will to do what she was doing.
The coaching continued and at some point she recognized her mood was so low that some times she thought not to go to work. At the point I used a homework, in which I prescribed to write a diary where, before going to bed she would write about a memory, a memory that made her fill nostalgia.
She had to do that in the evening, and then, in the morning, the first thing to do was to stretch (I made her do the salute to the sun, a very common yoga sequence of movements) and after each of the 5 sequences she had to write an adjective referred to the nostalgic memory she experienced before going to bed. She would write down the five adjectives in the journal every morning.
In one month the positivity of the adjectives got higher, and this was noticeable just by looking at them. But what proved we were on the right track was the result from the panas (a questionnaire that checks the overall positivity of the person). The score increased of 34% if I compared the results before the series of exercises and after the series.
I suppose the effect was given by the physical movements (which is well known as an endorphins booster) and the nostalgic thoughts made before going to bed.
This is just an hypothesis, but I think nostalgia restored the meaning of the efforts she was doing in her everyday busy life. Most of the thought written on the journal were about moments with her children.
How to apply this
The key to applying a Sadness Vs Happiness training is to first understand if there is a mood shift in the person. Mixed emotions are mood enhancer especially when the person is stressed with her/his normal life. Indeed it has been proven that nostalgia can have a coping effect ( Zhou, Sedikides, Wildschut, 2008).
A good way to do this is to first measure the levels of happiness using a test (available online) such as the PANAS . in this way we will have an empirical proof of the improvement.
We can spend some time on trying to understand what are the causes of the emotional state and it’s obvious that in some circumstances sadness is natural (recent loss, the end of a relationship). Once we are sure the actual state is not dysfunctional we can proceed with questions to search the causes. This may be something you find easy to do. However, if you find it difficult, you can use a list of questions. An example of this list can be the following:
- Are you sad in at a particular time during the day?
- Does your mood change suddenly or slowly during the day?
- Is there any circumstance that drives you mood?
- Have you ever tried to change your emotional state? And what do you do once you feel down?
- What do you think is the cause of this mood?
Since semi-structured interviews do not consist of closed questions, it may be hard to end them. When you feel that all topics have been discussed and that the time set aside for the interview is up, you can ask the respondent if he/she has anything to add.. Soon after the interview, it is a good idea to summarize what the respondent said and to write down your impressions and any things that stood out. This will make it easier to eventually transcribe and analyze the interview.
Using sadness vs happiness will have its effect, but we first want to understand what moves the person in order to have a clear picture of the mechanisms that in the person are working in that person.
When you are satisfied with the information gathered you can proceed with what is behavioural psychology can be called an assignment. Rapport, and empathy are crucial when giving the instructions. Another important issue is being clear about the rules and the aim of the task.
Knowing that the aim of the Happiness Vs Sadness tool, will be to improve the mood of the person, will help in reaching the goal.
What the client has to do, is to think about a memory that he/she considers “nostalgic” . The memory must be thought before going to bed and the feeling of bitter sweetness, typical of nostalgia, will then be felt before the person goes to sleep.
Then the morning the client must plan to do some salute to the sun sequence and after that he/she has to write 5 adjectives related to the nostalgic memory he/she thought before going to bed.
The assignment will last for a period of 3 weeks minimum ad at each session, coach and client will read what the client has written on the journal.
The coach will have to notice if the positivity or negativity of the adjectives increases or decreases during the period. If the positive adjectives increase then we are on the right path. If not, you need to search another solution with the client. Anyway this practice is not going to be bad and you can keep it running until the end of the period agreed with the client.
B.Grinde, Journal of Happiness Studies (2002),volume: 3, Issue: 4, Publisher: Springer, Pages: 331-354
Zhou X, Sedikides C, Wildschut T, Counteracting loneliness: on the restorative function of nostalgia. Psychol Sci. 2008 Oct;19(10):1023-9..