A Coaching Power Tool created by Sabine Biesenberger
(Australia Leadership Coaching, GERMANY)
How often do you catch yourself adding good or bad meaning to events in life? How often do you tell a story that is full of good and/or bad thoughts and emotions, experiences from the past and potential consequences? How often does your mind ‘go around in circles’ about a specific event that has happened and you just can’t let go of it? What if an event could just happen to you and you embrace it for what it is – neither judging it good nor bad? Because you consciously choose that it ‘just is’ and don’t add any meaning!
Let’s start with a simple story – the story of the stallion:
An old villager bred a beautiful white stallion that was so magnificent that the king wanted to buy it. The old man however didn’t sell it to him and that evening, all the other villagers came to say it was bad that he did not sell the stallion and get some money instead! The old man said: “Could be good, could be bad, who knows… only say I did not sell the stallion.
The next day, the stallion ran away and disappeared up the mountain. That night, the other villagers came to commiserate with him about his bad luck… no stallion, no chance to sell it, no farm work to do without it, no income!
The old man said:
Could be good, could be bad, who knows… only say the stallion ran away.
Two days later the stallion galloped back to the village with twenty wild horses galloping behind him. They ran into the paddock next to the old man’s house and all he had to do was close the gate – he had his stallion back and with him twenty other horses. The villagers came to say it was good that he had the stallion had run away because now it was back with twenty horses for free!
The old man said:
Could be good, could be bad, who knows… only say the stallion is back and brought with him twenty other horses.
The old man’s son spent the days in the saddle taming the wild horses to sell at the markets and fell on the fourth day and broke his leg. The villagers came to say this was a bad thing that his only son now had a broken leg and could not work.
The old man said:
Could be good, could be bad, who knows… only say my son broke his leg and cannot work.
The army was fighting nearby and doing very badly. Two days after the son broke his leg, the army came to the village conscripting all the able young men. The old man’s son was not able to go to the war. The villagers came to say this was a good thing that his only son had a broken leg and could not go to war.
The old man said:
Could be good, could be bad, who knows… only say my son cannot go to war. …(Source: Breathwork Mastery, Book Four – Chakra Consciousness, by Alakh Analda, Byron Bay (Australia), 1998, pages 79-80)
Reflection on the story:
- Did you catch yourself adding meaning each time when a new event happened?
- What were your immediate thoughts and afterthoughts?
- What emotions came up?
- To what event did you add a good meaning? To what a bad one?
When sharing this story with others (without telling them the purpose or intention first) and then asking them to reflect on what thoughts and emotions came up after each paragraph, the responses are – some samples of it at least – as follows:
After paragraph 1: Old man didn’t sell the stallion
- “He did the right thing, why give his beautiful workhorse away? He needs it. The king can buy a horse from someone who needs it less than the old man. Courageous and strong action for an old man not having a lot of money.” è Emotions: Satisfaction; Gladness to have sustained the pressure of an authority figure; Victory; Courage
- “Hard to understand the old man’s reaction regarding the offer. He could have lived an easy life with all the money, no more work! In addition, you just don’t reject an offer from the king – revenge will surely come…” è Emotions: Fear that the action will have consequences; Anxious; Uncertain if decision was right; Unease
After paragraph 2: Stallion ran away
- “Oh yeah, at least the old man is still alive. And the king has nothing to pressure him on anymore. The old man can just buy another one – life will go on.” è Emotions: Optimism; Positive outlook on life
- “Bang! I knew it. Disaster here it comes. I am wondering if the king’s troups stole it…” è Emotions: Revenge; Negative outlook on life; Uncertainty; Devastation
And so on…
The most important point of this story is not that the old man was able to be non-judgemental and seemed to have the attitude that there was a lesson in each incident.
It is that he repeatedly said:
only say that what happened is what happened.
He was not adding meaning to each incident – neither good nor bad meaning; he reflected back ‘WHAT JUST HAS BEEN’.
You may now say:
Hold on – what is wrong with adding meaning, especially a positive one? The positivity of my thoughts makes me feel at ease and happy. So why should I ‘disregard’ them? And yes, you are absolutely right. However, keep in mind that adding good meaning might lead to a ‘reactive/automatic’ way of living as does adding bad meaning. In addition, and important for your coaching practice, people are generally seen to be much more ‘negative biased’. This phenomenon has been researched by psychologists Roy F. Baumister, Ellen Bratslavsky, Kathleen Vohs and Catrin Finkenauer. These psychologists found that negative experience, or fear of bad events has a greater impact on people than do neutral or positive experiences. Their findings were published in 2001 and can be found in the Review of General Psychology in the article “Bad is Stronger than Good. (Source: wiki-Negativity_bias)
Not adding any meaning, and experience the ‘what just has been’, you can start from a neutral ground instead of a tinted perspective one, and thus you can make a conscious decision which path to go down. So this power tool is to bring you back to a neutral perspective and then from that point to empower you to move into a hopefully positive mindset that enables you to make the next decision. The discussed power tool in this paper is closely linked to other power tools you might be familiar with as it sets the foundation for all others – coming from a space of neutrality.
Cherie just quit her job as a marketing manager and decided to establish her own business. When she was still employed the contacts in her network encouraged her to take this step and they told her that they would love to keep in touch with her. Cherie felt confident in her new role as a business manager and started to contact the people in her network. When Cherie contacted them with regards to potential collaboration she received feedback such as ‘the market is currently not going well, there is immense cost cutting going on right now’, ‘the manager changed and brought his own service contractors with him’, ‘the supply team changed their strategy and bringing in a new contractor is nearly impossible’, etc.
After some calls she put the phone down, felt discouraged and anxious about her new business. Questions that popped into her mind were: “If my existing contacts would not work with me, how would new ones react? Why is everyone letting me down – how can I ever trust anyone again? It is so frustrating.” For the next days, Cherie didn’t contact any more prospects, as she couldn’t bear to feel rejected again.
Reflection on the example:
- Did you add any meaning when reading the feedback sentences from the network contacts?
- What were your immediate thoughts and emotions – good and/or bad?
- How would you feel if you put yourself in Cherie’s shoes straight after the calls? Similar to what Cherie felt? Or actually empowered and motivated to go the extra mile and the them as opportunities?
Applying this power tool in the above example, the objective would be that Cherie can experience the feedback as ‘just feedback’ and neither as rejections nor as false promises or as the broken foundation block for her new established business. To ‘re-frame’ Cherie’s current perspective of the situation, you as a coach would need to first explore her thoughts and try to encourage her to analyse the feedback without adding meaning – neither good nor bad but just as it is (NB: Remember – thoughts drive emotions and emotions drive actions and actions drive thoughts). Whilst analysing the feedback first there will most probably be still some meaning attached to it – which gives you as the coach the opportunity to challenge values, underlying beliefs, etc. of the client. This needs to be repeated until Cherie can experience the feedback just as feedback, and then decide what her ‘conscious response and next actions are’ – from a neutral base and free from any meaning. Cherie might still fall into a negative spiral, however the likelihood of being positive and encouraged when acting from a neutral space is higher than without this ‘no-meaning’ process.
To work with a client on the ‘just be’ perspective, it is important that you as a coach act from that neutral space as often as you can, too. To check yourself, you can reflect on the following questions:
- How often do you add meaning to events?
- Do you act in general from a neutral space?
- Do you empathise easily with others when something ‘good/bad’ has happened?
- What happens in your mind-body if your thoughts are ‘biased’?
- How do you feel if your thoughts are ‘biased’?
- What questions can you ask yourself to turn it around – to get to a neutral space?
- How do your actions differ when coming from a neutral base?
- How do your emotions and actions differ when coming from a neutral base?
- How do you feel when you let events ‘just be’ versus adding good/bad meaning to them?