A Coaching Power Tool Created by Sherri Lojzer
(Women’s Leadership Coach, CANADA)
What is a structure to you? An activity? A support system? A set of rules or beliefs you use to guide you?
Structures developed without conscious thought may or may not be serving a person well if the goal of the structure serves only to meet an underlying belief and not to move them forward. Perhaps it is as a result of the social leanings a person feels because of their environment, the will of a single group of society that they live within or even to protect themselves from a perceived harm. Yet the question remains, does it serve to move them forward in the direction they want. Very rigid and inflexible structures without motivation may create conflict with core values. The impact can be frustration, feeling of lack of control and failure to follow the structures creating a sense of failure in the person.
What is Flexibility to you? Ability to choose? Room to change to meet a changed environment? Control?
Flexibility without consciousness can also work against an individual when it is an avoidance of involvement. It can create an unfocused series of activities in a person’s life and can result in what seems to be a stunted ability to function. In questioning the reasons or purpose behind both the structures and flexibilities in a person’s life it is possible to identify areas where they don’t fit well with their core values or with their ability to move forward.
Structure vs. Flexibility
If a person’s structures are built in such a large and unmoving way as to prevent them from stepping outside to see what other possibilities exist, it becomes very difficult to create a new set of behaviours that don’t conform. However, completely removing structures that provide some stability to gain complete freedom is also not wise as there can be little for no ability to assess against what is right and forward moving in a positive way. Acknowledging both the need for structures and building in the right amount of flexibilities to allow effectiveness and creativity and freedom becomes a balancing act.
The challenge with Structure vs. Flexibility is that both should exist for all clients. Understanding a client’s core values, supporting their self-awareness and exploration can give them an overreaching sense of how much structure and flexibility they need or prefer. Challenging the structures and flexibilities and then reaffirm or helping to building new ones should be done cautiously and without judgement.
My own personal story:
Our house is a constant hub of activity as most homes are in our fast paced world. For years we have tried so many ways of organizing, sorting, time managing and creating habits. For some strange reason, they always seem to fall apart after a while. I am an accomplished professional, active community leader, have 3 boys(4 if you count my husband) 2 cats, 1 dog and love it that way. However, I tend to detest the kitchen and kitchen duties. The structure of the day to day activity of making dinner can wear on a busy family and the attempt to ensure healthy meals at a reasonable hour is not one that gives me any personal satisfaction. With 3 teenage boys in the house though, the option of not doing this effectively would result in anarchy, extraordinary consumption of untold junk food and worse, complaining about nothing in the house to eat. Recognition that much to my chagrin I cannot escape this particular structure for the health and well-being of my family I committed to ensuring we had home-made meals at least 4 times per week. In the initial stages this seemed do-able. The descent into frustration and near complete failure came within only a few weeks, when I felt that I was spending 2 hours every day in the kitchen at the time of day when we had previously managed some relaxation time. Tempers flared, the kids, who are also not fans of the kitchen and less than thrilled about the addition of more chores being thrust on them, became surly. Time to reconsider. Why was I torturing myself and my family? How was the positive impact of the homemade meal being negated by the frustrated family members? Was this really the best way to accomplish this? What is the ultimate goal? Why is it important to prepare meals and mealtimes in this manner? Underlying beliefs around “a good mother’s ability to make home-cooked meals easily” surfaced because of the family environments I grew up in. However, the comparison of lifestyle and the size and make-up of my family was significantly different than my own childhood household. I am a career mother and cherish the time with my children. I am also not governed by how clean the house is, how impressive the meals are or how perfectly organized my cupboards are. This 1970’s June Cleaver mentality was still affecting my ability to create a new solution. Next step: family meeting. Let’s talk about who is good at what, and how to better organize. Everything from the planning of the meals to the groceries is a task that needed to be considered. The first attempt brought a regimented meal for each day and a grocery list built only to accommodate that. However, forgetting to remove something from the freezer in the morning, or the sudden change in a schedule meant there was no flexibility. The second kick at it was much more successful. The end result is a 7 day meal plan, which we prep for 2-3 hours on a weekend day together. Now we have pre-made meals for several of the days of the week and the flexibility to choose which day we eat which meal. My husband and I split the days up when we do kitchen duty so that it’s not 2 days in a row for either of us, but means we are both so much more accommodating to cover for each other in a pinch. Everyone is much more relaxed around dinner time, we have more time together and I only have to spend my time in the kitchen for one day a week for several hours, to take advantage of minimal time throughout the week.
Discussion with the client in the following areas to develop awareness and understanding in each of these areas open the exploration up to go as deep as necessary to effect the change in perspective or to reframe the current situation.
- Core Values and Goals Awareness
These are important steps for the client in recognizing their own core values and goals. Whatever guiding principles and passions that exist within the client will be the motivation behind understanding whether the structures and flexibilities are working towards a direction they hope to achieve or impeding their ability to do so.
- Current Structures & Flexibilities
Asking the client to identify as many structures and flexibilities exist currently in their lives as possible will help them to evaluate the ones that need changing and the ones that need reaffirming. These gives the opportunity for appreciative inquiry around the ones that are good, working well or have proven successful. Powerful Questions in this area may include
- Does this support your values?
- Will this move you closer to achieving your goal and in what way?
- Are there other ways that you can think of that would also support you in your goals?
- What part of this structure/flexibility can you describe to me with the word should?
- What will happen to this structure/flexibility when you have achieved your goals?
- If you had to explain to your son/daughter why this structure or flexibility could also be negative what would you tell them?
Use of visualization techniques may be very helpful in creating a sense of comfort, encouraging new habits or behaviours or in experiencing the feelings around the structures/flexibilities. Having them describe in detail the steps of their structure/flexibility and the effect it has on them can enrich the technique. It could also be useful to anchor the client when they may be struggling with a new structure/flexibility.
Asking the client for their commitment level and their feelings about both to the goal and the structure/flexibility is important as it can indicate how firmly the old underlying belief may still be impacting them or how strong their intent is. This allows the opportunity to further explore barriers or build stronger re-affirmations.
Help them to create an assessment tool, to keep on track or work as a checks and balance. Based on their preferences and needs from the tool, perhaps a journal, or a weekly report in to a support person simply as an acknowledgement that they are still on track or to discuss results and barriers.
The shift from structure to flexibility is not one that is likely made easily for someone who is firmly entrenched in their beliefs so using the techniques of Mindfulness to create more comfort with the changes and the NLP technique of Anchoring can be small steps to begin with or reinforcing steps along the way. Using CBT in the process can also help with keeping them connected to the motivation to move forward with changes that may be difficult. In using appreciative inquiry during the evaluation of current structures/flexibilities the focus is on celebrating what already works well and finding ways to expand those into others to effectiveness.