Research Paper By Violetta Psofaki
(Transformational Coach, GREECE)
Coaching and ancient Greek philosophy share the same objective, to help man to become the best version of himself, to fulfill the whole of his potential and find happiness. They both have understood that we should be guided to the lake of direct experience that lies within us in order to see the reflection of our true face.
Alan Sieler says that Ontology provides a rigorous and substantive theoretical framework for the development of professional coaches. Ontology is the study of being. From an ontological perspective, coaches observe and work with key aspects of how coachees have structured their reality and the nature of their existence, i.e. their perceptions and ways of participating in life.
Ontology dates back as far as the philosophers of Ancient Greece. The ancient Greek philosophers have been preoccupied with the investigation of the reasons for human existence and the way men should live, so as to be consistent with their reason for being. They had many schools of thought. Socrates advocated self-knowledge as the path to happiness. Plato’s allegory of the cave influenced western thinkers who believed that happiness is found by finding deeper meaning. Aristotle believed happiness, or “eudaimonia” is constituted by rational activity in accordance with virtue over a complete life. The Epicureans believed in reaching happiness through the enjoyment of simple pleasures. The Stoics believed they could remain happy by being objective and reasonable.
Vikki Brock, in her dissertation, regarding the roots and emergence of the coaching field, has said that coaching’s roots stretch back into antiquity and that philosophy provided the foundation for coaching.
And this is true; the broad field of philosophy has played a large role in coaching. Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental nature of reality, existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind and language. As a method, is addressing problems by questioning, critical, generally systematic approach and reliance on rational argument.
One of the reasons that Coaching is such an interesting field is that it draws from a wide range of theories, philosophies and disciplines to create something unique. Positive psychology and Cognitive therapy have heavily influenced coaching with their work on the principle that the way we act is a result of the way we feel, which is, in turn, a result of the way we think, as well as their aim to apply methods by posing questions such as: “What is happiness?”, “What makes a person happier than another?”
Albert Ellis, the founder of cognitive-behavioral therapy, was trying to understand emotions and he was inspired by a line from the Greek Stoic philosopher, Epictetus, who said:
Men are disturbed not by events, but by their opinion about events.
That inspired Elli’s famous ABC theory of the emotions, where A stands for the activating event, B stands for our beliefs and C stands for the consequent emotion that we feel through our interpretation. According to ancient Greeks what often cause suffering are our own beliefs. Epictetus, who was a slave and his name meant “acquired”, developed a philosophy of inner freedom and resilience which is still very powerful today. The secret of his philosophy was to divide all of life into two spheres: those things that we don’t have complete control over and those things that we do. He said that the secret of resilience is to know the difference between those two spheres. The only thing we can control, according to him, is our beliefs.
Epictetus explains in Discourses 3.2. that above all, one must attend to “desire and aversion”, one must correct one’s emotional responses by pondering questions of value and indifference, for desire or fear of objects outside one’s own control results in a host of strong emotions that make one “incapable of listening to reason” while experiencing them. Also, one must attend to one’s own reasoning processes, to “freedom from deception and hasty judgment and in general whatever is concerned with assent.” This entails some study of logic, to prevent the conclusions reached in the two principal areas of study from being dislodged “even in dreams or drunkenness or melancholy.” According to Epictetus, as the habit of screening impressions becomes established, correct responses will begin to come automatically. Yet constant vigilance is still required, to guard against backsliding because we cannot rely solely on habituation.
Epictetus has provided us with timeless pearls of wisdom such as:
Seek not for events to happen as you wish, but rather wish for events to happen as they do and your life will go smoothly, We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak, It is not death or pain that is to be dreaded, but the fear of pain or death, We are what we repeatedly do and so many more.
His philosophy was about establishing a sense of purpose within the events of life and he believed that our capacity for choice makes us accountable for our own actions and states.
Coaching is a distinct process of supporting others to create an ideal life, to become the best version of themselves, and has used a lot of ideas and insights from the ancient Greek philosophers, who were excellent in showing how to live in a conscious, joyous and peaceful way and they have provided us with the critical thinking, the courage and strength to live our best authentic life.
Rooted in Greek philosophy, critical thinking is based on a Socratic idea of a reasoned process of weighing up the evidence to decide whether something is believed to be true or false and for this Socrates is credited with being one of the founders of Western philosophy.
All I know is that I know nothing
he has said and thus was born the Socratic Method, the core of coaching, a popular teaching method that asks a series of questions, reveling inside knowledge in individual responses and providing insight into topics. His method of debate or Method of Elenchus, a dialectical method of questioning, was testing and ultimately improving a hypothesis. Through asking a series of questions, the method sought to show contradictions in the beliefs of those who posed them, and systematically move towards a hypothesis free from contradiction. To solve a problem, it would be broken down into a series of questions, which would help a person to determine his/her underlying beliefs and the extent of his/her knowledge, and the answers to these questions would gradually distill the answer the person was seeking.
Hilary Armstrong wrote a paper regarding the central motif of coaching saying:
The purpose of the dialogue is to explore the ways that the coachee constructs meaning about any given situation. As this exploration occurs, meaning is re-authored and solutions to dilemmas or problems emerge. Following Wittgenstein’s advice to drop our theories about what is going on and to look at what coaches are doing in the fullness of their situations, what is seen is that the central motif of coaching is a dialogue.
The word “dialogue” emerged in the 13th century from the Greek “dialogos”, “dia” across, movement and “legein” to speak, which evokes the notion of dialogue as a dynamic flow of words and meanings between people. For the early Greeks (and particularly Socrates) it was through dialogue that virtue and knowledge were produced.
Socrates believed that the essential quality of human beings was their ability to question. He was nicknamed a “gadfly” because he stung people awake by questioning their often preciously held assumptions. Before Socrates, monologue prevailed. In the modern society we speak at each other rather than with each other. The purpose of the coaching dialogue is to generate new meanings around the dilemma that is brought to the session. Questions are introduced that encourage the development of new meaning around the coachee’s experience. Once new meaning is generated, new pathways for action can be identified.
The science of coaching puts man at its center and urges them to lead their ideal life. Coaching supports people to be their authentic selves and live their lives fully and with integrity. One of the fundamental principles of coaching is that the coach does not have the answers and does not claim to have them. They have the questions that allow the client to find their own answers. A coaching relationship is a partnership in which the client is the expert and the coach support him/her in drawing on his/her own wisdom.
Socrates’ method was called “midwifing” due to the fact that his mother was a midwife and she was helping women to give birth. Socrates argued that no theory or idea were born from him, but just as a midwife, was helping his discussants to “give birth” to their own truth. Socrates was seeking the primary truth, the unchangeable, which was not affected by the circumstances, which was not depended on man. He believed that people know the truth deep within them and with the proper questioning would be able to remember it and bring it up to the surface of their memory. He pretended ignorance trying to elicit the knowledge out of his discussants in order to help them to get to know more about their selves. His method was designed to force one to examine one’s own beliefs and the validity of such beliefs. With Socrates the study of man became more systematic, substantial and material as the start line of his philosophical tenor was the exhortation “know thy self”.
Coaching has to do with change and action. It encourages people to become self-aware, mindful, present at the moment, gain excellence and be in the flow. It recognizes the fact that beliefs and habits are the very core and strength of who we are and if someone wants to change themselves they should focus on changing their underlying beliefs and habits. Coaching trusts that we have the knowledge of the truth within us and that we are the only ones responsible for our performance and our choices.
Greeks had realized that people are forgetful and habit-based creatures and in order to change themselves they had to change their ingrained habits. So, they were using different techniques for creating new habits. One technique they used was maxim, brief “laconic” phrases, memorable sayings, like proverbs such as “Know thy self” or “Everything is moderation”, which should be repeated out loud, over and over again. They’d also write it down in little handbooks they’d carried with them through the day. Another thing they were doing was keeping journal in order to keep track of what they were actually doing throughout their day. This journal helped them to become a detached observer of themselves. Writing things down as soon as possible, helps us view things in this detached way, observing events and describing them in an objective manner. They also used to pause to give themselves thinking space and gain psychological distance from their initial impressions. Another technique the Greek used was fieldwork. They believed that theoretical knowledge was not enough and they had to go out and practice in real life situations.