Coaching Case Study By Angelica Palli
(Creativity Coach, GERMANY)
Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere. Albert Einstein
Imagination is one of the strongest tools a coach can use. Especially when working with highly creative and sensitive people, imagination can represent just the right key to open inaccessible doors. Whenever our rational mind blocks our ability to listen to our inner self, imagination jumps in to support us.
Flavia has decided to switch career at 30 years old, pursuing her passion for dancing regardless of sacrifices and self-doubt. Although she has put in a lot of dedication and managed to reach important goals and get results, she is still struggling with self-confidence.
She feels quickly unease every time she is criticized and reacts aggressively to any negative feedback. Rationally, she understands that criticism is fundamental for growth and improvement, but instinctively she tends to have very strong reactions: she feels immediately offended and hurt.
In a session, she decided to focus on exploring her reactions and the reasons behind it. She took some time to let her rational part talk. She reflected on the right of every person to express a personal opinion, different from hers, without any intention of hurting or attacking her. She reflected on her fear of being judged “not good enough”, on her dependence on other’s judgments and her need for approval and praise.
However, it is only when we started getting deeper into the conversation and the realm of imagination, that things started to move.
Flavia visualized a huge gorilla within herself: a gorilla that leaves the cage and breaks everything it gets in touch with the moment she is criticized, regardless of the type of feedback she gets. Once the gorilla takes control, she gets aggressive, she snaps back at others, leaves the room, or refuses to listen.
A few days before our session, Flavia got an email from a choreographer who had accepted to take a look at her work. She had made a high number of notes, corrections, and suggestions to Flavia’s work. Flavia’s initial reaction was to close the laptop and stop looking at the email for days. She felt she had been harshly judged. The gorilla had taken control and was whispering against the choreographer, refusing to even consider the feedback.
However, in our session, Flavia started by identifying this gorilla and its need to protect her from others. The gorilla, she said, represents her attempt to protect her dream from those who think she is too old, not experienced enough to dance or think she doesn’t have the right body. The gorilla means good to her. The gorilla doesn’t want her to get overwhelmed by the feedback, otherwise, Flavia would feel hurt and would get to believe that whatever she does is wrong. The gorilla is trying to be there, strong and solid, to defend her from the attackers.
Slowly, Flavia started working on this image of the gorilla, trying to insert a short reflection between the feedback and the automatic response of opening the cage. She learned to recognize when the door was about to open. She also learned to quieten the gorilla before it started its destruction and to peacefully lead it back to the cage.
At the end of the session, Flavia accepted to open the email. She focused on a sense of gratefulness: the choreographer had taken some time to look at her work. She also decided to remind herself of how different opinions can help her grow and gain new perspectives and, to calm her gorilla even further, she reminded herself that feedback is, after all, nothing else of an opinion. She is still free to accept it or not.
The image of a gorilla is strongly present in Flavia’s mind and has helped her take a step further in her dream. She still needs to work deeply on her self-confidence, however, she is learning to control her emotions and choose her reactions.
The image of this powerful animal has helped her access a part of herself that she was not that aware of. It also supported her in detecting the different steps of her reaction: the input (feedback), the response (the gorilla is about to leave its cage), the result (the gorilla is raging free).
Moreover, imagining a gorilla helped her realize how rushed and exaggerated her reply to the stimulus was. Thanks to this image, Flavia was able to take some distance and look at the situation with a bit of self-humor: “Oh, the gorilla is about to come out!”.
It is interesting to notice that, through this process, Flavia manage to get a step further. Once she managed to understand that the gorilla meant protection, she quickly learned to distinguish between constructive feedback, in which case the gorilla should stay still, or “mean”, non-constructive feedback she gets from others who are consciously trying to bring her down and criticize her work for the sake of it. If the latter happens, Flavia needs to let her gorilla free: it will protect her from being hurt. The gorilla is there to remind her that she has every right in the world to be there, to dance, to live her dream, regardless of others’ opinions. The gorilla needs to be heard, understood, and quietened occasionally. But sometimes, it is important to let it free, allowing it to jump out of the cage for her own sake.
Now, whenever she gets criticized and is about to overreact, Flavia is reminded of the gorilla inside her and gives herself a moment to decide what the situation requires. In doing so, she feels more confident and professional: she can stand for her work when she needs to, but also learn humbly when there’s an opportunity for growth.
As a coach, my wish is to focus on people with big bold creative projects and help them succeed. To do that, supporting my clients in accessing all their resources, imagination, first of all, is key. It will be up to the clients to discover what imagination can do for them, but I will be there to support them.
Big Magic, Elisabeth Gilbert