A Coaching Model Created by Catherine Ferguson
(Life Coach, UNITED STATES)
The Handbag coaching model was designed with the busy mom in mind. As a mom to two young children myself, I know firsthand how easy it is to feel weighed down – both by a literal handbag, stuffed to the brim with anything the kids or I might need – and a metaphorical, psychological handbag, overflowing with constant worry, mom-guilt, career uncertainty, relationship drama and sleepless nights.
The shift into motherhood doesn’t begin and end with the arrival of a child. It is a developmental transition that lasts years or even a lifetime. This period in a woman’s life has a medical name – Matrescence.
A busy mom can feel weighed down and overwhelmed by everything she’s carrying in her metaphorical handbag.
So it is no surprise that moms feel mentally taxed. They carry what is culturally referenced as the “mental load”, keeping track of everything that needs to happen at home and with the children, on top of anything else outside of those two categories.
So the Handbag Model is geared towards helping the busy, overwhelmed mom lighten the load. It does this by helping her gain clarity on what she wants and creates meaningful action to get it. It’s designed to help her continuously and actively design a life that supports her in her ongoing evolution as both a mother and an individual with her wants and needs.
The Handbag Model Process
There are 6 components to the Handbag Model. They are designed to work together and build upon one another.
- Take Inventory
- Decide What’s Essential
- Set Goals
- Hear your Inner Critic
- Get into action
- Be Comfortable with Discomfort
The first step in the Handbag Model is to take inventory of what is actually inside the bag. A busy mom may feel overwhelmed. She may want to make changes in her life but is unsure of where or how to start. But before any changes can be made, the coach must help her client get a clear idea of where things stand now. Picture dumping the contents of your bag onto the kitchen table. It may seem messy, but at least we’re knowing what we’re dealing with! Through this step, the client can see everything she’s been carrying around in her mind. She may be surprised to find things that have been buried for months or even years. What is she worried about? What weighs on her? What keeps her up in the middle of the night? Taking Inventory is the way to answer these questions, and the coaching relationship provides a safe space for the client to unload whatever is on her mind. This step alone can bring enormous clarity.
Once everything is on the table, the client can start to sort through it all. This is where step 2 comes in – deciding what’s essential. As a busy mom, the client can tend to feel that she has to do it all. But there is a reality of tradeoffs – if she tries to do it all, something (or many things) will suffer. With her new visibility, the client must decide what is most important to her right now and recognize what’s been getting in the way. At first glance, everything might feel important or urgent. But the power in “essentialism” is that the client has the opportunity to design her life, instead of reacting to it by default. The goal in step 2 is for the client to decide what’s going to go back into the handbag. The rest can be thrown out or put away for safekeeping.
Now that the client knows which items she is going to keep, she can decide where she is going with her newly-lightened handbag. It’s time to set goals. The goal-setting process may feel foreign. The client may have arrived at this stage of her life has already achieved the “traditional” markers of success – career, marriage, house, and kids, as some examples. Our modern society and culture still predominantly pedal these things as what women should strive for. That is not to say that any of these things are bad. It’s merely to point out that many women are not in the habit of thinking beyond this point. The goals she once had may not match up to where she is in her life now and how she feels.
So now, with only a few, essential things that the client has identified as truly important, she has created the foundation to get specific and deep with what she wants out of the different areas of her life and start to look forward with more clarity.
Self-talk / Inner Mean Girl
This next step is designed to address what has already gotten the way of the client achieving her goals on her own.
With new goals staring them in the face, the client may feel a range of emotions. While there may be excitement, there may also be anxiety, doubt, uncertainty, and fear. There are many names for this internal turmoil – the “inner critic” or “the b*tch in your head” – to name just two. These self-sabotaging voices are relics from when our brains were designed to keep us alive when we were running from tigers or staying safe in a pack. The client’s goals – most likely! – won’t include things that will kill them. But their brains will still try to keep them safe from the uncomfortable feelings of trying new things and potentially failing.
This step is designed explicitly to shine a light on those thoughts and expose the feelings that come with them. It will prepare the client in advance to expect the thoughts and feelings that are part of working towards new goals. And it will reassure them that those thoughts and feelings are not indicators that anything has gone wrong. On the contrary, they are signs that she is building her emotional resiliency by being able to “strengthen her power to bounce back from adversities.”
By asking the client to get in touch with those thoughts – the ones that tell her “she can’t do it”, “there’s not enough time”, “she doesn’t know how” – the coach and client together are creating a roadmap of limiting beliefs. These are the roadblocks she will encounter on the way to her goals. Taking the time to explore what these thoughts are in advance gives the coach and client the advantage of shining a light on these thoughts ahead of time and the opportunity to shift these limiting beliefs to ones that serve the client better.
Once we have our goals and a roadmap of the bumps we might hit on the road along the way, it’s time to put everything back in the handbag and get going by creating meaningful action for the client. How are they going to get from where they are now to where they want to go?
The key is to break it down. Instead of looking at the big goal, what are the little goals along the way? Analogies and metaphors can help the client, who may initially feel overwhelmed at the prospect of working towards a new goal.
The coach can ask the client to think of their children. They weren’t born with the ability to run. First, they simply grew by eating and sleeping. Then, they started to gain strength by holding their head up. Eventually, they learned to sit, pick up toys, to use a spoon. Then they learned to crawl, slowly and tentatively moving one arm and leg at a time. After, they practiced standing, reaching their arms up to grab onto a couch or a coffee table, shakily putting their weight onto their legs. After a lot of practice, they started to walk, one little foot in front of the other at a time, first holding hands and pushing toys, and eventually on their own in the middle of the room. And only then, after months and months of literal tiny baby steps, they began to pick up speed and run.
It’s important to emphasize to the client – who may be used to being high achieving and fast-moving – that the key to reaching their goals is the total of hundreds of baby steps. But breaking a goal down into such small pieces will do two things to support the client:
- It will make it easier to start. When the client is focused on one easy next step, she will have less mental resistance to taking action that may otherwise seem daunting.
- She will create momentum. Once she begins to complete little goals, she will begin to prove to herself she is capable of setting goals and achieving them.
Comfort with Discomfort
As the client takes action, she’ll bump up against obstacles and her inner critic’s thoughts. It will be hard. It will feel uncomfortable. And this is when many people quit. They believe that when it feels hard, that something must be wrong. This is when she may want to take her handbag and go back home! But this is the critical turning point. This is where she learns to get comfortable with discomfort and build emotional resilience.
“Discomfort isn’t intense pain, but just the feeling you get when you’re out of your comfort zone.” Discomfort feels bad and vulnerable. Many people do everything they can to avoid feeling discomfort. So why is it important that she gets used to feeling discomfort? Because “when you run from discomfort all the time, you are restricted to a small zone of comfort, and so you miss out on most of life.”
Most goals worth going for elicit discomfort in their pursuit. Stopping smoking. Losing Weight. Standing up in front of a crowd. All may feel uncomfortable in different ways. But that doesn’t mean the goals are not worth striving for. On the contrary, the goal is worth striving for because it brings us face to face with new experiences along the way and forces us to grow. And in this coach-client relationship, the client is focused on growth.
Once the client gets used to feeling discomfort on purpose, her ability and motivation to keep taking action will be unstoppable.
Women are leaders of our time.And as more women ascend to positions of leadership, there is no telling the levels of good they can bring to the world.
And for that to happen, women need to take care of themselves and their mental health as much as they take care of others. They need to be able to tune into what they’re thinking and feeling the same way they’re able to do it so naturally for their children.
Coaching mothers – with the Handbag Model in particular – is a means to support the ongoing growth of mothers in our modern culture.
Sacks, Alexandra. “Matrescence: The Developmental Transition to Motherhood.” Psychology Today, 8 April 2019, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/motherhood-unfiltered/201904/matrescence-the-developmental-transition-motherhood
Barberio, Joseph. “This Comic Perfectly Explains the Mental Load Working Mothers Bear.” Working Mother, 2 November 2018, www.workingmother.com/this-comic-perfectly-explains-mental-load-working-mothers-bear.
Greg Mckeown, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less (Crown Business, 2014).
Dr. Jacqueline HornorPlumez, The Bitch in Your Head: How to Finally Squash Your Inner Critic (Rowman & Littlefield, 2015).
Daum, Kevin. “5 Ways Science Says Your Brain Is Holding You Back From Success.”, Inc.,www.inc.com/kevin-daum/5-ways-science-shows-that-your-brain-is-keeping-you-from-success.html
Chowdhury, Madhuleena Roy, “What is Emotional Resilience and How to Build It?”, Positive Psychology, 17 April 2020, www.positivepsychology.com/emotional-resilience/
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