A Coaching Power Tool Created by Alessandra Ingrosso
(Executive Coach, SWITZERLAND)
Few of us ever live in the present, we are forever anticipating what is to come or remembering what is gone. Luis L’Amour
To ruminate: to think carefully and for a long period about something
We are so used to our thoughts that we identify with them. We feel that they represent us and may come to think of them as reality, but instead we experience life from the inside out; which means that we experience our thoughts rather than actual events in our lives.
As many as 100 thoughts per minute may crowd our mind. We may indulge into them and even build stories and imagine parallel realities around them. This can be aligned to our aim and inspire us; but what happens when our thoughts, the reality we build around them, and our resulting behaviour do not support us but rather hinder our progress? When we ruminate over an issue and focus on negative thoughts we get worried, look for things that will validate our believes and start worrying about those too; build parallel stories in our heads and our worry grows bigger. It has been demonstrated that ruminating does not help to become more self-aware but rather causes us to get sucked deeper into our worry as in a downward spiral. Our worry spiral affects our mental performance and may cause stress, anxiety and physical symptoms like tension, pain and exhaustion.
As an alternative, we can choose to look at thoughts as bubbles arising from our head. If we pause just long enough to notice them and then let them go; they will lose our hold on us. A particular thought may still come back to haunt us from time to time but if we choose to treat it as a fastidious movie that happens to us, rather than reality it will simply pop like a soap bubble. Thoughts are a what makes us alive and able to experience life. When they condition our behaviour though, because of fabrications about reality based on wrong assumptions or fears, they become self-limiting and hinder our progress and happiness. By thinking of thoughts as bubbles and not allowing them to become dark spirals, we can empower ourselves and our clients to work towards achieving our objectives and living an authentic life.
How this applies to me as a coach
As coaches we need to be fully present with our clients. There are times when, during a session, thoughts or judgements about ourselves will come up. We need to be able to let them go and rather function as a blank canvas to be able to reflect back to our clients the issues and thoughts they brought to the session. The better we are able to pop our thought bubbles the more present we will be with our clients.
Preparing for a session by emptying my mind is especially important to me in terms of maintaining a healthy mindset. This is critical for me to stop any self-doubt or sabotaging thought from connecting to my clients.
How this may apply to clients
Our clients may get sucked into a thoughts spiral because of fear or lack of confidence either in the workplace or in their personal lives. At work as an example, after criticism from a boss; clients may start to think that they are not good enough, will not be able to execute on their objectives, grow in their role, or may ultimately lose their job. These spiralling thoughts may impact morale, confidence, and ultimately end up affecting productivity as a result of declining motivation and energy levels.
How can we support clients to break free from unhelpful thought spirals and choose the thoughts that support them in working towards their objectives?
Coaching support techniques
Mindfulness is generally regarded as the simple (but not easy) act of maintaining our focus on the present moment and noticing our thoughts and feelings without developing any attachment to them. Mindfulness meditation, the act of sitting quietly and focusing on a single object like our own breathing, has been heavily researched and is now accepted by the scientific and medical community as effective in treating conditions like chronic pain, anxiety or stress. Ellen Langer uses a wider definition and regards mindfulness as “the process of actively noticing new things, relinquishing preconceived mindsets and then acting on our new observations’’. A key way to do this is reframing or looking at our circumstances and behaviours from a different angle in order to maximize insight.
The advantage of mindfulness is that it can literally be practiced by everyone. Even clients who do not feel comfortable with the concept of meditation can experience significant benefits practicing different forms of mindfulness for a few minutes every day.
Cognitive behavioural coaching
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a technique that aims at gaining awareness of automatic thoughts and behaviours, and uses a structured approach to re-frame them to 3 then be able to introduce new and more flexible ways of thinking that will ultimately result in more productive behaviours. Though CBT is most often used as a therapeutic intervention, it is very compatible with coaching. CBT can support clients in gaining awareness of their thought processes and catch themselves before unhelpful thoughts escalate, to be able to step back to a more balanced reality.
CBT can easily be integrated into our coaching practice by giving clients small assignments with the aim to facilitate the recognition of automatic thoughts and behaviours. The coach can then work with the client to come up with alternative thoughts, behaviours and solutions.
Reframing the question
It has been shown that one of the main reasons rumination is not helpful at increasing self-awareness and making us more impactful towards our goal, is that we ask the wrong question. When we ruminate we tend to ask the ‘why’ question and in trying to find an answer we fall deeper into our self-made spiral of unsupportive thoughts. Asking ‘why’ causes people to ruminate on their problems and keep them trapped in the past. Conversely ‘what’ questions can break the spiral and keep us open to discovering new information about ourselves. ‘What’ questions move us forward in a productive way to make changes and find solutions. So rather than asking ourselves ‘why do I feel this way?’ we can ask ourselves ‘what do I feel right now?’, ‘what is another way to look at this?’, or ‘how can I change my response to have a more positive outcome?’.
Important questions to support clients:
What indications do you have that this assumption is accurate?
What aspects of this assumption/scenario concern you the most?
What alternative options/possibilities exist?
What is the likelihood of this happening?
What is another way to look at this situation?
What actions would you take if the worst did happen?
Where would you find support in the worst case scenario?
What actions could you take to obtain a more positive outcome?
Book. Insight. Tasha Eurich.
Your thoughts are bubbles. Jon Kabat-Zinn. Accessed 15 October 2018.
Book. Supercoach. Michael Neil
Cognitive behavioural executive coaching. Good and Yeganeh.