A Coaching Power Tool Created by Alina Bebia
(Life Coach, ROMANIA)
Many of us linger on the things we wish we could do better, more frequently, or at all. Sometimes, we find ourselves feeling “stuck” and unable to move forward – or in any direction. Delving into what keeps us in this state, paradoxically, feels like it may only fan the flames. When this occurs, we might notice we are frightened, nervous, anxious, or confused. More often than not, there is a sense of overwhelm in this condition. The overwhelming feelings then cause us to feel even more paralyzed and we find ourselves more and more rooted in the sense of inability to take action toward the things we look to build in our lives.
This process raises the question: How do we stop procrastinating? Each of us may have experienced an occasional bout of discomfort with intermittent procrastination, yet some find themselves continuously battling the cycle of overwhelm and procrastination with most of their goals and deadlines. With repetition, not only can this become exhausting, but it can feel almost threatening to strive for goals as well as take on projects – even if they are required of us.
An important thing to keep in mind is procrastination is representative of a bigger underlying factor. To address procrastination, it becomes imperative to look at the underlying issue. Often, feeling overwhelmed presents as procrastination. In other words, if we are feeling engulfed by what might be required of us, it may feel impossible to take any action toward those tasks. To facilitate circumventing procrastination, we need strategies for keeping the overwhelmed at bay.
One reason we may feel overwhelmed by our tasks and goals may be that we are intimidated by carrying out the task or what it might entail. We may find ourselves thinking the task is too complex or that the goals are too high. This can lead us into a numbed state or hiding from the activity. At times, we might even find ourselves fixated on it, even becoming irritable, and yet unable to take any action. From this point, as the deadline approaches, we may find ourselves becoming even more and more rooted in fear, overwhelm, anxiety, and inaction.
Another consideration as we navigate our tasks when we are overwhelmed is where to start. Many of us convince ourselves that we must start with the first step. Yet, this first step may feel elusive to us or perhaps we are just unsure of what it is or how to do it. It may help to start with aspects of the task we do know how to accomplish. As a result, we find ourselves having begun, which alleviates some of the pressure, stress, anxiety, and difficult feelings. At the same time, we begin to see progress and our confidence in our ability to keep moving forward may increase.
In sum, feelings of overwhelm can lead to a state of paralysis. This, in turn, can compound the stress and anxiety we might experience in response to challenging tasks. With this in mind, we can take steps to ensure overwhelmed states are mitigated so we can continue to build on what we value in our lives.
From Paralyzed to Catalyzed – Setting Goals
Motivation theory posits that human behavior is fundamentally goal-directed. Goals create a point of reference against which one evaluates their current standings. Research suggests that goals are significant to wellbeing as they produce personal standards of self-satisfaction, improve task interest, mitigate boredom, improve clarity, and catalyze people to start acting. Fundamental psychological needs including relatedness (the state of being connected), competence (the ability to do something well), and autonomy (the ability to self-direct and act independently) can provide the necessary motivation for goal striving, and in turn, goal achievement is suggested to satisfy these needs.
Studies show that if a person is committed to a goal, has the requisite level of ability to achieve it, and does not have conflicting goals, difficult goals inspire and produce successful task performance Locke (1996) explains that self-efficacy, one’s task-specific confidence, plays an important role in developing goals that are challenging and meaningful, producing ongoing effort and commitment, and cultivating self-management that supports follow through.
Coaching on Goal Setting
Goal setting is a foundational element of coaching, as goals serve as future-oriented benchmarks that help to organize and direct behavior. Humans are uniquely endowed with the requisite skills for making decisions about the future, including planning, anticipating challenges, mobilizing resources, and adapting to unexpected circumstances. Coaches can capitalize on this natural predisposition towards goal setting to support clients in achieving greater happiness, a deeper sense of meaning, and increased connectedness. By deepening self-awareness around self-efficacy beliefs, leveraging them to design challenging goals, and ultimately produce goal-aligned actions, coaches can support their clients in cultivating positive outcome expectations that may produce greater wellbeing. Furthermore, coaches can offer clients tangible tools for designing and pursuing goals that are self-concordant and realistic.
Wheel of Life: The wheel of life is a foundational tool for many coaches, as it provides a quick snapshot of a client’s current state, but also acts as a springboard for goalsetting. The coach can use a template to help clients visualize their life as a whole (the entire wheel) split up into several domains (slices of the wheel). Each slice represents a different area of the client’s life. For example, domains like academics, friendships, body image, future, family, sports, etc. can help clients identify areas of their life where they are thriving and areas where they are languishing. Coaches can use the following prompts when using the wheel of life during client session (this example will target the domain of friendships):
- Please rate on a scale of one to ten how satisfied you feel with your friendships, where ten means completely satisfied in every way, and zero means completely dissatisfied in every way.
- Describe in detail what your friendships would look like if you gave them a seven? A ten? (Note: this is an opportunity to support clients in dreaming big. Encourage clients to imagine a future with endless possibilities, where ideal selves and dream scenarios can exist without judgment or criticism.
- What would have to change to increase the rating of your friendships?
- What are three things you can do in the next month to bump your friendships from a four to a seven?
Together, the coach and client can brainstorm and visualize meaningful goals, action steps, and outcomes. In this way, coaches can support clients in fostering both pathways and agency thinking that cultivate optimism and hopefulness around future possibilities.
Once small goals have been identified in one or several domains, coaches can use the SMARTgoals model to help clients attain greater clarity, focus, and motivation.
SMART Goals: This tool is popular among helping professionals as it synthesizes years-worth of research around what makes for an effective, motivating goal. The acronym SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound)embodies the building blocks that support clients in achieving increased motivation and improving the odds that the goal will actually be accomplished. Coaches can use the following smart goals prompts to support clients in creating tangible goals and building progressive momentum:
Specific: A goal is specific when it states exactly what the individual intends to accomplish. Increase specificity by answering the following questions:
- Who is to be involved?
- What is to be accomplished?
- Where is it to be done?
- When is it to be done?
Measurable: A goal is measurable if it is quantifiable. First, establish current standings to measure and track progress. Measurable goals will answer the questions:
- How much?
- How many?
- How will you know when it is accomplished?
Attainable: A goal is attainable when there is a realistic chance that it can be accomplished. This does not mean the goal should be easy, but rather that the requisite time, resources, and focus are available for completion. An attainable goal will answer the questions:
- Is it realistic?
- How can it be accomplished?
- What skills, attitudes, or resources are required?
Relevant: A relevant goal is aligned with the client’s current vision for the future and reflects their ultimate potential. Relevant goals will not conflict with personal values or long-term goals. Relevant goals can be determined by asking the following questions:
- Is this the right time?
- Are you the right person?
- Is it worthwhile?
Time-bound: A time-bound goal has a start and a finish. Limiting the time in which a goal must be accomplished helps to focus on effort and marshal resources. Measuring progress at incremental time periods can be helpful. To ensure a goal is time-bound, answer the following questions:
- By when will the goal be completed?
- What can I do today?
- What can I do 1 week from now?
- What can I do 1 month from now?
Overall, SMART goals are easy to design targets that can serve to inspire clients to get catalyzed and take action. Coaches can help clients to design weekly or daily action steps that will ultimately result in the accomplishment of the SMART goal. To support clients in following through, coaches can enlist the client’s help in designing rewards and/or consequences for completed/missed action steps. Ultimately, a coach can provide clients with firm accountability to support them in maximizing their potential, increasing self-efficacy, and developing optimism about future goals.
Re-framing: It is worth mentioning that there is a dark side to goal-setting that often goes unexamined. Personal experience shows that many clients are plagued by an intense fear of failure that is easily exacerbated by the pressure to achieve a lofty goal. In these cases, goal setting can produce anxiety rather than hope and motivation. Trying and failing is perceived to be more painful and embarrassing than simply not trying at all, thus creating a deep-seated fear that often prevents clients from realizing their true potential. Furthermore, clients’ failure impact predictions (what will go wrong in the event of failure) produce increased stress and negative rumination.
To combat this tendency, coaches can support clients in reframing their understanding of failure: instead of seeing failure as an embarrassing, permanent mark of shame and unworthiness, failure can be understood as valuable feedback that can be a source of important performance information. Furthermore, adversity can strengthen individuals and even open doors to a greater sense of purpose and meaning. The simple but powerful adage “when one door closes, another door opens” appears to neatly capture the essence of contextualizing challenges as opportunities for learning and growth.
Next, coaches can help clients by shifting their focus away from their shortcomings and toward previous achievements, resources, short-term milestones, and general progress to increase positivity, optimism, and hopefulness. In such situations, coaches may use powerful open-ended questions to achieve these outcomes. For example:
- What progress have you made so far?
- Tell me about a time you have been successful in achieving a similar goal in the past.
- What resources can you leverage to help with this goal?
- What excites you about this goal?
- How can you manage your expectations when you encounter setbacks?
- How can you re-design or re-frame this goal to make it more inspiring?
- Tell me about a time you struggled to reach a goal but overcome the obstacles.
- Which tactics can you apply to your current situation?
This kind of re-framing can serve to increase self-efficacy by emphasizing success and progress rather than shortcomings and failures. Because self-efficacy plays an important role in goal achievement, coaches would be wise to help clients identify self-limiting beliefs that may hinder their future success. Such beliefs often crop up while designing future goals, subsequently invoking fear, anxiety, and insecurity about one’s ability to achieve. Once these negative beliefs have been identified, clients can learn to spot them in the heat of the moment and re-focus their attention on tangible signs of progress or improvement. In this way, coaches can make a positive impact on adolescent clients’ future orientation and development of possible selves by employing a variety of tools and strategies that facilitate goal clarity and achievement, thereby bolstering optimism, hopefulness, and self-efficacy.
Locke, E. A. (1996). Motivation through conscious goal-setting. Applied & Preventive Psychology, 5, 117-124.
Cothran, H. M. & Wysocki, A. F. (2005). Developing SMART goals for your organization. Retrieved from http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/FE/FE57700.pdf
Biswas-Diener, R. (2010). Practicing positive psychology coaching. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley
Berger (Hopkins), J. (2014), “From Paralyzed to Catalyzed: Supporting Adolescent Girls Through Positive Psychology Coaching”. Master of Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP)
Are You Paralyzed by Overwhelming Feelings? Stop Procrastinating!, retrieved from https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog