A Coaching Power Tool Created by Anne Prieur
(ADHD Coach, SWITZERLAND)
From Rigidity to flexibility
A few definitions from the Dictionnary.com and Merriam-‐webster.com:
Rigid: stiff or unyielding, not pliable or flexible, firmly set or fixed, not willing to change opinions or behaviours, precise and accurate in procedures.
Flexible: capable of bent usually without breaking, susceptible of modification or adaption, willing to change or to try different things, ready capability to adapt to new.
In a recent yoga class, the theme was Flexibility and Rigidity. As a matter of fact, the focus of the theme was not so much about the physical possibilities of each student. It was about the psychological ability of each student to act flexible or rigid when faced with a posture that was new or somehow challenging.
How does it work with yoga?
Stand up with feet open just outside your shoulders width; join your hands in front of your heart in prayer position. Inhale, exhale and slowly lower your body until reaching a squat position. Stabilise your squatting position and then close your eyes. Breathe. What does it take to keep your balance? What will prevent you from losing your balance? Make your body as rigid as possible in order to keep still? Or allow yourself to sway? My experience shows that the more rigid you become, the more you take the risk to fall and reduce your chances to keep up. On the other hand allowing you body to sway will allow to go out of what you feel is your comfort zone and teach you that swaying is will allow you to go back to balance.
The most interesting in the above is that basically what matters is psychological approach… Being open and ready to explore will help stay on one’s feet. On the other hand, the negative self-‐talk (I cannot hold that, Il will fall, my legs hurt, last time I did that I fell, I am too stiff..) will certainly go against a positive result and eventually stop any effort to persevere. What counts is the willingness to attempt, the freedom of going out of the comfort zone without any thought that will block the decision to try it out.
The same pattern applies with the brain. Depending on past experiences and underlying beliefs, one can develop psychological rigidity. To a great extent, psychological rigidity brings psychological disorder whilst psychological flexibility is the path to psychological health. Being psychologically rigid is like putting your brain in a cage… therefore reducing its ability to reach out. I heard in a conference on Mindfulness, that once the brain is in the cage, the cage reduces over time; hence the comfort zone and the ability to venture out of this zone. So not only is it an impairing situation in the present but it gets worse over time.
Before reaching the point of psychological disorder, rigidity may bring frustration or unhappiness and needs to be dealt with. A client might or might not be aware of being rigid in certain circumstance: what is there is a set pattern of reactions when confronted with a specific situation. To the client it might be totally unconscious or “normal”. To a coach it will appear as a pattern that needs to be addressed as it is restricting the client’s ability to grow, move forward, take decisions , adapt to circumstances or consider different options.
A rigid attitude is to have a pre-‐set reaction to specific situations. At the time when the situations occur, the person automatically reacts in a manner that is always the same, without checking the present conditions. It could be that one was scared by a dog when a child and will systematically think that all dogs are dangerous and will always avoid every context where a dog is around. This reaction that might once have helped does not anymore.
Let’s make here a clear difference between rigidity as in not being able to adapt or change options, which we are talking about in this piece of work, and the rigidity that is associated with specific processes, as defined in the Marrian-Webster.com: “precise and accurate in procedure” and which is not the object of this power tool.
John found himself unable to talk about feelings when coaching. He actually did not identify the situation as such until we explored a specific event. As he was sharing he discovered that in a “previous life’ expressing feelings was more a liability than an asset. He had therefore closed himself to anything related to feelings, which was becoming a problem in his new life as a coach. His perception of feelings was: not useful to explore for growing or moving forward and even a sign of weakness. He had developed rigidity around this area, also in his private life. The process of coaching did a lot to bring awareness and I could sense a relief as the situation was dealt with.
What are the consequences of rigid behaviours?
The existence of rigidity can have multiple consequences. Below is what a coach can observe (it is not intended to be an exhaustive list):
- building of avoidance patterns
- thought process overtaking analysis of the reality
- living in the past or in the future
- specific images of oneself build on passed comments from a third part
- feeling that some situations bring a client away from own values or important life goals
- to a more dramatic extent any kind of addiction (the client will then need to be referred to the appropriate professional).
How much do we miss by being rigid? A lot!! I have had personal experience of rigidity that came from my education. I was avoiding to get close to people or situations that were alien to me. That rigidity closed myself to others and in some circumstances, prevented new experiences from happening.
As I grew up I realised I was not being open and curious enough towards other people, I felt that I was often “sticking to my guns”. I realised that I had to change attitude and started to explore the reasons for that behaviour. When I identified what had set me that way, it was a great relief and I did adopt very different ways of behaving in many circumstances. In this example, clearly some core beliefs that might have helped me grow safely were not helping me any more. I needed to redefine my beliefs, to sway without fear of being uprooted! In one word I needed to widen my comfort-‐zone in certain life situations.
I wish I had had a coach at that time to make me deal with this situation earlier!
Identify rigidity/Move to flexibility
Most of the time the client is not aware of the reasons why he/she is acting in specific ways. Sometimes the awareness comes but it is difficult to shift attitude. First thing for the coach is to move the client into creating awareness. Exploring present and some past situations into detail might help discover pattern behaviours. Then the coach will ask the client to describe situations where the pattern was present and when it was not present (even a tiny detail), explore what happened then. The intent is not to stay in the past, but some observation is necessary in order to build the future actions.
Visualisation is a very helpful exercise in that it will help the client describe how a situation could have been handled differently, or how the client would have liked it to unfold.
Coaching questions around this topic:
- Can you analyse your behaviour in this situation?
- What did you intend to reach by doing that?
- Is there anything you could have done differently?
- Did you have a choice?
- What are the deep reasons for making that choice?
- What do you have to let go of?
- Is there a fear?
- What are you telling yourself?
- What would it look like to be flexible in this situation?
- Can you describe situations when you felt you were flexible?
- What is the first step to address that situation?
- How would you define being flexible and being ridig?
- Can you identify an area of you life where you act rigid?? What makes you think that?
- Have you experienced a situation where you decided to move into the flexible mood and how you felt afterwards?
- How can a coach bring a client to realise he is being rigid without being judgemental?
- What (non-‐leading…) questions could you ask a client when you sense that there is a lack of flexibility in a given situation?