A Coaching Power Tool Created by Christian Vinceneux
(Life Coach, UNITED STATES)
Getting something we want (less daily stress, better health, different social circle, a different career, etc) typically requires us to take a risk. It requires us to get out of our comfort zone, do things differently, develop new habits, let go of old beliefs. Doing so can often bring up fear. “What if we can’t? What if we fail? What if we’re not good enough?”. Many factors, conscious and unconscious, can push us forward or hold us back when considering a change. While we may acknowledge that change is what we want, or even what we need, many of us may often resist the process, and choose safety over risk. We may end up feeling stuck, and unable to take the first step that will get us closer to what we want. Change inherently carries a level of risk. Unless we are willing to take the risk of facing uncertainty and an outcome possibly different from what we want, we may end up staying stuck in our “safe zone” and unable to achieve what we want. This document provides an overview of how the power tool “Safety vs. Risk” can support clients in increasing their awareness and in facilitating changes that are important to them.
Definition of Safety
Dictionary.com defines Safety as “the state of being safe; freedom from the occurrence or risk of injury, danger, or loss”.
Definition of Risk
Dictionary.com defines Risk as “exposure to the chance of injury or loss; a hazard or dangerous chance”.
Perspective on Safety
Feeling safe is a big contributor to our wellbeing and is something we all want. If our safety is compromised, bad things can happen. Parents are always concerned about the safety of their children. Early on, the importance of maintaining one’s safety is ingrained in us. Caring for our safety may influence where we live, where we vacation, what we do in our free time, or how we lock our doors. Striving to maintain a safe state is a primal human need and concern. Our nervous system is wired to notice and anticipate anything that can compromise our safety, and act accordingly. If we ever feel in danger, powerful neurological processes are activated; we go into a fight, flight, or freeze response; our brain does all that it can to avoid getting us hurt and remain safe.
This protective mechanism was most likely developed as a way to preserve our physical safety. While it serves us well in many situations, things become a bit more complicated when we decide that we want to change some of our habits, behavior, perspectives, etc. This type of change often requires us to get out of our comfort zone, which can feel difficult and sometimes scary. Although our physical safety may not be at risk, we may react as if it were. Without even being aware of it, our nervous system may be triggered into high alert mode when sensing anything remotely related to our safety being compromised. The primal need to maintain our safety can make it difficult to contemplate change and to take a risk. If we always choose to “play it safe” to stay in our comfort zone, we may deprive ourselves of many opportunities to grow.
Increasing our awareness of how we seek to remain safe may help us when trying to facilitate change.
Perspective on Risk
Taking risks can be associated with danger and negative connotations. Risky behaviors… risky lifestyle… risky investments… all imply a certain level of danger where negative results may be experienced. As children, the frequent reminders of our parents to remain safe can make us averse to taking risks. As adults, we may continue, consciously or unconsciously, to fear taking risks. As a result, we may intentionally or unintentionally strive to stay in our comfort zone. Everyone has a different tolerance for risk; due to how we were raised, our parents’ personalities, and our DNA, we may be more or less inclined to move toward risk. However, even individuals with a higher tolerance for risk in some areas may struggle to take risks in other areas. For example, someone who enjoys practicing extreme sports may have difficulty taking risks regarding relationships, change of career, etc.
Out of our fear of failure, of making mistakes, and of feeling embarrassed, we may keep talking about all the things we want to do without being able to take action; we may make ongoing excuses for why we haven’t done what we say we want to do. We may rationalize why it makes sense to continue to do what we’ve been doing for a long time while complaining about getting the same results. We may keep focusing on all the bad things that could happen if we moved toward risk. Our mind is playing a “tug of war” game, where our desire to change is pulling us forward while our fear of risk is holding us back.
Our comfort zone is something we create, often without even realizing we’re doing it. The boundaries of our comfort zone only exist in our minds but yet are so powerful that they can rule some or all important aspects of our lives. Increasing the awareness of our tolerance of risk may help us when trying to facilitate change. Another side of risk-taking is how young children almost constantly take risks. Without knowing how to walk and what will happen, they take their first steps; inevitably, they fall, over and over. Yet, they get up and continue to challenge themselves. They embrace the risk of falling and getting hurt, and in the process, they learn how to walk. Any learning requires accepting the fact that there is something we don’t know how to do yet. Participating in any learning requires us to embrace the fact that we don’t know enough and that most likely, we will make mistakes and not succeed right away. As children, our willingness to take risks is what allowed us to develop many skills and important knowledge. Remembering this process can help us expand our perspective on how we feel about risk and mitigate some of our avoidance.
Clients who seek coaching often do so when feeling stuck when trying to make changes in their life. They want something different (career, health, money, relationship, etc). Even when knowing what they need to do, they may get stuck and remain unable to do what they need. On their own, they may have tried to apply motivational or organizational techniques, or mere willpower, only to realize that it is not sufficient and that they are still stuck.
During coaching sessions, those clients may explore what holds them back. They may realize that they are afraid of failing, of being judged, of not being smart enough, etc. They may realize that the uncertainty of the outcome is creating such anxiety that they are unable to move forward. They may realize that they are doing everything to stay in their comfort zone as a way to avoid disappointment and perceived failure. Playing it safe can lead to boredom and become controlled by fear. On a personal level, our clients may end up maintaining a status quo situation, not achieving their goals, and becoming bored or frustrated with their life. On a professional level, this mindset may lead to becoming irrelevant and getting passed on for promotions, being hired for a coveted job, or starting a dream business. Gaining clarity about their views on remaining safe and taking risks may help our clients in developing new perspectives, letting go of limiting beliefs, and succeed in moving forward outside of their comfort zone. While the application of these concepts may often take place during the exploration phase of sessions, it may also become relevant when designing an action plan. For example, if a client becomes aware of feeling afraid of moving toward a goal, they may identify smaller steps to make the fear more manageable or to identify specific supports to boost their willingness to take a risk and face uncertainty (e.g. Additional coaching sessions, meditation, journaling, physical activity).
Self-reflections as a coach
As a coach, it is always essential for me to remain connected to my clients and their journeys of challenges and victories. What allows me to remain compassionate and nonjudgemental is to reflect on how I can relate to my clients’ struggles. When listening to a client’s struggle to change, I may initially think “that’s easy… I know exactly what they should do…”. Of course, I know better than providing advice – even when my clients ask me to! Instead, I have developed the habit to immediately challenge my initial reaction with the following thoughts:
- Have I ever experienced a similar situation, where I knew what I had to do but could not do it? When was I afraid of facing uncertainty and maintained the status quo as a result? What were my reasons for being stuck? What helped me to move forward? How hard was it to change?
Reflecting on those past situations helps me to stay mindful that change is often difficult, and that mere willpower or strategies are often not sufficient. For example, deciding to
go into coaching and start ICA was the result of growing dissatisfaction with the profession I had. Although there were many aspects of my work that I continued to enjoy, I experienced increasing stress. As I had been in the same field my entire life, I had a hard time visualizing another line of work. Whenever I faced stress, my mindset was “this can’t go on. I have to do something else”. However, when looking at making actual changes, I kept looking at all the obstacles and the things that could go wrong in leaving the field I was used to. Through many hours of reflection, I realized that I had grown very safe in my line of work. I had a solid reputation, great experience, and invaluable skills. Looking at leaving this safe zone to start a new line of work was scary. It was only after I further reflected on my fear of uncertainty, on what made me feel safe, on past experiences where I had successfully taken risks, and on my motivation for wanting to do something different that I became able to move into action and consider a new career as a coach.
- What are some areas of your life where you might be playing it safe?
- What are the fears that are keeping you from moving forward?
- On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate your willingness in taking risks in the various areas of your life (asking for a raise/promotion, starting a new business, setting boundaries with friends and family members, speaking up when dealing with an unfair situation, starting a new hobby, dating and starting a new relationship, exploring a new country, starting a new fitness/wellness program, etc)?
- What could be some potential rewards in taking a risk with a particular decision and set of actions?
- What are some strategies and insights that you gained from past experiences where you successfully took a risk and learned valuable lessons? Which of those strategies and insights might help move toward a current goal?
As human beings, we naturally tend to favor staying in our comfort zone, because… it’s comfortable! Moving toward our dreams and goals requires us to take action. Even with careful preparation, we rarely have any guarantee that we will have a positive outcome. Facing this level of uncertainty can get us stuck and unable to move forward. Over time, we may find ourselves stuck in patterns of procrastination, perfectionism, boredom, and overall decreased life satisfaction. Using the power tool of Safety vs. Risk can help us consider different perspectives, reflect on our comfort level of playing it safe vs. taking risks, and eventually lead to increased courage to take a step toward change.