A Coaching Power Tool Created by Colleen Cluett
(Life Coach, UNITED KINGDOM)
We, humans, are a social species. We desire, create, and function from relationships with multiple other people during our lifetime. These relationships are important, necessary, and, generally, beneficial1. However, they can also lead to us placing too much focus on the external; others, their thoughts, actions, judgments, etc. to the detriment of ourselves; our growth, fulfillment, and life satisfaction.
In this power tool, I focus on changing from an external focus to an internal one.
A bird sitting on a tree is never afraid of the branch breaking, because its trust is not on the branch but on its own wings.― Charlie Wardle
External vs Internal
Our external relationships are important and can be necessary and of huge benefit. These relationships create and provide the structures necessary to help us grow and develop both individually and collectively1. For some things, this is of clear advantage. For example; relying on societal structures for law and order; learning from global leaders or teachers, or talking with family and friends who have already experienced a challenge that we may be facing. Also, neuroscience is showing how crucial these relationships are for our survival and development1.
However, too often we can rely on those relationships and cues more than on ourselves to guide and shape our lives. This can feel safe and comforting. It can feel like the stakes are lower as there may be less of a risk of failure or embarrassment. But this is also a sacrifice.
Growth, development, and progress, for ourselves as individuals and for ourselves as a society, can’t happen if we do the same as everyone else. We are all part of multiple collectives. These collectives exist in the form of family, community, humanity, life, etc. However, we are packaged separately. We are each a unique combination of thoughts, insights, desires, dreams, aspirations, and gifts. This uniqueness can’t shine, it can’t breathe
creation into the world if we are constantly looking for answers, ideas, and solutions outside of ourselves. As Emerson said “the highest merit we ascribe to Moses, Plato and Milton is that they set at naught books and traditions, and spoke not what men, but what they thought”2.
Constantly looking for answers, advice, and action outside ourselves is also detrimental to our life satisfaction and fulfillment, making this topic a key concern for many coaches. Often our clients come to us seeking growth and change. They may know exactly what it is that they want to put in place or they may come seeking answers. Our task as their coach is to help them to find the growth and change that is right for them, to shift from the external to the internal.
Characteristics of an External vs Internal focus
Looking outside for answers
Looking inside for answers
Thinking there is one truth
Identifying your truth
Following the path
Creating your path
If you can see your path laid out in front of you step by step, you know it’s not your path. Your own path you make with every step you take. That’s why it’s your path.― Joseph Campbell
Making the switch
Making the switch from external to internal doesn’t mean shutting oneself off from others and society, and becoming a hermit (unless that’s what feels right…). Someone with an internal focus still maintains healthy, fulfilling relationships, is curious about the world outside, and consumes the creations of others- books, blogs, TV, music, commentary, etc. Indeed, we need these interactions to for our survival and flourishing1. However, there may need to be a shift from these relationships filling one up and leading all thought, action, and decisions, to them, contributing to a well-rounded, full and meaningful life. In this way, this consumption and these interactions are boundaries, intentional, and grounded in one’s self.
Unlike many other species, humans are not born with the skills needed to survive, instead, we rely on others, our caregivers, for our survival and then on our caregivers, teachers, and leaders for our education1. This is natural and necessary. However, where we become accustomed to this reliance on others or we are increasingly reliant on the thoughts and judgments of others, we need to shift this balance.
At first, this change can be intimidating, challenging, and uncomfortable. It can feel scary and unnatural. This may decrease over time and with experience. Although it can appear again when trusting oneself or following one’s intuition means taking an unconventional or unique approach. However, the longer one does it the easier, more natural, and even more enjoyable it becomes. Especially if a practice of reflection is incorporated.
We can make the switch by building confidence in and connection to ourselves, by listening to, trusting, and following our intuition and by creating space for our curiosity to emerge. Through this shift, we can begin to create our path, to live a life of authenticity, courage, and vulnerability. At times this can be scary because it can be unknown and, perhaps, solitary but it is also intentional, inspired, and inspiring. Especially if one has felt dissatisfied, frustrated, or lost before this.
There are two sides to moving from an external to an internal focus: creating boundaries with the external and creating space for the internal.
Some steps for creating boundaries with the external are:
- Develop guidelines around your use of or exposure to social media, television, news, books, podcasts, etc. Play around with these guidelines and explore what works. For example, not going on your phone first thing in the morning, limit how much time you can spend online, etc.
- Create space when engaging in these activities to check in with yourself; how is your mood? How are you feeling? Is this what you want to be doing with your time?
- Build relationships where both/all parties only give advice when they are asked for it. You can do this by discussing the idea with the other person the next time you see or speak to them or by prefacing a story you are telling by requesting that the other person does not give advice but rather just listens. This can be a little awkward at first as it is not how we are trained or conditioned to do it. It also requires that we are confident in ourselves and clear about our needs so that we can communicate this and in a way that contributes to the understanding of the other party. In the long run, this can be both rewarding and can lead to deeper, more enjoyable relationships for both sides.
Some steps to create space for a more internally-led life are:
- Take time every day or as often as possible to be still- without the distraction of TV, music or our phones (which should ideally be on airplane mode).
- Incorporate meditation, self-directed exercise, a bath or shower, journaling, etc. or simply sitting with one’s thoughts, and maybe a cup of tea or coffee.
- During this time try to let go of your thoughts or worries about what is going on or coming up. Focus, instead, on your breath, on the sensations that you feel at that moment. Focus on what you are experiencing: sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and sensations. Try not to label them or put words to them but just to explore them.
- Be curious. Are you seeking an answer to a question? Guidance on the next step? Clarity about a feeling? Hold these in your mind and listen for answers that come forth. This could be in the form of words, images or feelings. If you are journaling, you could write the question down and then write whatever comes to mind. Write and write until you are through your thoughts and into your intuition. And feel; how do the options feel to you: warm or cold, open or closed, light or heavy, expanding or contracting, curious or indifferent?Hear/feel/know this and then identify what you need to do.
- Take the action that you have identified and that feels right for you.
- Reflect on what action you took, how it felt to take that action, what you have learned and what you can do in the future.
- Be kind to yourself and support yourself through this action. Contemplate the skills that you may need to facilitate increased awareness of and connection to your internal navigation system. Consider how you can best create this, is it through coaching, connecting with a friend or journaling?
As coaches, we are mirrors for our clients. We facilitate them looking inside themselves deeply for the answers to their questions. We know that we do not know what is best for them and that we do not have the answers they seek. Instead, we help them to feel into themselves and their inner knowing. Even if, at times, they may plead with us that we tell them what to do. This is not easy to do; we are socialized to give our opinions, we want to help and to take away others’ suffering but, in the coaching relationship, this is something that we cannot do.
Things that can help us to stay on this track are to ask you-focussed questions as far as possible. For example:
- What do you think?
- What do you feel?
- What do you want?
- What feels right for you?
- What do you feel you need to accomplish or resolve here?
- What is the best next step for you?
We can also assist our clients to reflect on their actions with an internal-focus; what have they learned? What were their challenges? What helped them to succeed? What did they gain from the experience?
Finally, we can help them apply these learnings and these techniques to other areas of their life outside the scope of our coaching agreement.
Our external relationships are necessary, beneficial, and fun but if we don’t make time for ourselves, don’t listen to ourselves, or trust our intuition we may feel lost, unfulfilled, unhappy, or like we are not moving forward. We need to maintain a balance between our external and our internal focus. We can do this by creating boundaries with how we interact with external ideas, thought processes, and constructs and creating space for us to hear, understand and follow our intuition.
- Cozolino, L. (2006). The neuroscience of human relationships: Attachment and the developing social brain. WW Norton & Company.
- Emerson, R. W. (2012). Self-reliance and other essays. Courier Corporation.