A Coaching Power Tool Created by Giulia Villirilli
(Transformational Coach, GERMANY)
At the core of living is the courage to move, to step with doubt … but step nonetheless.
This power tool partially draws on my Master Thesis on Experiential Learning. The assumption is that the coachee is an adult.
Sitting in a cafe and brainstorming about my power tool, it was clear to me that it had to do with action, experience and courage. So many times, I heard myself, friends and coachee say:
- “it’s too late to do that”
- “I don’t even know where to start”
- “I am stuck in this ** situation”
- “that experience made me suffer so much, since then I am simply not doing anything”
- “I do not see the light, I am completely lost”
In all these scenarios, the person is stuck and the coaching relationship could support in breaking the loop of inactivity and stagnation. My power tool stems from my curiosity for this behaviour and my willingness to bring different questions and forces into the coaching sessions, in order to potentially initiate a change of state, actions and transformations.
Part I – Definitions
The word comes from the Latin word “inertia”, which means “inactivity”.
Among the definitions of inertia, one can find:
- the tendency not to change what is happening;
- lack of activity or interest, or unwillingness to make an effort to do anything;
- the physical force that keeps something in the same position or moving in the same direction;
- a situation in which there is very little activity or interest, or people are unwilling to make an effort to change.
If a coachee is “stuck in inertia”:
- he/she is not doing anything at all (absence of action);
- he/she is keeping doing the same things every day even if the result is unsatisfactory (continuous movement in the same direction).
There is a multitude of definitions of learning. The fact that we do not know what learning is directly but rather can only infer it is supported by Cronbach’s statement: “Learning is shown by a change of behaviour as a result of experience” (Cronbach, 1963). David Kolb (1984) defines learning as “the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience”.
Experience has been defined by John Dewey as “an individual’s interaction with his/her external environment”. “An experience is always what it is because of a transaction taking place between an individual and what, at that time, constitutes his environment. The environment is whatever conditions interact with personal needs, desires, purposes, and capacities to create the experience which is had” (Dewey, 1938).
Experience can bring an individual further or not. To push him/her, the experience has to be qualitatively good and it has to have an influence on subsequent experiences. Dewey speaks of an experiential continuum, whereby each experience that one gain has an influence on the next one (Dewey, 1938).
To describe it in a simple way, “experiential learning means learning from experience or learning by doing”. It begins with the immersion of learners inexperience and it is followed by the reflection about that experience, which leads to developing new skills, attitudes or ways of thinking (Lewis L. H. & Williams C. J., 1994).
The first justification for learning by doing was presented in John Dewey’s Experience and Education (1938). Dewey underlined that the creation of new knowledge or the transformation of oneself through learning to perform new roles was more fundamental than simply learning how to do something.
According to him, “experiential learning means a cycle of “trying” and “undergoing” by becoming aware of a problem, getting an idea, trying out a response, experiencing the consequences, and either confirming or modifying previous conceptions.
This process has the potential to result in a person’s cognitive reconstruction of experience and significant personal learning such as overcoming one’s biases. Such ongoing meaning-making over time leads to learning to learn experientially” (Lewis L. H. & Williams C. J., 1994).
As shown in the figure below, learning is conceived as a four-stage cycle. Immediate concrete experience is the basis for observation and reflection. These observations are assimilated into a “theory” from which new implications for action can be deduced. These implications of hypotheses subsequently serve as guides in acting to create new experiences (Kolb, 1984).
Many times, one is stuck simply because information and data are missing. Experiential learning provides data. Starting with action and experience, going through reflection and landing on learning, one creates a virtuous loop which then enables a second, third (..) loop of experiential learning.
This means that the coachee can voluntarily interrupt his/her inertia with new behaviour, observe without judgement what happens in that experience, collect the relevant information for it’s his/her goal and then build on those to create new learning and awareness. Once new awareness is created, the coachee will start the loop again from a higher perspective and, with the time, this process will become a natural process to progress and learn.
Part II – Coaching Applications
Application to me as a coach
Since I started my coaching journey, I am focusing on finding ways to create action, instil courage and foster self-improvement. As always, one recognizes resistances and stagnations also in its own life and I am acting upon my improvement areas in order to train and find ways to inspire others.
Experiential learning helped me enormously as it provides a space to experiment and get feedback from my body, mind and senses to new situations and behaviours.
“Nobody said it was easy” 😉 … but yes, it is worth it.
Application to the coaching sessions
As a coach, I am honoured every time I can support and facilitate a transformation process and that gives me a deep sense of meaning and joy. It is said that we live in a VUCA world, that is, volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity are part of our life. All these traits could be inertia-generators. To these, one can add personal tendencies, bad luck, unfavourable conditions or even simple laziness.
In my coaching sessions, I encounter inertia very often. If one wants to overcome inertia, one has to apply a force. The force could generate change, fluctuations, movement, action, passion, vitality, willpower.
Using my power tool in coaching sessions where inertia plays an important role, I would partner with the coachee to successfully shift from inactivity to experiencing and learning and finally to change.
The following questions can support the session:
- what makes you feel alive?
- when was the last time you did something for the first time?
- what do you want to achieve/get done before you die?
- which legacy do you want to leave?
- what makes you unique?
- what do people say about you, if you are at your best?
- what is the worst thing that can happen if you break this loop?
- what is the best thing that can happen if you try something new?
- which are your inner drivers/passions?
On the action plan (starting with the action plan could be an interesting option):
- which information you want to have before taking the first step?
- what is missing now to move to action?
- what is the first little step you are willing to take?
- when will you do it?
- which obstacles may you encounter?
- how will you keep yourself accountable?
- who can support you to do what you intend to do?
- how can I support you to reach that first step?
- how will you feel, once you will have done it?
- how will you celebrate this first step?
Follow up questions after the first step(s) have been done:
- what did you learn about yourself?
- how will you use this new learning?
- how did it feel, in your body, to experiment that?
- now that you have reached this point, what is your next move?
These are only some of the questions that come to my mind and, of course, the art lies in doing the right ones at the right moment, not overwhelming the coachee with a massive number of questions, that again, immobilizes him/her.
Personally, as a coach, I would offer the coachee the opportunity to physically move during the session. Jump, walk, sing, scream, breathe, dance, laugh – whatever brings him/her out of inertia and creates a space for change. Experience can start in the coaching session and the coach can provide a safe space for it.
Part III – Reflection
Awareness, acceptance, action, improvement. In my view, the role of a coach lies in gently being there, trusting the process and the ability of the coachee to walk through these stages and reach a higher self. I had the pleasure to experience already some transformations and this deeply motivates me to improve my skills and presence as a coach, to enable many more.
We all have our personal journey, every one of us has personal challenges and stages of inertia. But, as coaching widely shows, we also all have our personal strengths, ideas and forces to go back to action and achieve our goals.
What does your body say right now?
Dewey, J. (1938). Experience and education (1st Touchstone ed.). Kappa Delta Pi lecture series. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Cronbach, L. J. (Ed.). (1963). Educational Psychology (2nd): Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc.
Kolb, D. A. (1984). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development.
Lewis L. H., & Williams C. J. (1994). Experiential learning: Past and present. New directions for adult and continuing education. (62), 5–15.