A Coaching Power Tool created by Helaina Aronson
(Family Coach, UNITED STATES)
On the quest for personal transformation, it is not uncommon for us to traverse the vast sprawl of self judgement and doubt. Yet if we bring our self critic to light and tame what I refer to as the Monkey Mind (MM), we can move towards greater self acceptance. This radical shift of the inner dialogue is critical in moving onto who we really are and living authentically, replacing MM with the voice of the Higher Self (HS).
The Monkey Mind is an unconscious and negative messaging system that subdues our inspirations, dreams and desires for more. Because it is unconscious, when left unchecked, MM steals our power.
One way MM operates is by rehashing the past. It replays the low points over and over again, until we are used to hearing about the failure, or the guilt, or the regret, or the missed opportunity. MM repeatedly reminds us what went wrong: why we cannot succeed (I’ve failed in the past) why we cannot find love (I should’ve married that one who got away, 10 years ago) why we broke up (I’m too…) why we cannot write a book (I’m not a writer, I’m an accountant). It swings from branch to branch, looking for the next piece of evidence of our limitations.
When using the past to escape the moment isn’t effective, Monkey looks to the future, to create doubt and anxiety. There too, is plenty of fodder to preserve paralysis. To the notion of changing a career, the monkey says: where will you find the time, you have no time now and it’s not changing for the next ten years, at least. Oh, and the economy–you are lucky to even have a job. To the notion of innovation or creativity, the monkey says: it has done already, and by people smarter/younger/ more qualified than you. The monkey doesn’t see the future as any different from the past or present, eliminating options that it cannot already see.
In stark contrast to the untamed monkey, is the Higher Self, a more spacious, and curious narrator. Higher Self allows for more of the story and has more language than success and failure. It uses the past, collecting information and experiences as inspiration for growth and learning. It does not see mistakes as opportunity for crucifixion like the Monkey, in fact, Higher Self does not really even believe in mistakes; it is much more interested in how we choose in the future, knowing what we know now.
HS It is not afraid of the moment; it works deals with the challenge at hand, and successfully staves off the temptation to look too far into the future. Higher Self is figuring it out and believes that there is more clarity and opportunity on the way even if it cannot be seen yet. The Higher Self believes that this too, shall pass.
Cues for the coach:
It is important to identify how much hold the Monkey Mind has on a client. Under its spell, s/he is telling old stories about the past that are disempowering, wracked by self criticism, or suffering from analysis paralysis about the future. The client is so used to doing so that she is unaware of how warped her perception is. With these narratives being held as truth, it is easy to understand the stuck-ness that ensues.
Below are some verbal cues, adapted from David Burns’s book Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy and examples from my experience that are helpful in discerning the monkey’s presence:
- All or nothing thinking-the tendency to evaluate your personal qualities in extreme black white categories. Examples: I am always spread thin; Nobody knows how to take care of me.
- Overgeneralization-the arbitrarily conclusion that one thing that happened to you once will occur over and over. Examples: Why would I try exercise again? I joined a gym two years ago and never went. I can’t exercise.
- Mental filter-dwelling on a negative detail exclusively. Example: A client who is successful, healthy, has friends and meaningful relationships. But they cannot find love. And all they focus upon is that.
- Disqualifying the positive. Examples: "They're just being nice." or "It was a fluke it doesn't count."
- Magnification and minimization- the tendency to overemphasize flaws and shrink strengths.
- Emotional reasoning- take emotions as evidence of truth. Example: I feel unproductive, I must be a lazy person.
- Should statements-yikes. Hearing the words “should” or “supposed to” repeatedly are indicators of regret and guilt. The monkey is at work here!
- Personalization-the assumption of responsibility for a negative when no basis for it. Everything that is disappointing is about the client, not about another person or his/her circumstance.
If the coach hears this kind of thinking, it is time for a monkey-taming project. That little guy needs a cage, quickly!
In our coaching, both as clients and coaches, it is crucial that we address the Monkey in the room. Sadly, we become so used to the self-defeating rhetoric that we don’t even realize that it is something that can be transformed. This change in inner monologue is essential to action because when we move from judgement into acceptance, from resignation to inspiration, we allow ourselves to entertain possibility, to recognize opportunity, because we believe that it can come to us. With the HIgher Self calling the shots, we are more open and less attached to failure because we remember that a “wrong choice” is nothing more than a limited perspective.
Once a coach hears the verbal cues above, it is crucial for the client to experience the contrast between the Monkey and Higher Self. Within the session, the coach can select the core coaching skills to create awareness about this limited perspective. Power tools are particularly useful. If it is early on in the relationship though and there is good rapport, I would suggest the following activity because it is experiential and therefore quite powerful.