A Coaching Power Tool Created by Jean-Pierre Loizeau
(Executive Coach, FRANCE)
What is your current sentiment of freedom?
David Hume, Scottish philosopher, historian, economist, essayist, and philosopher used the word sentiment to express feeling without judgment (Active Powers, 468-69). He is a pre-eminent contributor to the debate on “free will”.
David Hume’s definition is “By liberty or freedom, we mean a power of acting or not acting, according to the determinations of the will; that is, if we choose to remain at rest, we may; if we choose to move, we also may. Now, this hypothetical liberty is universally allowed to belong to everyone who is not a prisoner and in chains.” (EU, 8.23 /95)
This freedom fuels our decisions about letting go, making choices, setting our goals but also in the way we decide to see or to expand our sight on the universe of possibilities, acting on things we can control, our choice to ruminate or celebrate, the perspective we take on happiness, on what fuels or drains our energy.
A perspective on the sentiment of Fate(or in some way determinism)?
Determinism defined by the Cambridge dictionary as:
“The doctrine that every event has a cause. The usual explanation of this is that for every event, there is some antecedent state, related in such a way that it would break a law of nature for this antecedent state to exist yet the event not to happen.”
While we could consider then that Free Will and actions derived from it can impact the course of events. However, it would be ignoring the perception and debate in the public&scientific arena around the impact of quantum indeterminacies. These are factors derived from quantum physics which fuel a hypothesis that we are, all of us just part of a cosmogony bio-living entity occupying the earth. This view means that our events in life would be determined by factors like genetics, social origin, consequences of everything that happens in our lives, and depend on the environment in which we live. From there fatalism is just one step ahead.
On Fate, Richard Taylor (American Philosopher) says that then “A fatalist is best thought of, quite simply, as someone who thinks he cannot do anything about the future. He thinks it is not up to him what will happen next year, tomorrow, or the very next moment. He thinks that even his behavior is not in the least within his power, any more than the motion of distant heavenly bodies, the events of remote history, or the political developments in faraway countries. He supposed, accordingly, that it is pointless for him to deliberate about anything, for a man deliberates only about those future things he believes to be within his power to do and forego.”. These beliefs can generate a feeling of disempowerment and can affect a whole life, or some decisions on specific situations.
A modern perspective on the sentiment of Fate
In the larger society, many people see themselves as imprisoned in their life as they pursue a quest that they had designed or chose for themselves years ago. It does not provide them happiness but gives them the impression that they are trapped. For some it is about trying to accomplish more, the accumulation of status-related things leading to being controlled by them, for some it is about making true the “American dream”, or a quest for self-transcendence that they may have inherited by their ascendants or their environment. After the novelty wears off, and their new goal to define success has been relocated even further up the scale, they feel like prisoners in their own life.
George Kohlrieser, professor of organizational behavior at IMD, the week-known business school of Lausanne in Switzerland, in his book uses a powerful hostage metaphor of the Freedom vs Fate power tool by promoting leaders to reach a “hostage-free stage of mind”.In his life, at some point, George was a hostage of his emotions, and in particular the grief about leaving what was familiar and all the benefit and security it brought and felt sad about not meeting the expectations of himself and others. With the help of an informal coach, he discovered with Carl Rogers the power of “unconditional positive regard” to understand how he felt about his own life, to free himself from the “limitations” and “mental chains” that prevented him from reaching his full potential.
Beyond individuals, thinking about leadership, Paul Schoemaker, Research Director of the Wharton School Mack Center for Technological Innovation has an interesting perspective about Leaders facing uncertainties. He sees many Managers who see a “zero-future” option with caution and skepticism ruling their days. Others bet strongly on only one future, which though it reduces anxiety makes them run the risk of placing the wrong bets. The most powerful leaders develop scenarios rather than predictions. With an open mindset, a large degree of liberty, and agility they embrace uncertainty and use these qualities to exploit every hidden opportunity.
Three stories which illustrate this power tool
First the story of Shackleton, an Irish explorer of Antarctica who chose Freedom versus Fate. Shackelton’s personification of freedom was resilience, pragmatism, optimism &action.
Shackleton launched in 1914 a dramatic expedition to Antarctica, which turned out to be the most significant leadership story that is taught in business school. In a nutshell, after having his ship stuck in ice and then sunk, he stayed 122 months on ice with his crew. Rather than accepting his fate, he got them into small lifeboats and reached an isolated island. He left them there and sailed with 4 others to search for help at a Whaling post in the South Atlantic. After weeks, he reached the spot and managed to get help, came back, and saved all his crew members.
Second, the very moving story of Ora Vagabonde illustrates the power of the sentiment of freedom versus the sentiment of fate. She has personified freedom in her choice to pursue feelings that made her happy.
Ora Vagabonde (name on the social network Instagram and Youtube) is a young lady of 34 years old, in real life called “Elise Heintz”. On Instagram, she tells us about her lifestyle in a van and her choice to come back to a more natural, close to nature way of life. In the terminal stage of cancer, she made this life mode choice to answer her question “What makes me happy?”. She says “it took me a few months to understand that my ultimate serenity was my freedom. Now that I am aware of this vital need, it has been my instinctive first choice to live a life solo, and my choice was to do it in Ibiza. It is the land of beatniks, who refused to fight wars, came to Ibiza to come back to a natural life mode, to a freeway of dressing, to a vegetarian diet (before it became a fashion).” And she adds a quote “With awareness comes transformation and freedom”. Eckhart Tolle. Her motto is “Do not wait to take your freedom upward momentum”
Third the story of Pierre Wack a well-known management guru. Fate was destining him to be an officer in the german army, then a highly respected civil servant or University professor. He combined freedom personified in action with freedom in his choice to pursue feelings that made him happy.
Pierre was born in French and German-speaking Alsace. He fled enrollment in the German SS Army during world war II, where he was proposed to be an officer, by sending a fake death certificate after a bombardment. He disappeared into the depth of France and enrolled at different Universities where he met remarkable thinkers in their faculty of Political Science. He loved listening to gurus who had different views of the world. At the end of the war, with his degree and dual culture, he secured a top civil servant position and contributed to the rebuilding of both economies by acting as a consultant to international firms. From his earlier life, he had developed an insatiable sense of curiosity. He discovered radical new ideas with a professor called Gurdjieff, was captivated by the perspective of a Japanese Master Roshi and an Indian Guru. Thanks to these encounters, Pierre had developed an ability to switch lenses to look at the world and had a core value of being free, seeking to see things as they are, liberating himself from preconceived ideas, working on himself to accept new possibilities, and using this unique view to bounce back from the facts of his life. He enjoyed it so much that he made a lifelong search of meetings with remarkable people and developed from it the wisdom of Scenario Planning – using an augmented perspective on situations to exponentially increase the number of options. He left his position as a top civil servant, settled as an independent consultant. He was later hired by Shell and then became a professor at Harvard Business School. For Shell he made them anticipate the two 1970’s oil shocks and enabled them to become one of the most important energy companies in the world. He is seen to be one of the most important business thinkers.
If Schakeltonchoosing action to exercise freedom managed to escape a terrible fate after more than 10 years drifting on ice, who can’t? If Ora Vagabondecould exercise “freedom” of feeling, even when one cannot change the course of events, who can’t? If Pierre Wack, managed to escape enrollment in the SS and invented a discipline built on freedom and the habit of seeing the world thru different lenses, who cannot do it in less extreme situations?
How to leverage freedom?
The crux of the problem is the demand for certainty in a world that is always tentative and uncertain. It is precisely this unrealistic demand that creates anxiety. People tend to think that they must accurately predict and manage the future, not just have some probabilistic and uncertain handle on it.
They are a certain number of keys which can be used alone or combined to embrace the sentiment of freedom:
The first one is to widen the options at hand by developing a portfolio of different lenses to have a rich questioning perspective
It is about reaching a higher stage of consciousness through the development of a habit of seeking alternative explanations to all situations by keeping a distance from what intuitively we perceive at first sight as reality. This habit will develop efficiently if you have a curiosity that enables you to “see more things” around you. Ultimately, seeing widely, developing a large peripheral vision, and a liking for alternative explanations, will change your state of mind, and impact your mental model.
The second one is to exercise freedom by recognizing losing-control anxiety and letting go of the demand for certainty
In other words, giving up unrealistic perfectionism about reality. Facing the inherent and unavoidable uncertainty of the future can indeed seem formidable—if you demand certainty. But letting go of this demand is the key to letting go of fear. If you don’t have to control the outcome; if you do not expect to predict with certainty what is by its nature uncertain; if you do not expect to solve a contradiction; then you are free to relax. By accepting uncertainty and imperfection, you can now choose to work only on things you can have an impact on, celebrate your progress on them without caring about the outcome.
The third one is to frame freedom differently
It is all about the way we interpret the world, gives meaning to it: how we leverage our degree of liberty in the building of our Map of the Universe. What perspective do we choose to take? What are the frames we can choose to look at our challenges from? How can we increase our sentiment of freedom in choosing our frame of perception?
Stoic thinker Epictetus gave us an answer to this question. He said that mental attitudes such as desires, hopes, wishes, and preferences are generally in your control while external things—including whether you get the approval of others—are not.
The fourth one is to free oneself by starting from Happiness and walking back
The solution, according to positive psychologists like Shawn Achor, is to reverse the model. Happiness contributes to success, not the inverse. Some suggestions from Dr. Achor’s discussion include noting three different things daily you are grateful for, for 21 days. He reports this retrains the brain to look for positives rather than its typical focus on negatives. He then suggests journaling one positive event from the last 24 hours. He claims this allows the brain to relive it, releasing chemicals associated with happiness.
There is much more someone can do to feel more like their life is an arena rather than a prison. Rather than simply buying into the culture’s idea of success, and perhaps more importantly, how to demonstrate success, one can instead focus on enjoying their life.
Coaching Applications – Examples of Questions
Boosting your freedom by widening your options, through the use of diverse lenses
Photo language approach
- If you had to choose an animal to characterize your peripheral vision of choices what would it be: a bird of prey, a dragonfly, a giraffe, a bull, an owl, mice, a bat?
- What made you choose that animal? What is coming up?
- How do you feel in terms of depth peripheral vision? depth of choice?
- What could you do to increase your peripheral vision?
- What do you need to address/resolve to widen your perspective?
- What do you feel is in the way of making this change of perspective?
Change of perceptual positions
- If you were (a celebrity you admire), what would you inner-voice tell you about your natural choice?
- What is the orthodoxy that you hold which was preventing you from having the thought this celebrity had? What was the representation? What is learning?
- If you consciously overturn this orthodoxy what other options emerge?
- Let’s loop back with another character and explore another orthodoxy?
- How do these orthodoxies fuel positively your life's intent? Your magic?
Resources from previous experience
- What experience can you recall when you increased your number of options when facing difficulty?
- What helped you to make that shift?
Resources from our times
- We live now in a world of agility, pivots on previous decisions and experimentation.
- What experience and feelings do you have when you role model this new world?
- How would a mindset of this new world look to this situation?
Exercise your freedom by going from “losing control” anxiety to the joy of“letting go”
Creating awareness in our client on what she/he can control.
- How are you feeling about your impact on the predictability of this challenge?
- What concerns lie outside your influence? Within your influence? Within your control?
- What feelings do you have now? How is your feeling connected to uncontrollable factors? To controllable items? Those within your influence?
Enable she/he to focus on their influence.
- How can you work on what is in your control / what you can influence more effectively?
- What needs to be resolved to let go of feelings about things you cannot control?
Develop she/his self-awareness of their fears or emotions.
- What is the emotion behind your focus on the outcome even though most generating factors might be uncontrollable?
- Where does this emotion/ fear come from?
- What is the story you are telling yourself? The representation/ belief that is coming up?
- How can you make your fear of regretting not having acted on controllable bigger than your fear of uncontrollable outcomes?
- What is coming up when thinking about your sabotage of your will to focus only on controllable things?
Differentiate between ruminating and problem-solving.
- To what point are your thinking patterns helping you solve a problem versus make you feel less confident in your abilities?
- If we called this rumination, how could you differentiate rumination from problem-solving?
- What is your approach to leave the rumination space and go to the problem-solving space?
- If you step back, when did you experience a mental state in which you were taking perspective, which helped you regulate your emotions and become creative again?
- What was the learning from this situation? How can you leverage it in this situation?
Accompany your client in the design of a plan to manage their stress.
Lead them to develop healthy affirmations.
These affirmations/mantras aim at keeping the client strong. They could be anchored on past positive achievements and will help them to combat self-doubt, catastrophic predictions, and endless rumination.
Framing freedom differently:
Ora Vagabonde which I referenced earlier could have been inspired by Victor Frankle’s perspective of freedom. Viktor Frankl is a concentration camp survivor who while he was incarcerated, managed to preserve freedom through thinking. Viktor theorized that the primary desire of all humans is to find meaning in their life. When the meaning is found, then multiple opportunities are offered to advance towards it from thinking, feeling, or attitude perspective. It is with his purpose of life that he managed to keep his mind free in the most horrible place in the history of mankind. I suggest below a list of coaching questions built on his experience.
Viktor Frankl is known to have developed a method of therapy known as logotherapy (logo = meaning) which focuses on helping people discover the meaning or purpose of their life, giving them something to live for, despite whatever difficult things they had previously or were currently experiencing. The search for purpose is articulated around 3 questions: creative values, experiential values, and attitudinal values ». On this part, we will only inspire ourselves from logotherapy but NOT align AT ALL with the process of Viktor Frankl. Viktor did not give the client the power to take responsibility for the choice of meaning. In our Power Tool approach, we leverage our belief that the client is fully capable and has the ability and power to sort through everything her/himself.
Questioning suite “He who has a why for life can put with anyhow.” Nietzsche
- How could you envision yourself in this space one year from now? In that year you have been living your ideal self. When, where, and how were you living your ideal self?
- How differently did you act? thought differently? made sense differently? enjoyed time differently? stepped back differently?
- What capabilities do you have to act as your ideal self? what is getting in the way?
- What could be then the bigger purpose you could then be contributing to?
- What percentage of your mind is currently occupied by negative thoughts or concerns?
- Let’s take now the love of your life. From this loving perspective, what would be aligned with it? What does it open up as insights into your thoughts and feelings?
- Let’s take a philosopher or wisdom thinker you have loved to hear from. Who would he/she be? What did she/he say which you found admirable? What could she/he say could be a way for you to live beyond/during your current experience? Exist uniquely despite or thanks to this experience? making this experience leverage your wisdom?
- Let’s take your favorite humorist. How does she/he make fun of the celebrities? What did she/he day that sticks with you? If you were to look at your current negative feelings on this experience from the space of his/her humor, what would he or she say to make you laugh? how could she/he even mock or ridicule your negative or obsessive feelings?
- With this in mind, what reorientation could you explore positive and meaningful feelings?
- How can you modify for good your perspective on your current experience to accept it while focusing your mind and feelings on your contribution to a bigger purpose?
- If you spent now overly significant time in this meaningful positive reorientation, how would you feel?
- What stems out for you on the freedom of your mind for the future?
Feel free by starting from Happiness and then walking back
The belief exposed by Shawn Achor is that you can become more successful when you are happier and positive, not the other way around. Instead of narrowing our actions down to fight or flight as negative emotions do, positive ones broaden the number of possibilities we process, making us more thoughtful, creative, and open to new ideas.
- What are the experiences in life in which you were happy?
- How does happiness look like for you?
- What was the relationship between happiness and success?
- How did it unfold: happiness preceded, followed, or happened at the same time as a success, or did it have nothing to do with it?
What is your learning about happiness?
- If happiness was part of your ethics, where would you stand on this?
- If you think of willing to have a habit of scanning your outside world for positives, where would you stand? scanning your inner world for positives, where would you stand?
- Where are you today in terms of self-gratitude? Self-celebration of every single victory?
- How would you describe yourself in terms of optimism?
- How do you define yourself to others, is it more from the space of what happened to you or from the space of what you made of what happened?
- How do you describe your personal know-how/habit in reframing failure?
- What could you do to strengthen your ability to reinterpret situations?
- What are your habits in terms of choosing a positive counteract to rise above circumstances?
- How do you work on strengthening your positive mindset?
- What are your unique strengths?
If your friends and colleagues were asked about your “signature strength”, what would they say defines your unique talent?
- How happy do you feel when using your unique talent in a moment in time?
- If you were to use it in a high proportion of time, how would you feel?
- How much do you use your signature strength today?
- What could you do to increase your ability to leverage more often your signature strength?
When we recognize our perspective on Freedom versus Fate, we become aware of the frames that both protect and limit our choices. This Powertool provides a developmental opportunity to augment your freedom, to reach a higher level of consciousness, choices, of happiness, leaving anxiety to explore joy and becoming a resource for our loved ones and our customers.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau “The man was born free, but everywhere he is locked in chains”.
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy – https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/hume-freewill/
Destiny: « determinism” versus “Free Will” Psychology Today “The consciousness question”
From Determinism to Resignation, Richard Holton, MIT
Rediscovering the later version of Maslow Pyramid of Needs: Self Transcendence and opportunities for TR&U
“Hostage at the table How leaders can overcome conflict, influence others, &raise performance” G Kohlrieser.
Ora Vagabonde on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/oravagabonde/?hl=fr
Ora Vagabonde video on Youtube https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=m4QlrbqVWzc
Foundations of Scenario Planning: the story of Pierre Wack, Thomas J Chermack.
Viktor EmileFrankle is an Austrian psychiatrist and psychotherapist who developed « logotherapy », the second school of thought in psychotherapy after Sigmund Freud and before Alfred Alder. He published « A psychologist experiences the Concentration Camp »
The HappinessAdvantage by Shawn ACHOR