A Coaching Power Tool Created by Jennie Douglas
(Transformational Coach, UNITED STATES)
Last night, I played a mixed doubles tennis match with a new partner, “Gary”. I’ve been working on my serve, but am still not very confident in my ability to consistently toss the ball and reach for the ball at its height. I warned Gary that, even though my groundstrokes are solid, I may have trouble on and off with my serve. Midway through the first set, I was up for the second time serving. Frustrated at a double fault, my inner chatter led me to a second double fault. I was telling myself to count to 2, then reach, to focus, to not hit the net again, that I could do it. My mind was working overtime. Gary came back to the service line, and I was expecting the usual pep talk about “just get it in.” Instead, he told me that we still had room to make any point up, no need to pressure myself, that I may as well just have fun with it. I decided to smile to myself as I served, and it helped. From that next serve on, I relaxed into enjoying the game, and all of my strokes improved as the match went on. We didn’t win that point, but we did win the match!
I realize this may seem situational but, I believe, this example is emblematic. Our dreams are both for the future, and for today. Recreational pursuits provide role models for our professional and personal dreams.
What Is Busyness?
Our modern cultures value busyness: setting goals, writing to do lists, running from one event to another. What we accomplish becomes our identity, establishing what we see as our self-worth. “Busy!” seems to be the most acceptable answer to the question “How’s life?”
While our cultures teach us what is worthy, we learn to constantly monitor whether we’re doing enough, making enough, playing enough, loving enough. These days, even staying in touch requires using multiple communication portals—Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, email, Messenger, Communicator, text messaging, phone, voicemail—the list goes on and on! Sometimes, we are so busy doing things on our to do list that we aren’t aware of what we’re working towards.
But isn’t busyness what gets us to achieve our dreams? My premise is that we have a better chance of both achieving and preserving our dreams when we maintain a clear focus on our dream and we find the journey enjoyable. Lots of activity only helps us think we’re getting closer. The key is moving thoughtfully towards our dreams.
As coaches, if we’re also impressed by busyness, we may applaud our clients when they are doing lots of things. We don’t notice that it’s time to adjust our activity so it’s more enjoyable or to celebrate reaching a new step on the way to our goal.
“Paul” had just completed a major deadline so I asked him how he was going to reward himself. Initially, he had a difficult time with the idea of rewarding himself. He responded by pointing out that he had met his deadline, wasn’t it time to just get something else done? Yet, only moments before, Paul had been talking about how burnt out he felt because of how much time and energy he had put into this project. He was so glad to just be done with it, for now.
I challenged Paul to consider incorporating enjoyment into this stage of his project, and to notice what changed for him. During that session, Paul decided to reward himself by playing the piano. He hadn’t done this in a long time. He was also going to clean out his closet, which was on his to do list, and he was certain this would be enjoyable too. I encouraged him to start with the activity that would give him the most joy.
At our next coaching session, Paul was enjoying playing piano most days and had discovered some unexpected benefits. The prime benefit: any writing that he did (for work) after playing the piano (for fun) flowed better. Why? Playing the piano was so enjoyable he found it meditative, calming his internal chatter, allowing him to move to writing without having to think about what he was going to write. I noticed how he also seemed to speak positively again about the same project he had been burnt out over, only a week before.
What Paul was describing was being “in the flow.” I enjoy being in the flow so much that I try to set myself up for it in my work, as well as in my athletic and creative pursuits. My artist and writer friends talk about it, too. What we notice when we experience flow is that we are completely in the moment, completely focused, interferences are minimized, we lose track of time, and we really enjoy the experience. We also often enjoy what we create when we’re “in the flow.”
By doing something enjoyable like playing the piano, Paul was able to enjoy his work more. He had found a new method to jumpstart his creativity and improve his productivity.
As coaches, we need tools and techniques to help us notice when busyness starts to edge out enjoying the journey toward accomplishment. These techniques form a framework, starting with the larger dream, then moving to tactical methods involving chatter.
Re-visit the Intention: Living Our Dream/Vision
At the root of everything that gives form to our belief systems, there is a yes. That yes gives life to an idea, a symbol, or a story because it has your intent…
When you authentically choose how you want to engage in your own life…You are in control of your intention, your personal dream. Don Miguel Ruiz Jr., The Five Levels of Attachment (p102)
I’ve personally achieved major change and results in my life when I’ve set my intention, not when I’ve written a goal or to-do list. Until it’s my intent, it seems to just be a nice idea that I may or may not follow through on. When we start to get busy, we’re hoping to move towards our intended dream or vision, but we can lose sight of intention.
When our client is reporting on being “busy, busy, busy!” it’s appropriate to take a time out and reflect. How does that support you getting to your dream? Does it support your intent? When you think of your dream, or intention, does it make you smile? Do you enjoy how it appears now? Our accomplishments can help inform us, clarifying our intention, or helping us realize that we’re moving away from our dream.
Focus Intentionally on Enjoyment
“Enjoyment”, as defined by Oxford Dictionary: The state or process of taking pleasure in something; a thing that gives pleasure; the action of possessing and benefiting from something.
Busyness, on the other hand, is defined by the action verb “busy” and involves: Having a great deal to do, keeping occupied.
As a performance consultant, my work involves helping companies define or improve performance of departments or roles. A lot of attention is given these days to metrics, the data that comes from the work these people do. They are busy doing their work, and management wants them to do it better so that they are more productive or reduce costs or improve revenue. The typical resources that companies look at are processes, tools, systems, and policies. Rarely have I come across a client who is interested in finding out what the busy people find enjoyable and whether they have requests for improvements to help increase the enjoyment in their work. And yet, research does show that enjoyment improves performance.
Enjoyment-Performance Theory states that an individual will perform more effectively in a job if that individual enjoys the types of tasks that are required by a job, has interests that relate to the position, and the work environment conditions correspond with the person’s work environment preferences. – Dan Harrison, Ph.D.
Corporate and tennis coach, Timothy Gallwey, presents his theory that the process of work is a balancing act of three factors: performance, learning, and enjoyment. He provides examples where performance was improved by focusing only on raising the level of enjoyment.
One could say that most of the mistakes made by adults are caused by a loss of focus of attention. And with that loss of focus comes a loss of productivity, learning, and enjoyment in the process of work.Timothy Gallwey, Inner Game of Work (p. 44)
Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ph.D., is my favorite writer from the happiness research field, aka positive psychology. I find it’s hard to ignore the myths of happiness she identifies in her book, The How of Happiness:
Myth No. 1: Happiness Must Be Found
Myth No. 2: Happiness Lies in Changing Our Circumstances
Myth No. 3: You Either Have It or You Don’t
My personal favorite is that 40% of our happiness level can be adjusted by intentional activities and strategies: what we do and how we think. Lyubomirsky provides a survey to help find those activities that fit our interests, values, and needs. By sharing the Person-Activity Fit Diagnostic with our clients, we can help them identify activities to help them raise their happiness level in alignment with their dreams.
I propose that our coaching can help our clients focus on noticing enjoyment involved in getting tasks done, as well as the enjoyment of accomplishment, instead of simply checking tasks off a list. In addition, we can help our clients consider how to set up their plans and environment so that their path to accomplishment is more enjoyable and less busy, busy, busy. This requires an appreciative view of the client’s dream, as well as their own way of experiencing enjoyment.
Enjoyment is contextual. What does this person enjoy? What makes this task more enjoyable, instead of boring or unpleasant? What can be changed to make it more pleasant? When does busyness stop being enjoyable for you? The same task can be transformed by changing this context. As coaches, we have a unique opportunity to challenge our clients to aim for a more enjoyable journey towards their dream.
Stop the Negative Internal Chatter
At times, it can be a challenge to get a client to specifically define a focus or desired outcome for the coaching session. These are the times when it’s likely the client’s mind is full of a lot of internal chatter, judging whether they should or shouldn’t think or do something, whether they are right or wrong, how far they are from achieving their goal, that they’re a failure, etc. They aren’t seeing the big picture anymore, only the minutia of getting it done.
Gallwey points out how focused attention is better than internal chatter:
…when great athletes were asked what they were thinking during their best performance, they universally declared that they weren’t thinking very much at all. They reported that their minds were quiet and focused…Timothy Gallwey, Inner Game of Work (p. 6)
You know when you’ve nailed something. It just feels right! It also feels wrong, or not quite right, when you don’t do something well. Yet, our minds seem to attach to those wrong things more than the right ones, judging and criticizing. So, it’s no surprise that our internal chatter stops us from noticing when things are going right, and this can get us stuck. We’re too focused on what’s going wrong and trying to troubleshoot it. If we can stop our mind from judging and criticizing, do whatever it takes to quiet our inner chatter, we can focus instead on what is happening in the moment, not in the past or the future.
As coaches, we can trust that our clients know what’s distracting them. “Paul” knew that meditation wasn’t the answer for him to calm his mind, playing the piano was best. But getting him to that answer involved more than just asking him a simple question. He was in a state of mind that was going to keep him busy, burnt out, moving on to the next item in his to do list. However, it wasn’t going to transform his experience towards enjoyment. I used one of Gallwey’s techniques to identify one critical variable to stop the chatter by having Paul identify one reward for himself.
Engage the Team (share the joy, not just the dream)
One of my friends is a high altitude mountain guide, who is credited with a solo summit of Everest. When I asked Christian to tell me the story of that climb, he rolled his eyes and said, “When do we ever do anything alone?” He has a point!
My coaching model acknowledges the social context of the client as part of a “team.” We all have people who support us in our lives and growth: family, friends, teachers, colleagues, health care professionals, etc. My model includes the client’s “team” standing behind, ready to help out, ready to practice and play. This team evolves during the client’s life, but will be in place before this coaching relationship starts.
We love to share our dreams, but not always the hard work getting there. Yet our team can also make the tasks on the way to accomplishment more enjoyable. As coach, we can challenge our clients to think of their team in new ways. We can ask our clients questions like these: Have you shared your dream with anyone? Is anyone on your “team” helping you complete these tasks, including the tasks you enjoy? Can you include any of your team members in the next week in any of these tasks? Are you celebrating “wins” with your team?
- Revisit the intention: How does that support you getting to your dream? Does it support your intent? When you think of your dream, or intention, does it make you smile? Do you enjoy how it appears now? Does this clarify your intention, or helping you realize that you’re moving away from your dream?
- Focus intentionally on enjoyment: What do you enjoy? What would makes this task more enjoyable, instead of boring or unpleasant? What can you changed to make it more pleasant? Is there something you really enjoy that you can integrate into what you do or how you organize your day? Can you integrate activities to raise your natural happiness levels (Person-Activity Fit Diagnostic, by Sonja Lyubomirsky)?
- Stop the negative internal chatter: What is your mind attaching to, instead of just noticing? Can you focus on using one of your strengths, instead of focusing on a “weakness”? What is one thing you can do, instead of trying to do so much? What’s one thing you can reward yourself for achieving this? What are the methods you know you can use to calm yourself?
- Engage the team: Have you shared your dream with anyone? Is anyone on your “team” helping you complete these tasks, including the tasks you enjoy? Can you include any of your team members in the next week in any of these tasks? Are you celebrating “wins” with your team?