A Coaching Power Tool Created by Judith A. Levy
(Transformational Coaching, USA)
1. a distressing emotion aroused by impending danger, evil, pain, etc., whether the threat is real or imagined; the feeling or condition of being afraid.
1. the right, power, or opportunity to choose; option:
Synonym: Elect, Preferred, Elect, Hand Picked, Option, Greatest, Power
Antonym: Disability, Yielding, Impairment *
Imagine this; you have a fear of heights and this fear used to completely paralyze you- Walking over a bridge was not a possibility. Over the years you have painstakingly worked on this fear and made huge gains. Walking over a bridge is now not at all a problem. Having this knowing that it has been years since you have felt any discomfort from this problem, you decide to “stretch” yourself and go skydiving! To be gentle with yourself you schedule to go in tandem (jump attached to another person) as you are not quite ready to go it alone. All is well and you are feeling very proud of this soon to be amazing accomplishment!
Now you are in the airplane and putting on your parachute. All of a sudden you feel anxious and that anxiety turns into a feeling of being frozen or stuck in fear. One thought is “I am too terrified and I can’t do this”!! Right behind this thought is the thought “I HAVE too!! If I don’t do this I will be a failure and I will have to tell everyone that I could NOT do it!! You find yourself caught in a loop of catastrophic thinking. For every solution you come up with, there is a frightening thought that stops you from making any choice. How do you suppose you could move yourself from this frozen or trapped feeling to making a choice that you can be comfortable with?
“I feel trapped”, “I’m feel unsafe”, “I feel like I am being forced to make a choice”, “I might get hurt”, “What if I make that decision and I fail”, “They will be angry with me”, “If I make that decision I could lose my job”…These are some of the feelings and thoughts that occur when one feels anxious and without the power to make a choice.
When we are in a fearful state our sympathetic nervous system is activated. We feel anxious, our breathing becomes shallow, our thinking (the story we begin to tell our self), can become irrational and we can feel frantic. The irrational thinking then feeds the fear. Because we are in fear, we have lost our power and our ability to reason and make choices. Often times when we are in this disempowered state, others sense our weakness and this creates even more of a problem.
This dynamic happens often to people who have had very frightening experiences in their past even when they have done healing work around prior frightening experiences and are ready to move forward with a relationship, a career, school etc.
You have heard the expression, “I feel stuck between a rock and a hard place”. Most of us have had that feeling that no matter what decision we make, we will somehow lose and in that moment it feels like there is no good decision. We are doomed if we do and doomed if we don’t.
To get a better understanding of this emotional/ thought dilemma, let’s look at Bonnie’s story: As a child, Bonnie experienced a great deal of illness. Under the age of six, she was in the hospital often experiencing many frightening events. She often felt afraid and additionally her mother would become very anxious when Bonnie became ill. So for the most part, there was a sense of vulnerability in her formative years. Bonnie has done a great deal of therapy and other healing work and has now slowly been taking action to move forward in her life with the help of Coaching—Bonnie has decided to go to College! Bonnie began making plans to College including talking to an advisor and registering for classes. After taking these steps forward she finds herself feeling terrified of continuing this forward movement AND also feels like staying where she is not an option. She finds herself stuck and unable to take the steps necessary to pursue her dream of college and has the added pressure that she has paid for the first term When Bonnie was asked what she was afraid of, she said “I am afraid I would not be able to do it”! Bonnie realized that the self limiting belief was that going to school would end with her getting sick again. And if it was too much for her or if she got sick again, she would be a failure. These thoughts were frightening and she found herself feeling trapped in indecision.
Bonnie had not been sick in 5 years. Although it was not rational to think she would become ill, her body memories of being sick caused her to get triggered when starting school became a close reality; Moving forward felt terrifying and not moving forward felt terrifying. When Bonnie was able to sort out that her fears were a trigger from her early life experiences, that she is extremely intelligent, that she herself was the one who chose school, Bonnie was able to make the choice to go to school. She also gave herself permission to drop a class if it was too much and this was very empowering as she was now making her choices from a place of stability.
The following are some internal states that can put us in fear around making decisions:
- When we are in judgment of ourselves
- When we are concerned about what others will think
- When we are needing to be in control of life and know the outcome ahead of time
- When we are afraid there will not be enough
- When we think we may lose someone’s love for us
- When we think we may not be good enough
“I feel free”, “I feel strong”, “I can see the possibilities clearly”, “This decision is right for me”” I am clear about what is taking place here”, “he will have to live with his anger if he does not like my decision”
When we are empowered in contrast to being in a fearful state we are free to make choices that are aligned with our highest good. We feel calm and can think through our options easefully. In contrast to the fearful state our parasympathetic nervous system is engaged and our body and mind are relaxed. When we are in a place to make choices we can retreat, rethink and respond instead of being reactive. We can think through what is happening and come up with a clear knowing of what is good for me in this moment. Of course not every decision creates fear in us and some choices have no attachment to old painful memories.
Can you remember both a time when making an important decision came naturally and effortlessly and a time when you were triggered and were not able to make a decision? For the latter, how did you shift from a fearful state when feeling trapped or like there are no good options to feeling free and calm, able to make the best choice for yourself? It is necessary to have the capacity to calm yourself and think rationally in order to make this shift.
When you have a client who is feeling trapped, anxious and confused, the following steps are important if you want your client to move into a place of choice, feeling calm and empowered. These steps will create trust between you and the client, will create awareness for the client and will help the client give themselves permission to have a choice.
Explore with your client, all sides of the fear: “OK tell me about all of your concerns. I am listening.” “Tell me your thoughts and beliefs about this situation”
Question: “What would it be like or feel like if you made choice A?” “What would be like or feel like if you made choice B”
Question: “What is the worst thing that could happen if you chose A”. “What would be the worst thing that could happen if you chose B?”
Set Goal or Intention:
In setting a goal or intention at this point, the client is creating a space, an energy, to move in the desired direction
Question: How do you want to feel when trying to make this decision?
Question: In a perfect world if you could have the outcome be easy and clear, what would the outcome be?
Question: “Where do you feel the tension in your body?
Question: Ask that part of your body, “What do I need to know to feel calm”
Question: “Is your belief accurate and true”? “Is your story accurate and true?”
The shift to empowerment needs to be internal and will not happen if the coach simply tries to reason with the client. An example of this would be “what are the pros and cons of each. This process does not include the feelings or what the client is feeling in the body.
- When you feel stuck, frozen or unable to make a decision, what story are you telling yourself? Is there another story that will work better for you?
- How does giving yourself permission to have choices help you in your life?
- What helps you to calm yourself when you are anxious about moving forward in your personal or professional life?
- What do you think is the number one most important point to remember when working with a client who feels anxious and trapped about making a decision?
- When in your life have you found yourself reacting in fear, feeling trapped and like there was no way out?
- How did you work your way back to a place of choice?
Sources: Thesaurus.com; Dictionary.com