A Coaching Power Tool Created by Kyla Neill
(Career Coach, AUSTRALIA)
- Do you feel like you are living behind a mask?
- Do you strive for perfection in everything you do?
- Are your energy levels dependent on the interactions you have with others?
- Do you feel like just being you is never enough?
As you answer these questions, do you notice how you may be suddenly aware of these feelings developing? You may confidently state “No, this isn’t me! I don’t care about what others think of me!”, but at the same time know that what you say and how you feel are actually quite different. Does this sound familiar? As social media and other forms of obtrusive advertising have completely taken over the world, our comparison of ourselves to others has become the norm rather than the exception. In fact, for some, constantly comparing themselves to others has now become an unconscious act, and can result in an unhealthy obsession with fretting over how other people may react, or what they might say, if one steps out of the norm and does things that may be considered to be ‘unconventional’.
Our desire for others to validate our already abundant lives with their approval is a disempowering perspective which will almost certainly let us down. This need for approval can also be linked to perfectionism and a ‘people pleasing’ nature in the recipient, who will obsess about what others are thinking, rather than focusing on how they feel and what they want out of life. This incessant desire for approval will inevitably lead to self-sabotage, and, as a consequence, one will end up living the life that they feel they are expected to live, rather than the one they truly want to. So, why does this keep happening, and what makes us yearn for constant approval from our work colleagues, friends, family, and even complete strangers?
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs proposes that love and the need for belonging is one of the five essential needs along with physiological sustenance, safety, esteem and self-actualisation, and, as such, it comes as no surprise that, as with physiological basics such as food and water, in order to obtain love and acceptance we tend to look to eternal sources first. We all want to be accepted by everyone we meet, those closest to us in particular, and although looking outwards to constantly fulfil this desire will certainly satisfy us initially and provide us with happiness, joy, and a sense of achievement, this external fulfilment is not sustainable in the long term.
Seeking approval from outside will eventually lead to feelings of negativity and not being good enough, which, in turn can result in anxiety and the belief that we constantly have to be better and perform better in order to simply avoid criticism. Sheer exhaustion is the certain consequence. If it is accompanied by negativity, anxiety and exhaustion, how do we actually benefit from seeking approval externally?
We live in a culture that makes constant demands of us and leaves us feeling that we are not only in competition with others, but also with ourselves. Are we successful enough? Have we got the correct diploma or degree? Are we progressing in our careers at the right pace? Are we pretty enough, thin enough, smart enough? Do we fit in with what society considers the norm?
These pressures cause feelings of inadequacy, agitation and dissatisfaction, and, in order to mitigate these feelings, and to be liked and accepted, we attempt to conform by playing the role of what we believe society wants us to be. From an external perspective, all appears as it should be, whilst internally, we are gnawed at by the uncomfortable feeling that the veneer could crumble at any moment, leaving us exposed and vulnerable.
It is precisely the fear of this vulnerability and being ourselves which prevents us from have to face the dread of failure and being different, but, more importantly, from acting on our dreams and desires.
You are imperfect, you are wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging.- Brené Brown
Progressing away from feeling trapped in approval-seeking, and towards Self-Acceptance, takes dedication and commitment to changing our inner thoughts and behaviour. We can initially make this transition by simply being aware that it is happening to us, and by understanding and acknowledging that fact that it is we who questioning our behaviour, thoughts or actions. We cannot control what others say and think, but we can certainly control our reaction to it and whether we really wish to strive for approval from someone else, or are simply happy enough to approve ourselves.
Focusing on accepting exactly who we are and our place in this world is a starting point that can enable us to explore the disempowering thoughts that come into our minds when the way in which we envisage ourselves isn’t reflected back to us as we had hoped. The most essential aspect of Self-Acceptance is acknowledging that a part of you may always need external approval, but that the opinions and thoughts of others are not as important as knowing yourself and accepting yourself for who you are and who you want to be.
The most terrifying thing is to accept oneself completely. – Carl Jung
As a coach, part of our role is to support our clients in shifting their perspective from a disempowering to an empowering one; from Approval to Self-Acceptance. In order to do this effectively we are very much dependent on whether our client is willing to look deeply within themselves and identify areas in their life in which they are constantly seeking approval. This is a powerful process and allows the client to focus on what they want, as opposed to what others want, or want them to be. In guiding our clients, we assist them in discovering that the answers to their questions actually already exist within them, and that these answers will lead them to true empowerment and away from a reliance on external approval.
In our capacity as coaches, we work with clients to enable them to let go of the need to judge themselves, to bring awareness to their inner strength and knowledge, and to then, in changing their mindset, support them as they embrace a truer version of who they are. In lieu of their search for external validation, we assist our clients in acknowledging how they feel, and what they want out of their lives. In doing so, appropriate questions, such as those detailed below, can help to support the process of shifting a client’s perspective from seeking Approval to discovering Self-Acceptance:
- “What do you want?”
- “How would pursuing (x) make you feel?”
- “What benefits would you receive if you achieved a particular goal?”
- “What would achieving that goal and enjoying those benefits feel like?”
By asking questions such as these, a coach has the ability to enable their client to focus on how the client can control their reactions to certain situations, look at how it is possible for them to hear the opinions of others whilst still being aware of their own truth, and to be bold enough to move forward along their own path.
Transitioning our clients through their beliefs and what they value most in their life is a great method by which we can encourage them to really visualise their dreams and aspirations. This process can include peeling back their emotional layers, exploring their positive attributes, and identifying why people, such as work colleagues or friends, connect with them. Clients can also be guided to the realisation that perhaps they possess wonderful qualities that others don’t, and that the reason potential friends and colleagues wish to connect with them is simply to be around someone like them. As coaches, we assist our clients by igniting their true passions in life, and in making the transition from what inspires them within, to boldly presenting their inspiration and authentic selves to the whole world.
The possession of self-love and genuine compassion in a coach is a key to opening our client’s eyes and heart to the truth that exists within them, but which they are not able to acknowledge: that they cannot move forward if the thoughts they have are negative and self-destructive. We support our clients to find a space in which they feel free to safely explore the origins of any negative feeling that they may have, as well as to trust that all the answers they require already exist within them, rather than in the approval of others. In this way, we essentially empower them to move forward and become who they truly are.
- Think of times where you have let the thoughts of others influence actions?
- How did it feel?
- What energy does it bring you?
- If you were to do it all again would you do something differently?
- Does your mind suddenly shift to what someone else would think of you?
- What would you say to those who are not in your support group?
- Are you living the best version of you?
- What is the number one thing stopping you from reaching your goal?