A Coaching Model Created by Lulu Cook
(Health Coach, AUSTRALIA)
Learning to try less and trust more can be a powerful shift in perspective that leads to increased success in making sustainable, positive habit changes and experiencing more freedom and wellbeing. There are a million excuses for why clients don’t reach their goals in the health and wellness arena, and “I’ve already tried (insert trendy diet or detox protocol here) and it didn’t work” is a common one I hear as a health and wellness coach. Many of them have tried really hard at some point to make positive changes in their behaviours and lifestyle, and they were not successful, or they were not able to continue with any wins. Now, they’re reaching out to me because they’re ready to try again.
At our early sessions, clients share their story, often accompanied by relentless self-judgement about how they should work out harder or eat better. They have thought a lot about why they’re not succeeding, how poorly they think they’re doing, and how long it’s taking them to reach their goals. None of this helps them create the sustainable habit change they’re looking for to achieve the outcomes they want. These clients are entrenched in a war against themselves, against their own bodies, and they keep trying to power through it, forcing an outcome that seems far out of reach. They feel a lack of trust in their bodies and their own ability to heal. This perspective of keep trying harder leaves little room for trust in themselves, their bodies, and the process, making it much more difficult to transform habits, heal, and thrive. When clients learn to trust their gut about what is needed to support their own journey of transformation, they discover they can shift things at a deep level by paradoxically trying less, and that the whole experience can be accompanied by increasing joy, ease, and wellbeing. This seemingly radical idea of trying less and trusting more is what we’ll investigate in this power tool.
“Just try your best!”, our caregivers may have said to us when we were young, encouraging us to live up to our own highest potential. “You can do it if you try”, a friend may have reassured us, when we were faced with a daunting task. “If only I had tried harder!”, we may have berated ourselves, at some point that felt like failure in our lives.
The importance of trying is well-understood by many people, and there is value in skilfully applying effort in order to achieve a desired result. However, this focus on working hard to improve ourselves and achieve our goals may not be effective in many situations. It can create a stressful sense of relentless striving, along with a sinking suspicion that we can never measure up. For some of our clients, this unceasing drumbeat of effort may even stop them from taking those first small steps toward meaningful change in their lives.
As we continue on pouring our efforts and focus into making health changes happen, we may become all too familiar with the dark side of “trying”. One of the alternate definitions of the word, according to Merriam-Webster.com, is, “to subject to something (such as undue strain or excessive hardship or provocation) that tests the powers of endurance”. This captures that sense of striving and tension that we may experience as we get ever-deeper into thinking about our problem, researching it, and planning our attack by which we hope to achieve a solution. In fact, it’s not hard to grasp why “to melt down” is another definition given! (Granted, that’s in reference to purifying a substance like oil or metal, but it’s still evocative of the mess we can get ourselves into with the relentless trying.)
Try, try again
The message about always trying harder if we want to succeed is so deeply ingrained for many of us, we may believe it unquestioningly. When that is the case, there is little room for trust to enter into how we reflect upon the goals we set for ourselves. Yet if creating change was as easy as just “trying harder”, there would be no need for coaches. Consider the common struggle many people face to lose weight and keep it off an as example ~ if simply going on a diet and trying hard to drop the pounds was enough, we would not have an obesity crisis that spans from Australia to the United States.
Trying is a primarily cognitive process, in which we attempt to harness a thing called will-power (which research demonstrates may be in limited supply) to make something happen. We may use our perception of how much or how successfully we are trying to judge ourselves, mentally beating ourselves up if we fall short. We bring this militant, aggressive stance into our relationship with our own bodies, our health behaviours, and our wellness ~ and we suffer because of it. There is a price to pay for this tunnel-vision approach, and it may include both our peace of mind, as well as our ultimate success at reaching our health goals.
This does not mean, “don’t try at all”. There is a place for appropriate effort as we move toward wellness in all areas of our lives. We may benefit from learning more about what is recommended for our particular health challenges, consulting with experts such as health coaches, and gathering our allies – the friends and family who will cheer us on the way. We may decide to try a new dietary regimen, give a go to a dance class we’ve always been intrigued by, or learn to meditate. All of these do require focused effort, but once we’ve set ourselves up to make actionable changes toward such intentions, our next best step may be to simply begin to trust the process.
Take on trust
The value of trusting is less celebrated than trying and may even be perceived as foolhardy. Some people may have the belief that it’s plain lazy to rely upon trust as a means of creating change – it just doesn’t seem active enough! Yet learning to trust ourselves, our process, and our ability to balance both effort and ease can create more space in which deep transformation can occur.
Trust is actually a very strong quality to bring to our actions. Merriam- Webster.com defines it as,
assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something; dependence on something future; reliance; a charge or duty imposed in faith or confidence or as a condition of some relationship; something committed or entrusted to one to be used or cared for in the interest of another.
These are powerful words that resonate with strength, not laziness: reliance, confidence, committed, entrusted. The definition also points, not to heedlessness, but to a sense of profound care, undertaken in a spirit of responsibility and due diligence. In other words, we exert the effort, we try in ways that are appropriate, as part of the caring and responsibility we offer to ourselves and to others. From there, we can relax and trust that we have created the conditions for benefits to accrue.
Learning to try less and trust more can be a powerful shift in perspective that leads to increased freedom and wellbeing. When our clients come to us for coaching about bothersome habits, they may have already tried really, really hard to make the change on their own. It’s not working, and they’re ready to try something new. We can coach our clients to let go of furiously trying harder…and instead cultivate appropriate effort that eventually leads to trust in themselves and the outcomes they learn to create.
This can be a confronting idea for some people. It may be an uncomfortable stance to take, this cultivating trust as a means of transformation. To reflect on their intentions from a relaxed and confident perspective is often a radical idea for clients to consider. And yet, they can actually make all the same decisions, have the conversations, etc. without getting overwrought by how hard they have to try to make a particular outcome happen. Without all that weight, they’re free to consider fresh perspectives, or even to take the same actions, with increased presence and ease. We can remind our clients – that they are not giving up, they’re just shifting directions with their perspective on what’s needed to realize those goals.
Tools for trusting
So how do we do it? What tools can we share with our clients that will help them tap into the power of trusting?
Track the trying:
Making small steps consistently allows clients to build a foundation of trust in themselves that over time, moves them closer to their goals. It can be useful to have them summarize all the appropriate effort they have put in toward achieving the outcomes they want. When they clearly reflect upon what’s been done, it can be a reassuring reminder that they are indeed taking action and not being lazy. For some people, this will make it easier to release expectations about forcing particular outcomes to happen by sheer exertion and will-power.
Helping clients reflect on the networks of support they’ve built around themselves (or helping them begin to develop those networks if they are currently lacking) may allow them to relax the focus on striving. Remembering their circle of allies can create a sense of spaciousness and ease that lets them trust they will be supported in making the positive changes they want to make.
Trust your gut feelings:
Letting go of incessant thinking about a problem and learning to listen to the wisdom of their bodies is a big shift for many people. When we invite clients to practice body-based awareness, such as meditation or mindful movement (eg: yoga or walking in nature), they begin to access intuitive, somatic information about what is needed to create the changes they long for. We can lead brief, somatic explorations during coaching sessions that encourage them to bring attention to the sensations of their bodies, including finding places of ease or comfort that they can rest in awareness of.
Support perspective shifts:
Part of our task as coaches is to gently challenge our clients when they are viewing things through a lens that is too hard-driving, unforgiving, self-judgemental, or plain impossible. We can help them dig under the stories about how they “should” try harder, thus allowing a perspective shift that focuses on everything they already have done. We can also invite them to reflect on times in the past when a choice to trust led to successful outcomes.
Questions we can ask our clients include:
- Where are you trying too hard?
- In what ways are you trusting yourself?
- What is the right amount of trying to apply in this situation?
- How do you know when to try harder and when to let go of the effort and trust the process and the outcome?
- What has you trying so hard to think your way out of this?
- How could you trust your gut on this?
- What is your gut telling you is the way forward with that?
- What is your body telling you about this?
- What would you do if you were acting as if you could trust yourself?
- When should you let go and allow the process to unfold in its’ time?
- Wow, you’ve tried so hard to make all those different approaches work (mention specific diets, protocols, lifestyle programs, etc. if appropriate)…What is underneath all that effort?
- What would it be like to let go of trying so hard here?
- What can you trust about your knowledge/wisdom/intuition about this situation?
Time to try less and trust more
Trying and trusting can be like two as the poles of a continuum, or a measuring stick against which we can encourage our clients to check where they’re getting stuck. There is truth to both ends of the spectrum for most situations – this perspective shift of trying less and trusting more does not argue that creating change calls for only one or the other. Yet we can fall out of balance with how we frame decisions and behaviours that are important to us, often leaning too heavily to the side of trying to exert enough effort to make something happen. A more radical approach, and one that paradoxically may unleash more energy with which to create beneficial change, is to release the efforting and to relax into trusting.
As coaches, we can communicate something like the following to our clients, in words or simply with our attitude:
Trust yourself – you are wise and your experience is meaningful. Trust your body – developing awareness and love for what your body is communicating through each meal, each moment, each movement – will allow you to move from warfare with your body to joyous celebration with it. Trust the process – there is insight and fulfilment to be gained in the journey. Trust the outcome – some of the specifics may look different than you originally expected, but as you continue to live in a wholesome way and practice health behaviours that are meaningful, sustainable, and enjoyable for you, you are crafting successful outcomes with the situations that used to bother you.