A Coaching Power Tool Created by Marie Holive
(Executive Coach, UNITED KINGDOM)
Once you replace negative thoughts with positive ones, you’ll start having positive results. Willie Nelson
People with positive thinking are generally empowered to act and achieve their goals. On the contrary, negative thinking can paralyse us, bringing fears and doubts and preventing us from taking the actions that can get us closer to our goals.
It is important to recognise those negative thoughts and not to bury them as they could have an unconscious impact on our actions. That negative thinking is limiting or eliminating the possibilities one can have. Those negative thoughts are also important information for an individual and his or her coach.
This paper is about how individuals can use those negative thoughts to understand what’s in the way of their goals and how they can turn that negative thinking into positive thinking, with or without the help of a coach.
I believe positive thinking can be learned and it is like a muscle we need to regularly exercise!
Negative thinking is a dis-empowering perspective. In fact, when taken to the extreme, it could be identified as one of the most common dis-empowering perspectives as described by writers McKay, Davis, and Fanning in Thoughts and Feelings – Taking Control of Your Moods and Your Life. They call it “filtering: focusing on the negative details of a situation and filtering out all positive aspects.”As advised by the writers, if you can identify that negative perspective, to challenge self-sabotaging patterns of thinking, you could learn from that awareness and re-frame it in a way that serves you. The important thing to determine is whether a negative perspective works for you or not: if that supports you to grow then it is useful, otherwise, it is key to understand it, so you can replace it with a more helpful perspective. In the case of the negative filtering, they suggest the following more empowering perspective: “most experiences in life have a mixture of good and bad in them and I choose to focus on the good.” It is like looking at a glass half full versus half empty.
Have you ever missed a deadline? And felt awful about it to the point of not doing anything…
For example,I was supposed to complete a paper by yesterday, but I did not. I am blaming myself and feeling down. My inner dialogue sounds something like that: “I am a loser. I did not keep my word of submitting that paper on time because I felt that I could not write anything original. I am not good at writing anything…”As a result of this negative language, I am not progressing further on my paper and making my delay even worse.
In this scenario, how can I transform the negative thinking into positive thinking? First, I can ask myself a few questions:
- What is important for me in finishing this paper? I really want to complete it because it is a significant part of my work objectives. I care about the quality of it as I want to use it in my work every day. I am passionate about the subject of the paper.
- What can I feel grateful about the situation? What is positive about missing that deadline? Missing this deadline is not impacting my management for now. I can do more research and complete a higher quality work. I am grateful about not having submitted the draft I had because I was not proud of the work and it did not represent what I could really produce.
- What is true about the belief “I am not good at writing anything”? When I hear that, I realise that this is not completely true because I delivered a lot of written work in the past and those papers were praised by my management.
Our mindset plays a crucial role in how we see ourselves and others. Simply put, our mindset shapes our beliefs in accomplishing something. Dr Carol S. Dweck in Mindset – Changing the way you think to fulfill your potential, talks about two extremes mindsets: fixed mindset versus growth mindset. People with a fixed mindset believe they are born naturally gifted at doing some things but utterly incapable of others, whereas people with a growth mindset believe they can become great at anything if they try hard enough.
The people in the latter group continue growing through their lives at acquiring new skills without reservation.
By contrast, people with a fixed mindset often let their way of thinking obstruct their development. If they fail to do something, they blame themselves or others.
Challenges give people with a growth mindset the opportunity to pursue purposed-filled actions. People with a fixed mindset avoid difficulties, people with a growth mindset relish them. By confronting our own attitude and ideas, we can develop a growth mindset.
If I apply a growth mindset to my own situation, I can see that not submitting the paper is an opportunity to do more research and create a piece of work I am proud of. The statement “I am not good at writing anything” comes from a fixed mindset and I know from past experiences that with perseverance and hard work I can make the impossible possible.
Consider this scenario: Melanie comes to a coach with the goal of losing weight. She rejects any suggestions with negative statements such as: “I have tried all this before, but it does not work. I always go back to bad habits. I will never be able to lose weight. I am a loser. “
The client might still come up with a plan of action like: eat more healthy food, start exercising and sleep more. However, if the real intent of the client is not identified and the client does not become aware of her intent, then no real shift will be happening. Intent is more than a general desire: it is a little stronger, indicating a firm resolve to get it done. If the client’s plan and her intent are not aligned it is highly likely that the plan will fall apart. To avoid that and move into positive action, it is key to identify the true intent of the client.
Questions that can be asked by the coach:
- What is important for you about losing weight? If the client says: I just want to lose weight, the coach might challenge that and say. I do not hear the passion in this. What is in it for you?
- What has you believing this is not possible?
- What is the belief behind that negativity?
- What would happen if nothing changes?
- I can hear those negative thoughts. How is this helping you to achieve your goals?
- What positivity can you see about this situation?
- What judgement are you making that is creating that negative thinking?
- What would it feel like to be positive right now?
- If you can suspend your negative thoughts for a second, what is it, right now that is positive? If you were feeling positive, what might be different about the situation
- What is the value of your current attitude?
When the clients start shifting perspective and realise what their heartfelt intent is, they reach the leverage point on the way from where they are to where they want to be. The coach can have the following observations/questions:
- I can hear this is important to you for X, Y and Z so what do you need to do?
- What would it feel like to have X, Y and Z right now?
- Where are we regarding what you want to achieve?
- I noticed your shift in perspective from negative thinking to more positive thinking. What do you say about that?
Find below other techniques than can be used in addition of getting to the true intent of a client through powerful questioning
- What about this situation could be fun?
- Let’s just assume for a moment that the worst thing that could possibly happen has already happened. What will you do now?
Introducing NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming)
NLP helps with the discovering of the clients’ thinking patterns, the elements of their personal program so they can run it when they choose.
First, you can focus on the negative words that the clients use. Client’s use of negative language will give you great insights into their limiting beliefs. In this instance, the coach could ask:
- You describe yourself as a “loser”. What would you do if you were courageous?
- What do you need to believe to make this happen?
Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve. — Napoleon Hill
Second, the body language affects how others see us, but it may also change how we see ourselves. Social psychologist Amy Cuddy argues that “power posing” — standing in a posture of confidence, even when we don’t feel confident — can boost feelings of confidence and might have an impact on our chances for success. In the same way, if we look down with a defeated posture that may accentuate our negative feelings about the situation or ourselves. If we take a “positive posture”, looking up and smiling widely may be that will help to start feeling more positive. Our body is sending a signal to our brain and we can take control of what that signal is.
I realized that if my thoughts immediately affect my body, I should be careful about what I think. Now if I get angry, I ask myself why I feel that way. If I can find the source of my anger, I can turn that negative energy into something positive. Yoko Ono
The third visualization is another wonderful NLP tool to help project a positive outcome and train your brain to program success instead of failure.
Finally, the mind can form powerful links to positive and negative experiences, which can be used during the coaching journey and as part of this power tool. More precisely NLP offers a three-step technique to create new, positive anchors that can help your client get through challenging discussions. The first step is to ask the client to think of an emotional state they want to be in. Let’s imagine that a client gets extremely nervous before pitching and ideally she would like to be calm. So she picks her ideal emotional state as being calm.
The second step is to ask the client to think of a moment from the past where she was in that state. Maybe it was when she passed an important exam at school and got one of the best grades.
The third and final step is to think of a sound or movement that you want to associate with this emotional state. Perhaps that is the thumbs-up from her dad when he dropped her at school that day.
Once the client has that anchor in place, she can put it to use at any time. Give herself the thumbs-up and that will bring her back to the positive experience that it’s anchored to: in our example, a calm delivery that led to a successful outcome (passing the exam).
Introducing ABC by Albert Ellis:
Anna has a job interview coming up in 3 days. She is stressing out, as she really wants that job. Lots of negative thoughts are coming to her mind: I am never well-prepared for interviews. I always get really stressed and as a result, I won’t be able to answer the questions powerfully. I did not anticipate the timing of the interview and as a result, I will not have enough time to practice. I am going to fail miserably… She feels desperate and starts crying. She can even envision herself at the interview: looking down, uncomfortable in her chair, sweating as she does not know how to answer questions. As a result, the vision of the failure and the negative thoughts are paralysing her. She could be preparing for the interview but instead, she is unable to do anything.
For the purpose of this case study, I am going to use the key principles of the book “Learned optimism” by Martin Seligman, that Anne can apply to herself. Martin Seligman, the father of positive psychology, has spent decades of research trying to find out why some people manoeuvre through their lives so easily. His discovery is that it is because they are optimists. He identifies two ways in which we explain bad events in our lives: optimism explanatory style and pessimism explanatory style.
- Optimists see problems as temporary, pessimists as permanent. In our example, Anna has a pessimist explanatory style when she says: “I am never well-prepared for interviews.” But she could reframe it and says: “I don’t feel that I am yet well prepared for this interview, but I am going to put the work in and be fully prepared by the time I get to the interview.
- Optimists see problems as specific to a situation, pessimists make them a general case. In our example, Anna is saying: “I always get really stressed and as a result, I won’t be able to answer the questions powerfully.” She could tell herself what an optimist would say: “I feel stressed in this particular instance, but I still have time to get in the right mindset for the interview.
- Optimists see problems as externally caused, pessimists blame themselves. Anna is saying: “I did not anticipate the timing of the interview and as a result, I will not have enough time to practice.” She is blaming herself. Instead, she could take a more optimist interpretation and say: “they asked me to see them right away because they are really interested in my profile. I have less time than expected but it is great they are so keen. I just have to prioritise the preparation.”
The good news is that I strongly believe like Martin Seligman that positive thinking or optimism can be learned
One way to tackle this is to use the ABC technique by Albert Ellis. It works like this: When facing a crisis, you note three things about it.
A – What’s the Adversity?
Anna has little time to prepare for the interview and she feels unprepared.
B- What is my Belief about this?
She blames herself for not having anticipated the timing and she thinks she will not have time to practice. She thinks she is never well-prepared for interviews.
C- What is the Consequence of my belief?
She is paralysed by her belief and is panicking. She even starts crying. As a result, Anna is not spending any time practicing for her interview. It is highly likely that her self-fulfilling prophesy of failing the interview will come through.
While using the ABC method it is key to a differential between thoughts and feelings. Telling herself that she is never well-prepared for interviews is a belief. Being paralysed and crying are feelings following the belief.
How you decide to deal with a negative event determines almost entirely how much it will affect you. That’s why it’s important to identify your ABCs and seeing where you can change your beliefs. Once you have recorded a few negative thoughts, start challenging them. Ask yourself if they’re true, whether there’s another explanation and if they’re true, what that implies. Then you can start labeling your thoughts into two categories: useful and not useful. Whenever you notice a thought is not useful to you, then you should probably not pursue it any further. Start thinking of negative events as temporary, specific and external, record your ABCs and know that your attitude is learned – you can change it at any time.
In the case of Anna, imagine she does that work and starts thinking about the situation as temporary, specific and external: the company she has the interview with is keen to see her sooner than expected because they are interested in her profile. What are the skills and capabilities she has that they are looking for? As she starts putting that positive outlook on the situation, she is already preparing for the interview. That helps her to compose herself and focus on the time she has, to be fully ready by the time of the interview. With that positive thinking that leads her to prepare calmly for the interview, we can see that her chances to succeed are surely increasing.
I am an optimist. It does not seem to be much use being anything else. – Winston Churchill
- “Thoughts and Feelings – Taking Control of Your Moods and Your Life”–Mathew McKay, Martha Davis&Patrick Fanning
- “Mindset – Changing the way you think to fulfil your potential” – Dr Carol S. Dweck
- “TED Talk – Amy Cuddy, your body language shapes who you are”:
- “Learned optimism” by Martin Seligman