A Coaching Power Tool Created by Marie Lenail-Chouteau
(Corporate Coach, MALAYSIA)
f you plan on being anything less than you are capable of being, you will probably be unhappy all the days of your life. – Abraham Maslow
The productive vs. unproductive mindset tool is a power tool designed to help clients to make a shift in their perspectives. The concept is made to assist clients in the process of becoming more aware of the unproductive mindset and his related tensions and patterns.
The tool helps the coach to create a space where clients will investigate their unproductive mindset and explore new perspectives that they could hold and which could make the difference in every situation: the productive mindset.
Why is this tool useful for a coach?
As the soil, however rich it may be, cannot be productive without cultivation, so the mind without culture can never produce good fruit. – Seneca
A mindset is a fixed mental attitude or disposition that predetermines a person’s responses to and interpretations of situations (source thefreedictionnary).
An unproductive mindset is an inclination or habit which does not achieve any benefits, outcomes or results. Such a mindset takes the client focus away from his goals, fullfilment and empowerment.
Negative thoughts can be part of the unproductive mindset. They are extremly damaging and limiting for a client. In his « Feeling Good » handbook, David Burns speaks about « twisted thinking », distorted thinking patterns (all or nothing thinking, overgeneralization, mental filter, discount the positive, jumping to conclusions, magnification, enotional reasoning, shoulds statements, labelling, personalization) that cause negative feelings and negative thoughts ; the client is looking at everything from the negative point of view.
It is common in the unproductive mindset that the clients have repetitive arguments that are not resolved and that leave them more angry and frustrated. This happens often when the goals are not clearly defined.
A productive mindset makes the best use of our resources: our time, our energy and our efforts. It is making the most of who we are and what we have.
People with a positive mindset know that they have the power to choose their thoughts, mood and perspective. They tend to be more successful than others because they see problems and failure as a chance to advance their knowledge. Since these people are able to learn from their mistakes, their mental approach is to grow their strengths and resources.
In the productive mindset, the clients feel comfortable in the purpose of reaching their concrete goals. This state is a very creative and dynamic process that reveals new possibilities and insights.
The stronger the client’s ability to engage in productive mindset, the more success they will have. This success also depends on the client willingness to engage in productive mindset. Hopefully the coaching process creates a space where clients trust and openly sharing insights is encouraged.
How to recognize an unproductive mindset?
If you are not making the progress that you would like to make and are capable of making, it is simply because your goals are not clearly defined.- Paul J Meyer
The client has an unproductive mindset when S/he:
- endures the situation
- is hesitant or undecided
- has not defined clear goals
- is focus on past events
- is minimizing his responsibility level
- has expectations which do not match the reality of the situation
- does not want to take any risk
- is invided by his emotions
- has a lack of energy
- is angry with the situation
- has actions which are driven by an unclear or not defined purpose
The unproductive mindset can appear when the client is facing a challenge or tough situation. Several patterns can be identified in an unproductive mindset:
Victimization: Clients who are in a victim state complain about the bad things that happen in their lives. They think they have no control over the way events unfold and they don’t feel a sense of responsibility for them. Even if the current situation they are facing is due to a choice they have made, they will not admit it.
Problem focus: The client sees problems in every situation. He thinks that negativity is part of his personality. As he is focused on problems and does not explore the solutions, which could help him to move forward.
Fear: False Evidence Appearing Real. Fear is an emotion that drains energy and limits the client to take a further step and leads to unproductive statements. Most fears are psychological and therefore imaginary but very real for the client who lives with it. Fear can show up as worry, panic, tensions.
Low self-esteem: The client has a tendency to focus on the negative aspects of problems and expend energy on worry. S/he is doubtful and thinks he is not capable of changing the situation nor able to take good decisions.
To start making a shift, the client has to become curious of his current state. He has to ask himself about what is happening and why is this happening?
The coach can help the client to analyze his behaviors and patterns, to understand where they come from and to give a name to his mindset.
How to draw a productive mindset?
It is only in adventure that some people succeed in knowing themselves – in finding themselves. – André Gide
The client has a productive mindset when s/he:
- Sets specific goals
- Takes decision based on emotions and thoughts which are in alignment
- Sees failure has a stepping stone to success
- Has the energy and personal motivation to achieve his goals
- Sees opportunities rather than problems
- Analyses events in a positive way
- Becomes more aware of the reality of the situation
- Is able to evaluate the situation and take risks
- Is in alignment with the desired outcome
- Thinks outside the box
- Makes every effort to go after his dream
Several patterns can be identified in a productive mindset:
Positive attitude: The client has an unconditional positive regard at all times. He is aware of his responsibilities and knows what is within his control. He sets up specific goals and knows which actions to take to achieve a specific desired outcome. He is aware that failure is a necessary condition and stepping stone to success.
Clients cannot always control what happens, but a positive open-minded attitude can be instrumental in how to internalize and enjoy it. Clients, who are curious about what their default attitude to life is and watch out for negative assumptions and attitudes and see what alternatives they could have, help them to reach success (source: ICF/Personal ROI handbook).
Opportunities: The client is solution-oriented; he does not see problems but focuses on finding opportunities. He takes different views of the situation, thinks with creativity and is goals oriented.
Willing to change: The client has the motivation and energy to take actions which will change the situation. He is not afraid of change and is aware that change creates opportunities.
Self-trust: is the inner-power of change and action. The client is free from doubt, he believes in himself and his capabilities. He knows that he is able to take risks, to meet new challenges and to deliver. The client takes decisions with certainty, he is confident with his decisions, judgments and with the future. Asking the client “on a scale from 1 to 10, how much to you trust yourself?” is a good way to start working on self-trust. The coach can also explore with the client his integrity and honesty, check if it exists gaps between his intentions and his behaviors, if he has clarity in his purpose and if the results are in alignment with his values.
Highlight the gaps between the two mindsets
The client has the power to choose his mindset. It’s easy to fall into a number of unproductive mindsets, but he can learn the signs and practice shifting and reframing these into productive mindsets.
As coaches our role is to help the client to « discern the perspective that is creating the situation and then re-frame it ». (Source: reframing perspectives, ICA). We need to draw the energy of the other state, to show the client how extremely powerful it can be and let them understand the value they are gaining by shifting.The coach can help the clients to identify the gaps by challenging the current state, show the limitations of the unproductive mindset and search for clients values linked to the productive mindset.
By being aware of the gaps between the two different states, the clients can start their work on taking actions to shift their perspective. They start to see things in a whole new way, work on their purpose and evaluate the risks associated with new decisions to take.
Part of the coaching process is also based on identifying the external factors, which lead the client to the unproductive mindset. By helping clients to get a clear picture of what has an impact on his mindset will help them to take the control of the way they are seeing things.
Coaching application – The inside / outside the box exercise – Process of change
The inside / outside the box exercise is an effective exercise to use in combination with the power tool productive vs. unproductive mindset. It helps to think differently, unconventionally, or from a new perspective and to materialize the mindset. To think outside the box means to look farther and to try not thinking of the obvious things, but to try thinking beyond them (source: wikipedia). In our situation, to think outside the box corresponds to the productive mindset.
The idea is to help clients realize that their unproductive feelings, thoughts and behaviors are contained in a box they have created over time. Having in mind the box picture is a powerful way to start the process of change.
Step 1- Inside the box perspective analysis
This first step is crucial for the success of the whole exercise. As coaches, our role is to support the client in finding ways to shift to a more productive mindset. Having this result in mind, we need first to work with clients on their current thoughts, behaviors, beliefs and patterns which have a disempowering impact on their choices and lives.
This step is a deep exploration of thoughts, which will help the client to put words on his patterns and to recognize the limitation of the actual mindset.
To help in the thoughts and beliefs exploration, we can use “the work” proposed by Byron Katie. Ask the four questions below for each unproductive thought/ belief identified:
- Is it true?
- Can you absolutely know that is true?
- How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
- Who would you be without the thought?
These four questions helps to analyze the thought and the attachment to it.
Once the patterns and thoughts are analyzed, you can propose to the client to imagine that all these disempowering patterns fit in a box they have created by their own over the time. Why have they created this box? It is to offer them a psychological comfort zone, a place where things are as they are without asking any further questions, a place where the client is protected from failures and risky changes. The box has been shaped by patterns and underlying beliefs, which can hold the client back such as conditioning, acceptance or fear of uncertainty, gaps between the ideal and the reality.
Our role is to show the client that this box is a barrier to happiness, opportunities, confidence and success.
You can propose the client to do a little visualization exercise.
Knowing that the box contains all the unproductive mindset described earlier in the coaching process, ask the client to take a piece of paper and a pen and to draw the box. Ask him to describe the box, the shape, the color, the size. It is also interesting to ask questions around the “age” of the box in order to help the client realizing how long he has been in this mindset. It will also bring the awareness that seeing things with this unproductive mindset is a trained process, which can be changed by the client himself.
When the client has a clear picture of the box in mind, you can ask questions such as:
- How do you describe the relationship between you and the box?
- How do you describe yourself in the box?
- What is the advantage of having this box?
- What kind of impact has the box on you?
Step 2- Reframe the perspective
As the client has a clear picture in mind of the box, he owns the awareness of his unproductive mindset and starts to feel uncomfortable in the box. Thanks to the first step he is recognizing the limitations of his actual perspective, he is starting the gradual process of change.
Our role as coaches is to support clients in this change process and to accompany them when they will experience new thoughts and patterns.
Before that stage, we need to have the client’s commitment to move beyond the box. To reach this commitment, the productive mindset perspective has to be a desire state. The fact that the client is starting to feel uncomfortable in the box and to explore feelings linked to this discomfort, will help him to start to think on how to open the box.
You can ask the client:
- Having in mind the unproductive patterns you described earlier, how do you feel in the box right now?
- What do you think you can find outside the box?
- Imagine yourself outside the box, how do you feel?
- What could be a way to start to open the box?
To start to look outside the box will help the client to see different perspectives, approaching problems in new, innovative ways; conceptualizing problems differently; and understanding his position in relation to any particular situation in a way he would never have thought of before. It will start the process of installing new thoughts and more empowering patterns.
The next step for the client is to install and experience the new thoughts in the real life. He needs to work on being conscious that he is experiencing them and validate the feelings associated with them.
By doing things differently, with empowering thoughts and patterns, the client will have more efficient results, which will comfort him in starting the process of changing his mindset.
As coaches, our role is to help the client to learn these new thoughts and behaviors and to give value to the experience.
A good way to reach that result is to explore and analyze some situations the client has faced with new thoughts.
For each situation the client wants to explore, ask the 4Ws questions:
- What happened?
- Where were you?
- When does it happen?
- Who were you with?
When the client has a global picture of the situation you can start to explore with the client the emotional component. You can ask the client:
- What were your thoughts facing the situation?
- How helpful and empowering were these thoughts?
- What was the result?
- If you had a chance to live again the situation, what would you do differently?
- On a scale from 1 to 10, which value do you give to this experience?
This exercise will help the client to develop his feelings/patterns awareness at any time, when facing a tough situation and to value the experiences he has with the new productive mindset.
The client will also develop his capability to identify concrete outcomes from having switched to the outside the box perspective. The concrete outcomes will give value to the productive mindset and help the client to maintain his efforts in developing a positive attitude.
Step 3- Sustain the outside the box perspective
An important piece of the process of change is to keep the productive mindset and the positive thoughts all the time whatever the nature of the situation the client is facing.
We can say that the exercise has a successful result when the client starts to feel confident to think differently, see positive results in having a productive mindset, to act beyond his previous comfort zone and ultimately to “destroy” the box.
You can continue the visualization exercise to help the client to leave definatively the unproductive thought and find a way to destroy it.
Tell the client: “Imagine you throw the box into the fire and look at it while it blows away with the smoke.” And ask questions such as:
- How do you feel right now?
- What do you see yourself doing?
- What is holding you back from doing this?
This exercise is a good way to physically take the unproductive mindset outside clients to help them to feel lightness and freedom. It helps them to consider the future with a productive mindset, to overcome obstacles more easily and explore challenges.
Coaching application – Case study
Joseph has been offered a new position within the contracts and procurement department of the company. One of his missions is to manage a team of 6 employees who have different and strong personalities. His management has told him that the team is hard to manage due to a lack of team spirit and cohesion.
He first met each team member separately to take time to understand their ability to work as a team member and to have information on how they perceive others in the team. Then, he experienced several meetings with all team members and encountered difficulties to find ways to develop a good understanding and solidarity between them.
After having tried several techniques during the past 6 months Joseph started to think that despite what he was doing, his employees were not able to work together properly and there was nothing which can be done to change it.
After the first coaching session, the coach identified the lack of confidence Joseph had developed during the past 6 months. The more he was trying to find ways to improve the team spirit, the less he was developing confidence in managing this challenge. His self-trust was really affected. After having faced several failures, Joseph’s behavior was driven by wanting to move away from his lack of confidence in his ability to handle with the situation. His actions were controlled and defined by what he was moving away from, not by the goal itself.
Joseph started to develop unproductive thoughts and patterns. He was focused on his failures as a manager and therefore he developed a lack of confidence and self-esteem in managing his team. His solution to the situation was to limit the meetings with the whole team and to meet his team members separately, which was a very time consuming solution for him.
To help Joseph to realize that he had developed an unproductive mindset, which was taking him away from one of his main goal as a manager (to manage a team and to develop cohesion between the team members), the coach used the box exercise and visualization.
First Joseph and the coach explored the situation and the thoughts and patterns around it. Joseph started to realize that the impacts of the situation on his thoughts and behaviors were very negative. He was loosing self-trust, confidence and he was not sure to be able to manage a team in the future. He had no clear idea about what could be his future as a manager; he was just trying to face the reality of the situation, but in fact his reality.
The coach asked Joseph to imagine a box, which could contain all the negative thoughts and the unproductive patterns. As Joseph was describing the box, its color, its shape, its size, he started to have a clear picture in mind of what was this unproductive mindset, which was the cause of his failure.
By starting answering to questions such as
- What is to you to be a good manager?
- What are your main goals in your current position?
- What could change your current situation?
- What needs to happen for things to get better?
- What will happen if you do not change your behavior as a manager?
Joseph will start to see how he could change his patterns and make a shift to a more empowering state.
He started to gain clarity on his purpose as a manager, to think about how to take control of the situation, what were his responsibilities in the situation, what was his specific goal regarding management of the team. He started to look outside the box and to develop a productive mindset.
To help to reinforce this new way of seeing things with a productive mindset the coach asked Joseph to think about himself as a good manager and to start to develop the consciousness in the moment of being a good manager. This consciousness is the key to move from a productive thought to an experience. It is a way to structure ongoing practice for the client to make the changes in their automatic and unproductive thoughts.
Some questions which could help the client to shift to a productive mindset:
- What have you already tried to help with the situation? Did it help? How did it help?
- What is the worst thing that could happen?
- What does it mean to you to take risks?
- What is holding you back?
- How do you name your acts?
- What would be happening that does not happen now?
- What patterns of behavior currently in place could be eliminated?
- What would you lose if you changed your current state?
- What is within your control?
- What is the alternative?
Reflection – How to maintain the client in a productive mindset?
- How could you help your client to strengthen the productive mindset patterns?
- How would you help a client to see the benefits to be in a productive mindset?
- How is it important to have a productive mindset in today’s organizations?
- If you were Joseph’s coach what would you do to help him to stay focused on his management goals?
- In the box exercise, how do you think it is possible to help the client to make the box disappear?
Coaching for performance, John Whitmore
Coaching that counts, Anderson and Anderson
Strenghts Finder 2.0, Tom Rath
Reframing perspectives, ICA