A Coaching Power Tool Created by Marissa Cutler
(Career Coach, UNITED STATES)
When the going gets tough, the tough get going. – Joseph P. Kennedy
Perseverance is what helps us push through when life gets tough. As much as one might want to avoid a problem or hold onto an underlying belief, it isn’t until the obstacle is addressed, and the individual decides to persevere, that one truly feels accomplished. For example, J.K. Rowling, author of the successful Harry Potter series, was rejected by multiple agents before one was finally interested in her work. What if Rowling gave up after her first rejection? What if she decided to avoid another rejection? Harry Potter would have never been the well-known name in households across the world that it is today.
As humans, we have the option to avoid or persevere. J.K. Rowling chose perseverance. We as coaches commit to unleash our client’s true potential; even if that means talking about what makes them most vulnerable, uncomfortable, or what they have been avoiding.
According to Merriam Webster, avoidance is, “the act or practice of keeping away from or withdrawing from something undesirable.”[i]When something jeopardizes your character or you have tried and failed before, often one thinks, “Why would I try again?” This can be summarized by reviewing New York Times best-selling author Mark Mason’s article on “How to Stop Procrastination”. In his piece, he explains Mason’s Law of Avoidance; “the more something threatens to change how you view yourself, how you believe yourself to be, the more you will procrastinate ever getting around to doing it.”[ii]If the problem you are facing might change how you view yourself, it may be easier to avoid than take a hard look in the mirror. You may be experiencing feelings that are incongruent with what you believe is your true self-identity. These are hard feelings to face and overcome. Sometimes we don’t even know they are holding us back. In many situations, when one is struggling to decide or move forward, there is something in the way. It might not be a physical object, but instead our own thoughts, feelings, and perceptions. That is where a professional coach can ask questions to help open the client’s awareness and move toward their desired state.
According to Merriam Webster, perseverance is the “continued effort to do or achieve something despite difficulties, failure, or opposition.”[iii]It is the continuous effort to push through, even when times get tough, as described by Joseph P. Kennedy. While this is not the easy route to choose, it is the route that can be transformational. This route, when a light is shined on it by a coach, will change the person’s limiting beliefs and continue to push one to reach greatness. It is much easier to protect the beliefs of who they are and how they are perceived by the outside world, but something continues to not feel right deep down in one’s gut. Something continues to be avoided. Choosing to persevere might not come instantaneously to everyone. It can take hours, days, weeks, or months to decide what is standing in the way. Once the barrier is identified, the client will continue on the path of self-growth. This path can only be decided by the client. Whatever path they choose, whatever goal the client sets, it is up to the coach to ensure the conversation remains focused towards that outcome. This power tool is one that can be truly life-changing.
To some, perseverance does not come naturally. In fact, they may have spent their whole life avoiding tough situations, problems, or obstacles that come their way. Deciding to face a problem head-on is often the more difficult choice. Some people think that if they wait long enough, the issue will just go away on its own and that may be the case. The concern could be dissipated by another person, the circumstances could change, or life’s priorities might shift. All of these things could occur, but what if that doesn’t? What if the problem, issue, or obstacle remains? This is when we have a choice to persevere.
What causes people to avoid things? Avoidance can be out of fear, uncertainty, stress, worry, or anxiety. One may choose to stay stagnant and not take a step forward out of doubt. They doubt that they will take a step in the right direction and fear they will choose the wrong path. Many times, we get stuck in our own fears, beliefs, or perspectives and it seems easier to stay in this avoidance phase rather than push through the perceived “tough road ahead.”
At one point in most of our lives, we have been stuck and unsure of the next place to turn. Why don’t we always know where to go next? There are many reasons. Maybe the topic is brand new and something we’ve never experienced before. Maybe the truth is too hard to face or question one’s personal view of themselves or one’s character. We all have choices to make. Some of them may be simple; such as what shirt to wear, what to have for dinner, or what shampoo to buy. Others might be tough; like deciding what home to buy, if you should change jobs, or establishing your goals in life. All the decisions just listed are open to different perspectives. What may seem simple to some, is difficult for others and vice versa. But at the core of both, we all have a decision to make. We can choose to continue to avoid what is right in front of us or choose to persevere and push through this obstacle. That choice is up to you, no one else. In a coaching relationship, only the client can decide what they truly want. Do they want pizza or tacos? Do they want to stay in a job where they are miserable or make a career change? They must answer these questions. And there may be a time when they have to decide when is the right time to persevere. It is through self-awareness and powerful questioning that a client can make these decisions.
- What are you currently avoiding in your life?
- What has you avoiding this situation/topic/problem?
- What would it feel like to take ownership of this situation/topic/problem?
- What has helped you persevere in another situation? Can you apply that tool/strategy to help you move forward now?
What is the role of a coach when they notice their client is avoiding something? Simply, a coach’sroleis to “help your clients to discover the answers within themselves.”[iv]A coach is to ask powerful questions that spark an awareness within their client. This might mean questioning their way of thinking, thoughts, beliefs, or values. People do not come to coaching to stay stagnant. They could do that on their own. Clients come to coaching to evolve and push themselves to maximize both their personal and professional potential. Clients want to reach their goals. In some situations, this might mean facing what they have been avoiding and flipping their perspective to push through and persevere.
A coach might directly ask, “What are you avoiding?” This is especially useful when the coach is sensing some hesitation in the session. The coach has to use their coaching intuition and listen to the client on a deeper level to catch these hints. The client might not directly tell the coach something that leads them to believe avoidance might be at play. Instead, it’s what the client is not saying. Some key things to listen for are:
- Lack of motivation
- “I don’t know” responses
- Signs of frustration
- Signs of no way forward
It is a coach’s job to acknowledge these word choices and dive deeper. They should be curious to find out what is causing the client to avoid moving forward and tackling the issue at hand. It may take several sessions to uncover these underlying beliefs and what truly is getting in the client’s way, but it is a coach’s responsibility to continue making progress towards the session coaching agreement.
Let’s explore some questions that a coach may ask a client that is avoiding making a decision. In this example, the client has two options to choose from and has been weighing both possibilities in her head for some time now. The coach might ask the below questions to open her perspective on the consequences of continuing to delay making her choice:
- What is it costing you by continuing to not decide?
- What if there was no wrong choice?
- What could be looked at to assist you in deciding?
- What are you gaining by not deciding?
These questions can help the client explore what her underlying fear may be or what’s stopping her from deciding. She may be holding an assumption that she will make the wrong decision. Once these fears and perspectives are explored the client can move forward with her goals.
An opportunity where perseverance might show up in a session is when a client has a shift in perspective. To continue the example above, the client decided that she was wasting time and energy deciding. She knew what she wanted to do but was trying to please everyone. She decided to put her feeling first and chose the decision that was best for her. She then started talking more energetically about her choice and future. The coach decided to explore and acknowledge that shift to help increase the awareness that took place within the client. This new awareness might lead to a way forward. Questions to consider asking the client:
- How will you use this new learning/perspective to persevere and move forward?
- What first step could you take to move closer to your goal?
This is when the client has a choice: to back-pedal and stay in her old frame of mind or to embrace this newfound energy and persevere. The coach can help guide the client through designing actions, planning, and accountability measures for herself. She may need time to digest this new awareness before developing an action plan. Give her that space if necessary. Silence is a good thing. This is the client’s session and it is up to her to make this shift and embrace the next steps forward. Perseverance can be scary and honoring the client’s timeline is important.
- When have you coached a client that was avoiding something? What was the outcome?
- What tools could you leverage to support your client to persevere?
- What are some powerful questions you could ask your clients to shift their perspective from avoidance to perseverance?
- What are some key phrases that might help you determine if your client is avoiding something?
A client may come to coaching without any awareness that they are avoiding something. Avoidance can be very disempowering for the client. They have taken no ownership of the issue or situation at hand. Instead, they decide to stay in limbo. While it may seem easier to continue to avoid, it can be very empowering when the client decides to push forward and persevere. It is when the client makes this choice that the results can be very rewarding.
This power tool can be used when the client is stuck and does not know a path forward. It will assist in opening the client’s mind to think outside their comfort zone and address what they have been putting off. It will help them identify why they have been avoiding this and what steps need to be put into place to persevere. Perseverance is inside the client. It is inside of all of us. Sometimes it just takes longer to find the courage or the right answer. Coaching can help the client find the perseverance inside of them!
[i] Avoidance. (2020). Retrieved July 10, 2020, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/avoidance
[ii] Manson, M. (2020). How to Stop Procrastinating. Retrieved July 10, 2020, from https://markmanson.net/how-to-stop-procrastinating
[iii] Perseverance. (2020). Retrieved July 10, 2020, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/perseverance
[iv] International Coach Academy. (2020). E20TCP: What is Coaching? [docx].