A Coaching Power Tool Created by Nesrin Everett
(Executive Coach, SWITZERLAND)
When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy.― Rumi
I have chosen the power tool flow versus force as it is one of the areas that speaks most to me within my life and coaching practice.
The first time I truly experienced the concept of flow versus force was while whitewater rafting in Borneo. We were a group of several boats going down the river. At one stage the boat I was in started paddling frenetically in order to catch up with the boat ahead of us. “Hold it!” our instructor said. “There is no need to paddle here”. “But we are lagging behind!” we said, our competitive natures wanting to get ahead of the boat ahead. “Listen” said our instructor (who was also the leader and most experienced of the whole team). “The boat ahead are using all their force trying to get ahead and paddling like crazy, we don’t need to do that…let the power of the river carry us, we will go with the flow of the water”. We looked at him with surprise, waiting to hear more. ”That way we save our energy and only use our physical power when we really need to. There is no need to force”. His method worked. We saved our strength by going with the flow and power of the river, and then used our muscle power when we really needed it, to correct our course or avoid eddies and rocks. As a result, we did end up achieving our goal of being the first boat, while having also really enjoyed our journey and managed our energy.
I believe that this very real image of rafting down the river, can really translate to our lives, and is a classic example of “journey” versus “destination”. In the case of our rafting experience it was the genuine desire to achieve our much wished for goal. However we were so focused on the end point that we were unable to enjoy the journey, until we changed our perspective.
So often we can be pushing so hard towards achieving a goal, or getting somewhere, and losing so much vital energy. This gives raise to interesting questions:
What is flow?
The Oxford English dictionary defines flow as: The action or fact of moving along in a steady, continuous stream; to proceed or be produced continuously and effortlessly:
What is force?
The Oxford English dictionary defines force as: Strength or energy as an attribute of physical action or movement; Coercion or compulsion, especially with the use or threat of violence; Mental or moral strength or power; Make a way through or into by physical strength; break open by force. Make (someone) do something against their will; Drive or push into a specified position or state using physical strength or against resistance
Flow versus Force regarding goals
In the case of our rafting experience our initial action to force our way forwards was based on genuine desire to achieve our much wished for goal. However we were so focused on the goal that we were unable to enjoy the journey, until we started to fall into harmony with the flow of the river, and harness it’s power to help us.
Similarly, we could look at a person trying to achieve a deadline. Taking the typical example of a student writing their final thesis. Having left it to the very end, by forcing themselves to sit down and work and gritting their teeth, they may indeed reach their deadline by not sleeping, working through the night, and focusing only on getting the paper written – at the expense of everything else. One could argue, that some very good work could be produced due to the adrenalin and the sheer focus that the student has had to give the paper. However, what are the other extraneous consequences of that such as resulting ill health, such as burnout and the need to take a prolonged break?
Now imagine the student working in a flowing, continuous manner, for example having either started their project earlier and worked on a it a little at at time, or having sat down and written in the moment whenever they felt inspired. The work is also excellent, they have had time in the interim to make any necessary changes and have also been able to lead a healthy balanced life.
Neither example is “wrong”, they are simply 2 different perspectives. Force can help push you through to achiever your goals. Flow however, does not mean giving up on your goals. It means achieving them in a healthy, balanced and organic way.
Flow versus force and “the agenda”
We could use another real life example. Jenny really wants to have a boyfriend. As a result she is almost putting words in the mouths of the men she is meeting in order to try to engineer or “force” a situation in which they will ask her her out on a date. Result: she pushes many of her potential suitors away as they feel pressurised and uncomfortable with her pushiness. Another way that she could approach the situation would be to let go of control, without losing sight of her goal, but allowing the situation to unfold naturally. If the conversation simply flows, by the end of it she will know how much she likes the man she is meeting, he will know how much he likes her and they will each decide whether they want to see each other again.
With regards to the coaching agenda – we can see the difference in the coaching session between when we are flowing with the client and following their agenda thus allowing them to come to their own conclusions versus when we are forcing the the agenda – perhaps by asking leading questions or giving advice when it has not been asked for.
Flow vs Force regarding authenticity
Sometimes we use force when the goal that we are trying to achieve is not actually something that our authentic self wants.
Bob is going on a skiing weekend with his friends. He’s really excited about going skiing but knows that “the boys” will expect him to push himself to the limit on the slopes and in the bar in the evening. He’s quite keen to join in the fun for the skiing as he enjoys it so much, but is not really looking forward to the drinking games in the evening. He will however force himself to play along, as he has the underlying belief that he should join in in order to be accepted as “one of the boys”. As a result he has a hangover in the morning, and has not had enough sleep to enjoy the skiing that he is so keen on. Another approach would be for him to allow himself to have a few drinks with his friends and listen to his body when it tells him that he has had enough. Result – he continues to allow himself to still enjoy the days and evenings with his friends but in a more authentic fashion.
We can all force ourselves to be what we are not through sheer will power – this is force.
Flow versus force in the context of willpower
As mentioned above we could say that willpower is a type of force. For example, if you want to climb a mountain to reach the summit, sometimes on the last leg, when you just want to give up because you are so tired, it’s time to push through the last 100 metres to get to the wonderful view at the top. That is a type of force. Forcing your legs to move forward. Forcing your mind to stay on the goal. However, you know that it’s beneficial, as it won’t harm your body and will get you where you want to be. You also know that up until that point you have been in the flow of enjoying the journey. In this case this short burst of force is serving you.
However, someone who has never climbed a mountain before and forces themselves up there all the way, through sheer willpower, may not enjoy the journey at all and may be so exhausted that they either give up halfway, or are so tired afterwards that never want to climb a mountain again. This would be an unproductive use of force, and an example of the potential negative consequences of force and stubborn willpower.
Flow versus force with regards to trust and intuition:
Sometimes we continue to do things even when we know intuitively that they are not aligned with our inner truth. When you are flowing in alignment with your intuition and fully trusting yourself, internally there is a feeling of lightness and flow. For example – when taking a decision. One choice intuitively “feels” right. Perhaps it is in alignment with our values and beliefs. The other decision may look good rationally and on paper, however when you go in that direction the decision feels forced. This could be because it not alignment with your authenticity. Therefore flow is also about trust. Trusting your inner knowing and what your authentic self truly wants.
Balance versus extremes: Force as an extreme versus a balanced approach
We’ve all heard the phrase “we had no alternative but to have to resort to force”. Governments and people have been heard to say that they have to resort to force, when they feel that they have no other choice but to contain or control a situation. So it would appear that in cases such as these, force is not a preferred tool to use frequently, and it could be argued that having to use force, and all the energy and potential destruction that it could entail could be based on an inability to have found a more balanced solution at that time.
In some situations to illustrate the extremity, we could say that force is used when the case appears to be as serious as a matter of life and death and the repercussions can also be as serious as life and death.
Flow versus force regarding emotions
When we are in tune with our emotions, there is a flow and a feeling of lightness and connection with our feelings. Sometimes however, our emotions build up so much, either because we are not aware of them or because we feel that they have no outlet. This leads to an almost pressure cooker like feeling of pent up emotions. At this stage, the emotions are released in “full force”, (like a dam whose floodgates have broken) and perhaps not always at the most appropriate time. Unless they are positive emotions (and even if they are), this can be an exhausting and sometimes frightening experience for the person, and those around them.
Also, it we do not accept our feelings, and try to force ourselves to have a different feeling – e.g. trying to force yourself to be grateful, when in fact you are simply very angry about a situation, we will be inauthentic to ourselves, and make choices that will not serve us. If we allow our emotions to flow organically, we will be able to make more empowered decisions and choices.
In my opinion force is a very right brained action whilst flow is more intuitive and left brained. As a result, in the context of emotions force can be a good pointer to underlying beliefs.
Flow versus force as an energetic pattern
Both flow and force are a types of energy patterns. Flow being a consistent steady energy stream, and force being a powerful movement with a connotation of extreme concentrated strength.
Rather than seeing one as a negative and the other a positive I prefer to see them as different entities. Generally speaking, flow is usually the preferred way of being, as it is a more consistent usage of energy. A writer will often write when they are “in the flow”, conversation over dinner “flows”, water “flows” through a pipe. When the flow is not happening for some reason, “force” can be called into play.
Flow is about harmony and balance. With force a lot of energy is lost that then has to be recuperated so this is something that we need to be aware of.
Flow versus force and sustainability.
Certainly there can be benefits from the power of force. However, how sustainable is it in in comparison to flow?
Let’s take an example from nature. The organic farmer, allows fruit to grows naturally. In it’s own time, the fruit matures and is ready to be picked. Fruit can also be forced to grow at an industrial rate. However, in the long term, even if the immediate yields are high and exciting, the long term effects of the pesticides and greenhouses used can take their toll, on the land and on the health of people.
Flow AS Force
In conclusion both force and flow can be positive. The question is when and how to use them.
Force has the potential for tremendous power, which can be constructive or destructive. Flow on the other hand is sustainable, renewable, balanced, harmonious. Therefore although there may be benefits to force I would argue that flow aids and enables a more harmonious, balanced and authentic way of being. When force is being used, questions must be asked, to ensure that this way of being is actually necessary, sustainable and beneficial – due to the high amounts of energy being used and disposed of.
In Star Wars the statement was “May the force be with you”. This is your life force – which in my opinion a flowing energy. Your innate power, your authenticity and creativity, which when tapped into and allowed to flow free is all creative, loving and powerful. With this power – comes great responsibility. Hence the need to notice, are we in a state of “flow” or “force” and how is that serving us right now.
Think of a time when your life was in flow, when you felt a constant movement of consistent energy. How did that feel? What were you doing?
Now compare that with a time when you were using force. Perhaps it was a forced conversation, or you were using physical force in order to achieve something. How was that serving you.
How much of your time and energy do you want to be spent in a state of force and how in a state of flow.? What is your preferred state of being?
Use the example of goals that absolutely must be achieved within a time frame – and how you would go about achieving them. Take note of your energy levels and when the flow comes – e.g writing. How well do you write when you force yourself and how well do you write when you allow the ideas to flow and put pen to paper.
All coaches have different styles so there is no right or wrong way.
Within the coaching session itself notice the difference between force and flow. If you try to push things or are attached to your own agenda, you may not be allowing the client to come to their own conclusions could be trying to “force” outcomes.
Notice the feeling and dynamics in the coaching conversation – is it flowing naturally, or are you feeling that the conversation is dragging and stuck and that you are having to force it along. How is this serving you?
How effective is it to try to force the client to make necessary changes, or to let the flow of the coaching process begin to allow the transformation to occur – do you used the lightening bolt approach to help release negative beliefs – or do you let them erode naturally through flow.
Questions to ask around flow versus force in the coaching conversation
Questions for clients:
- What mode are you in right now? Force or flow? How do you feel?
- What is causing you to use force?
- How is using force serving you?
- What is preventing you from flowing?
- What is making you feel the need to use force in this situation?
- What it would feel like if your life was in flow?
- What does flow mean to you?
- What would the most effective way for you to use your energy in this situation be?
- If force was a picture what would it look like? Describe it to me? (e.g. visualisation).
- What is making this feel forced?
Questions for coaches:
- How does the energy of this coaching conversation feel (forced or flowing)?
- If there is any force – how is this force serving the coaching conversation?
- Is anything preventing the conversation from flowing more smoothly
- How do my energy levels feel right now? Flowing, forceful?
- Does anything need to change right now from force to flow (or vice versa)?