A Coaching Power Tool Created by Ramesh Kumar
(Career Coach, SINGAPORE)
Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving. ~Einstein
Mindfulness is one of the oldest and most basic skills known to mankind.
In its essence, it’s as simple as rediscovering the taste for freshwater or the vastness of the blue sky and ocean. It is learning or relearning, how to be present, how to be in the moment.
Mindfulness means becoming more aware of what’s going on right here right now. We can appreciate our lives, instead of rushing through them, always thinking of the future and trying to get there.
Being mindful can also help us to be less swept away and become overwhelmed by our powerful, habitual currents of thoughts and emotions. These can manifest as stress, depression, negative thinking, anxiety, resentment or self-doubt leading to a situation of feeling stuck, helpless and hopeless.
Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.~Buddha
I was contacted recently by an ex-colleague Susan whom I had not heard from in over three years. She reached out to me via LinkedIn just to check in and see how I was doing and congratulate me on my recent career change into life coaching. She also shared with me that she had faced some serious hardships and challenges during our long absence of contact.
Susan had been, simply put, stuck. She also mentioned some words I had shared with her over a lunch conversation. These words had stayed with her and uplifted her over these difficult years.
And what were those words?
Living in the present moment is the only way to calm your mind. Our mind throws us into turmoil when we think of the past and worry about the future. Don’t think of your dreams……think of the moment……think of the doing……!”1
At that time, Susan was at crossroads facing a very common fear:
What to do with her life that would give it meaning and purpose…….
She had dreams and ambitions like many of us do. She had goals and lots she wanted to accomplish.
This is something we all face at some point in our adult lives and with Susan, that fear of what is to come and what maybe was holding her back from simply doing anything. In that way, she found himself feeling so stagnant and stuck, that depression was taking hold.2
As I again read her message of positivity and all the good that was happening in her life, it reaffirms what I still say to my myself daily!
Keep doing… cause it’s all about the journey.
The important thing is, I remember that I had my fair share of dreams and goals. But when I got caught up in the small things around me, I forgot the big things. At the same time, when there were so many big things to overwhelm me, I completely forgot to enjoy the small things in life.
Enjoy the little things, for one day you may realise they were the big things.~Unknown
Don’t look for big things, just do small things with great love…….the smaller the thing, the greater must be our love.~, Mother Teresa
So, from a coaching perspective, how do we help our clients to balance themselves during this bicycle journey called life and keep moving? How can they have big dreams, and still believe in achieving them? How can they experience the day to day and moment to moment? How do they go and do it?
It is all about using the Power Tool – Here & Now vs Past & Future
I remember the case of a divorcee client of mine, Alice, who was married to a man who was one person before marriage and changed into a monster after she became his wife. During their marriage, he was extremely abusive, dangerous, and (in her own words) extremely selfish and mean.
During that time, despite everything else going on in her life—the day-to-day stresses, hopes, demands, and needs—she was still in fear for her very own life. At the time, she didn’t realize this fear.
She spent four miserable years married to this person and trying to do anything and everything she could to avoid being exactly where she was.
She would come up with excuses to be out of the house or out of town. She was telling herself she would leave or that she could change her husband, and she was not allowing herself to emotionally recognize the true danger of the situation she was in.
Why? Because she was terrified. Terrified her marriage would fall apart, terrified to tell her friends or family, terrified she would be looked at as the ‘poor victimized wife,’ and even more so, terrified to confront her husband for fear of what he might do.
Had she known then how important living in the present was, she likely would not have stuck around in that marriage for so long.
When we are in crisis situations, even stressful situations at work or school or at home, our bodies tell us to fight or fly. In this case, my client did both while she was being abused. But more importantly, she was denying herself the one thing she needed most—to see where she was and accept it.
She would not allow herself to see the danger and weight of the situation she was in. She feared the abuse and would not allow herself to face it because of her fear.
Now, let’s take Alice’s example and move it into something we may all identify with.
Consider the stresses of a demanding job. Consider financial problems—too many bills and too little cash. Consider an argument with a loved one or colleague, or confusion on where to go in life or clarity in career choices.3
In any stressful situation, there is truly only one answer that applies to all these open-ended questions.
That is: go and do!
When times are tough it is easy to get overwhelmed and remain stuck.
Whether that means you are stubborn in an argument or consider your dreams rather than take action, either way, you’re stuck. You’re stagnant. But, if you remind yourself to go and do, then you move forward…………the movement, the doing, is the living.
Had my ex-colleague Susan did not spend so many years questioning what she should be doing, she would have just done.
The key is to recognize every moment and keep moving.
The world is ever moving. Ever-changing.
Living in the moment means doing or feeling or seeing or recognizing what’s right in front of you. The important thing is to let yourself experience everything—the good and the bad—and once you experience it, then you let it pass.
We get caught up in our pasts because we did not allow ourselves to live those pasts when they were present.
“Do not let the past blackmail your present and ruin a beautiful future”
Take again my client Alice’s example. After finally removing herself from such an abusive environment, she lived with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder for the following six years, reliving over and over everything that had happened to her once before.
Once again, take again my ex-colleague Susan; had she been doing and changing and living rather than considering what’s to come, she would have done what she is finally doing now.
Now she is just, simply put, exploring life. She is not setting demands saying, “I must be here and have this by this time.” Rather, she is in the moment and recently took some time for herself, volunteering at a Christian missionary retreat in Cambodia.
Instead of worrying so much about where she would be, she is taking time to be now, living and enjoying in her current situation.
You have to live in the moment so that it can pass. You have to face your fears, so they too can pass. And since the moment must pass, we must feel its presence, good or bad, while it actually is present.
Whether you are fighting abuse (physical or mental), fearing your future, worried about an exam or a performance appraisal or an important meeting at work, stressed about money, losing sleep over love, no matter what is on your mind at any given moment, the point is to be aware of what you’re feeling, what’s around you, and in all cases, to continue to go do.
We so often get caught up in the stress, the worry, and in some cases, so caught up in avoiding the danger or real fear in front of us, that we forget to just live.
So, keep your balance and stay on your bicycle. Remember to live each moment, let it pass, but keep moving and enjoy the next…… just “go do.”
A good question to ask early in the coaching relationship is how are the coach and client going to spend their time together and which time will they spend this time on? Will they concentrate more on the past, looking back in anger (sadness, joy, fear…)? Or, will both coach and client ‘seize the moment’, trying to ‘go with the flow’ in the momentum of being alive and ‘open’ to the present moment? Or, might they anticipate and plan for the future, bright or otherwise? Eckhart Tolle wrote a book entitled “The Power of Now,” 4 https://www.amazon.com/Power-Now-Guide-Spiritual-Enlightenment/dp/1577314808 ) ( which is a guide to living primarily in the present moment, avoiding being constantly plagued by thoughts of the past or future. The concept of working in “the now” is crucial for coaches.
Realize deeply that the present moment is all you have. Make the NOW the primary focus of your life.~Eckhart Tolle
In any coaching conversation, the moment we are in and the moment ahead of us are really all we have. This can be a significant challenge for all of us. Every day, we are called on to make choices with long-term consequences, and we need to constantly be creating plans and strategies for the future. But when we shift into the role of a coach, we find ourselves needing to learn to operate in an unfamiliar place: the present moment.5
A coaching conversation is essentially a series of nows. When as coaches, we are continually thinking ahead to the next step, we cannot give our full attention to the now. Therefore, we need to master the skill of processing in the present and approach every coaching conversation with one guiding thought:
“What do I need to do to temporarily override my own agenda and use all my strengths to serve my client?”
The Gift of Processing in the Present
As coaches, presence is an extraordinary gift that we can give our clients. Before we say anything, – before we ask any questions, offer any insights to create pathways – our simple act of being fully present and available in that moment can be transformational. Being truly present means bringing our whole self to the coaching conversation: our attention, our values, our insightfulness, and our sensitivity.
Mindfulness and Coaching
To be a mindful coach, we need to be fully aware of our thoughts and emotions and strive to become aware of those of our clients. Learning to be more mindful of our own thoughts and feelings is a good way to become less distracted by them during coaching conversations. As we become more familiar with the movement of our own mind and emotions, we will start to recognize their patterns.6
Developing the habit of observing our thoughts and feelings will help us increase our mindfulness. In the coaching conversation, practicing mindfulness also means paying full attention to our clients – not just to what they are saying but also to their non-verbal cues. We must be mindful of their tone, their behavior, their body language, and their energy levels-observing, recognizing and acknowledging any shifts in energy levels displayed by our clients. We need to pause and reflect frequently after they speak.
Coaching and The Art of Deep Listening in the Present7
As a coach, it’s easy to sit in a conversation with one ear tuned to what our client is saying and the other ear turned inward, busy thinking about what we want to say in response, what pearls of wisdom we can bring, how we feel about them, how we want them to respond and so on. Many times, our concerns may have good intentions, but they take our attention out of the present moment. And our clients will sense it. We are quite transparent, and our clients will usually have a good sense of how committed we are to a conversation.
To be a great coach, we need to train themselves to listen beyond the words being spoken so that we can effectively paraphrase, reframe, challenge, etc. in the service of our clients. We must listen deeply for values, aspirations, inconsistencies, contradictions, emotions and what’s not being said.
Demonstration of Coaching Skill: Processing in the Present
The coach is attentive to the client, processing information at the level of the mind, body, heart and spirit. The client’s awareness of how to experience thoughts and issues on these various levels is expanded.
The coach uses what is happening in the session itself (the client’s behavior, patterns, emotions, the relationship between coach and client, etc.) to assist the client toward greater self-awareness and positive right action.
The two keywords here are “processing” and “present.”
In order to “process,” the coach must be discussing, bringing up and/or pointing out to the client what she or he is noticing. The coach is not “telling” the client what they ought to be thinking, feeling, doing or knowing, but is initiating a coaching conversation that helps the client find deeper meaning, insight or a new perspective………and as a result, help the client become “unstuck”.
Positive Coaching Effects:
- The client is free to express and engage with present reality and what is happening to him or her
- The client is free of past or future obsessions or concerns.
- The client benefits from coaching insight and support on all levels.
- The coach is highly sensitive to all forms of communication from the client be it verbal or non-verbal.
Key Elements of Effective Coaching in the Present:
- The coach is aware of the interaction occurring within the session, within the client, and between coach and client, and understands how these interactive dynamics are affecting the client and the coaching.
- The coach has a simultaneous and holistic awareness of the client’s communications at all levels.
- The coach is able to distinguish whether the client is communicating from the past, present or future.
- The coach allows the client the opportunity to process and clarify the coach’s questions and comments.
- The coach allows the client the opportunity to process his or her own thoughts and responses.
- The coach uses what is happening in the session, or between coach and client, as an opportunity for learning and discovery.
- The coach shares what the coach is noticing, realizing, or feeling when it could serve the client. 8. The coach checks in with the client about thoughts, feelings, and intuition.
- The coach expands the client’s awareness of different levels of knowing.
- The coach interrupts to refocus the client when appropriate (for example, when the client is caught up in telling a story or the client is talking about unrelated issues).
When the coach thinks something is going on for the client that is affecting their progress but fails to address it, the coach is not processing in the present.
By “present,” we are referring to what is happening for or with the client right here, right now, in the midst of the coaching. How the client thinks, feels, and behaves in the coaching session, itself, in addition to what they are saying, is a rich resource for coaching.
Often what the coach senses the client is not saying is most important. Obviously, it is important to have established a relationship of intimacy and trust in order to do this without being unnecessarily abrupt or triggering the client’s defensiveness.
Key Success Factors for Effective Coaching in the Present: 8
8 International Association of Coaching, “The IAC Coaching Masteries”, 2007-2011, International Association of Coaching (E-Book) -http://www.certifiedcoach.org
- The coach does not get caught up in the words or details of the issue or story and uncovers the deeper thoughts or feelings that are the root of the issue.
- The coach is aware of or does not miss the client’s hesitation, enthusiasm, disinterest, etc. – notices how the client is experiencing the coaching and does a regular check-in
- The coach does not focus only on future goals and actions, notices how what is happening with the client in the present is affecting progress toward those goals.
- The coach notices when the client brings a topic up several times within one session, or over several sessions.
- The coach is self-aware of his or her own counter-productive behaviours (such as interrupting, changing the subject, sharing something that is not relevant, controlling or directing the session, etc.)
- The coach is not afraid to address the client’s emotions.
Each minute we spend worrying about the future and regretting the past is a minute we miss in our appointment with life- a missed opportunity to engage life and to see that each moment gives us the chance to change for the better, to experience peace and joy. ~ Thích Nhất Hạnh, Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life
When the coach is masterful in using this coaching skill of processing in the present, the client and the coach both begin to experience the coaching on a deeper level, co-creating meaningful insights and significant shifts for the client.
It creates profound shifts because it allows the coach and client to get to the core of what is really holding back and/or supporting the client.
With the effective use of this Power Tool of Here & Now vs Past of Future
The coach helps the client move from talking about what happened, to identify the present meaning of it and how the client may use this meaning to move forward.
“Don’t let the past blackmail your present; to ruin a beautiful future”
References & Bibliography-Based on Coaching & Learning Concepts from the following sources:
International Association of Coaching, “The IAC Coaching Masteries”, 2007-2011, International Association of Coaching (E-Book) -http://www.certifiedcoach.org