A Coaching Power Tool Created by Robin Lelyveld
(Health, Transitions & Life, UNITED STATES)
The true measure of one’s intelligence is their flexibility and adaptability- MLK
Things change, the constant is change. It’s up to you to be adaptable- Unknown
Trees survive storms because they bend!- Unknown
If we fail to adapt, we fail to move forward- Unknown
Webster’s Dictionary defines” rigidity” as the “inability to be changed or adapted” or “unwillingness to be adaptable in outlook, belief or response.” If we are unable or unwilling to be flexible or adapt to a new role, status, or change within our life situation, we may begin to assume a more dis-empowering perspective known as rigidity. Rigidity in the mind and body can negatively impact our ability to be successful as well as impair our ability to communicate and build relationships with others. When we assume this dis-empowering perspective, we may have one fixed idea in our heads, i.e. it is our way or the highway, or we want to hold onto one idea without considering other options t or choices. We may begin to develop tunnel vision or become angry, withdrawn, blunted and turned inward. Rigidity may look like competitiveness in others, ex. I am better than you. In this dis-empowering perspective, there is a limiting belief, value and feeling that is out of alignment that leaves us feeling powerless and unwilling to yield. Rigidity is warehoused in darkness, there is little light allowed to enter this negative space. This dis-empowering perspective over time causes us to feel stuck and incapable of taking action. When we become “rigid” in our thoughts and behavior, it is easy to find ourselves on “autopilot”, continuing to spin our wheels without really questioning what other choices we have. This can especially be challenging when we are busy living life, i.e. raising children, working, tending to elderly parents, household issues, relationship and have very little outside time to consider our situation or other choices that we have that may benefit us more than the gratification currently being received. When we are stuck in “rigidity” it is easy to look for quick fixes and/or to try to do things “by the book” but have a hard time understanding why we are not getting the outcome we want.
Now, let us consider the opposite of rigidity which is “Adaptability.”Webster’s dictionary defines adaptability as the ability to “adjust to new conditions” or the capacity to be modified for a new use or purpose.” We have seen that being able to be adaptable is important to our being successful. Being able to adapt involves our ability to interact and build relationships. Some might suggest that the ability to adapt influences our ability to survive difficult conditions.
Tony Alessandra associates the state of high adaptability and flexibility with 5 attributes...
Confidence– the belief in yourself and your own judgment and resourcefulness
Tolerance- you are open to accepting opinions and practices that are different from your own
Positivity- a positive outlook
Empathy- I feel what you feel
Respect for others- considering others choices and needs in relation to your own.
I would like to suggest, that within the Coaching relationship, it can be much easier to let go of a dis-empowering perspective, like rigidity, once these 5 attributes have been realized and bought to the client’s awareness.
I would like to discuss a case, and how through a series of coaching sessions, the client was able to gain more confidence, tolerance, positivity, empathy and a new found sense of respect for herself that allowed her to make the shift from a dis-empowering perspective to the more empowering perspective of adaptability, thereby taking her to a new level of growth and adaptation for herself.
So, let us consider why do so many people find themselves in the dis-empowering perspective of rigidity, a more negative, low light position, in the first place? I believe the easiest explanation for this might be, that this position may “feel safe”or “familiar” to the client. It may be easier for the client to stay in an inactive position than to assume a perspective that requires “taking action.” The state of “rigidity” may be a more preferred to the state of“adaptability” which implies change which the client may not be ready for,feel ambivalent about or scared of, so much so that the client may be needing to “park themselves” in this dis-empowering state.
Consider the case of D. a 34 y/o mom to 4 children (and 4 dogs) and wife to a former Army infantryman to whom she has been married x 15 yrs. A long history of deployments and moves along the way, the couple had weathered innumerable stressors, relating to her spouse being gone and her being left to care for her kids on her own.Her spouse received a medical discharge in 2008. Currently, both she and her husband work at the same company. The husband has a number of medical issues that he is still being treated for.
D identified not being happy during our first meeting and spoke of the last 8 years as being a challenge. She admitted to feeling tired, was quiet had a flat affect and spoke softly. She spoke of not having any friends locally, and having lost a best friend to cancer, who lived out of state last year. For the last 12 years, she talked of devoting her life to her kids, her husband, family and parents, who also lived with her. She talked of loving to play with her dogs and having no additional interests and questioning what her “purpose” was these days. She described her life as being “ a routine” consisting of her of coming home, making lunches,fixing dinner, tending to the kids, badgering her husband to help and going to sleep. On weekend, she cleaned the house, did laundry and spent time with her family. (I should point out that it is not uncommon for wives to assume full responsibility and be in charge of the household when their husbands are on active duty. Sometimes, relinquishing control once the “stay at home spouse” has been in charge for so long, can be a challenge for couples. In this instance, one wonders if D never renegotiated the household duties once her husband returned from deployments or even left the military entirely, leaving the the roles very unevenly balanced). D said that she always felt she was “responsible for her husband” and since his becoming wounded in combat, took responsibility for setting up all of his medical appts, obtaining his medications, etc. She said she had become increasingly frustrated over the last few months with her husbands’ lack of initiative. She stated her husband had stopped attending clinic visits at the VA, was not “appreciative or supportive” of her and she was “not happy with the way things had been going at home”. She was also trying to schedule some couples counseling but her husband wasn’t willing to go. She was tearful as she talked about her situation and that “this wasn’t what she thought her marriage would be like.” Her goal: was to be able to talk with her husband and to be able to tell him how she was feeling, rather than bottle everything up inside.
As the first session came to a close, my focus was on holding a safe space, establishing what the goals would be and our agreement. At the end of the session, I also encouraged her to so some journaling, simply asking her to find some time to start writing down her thoughts, how her day was going, what was upsetting her, and to try to find some time.
After a few sessions of active listening, I began incorporating the use of re-framing perspectives, empowerment perspectives and powerful questions that included the use of What, How, What If and Why in attempt to help understand the perspectives D was holding. We talked about the consequences that her rigid lifestyle has had on her and what does she want to see happen? Inquiries into what structures might be available to her and/ or she could bring into her routine to support her needs were also explored. There was discussion of intent, first steps she could consider and what action steps could she try.
While in my office before one session started, she noticed a handout on the table entitled “Personal Bill of Rights” It reads:
- I have the right to ask or what I want.
- I have the right to say no to requests or demands that I cannot meet.
- I have the right to express all of my feelings—positive and negative.
- I have a right to change my mind.
- I have a right to make mistakes and do not have to be perfect.
- I have a right to follow my own values and beliefs.
- I have the right to say no to anything if I feel that I am not ready, if it is unsafe, or if it conflicts with my values.
- I have the right to determine my own priorities.
- I have the right not to be responsible for the actions, feelings or behavior of others.
- I have the right to expect honest from others.
- I have the right to be angry at someone I love.
- I have the right to be myself. To be unique.
- I have the right to express fear.
- I have the right to say, I don’t know.
- I have the right not to give excuses or reasons for my behavior.
- I have the right to make decisions based on my feelings.
- I have the right to my own personal space and time.
- I have the right to be playful.
- I have the right to be healthier than those around me.
- I have the right to feel safe and be in a nonabusive environment.
- I have the right to make friends and be comfortable around people.
- I have the right to change and grow.
- I have the right to have my wants and needs respected by others.
- I have the right to be treated with dignity and respect.
- I have the right to be happy
We discussed the handout, and I reviewed with her what statements stood out for her and why? We continued our discussion and I gave her a copy to take with her.
The following week, she came in and mentioned that she had found the handout helpful and that she had realized “that she has the right to say no, and the right to express all of her feelings-both positive and negative and the right to change and grow and the right to be happy” mentioned on the handout.
She talked of “having buried her feelings for the last 15 yrs, never getting mad or angry, keeping busy with the kids, to avoid feeling depressed.” I continued to incorporate statements of reflection, acknowledgement and observation, seeing how hard she was working. She began another session talking about how she talked with her husband about how she felt about how she was “being treated and his lack of support and help around the house.” I just sat quietly listening as I held the space. She further expressed said that “their talk hadn’t gone well, initially he was made, but the following day he was able to apologize and admit he was wrong for his action and that what she was asking for fair. She further stated that in addition to apologizing, he said that he“offered to clean the house that Sunday, and watch the kids for while so that she could go for a run.” She said that this the first time he had done this.She admitted to being in a state of disbelief by her husband’s offer to do the cleaning and , watch the kids and allow her some time to herself. She wondered after all of these years and that “this was it took to get him to listen to me!” I started to hear for the first time some new confidence being reflected as well as her being able to “tolerate her husband’s opinion and values that differed from her own. She couldn’t believe they didn’t fight, it was all very calm.
Since that session, I have noticed much more positivity in her attitude, willingness to tolerate her husbands’ differences in opinion without taking them so personally. There is lightness to her whole disposition and facial expressions. She has mentioned recently becoming friendly with a new neighbor who also has 4 dogs rescue dogs as well, and how they both have started running with the dogs and helping each other train their dogs. Their kids have become friendly as well. Another area of flexibility and adaptability D has discovered is her decision to stop making her husband’s doctor’s appointments, shifting to a more empowering perspective, and inviting him to make his own appointments. She states he took initiative on his own and is now backing in treatment at the VA and has even secured a counseling appt. for himself!
In the most recent session with D, she shared that she has begun “doing more independently” and for the first time in years, “taking care of herself first.” She realizes that she can say “No.” She is running x3 a week now with her dogs and looks forward to this activity. She says she just tells her husband “she is going to take an hour for herself” and she does. She mentioned that her husband recently commented that “he knows you have your confidence back.” I continue to share my observations of how much brighter her affect is and her facial expressions, how much more she is smiling etc. She says she is continuing to journal, “which has helped.” She states, “the journal just listens!” D. put herself on a scale on 1-10 (with 10 being the best she could feel and 0 being the worst) at a 9, which is significantly improved from her feeling at a 2/10 when she came in. In terms of her goal, she feels she and her spouse are communicating better these days and that she is saying something if she needs to and not bottling it up. We have talked about how will she prevent herself from slipping back to the darker place where she was, to which she stated, I don’t think that will ever happen!
I think this case is a great example of the client’s being able to shift from a dis-empowering perspective of rigidity to a more empowering perspective, featuring confidence, tolerance to differing opinions, positivity, empathy ( I feel what you feel) and respect.
Questions to Explore on Rigidity
- What purpose do you think it serves for you to remain stuck and unable to move forward?
- What values/ beliefs or experiences may account for your inaction right now?
- What do you think is missing from allowing you to move forward?
- How could you envision or visualize yourself not feeling stuck?
- What is your biggest fear?
- What is the worst that can happen?
- What is the best thing that could happen to you to have your desired outcome?
Questions to Explore on Adaptability
- What are 1 or 2 ideas you could pursue right now?
- What do you need more of in your life?
- What do you need less of in your life?
- What do you want right now?
- What is it like to have your confidence back?
- What is it like to feel more respected by those closest to you?
- What changes within yourself do you feel you are continuing to make?
- What do you think is making you more tolerant of stressful situations than you were before?
- What do you think is making you more respectful of stressful situations than you were before?
In summary, when we feel stuck and in a rut, the natural tendency is to assume the path of least resistance and keep spinning our wheels despite our best effort to “play by the book.” It may be out of fear, or ambivalence that makes us resist change, such that we dig our heels in deeper, internalize more and feel more powerless. By doing so, we disallow ourselves the chance to change and grow. If we, as coaches can provide a safe space and develop a trusting relationship with clients who are “stuck”,with the use of re-framing, powerful listing and powerful questioning among other techniques, we can help our clients to shift to a more flexible and adaptive perspective-and in finding this awareness, inner peace.