A Coaching Power Tool By Cameighl Powell, Life Coach, ITALY
My coaching journey has not been a straight path. I started my career as a secretary and administrative assistant before deciding to go to night school to become a Human Resources practitioner, thinking that that would be my path.
After graduating, I decided it wasn’t for me and changed careers entirely. I decided to pack up my life and move to Italy to teach English as a foreign language. My background in business has given me an insight into teaching business English which has transitioned into business coaching and eventually coaching.
All these ‘steps’ mean that I can take a step back and re-evaluate where I’m going but also decide which next step to take. They are all experiences that have helped me achieve something else. I haven’t yet reached the other side of the pond, stream or river but each step is a transition, a transformation of one letter…from g to c…change to chance. Change can feel like you’re sinking, caused by doubt, negative self-talk, worrying if you can do it, worrying what other people will think, worrying if you have the ability to step out of your comfort zone and into a new future. But every change is a chance to achieve something big, one stepping-stone at a time. Making a small change can lead to big changes.
As a coach, I have valued putting my own structures in place to create both short and long-term action plans and this gives me the confidence to be able to move the client forward one step at a time.
This power tool came to me while coaching a peer. She was feeling very ‘stuck’ in her advancement in coaching and felt like she was getting worse, not making any improvement. In short, during the conversation, I could see that she was ‘sinking’ deeper into a spiral of self-doubt. The challenge was to make her view the course as baby steps or ‘stepping-stones’ to get to the other side.
Her belief in herself and her ability to see progress failed her, in fact, she could only see her failings, what went wrong, her lack of belief when her clients thanked her and said she had helped.
What Is the Meaning of Stepping-Stones?
In the Cambridge Dictionary, the definition is:
For me, the event of moving countries kick-started my career in teaching English which led me to be interested in coaching.
What is the meaning of sink?
After my initial ‘holiday period’ was over, I had a sinking feeling that I was never going to learn the language, I had the feeling that I had made a huge mistake and thinking that I would never be able to teach and depression came over me so badly that I couldn’t stop crying and couldn’t get out of bed for several days.
This stepping-stone power tool focuses on changing the negative thoughts, feelings, and behaviour that leads to sinking sensations, identifying the ‘sinking stone’ if you will. It aims to move the client into a forward motion towards the future.
In this respect, its approach is connected to cognitive behavioural coaching which identifies the event which caused the trigger, the ‘sinking stone’. Cognitive behavioural coaching’s central premise is that effective strategies for aiding problem-solving and overcoming challenges can be developed through examining and re-evaluating unhelpful beliefs and behaviours (ICA) and letting go of the stone, to clearly see the next step.
The sinking feeling is brought about by Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANT, Aaron T Beck).
Beck noticed that negative, distorted thinking came under three categories: negative ideas about themselves, the world, and the future. Although negative thoughts can have a positive function of protecting you by trying to solve a problem before it happens, focusing on one thing for a long period of time creates neural pathways, therefore ‘energy goes where attention flows.
What Are ANTs?
- Black and white thinking – ‘always’, ‘never’, ‘every’
- Focusing on the negative
- Fortune telling
- Thinking with feelings
- Ruled by ‘should’
- Labelling – using negative adjectives
- Taking things personally
How Can I Help My Clients to Realise They Are Sinking Deeper?
The downward direction talk takes you further into the rabbit hole where you cannot see the way out or lack the clarity to see what step could lead you out of the dark. This type of talk manifests itself in the following beliefs:
- I don’t know what to do next
- There is no way out
- I feel lost
- I’m a loser
- I can’t see a way out
In fact, in the session with my peer, she verbalised comments such as “I feel like I’m never going to get this”, “nobody is going to want to pay me for this, I don’t want to waste anybody’s time” and “I feel like there’s pressure on me to be better”.
Verbalising these phrases made her ‘sink’ to the lower level every time. Asking the client to describe the feeling should help them recognise that there is a downward motion. Visualising the exact ‘stone’ which is bringing them down and making them sink will connect them to the one thing that is getting in the way of them not being able to let go.
Coaching prompts could be:
- What feeling manifests when you think about this mindset?
- What do you notice about the language you are using?
- What do you notice about your body language when you say that?
- If you continue talking like this, what do you believe the outcome will be?
- What assumptions are you making about your current situation?
- What assumptions are you making about other people?
Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander, in The Art of Possibility; Transforming Professional and Personal Life, distinguish between talking in ‘the downward spiral’ and conversations for possibility.
Sink vs. Stepping-Stone Re-Assess the Best Route to See New Possibilities
How can the stepping-stone tool help? It can give the client the ability to see new possibilities or a new way of perceiving their situation by giving them a direction. It is not to make the client feel that once they have found their path that everything will be rosy. As we cross over the stream the stepping-stones behind us don’t disappear. We may have to step back to re-assess the best route to the other side before carrying on, therefore, each step we take, either forward or backwards, leads us to our goal of reaching the other side of the stream.
A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. Lao Tzu
This quote applies to various types of situations, not only to travelling but also where something needs to be done. The emphasis on the ‘first step’ refers to the one that counts. There is also a contrast of ‘a thousand miles’ and one ‘single step’. (BBC Learning English).
To change perspectives, the coach asks the following questions:
- What is your ‘stone’ which is pulling you down?
- What can you do to let go of it?
Below represents a visual portrayal of the sinking sensation between the stepping-stones that will help the client to identify the first step that counts. The goal may not be to reach the other side in one single session but to identify how to reach the next stepping-stone to move forward.
Coaching questions for reframing:
- What value do the stones represent?
- Where do you want the stones to lead you?
- What will the first stone represent?
- What can you do to reach that first stone?
- What beliefs do you need to reach that first stone?
- What feeling will getting to that stone give you?
This power tool will also be used as my coaching model to identify potential patterns in thinking and behaviour to identify what triggers the sinking feeling, to see if there is an underlying belief or to even identify what stone comes before the sinking sensation to fall back on, even as a lifeline, to change perspective. The smallest of changes can open up a new path, set goals and help the client to define what the next step is to reach that goal.
It also has the potential of being a problem-solving support structure for the client to create new neural pathways by visualising the problem as stepping-stones, rather than focusing on negative thoughts which sink the client.
The Art of Possibility; Transforming Professional and Personal Life
ICA Framework and Theories – CBT