A Coaching Power Tool By Mareva Godfrey, Parenting Coach, UNITED STATES
How Do You Survive vs. Thrive?
If we are fortunate to live long enough, all humans at some point will experience a setback so powerful that it rocks their world. For many, these are the events or circumstances out of alignment with their “normal” life, propelling them to “survive, get through, put one foot in front of the other, seek the light at the end of the tunnel, get out of the dark hole” while waiting for time to pass, something to change, to get them through the hardship- to go back once again to “normal.”
But, what if instead of being in a state of surviving we adopted a state of thriving, so we did not miss the gifts and lessons to be found right within the proverbial tunnel, even as we headed to a lighter, better time? What could we and our clients gain? What could help a coaching aid that shifts in perspective?
What Is the Difference Between Survive vs. Thrive?
(Oxford Dictionary) “The state or fact of continuing to live or exist, typically in spite of an accident, ordeal, or difficult circumstances.” ⁸
When thinking of setbacks without an end-in-sight, we turn to amazing stories of ordinary folk overcoming odds and becoming role models to many. Mandela and Malala may come to mind. On the other side of that same spectrum, we hear of people that crumple and stay in the dark hole of their experience, losing their way for a long, long time, if not forever. The latter probably will need professional help from a therapist or medical doctor. But, for the majority; many of which comprise our clients, in the best-case scenario they are putting that proverbial “foot in front of the other,” getting up to face the situation, trying to see the endpoint, and perhaps taking some steps to get through. They are continuing to exist in the best way they know how, believing that this is the only way forward particularly when the circumstance is to be short-lived or transitory.
From a neurobiology point of view, this makes total sense since what is activated during times of perceived danger is the part of the brain that causes fight or flight responses, trumping the cerebral cortex’s function to think and learn. The effects of the stress response on overall health are well documented and validate the need to create a shift in perspective from surviving to thriving during challenges. Consider the following coaching example:
Patty comes to her first coaching session full of anxiety, her goal being to endure 6 months until leaving her worksite for another job; a decision she had already made not seeing any possibility of remaining in a position she loves, which she created, with a team she loves to collaborate with. Following several coaching sessions, she acknowledges the effect this “surviving until leaving” perspective is having on her overall well-being and on her family life. She’s experiencing stomach aches, frequent headaches, heart palpitations, and out-of-proportion outbursts that leave those on the receiving end shaking, while she suffers feelings of guilt, shame, and embarrassment in the aftermath. She decides to try meditation, exercise, and self-talk strategies before entering her home at the end of the workday. She is still just putting one foot in front of the other, believing all will change when she finally resigns from her position.
According to current statistics reviewed in 2021 by Smitha Brandan, MD:
- Forty-three percent of all adults are impacted by serious health effects from stress
- Seventy-five percent to 90% of all patient’s visits to doctors are for stress-related ailments
- Stress can result in problems such as; high blood pressure, heart problems, diabetes, skin conditions, asthma, arthritis, depression, headaches, and anxiety
- The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) states that stress costs the American industry more than $300 billion annually, deeming it a work hazard
- More than 50% of prevalent emotional disorders are often due to chronic, untreated stress reactions ⁶
Therefore, more reason to abandon the “get through” stress-ridden perspective for one that empowers and can emotionally light a healthier way forward.
Even in a challenging situation, people can experience a sense of both- vitality and learning. Thriving individuals are growing, developing, and energized rather than feeling stuck or depleted. They are not victims of the circumstance. It does not define them. They look for a path forward aligned with the values of curiosity, determination, and possibility without getting engulfed by the facets of the challenge. They recognize that for as many things there may be beyond their control, there is plenty that they can navigate successfully so all is not lost.
The mindset of gratitude, resiliency, community, and expectation all help pave the way so the gifts along the journey not only do not go unnoticed but are found in real-time and used as tools to strengthen the drive forward. Without a doubt, the very experience of championing in a thriving mode through a particularly stressful time gives a person the advantage in facing future adversities.
In times of turmoil look for:
- Community Support: Even the perception of support, in or out of the home, allows the individual to not feel alone, to hear themselves aloud, and to be championed- provided that the support group is not validating the struggle, adding a negative outlook, or disempowering the person to seek solutions and to take effective steps. Negativity seeps into our pores through these sources. It can be dastardly on a person’s focus, concentration, memory, well-being, and health, and can foment an increase in feelings of frustration, anger, and worry. ⁸ So make simple choices away from negativity, including negative people, and toward positivity. Look for accessible role models and mentors who can either guide or inspire. There are plenty of examples for every type of struggle in the vast body of self-help literature. But best is to seek out those living, breathing, thriving role models in our personal and/or professional lives who make us smile, lift our spirits, and show us true interest. The studies done by Christine Porath indicate that these provide a respite and even a buffer from unavoidable negativity, whether provoked by the situation or by humans. ⁸
- Gratitude: Even in a time of struggle, the positive effects of having a daily practice of gratitude on health and well-being have flooded the book stands and airwaves, supporting the power of developing this habit. Consider for a moment which individual thrived throughout the pandemic- the one who obsessed over hygiene and running out of toilet paper and sanitizer and saw staying at home as a form of incarceration or the one who calmly stayed abreast of CDC developments and was aware that the stay-at-home order gave him/her a rare view into their children as adaptive learners and resulted in more family time with them earlier in the day? Those are recent examples of mindset choices to survive or to thrive. These conscious or unconscious choices either enhance, stifle, or diminish how we handle the very real and/or perceived struggles every person on this planet experiences. Gratitude lessens stress, anxiety, and depression. In a study completed by the University of Utah Health Hospitals & Clinics on gratitude and appreciation, participants who felt grateful showed a reduction in the level of cortisol, the stress hormone. They had stronger cardiac functioning and were more resilient to negative experiences and emotional setbacks. ⁶ Over the years, studies have established that practicing gratitude allows us to mitigate stress better. Our knowledge of neurobiology supports that when the body is not in a state of fight or flight, then the cerebral cortex can access stored memories, and problem-solving circuits, by-passing shutting down, thus making it possible for the individual to thrive in the face of difficult times. According to Dr. Kevin Francis, it positively changes neural hardwiring over time, giving the individual a leg up in facing future struggles.
- Expectations Build Resiliency: Expect gifts along the way “through the tunnel” to the clearing. These may be abject lessons or unexpected kindnesses or surprising self-awareness. Expect to learn and grow as a person each time. Expect to find support in a professional and or personal community of people. In fact, according to a study in The Journal of Psychological Science people that are resilient do not doubt that if they need tangible or emotional support, it will be available and freely given. The perception of the existence of support, not necessarily the actual asking, is what sets them apart from people who doubt they have the support or have a perception that it is a weakness to need it. ⁴ Expect to find things to be grateful for even in despair. There isn’t anything that represents “always” or “never.” Look for them, share them with others, journal the findings, and congratulate yourself- for every morsel is hard-earned and cobblestone of a thriving stance. Intentionally check in to note a gradually enhanced ability to see them in actual time- as they appear, and as you create them. Write this intention on your bathroom mirror. Or engage an Accountability Buddy. Or zoom in with a group of strangers for 20 minutes of The Best Thing (about your day) or Good Intentions (you had for the week) by registering through www.Leap.com. Any type of practice makes progress, not perfection.
The most challenging times bring us the most empowering lessons. Karen Salmansohn ¹
Survive vs. Thrive to the Coach
The process of helping a client shift from a surviving to a thriving mindset requires multiple sessions, actively listening for the repeating patterns of underlying beliefs that indicate that in his/her mind the only way forward in facing adversity is applying coping strategies and waiting to “get through.”
Listen for talk (aka thinking) patterns from the client:
- that filter events for negativity and key in on the absence of anything good,
- that personalize the situation and emphasize self-blame
- catastrophe-making predictions,
- that blame others instead of acknowledging their own responsibility,
- for the overuse of “I should have,”
- for magnifications of small incidents,
- By clinging to self-imposed high standards of unrealistic perfectionism,
- for all-or-nothing thinking that sees the extremes and not what may be in the middle ³
These present the opportunity in a safe and trusting coach-client relationship to voice, explore, reflect on, bring to self-awareness, challenge directly, and potentially transform the view of the present difficult situation into a live practice of the thriving mindset- vital, energized, and resulting in growth to be applied to the next struggle, should the client be ready to choose this “best life” alternative. ⁴
Possible Questions for the Client:
- What would it look like to be thriving through this difficult time?
- What surprising positives have you experienced in the challenge?
- How do you want to show up as you move forward that would bring you pride?
- What change in perspective will help you be the person you want to be?
- What do you want to learn throughout this journey?
- What actionable plan or steps can get you there?
- How will that ___________ (learning, realization, new awareness) help you in the future?
Survive vs. Thrive Reflection on the Coach
Imagine a challenging time you “survived” in your life:
- What could you have gained by approaching it from a mindset of thriving?
Now, compare that to another challenging period where you came away “thriving.”
- How did your mindset play a role in the second challenge?
- What role does a mindset of thriving play in coaching for both; you as a coach, as well as for your client?
- How could this Powertool help deepen your active listening skills? What would your client gain?
1 Martinez, Dr. Nicky, March 24, 2022, Inspiring Life Quotes about Challenge and Tough Times, Everyday Power, accessed April 7, 2022
2 Porath, Christine, and Mike Porath, October 30, 2020, How to Thrive When Everything Feels Terrible, Harvard Business Review, accessed March 8, 2022
3 Mayo Clinic, Feb. 3, 2022, Positive thinking: Stop negative self-talk to reduce stress, accessed on March 8, 2022
4 Sacocool, Julia, May 4, 2014, Why Some Thrive and Others Wither Under Stress, US Today, accessed March 8, 2022
5 Stowe, Jerilyn, Associate Director PR & Communications, HMHI Nov. 19, 2021, Practicing Gratitude for Better Health and Well-Being, Health University of Utah
6 WebMD, December 08, 2021, The Effect of Stress on Your Body, medically reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD, accessed on March 9, 2022
8 Google.com dictionary, accessed March 8, 2022