A Coaching Power Tool Created by Victoria Vakova
(Career Coach, BULGARIA)
Authenticity is a sensitizing and blessed power. It comes with feeling at home with oneself, and therefore at home in the universe. It is the greatest power in the world the power to be ourselves. Ardis Whitman
Belonging is the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us. Because this yearning is so primal, we often try to acquire it by fitting in and by seeking approval, which is not only hollow substitutes for belonging but often barriers to it. Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance. Brené Brown, 2010
I. Short literature review on belonging
A number of studies have been initiated and completed aiming to analyze and explore the topic of belonging. A few authors identify the sense of belonging as one of the most powerful motivators when it comes to social behaviour (Baumeister, R. F. & Leary, M. R., 1995). Some of them argue that this need, so powerful and deeply rooted in the human nature, is constantly pushing us to monitor our belonging status and quickly capturing every sign that our belonging is threatened (Kerr, N. L. & Levine, J. M., 2008), for example, lack of eye contact as suggested by Wesselmann, E. D. et al. (2012). Some of the researches are authors go as far as suggesting that when a person feels excluded or rejected his or her overall performance can be negatively impacted, for example displaying self-defeating behavior (Twenge, J. M., Catanese, K. R. & Baumeister, R. F., 2002), experiencing troubles related to self-regulation (Baumeister, R. F., DeWall, C. N., Ciarocco, N. J. & Twenge, J. M., 2005), or even displaying decreased cognitive performance (Baumeister, R. F., Twenge, J. M. & Nuss, C. K., 2002).
As suggested by DeWall, C. N. and Bushman, B. J. (2011) people are quick in preventing such experiences and in a prompt manner manage to focus their efforts in restoring threatened social ties or for example create new ones.
II. What is belonging & why it matters?
Belonging matters and as we can see it’s one of the basic and most powerful human needs. Many authors argue that belonging is not vital only for our psychological and emotional wellbeing, but it’s also critical for our physical health (Hagerty, Williams, & Oe, 2002; Hale, Hannum, & Espelage, 2005; Wadsworth et al., 2001).
The need to connect with other people is a common theme across various definitions of what belonging is. For example, Rogers (1951) describes belonging as a need to be regarded in a positive way by others. McClelland (1987) suggests that at a core level, we are motivated to affiliate with others. Vallerand (1997) discusses an innate desire to relate with others. Friedman (2007) describes a sense of belonging as the development of the self and identity building. A sense of belonging is not dependent on interaction, proximity to others or participation in group activities. Rather, it relies on perceptions about the quality of our social interactions. Therefore the perception regarding our involvement in a social system or environment is reflected through our sense of belonging (Hagerty, Lynch-Sauer, Patusky, Bouwsema, & Collier, 1992). A general sense of belonging fulfils an individual’s innate psychological drive to belong to groups, take part in meaningful social interactions and is so fundamental that it can be as “compelling as the need for food” (Baumeister & Leary, 1995).
II. Fit vs Belong
There are many things in our context that contribute to the way we feel, both physically and psychologically, and how healthy we are. According to many researchers experiencing belonging to groups and networks drives positive experience in terms of confidence, self-esteem, performance and general life satisfaction (Haslam et al., 2009; Iyer, Jetten, Tsivrikos, Haslam, & Postmes, 2009). Baumeister & Leary, (1995) argue that lower levels of stress as well less depression and anxiety cases are reported from people who experience a sense of belonging. With regards to the physical perspective, a sense of belonging also drives positive and caters for health benefits. Cohen & Janicki-Deverts, (2009) suggest that people are going through much faster recovery, for example, from infectious diseases when they experience a greater sense of belonging. Other authors complement this statement and suggesting that there is a lower risk for heart diseases and if such occur persons experiencing a greater sense of belonging recover much faster than those who don’t, as well as relates to a longer life (Boden-Albala et al., 2005; Holt-Lunstad et al., 2010).
What stands on the opposite side of the belonging continuum is not belonging or in other words trying to fit. The contrast is sharp and in the same way, there are many benefits of experiencing belonging, there are as many of not experiencing it while we are trying to fit ourselves in a community, workplace, relationship, etc. Throughout the recent years a number of researchers and authors argue that lacking a sense of belonging hides a number of risks, i.e. loneliness, social isolation and a lack of social support linked to greater mortality, poor health behaviors, psychological distress, mental illness, self-harm behaviors and greater risk for suicide (Cacioppo & Hawley, 2003; McMahon, Singh, Garner, & Benhorin, 2004; Seeman, 1996; Seeman, Lusignolo, Albert, & Berkman, 2001). Others suggest that indeed, the impact of not belonging is similar to the damaging health effects that occur from smoking, obesity and high blood pressure (Haslam et al., 2009; Holt-Lunstad et al., 2010).
III. What brings the topic to the table?
True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are. Brené Brown, 2017
We all have the innate need to belong, to find the place where we are at our maximum performance and confidence, being both physically and mentally healthy and satisfied, feeling free, eager to learn, develop and contribute. We need to feel that we belong to our family, community, friends circle, workplace and all other areas of importance for us as it makes us feel natural, we feel energetic, we can feel and we can breed trust and love. In such environment we feel are supported and we can grow as well as we can support and help others grow themselves.
Still, there are more than one cases where people are trying to fit in their quest for true belonging, where they can be themselves without the fear of judgment and without the heaviness and lack of authenticity that fitting lacks brings. Fitting makes us look fake and behave as something we are not or not truly believe in. In the end, this is a really demanding process, it drains our energy while we try to modify ourselves pursuing the sense for true belonging. As we saw from the various researchers it can even make us both mentally and physically ill.
I remember being in my adolescence years, close to graduating high school. As I would guess most of us know this period of our lives might get quite turbulent. That was also my case. I was desperately trying to fit in, wearing the clothes I thought I should wear, listening to the music I thought I should listen, hanging out with people I thought I should hang out with and all of that because I was searching for my place of true belonging, I was in search of myself.
What this brought me is not really something I could be very proud of, for example, I cannot say that I have a true and long-lasting relationship with more than two or three of my school mates.
Years after this episode, as I decided to change my first job, again I faced this challenge – I had to move to a new place, new people, new culture, new habits, everything was new to me and I was again trying to fit myself in as quickly as possible in order to start delivering on my performance promises. And that period, even if much shorter than the one in my high school, was really demanding for me both mentally and physically. This brought a large amount of stress and made me feel tired and exhausted. While we try to fit we sort of put a mask on us, we pretend or hide our true self and it takes a lot of efforts to be someone that we are not.
The first period of me experiencing fitting rather than belonging was in my early age, while I was still trying to understand myself, acknowledge my skills, talents and strengths, understand my values and therefore gain confidence in my own decisions. The second period was triggered by a major change in my life as it was not related only to my position, but the overall environment I was interacting with. I was learning and growing and needed to reinvent myself, revise my values, make sure I am true to myself and stay on track displaying my own authenticity.
There are many different examples that I can share based on my experience in trying to fit in, as well as many where I had experienced a sense of belonging, where I have been myself, my authentic self and have been performing to my full potential, feeling in complete alignment with my values and my purpose. I have developed valuable relationships and felt fully satisfied. Gaining more and more experience, growing and maturing, I discovered that it’s much easier and healthy for me and for everybody around me if I am authentic, open, vulnerable, transparent and direct.
For me this journey took time and efforts, I haven’t discussed it with peers neither have I searched for professional support in going through these challenging moments. But while going through my ICA studies, being presented with the various power tools and having the lovely opportunity to discuss my own power tool with a peer coach of mine, I came to the realization that I can use my experience, do some further reading and support other people in their efforts to be true to themselves, authentic, experience sense of belonging, be confident and act in compliance with their values. Or at least I can support them going through the fitting period much more easily, making it a meaningful learning experience.
And why not support my own daughter and son to be in their search for true belonging and help them define, further develop, grow and share with the world their own authentic selves. That’s how this power tool was brought to the table.
IV. Coaching application
The application of my power tool in a coaching session will allow to partner with the client raising his/hers awareness regarding their values, beliefs, strengths and therefore support them to gain an ultimate understanding of who they really are, i.e. their own authenticity. As a result, this will positively affect and extend their own sense of belonging firstly to themselves, to their communities, networks and relationships. This will allow the client to make a clear distinction between situations where they fit and where they belong and further take conscious decisions on how to approach those. This is to be achieved through the following steps:
our values identify and influence what we do, how we think and how we feel about the world around us. If we are in a fitting mode there might be as well conflict with our values, whereas on the other hand if we belong, feeling in alignment with our values we’re authentic and fulfilled. Gaining awareness about our own values is probably one of the most powerful steps towards authenticity. We can make choices and take actions in alignment with who we are and what matters most to us. In order to support the client to gain awareness regarding his/her own values, a formal exercise might be applied or an exploration through the following questions might be undertaken:
- What’s the one value that you would like to pass on to your children?
- What legacy do you want to leave?
- What do you stand for?
- I am curious to know about snapshots of your life that were really memorable when you were fully honouring what was most important to you. What made those?
- Recalling some challenging times in your life I am curious to hear what are the lessons you learned?
- I am wondering which song would you say is your favourite? What about it makes it special for you?
- I am curious to know about a time you felt passionate?
- What were the greatest lessons you learned so far?
- What are for example three intentions you have for your future?
- What is a purpose you feel called to fulfil?
beliefs are generally our own ideas or generalizations that we have made about the world. Those might be based on our experience, might be inherited or might be based on our knowledge and learning. Our beliefs are part of our inner structures: the things we have accepted and internalized for example from our partners, from the education we have gained and the system we have gone through, culture, economic turbulence we have experienced and in overall from general events in our lives. Beliefs put us in a framework, sometimes they might be related to various judgments and evaluations we make about ourselves and others. They underlie our motivation, feelings and actions. It’s important to recognize that we all have different beliefs some of which might be supporting and accelerating our performance, confidence, relationships, and some might be limiting us in achieving our full potential, being our best selves, being authentic. My goal as a coach is to capture any limiting beliefs during the coaching conversation and challenge those using some of the following questions:
- What stops you/what stands in your way?
- What would happen if you did/didn’t?
- How would you deal with it if you were man/Superman/had superpower?
- What would you do if …. depend on this?
- What’s the worst that could happen/the best/the most realistic?
- What would your (hero/inspiration person) do in this situation?
- What would you do if you knew you cannot fail?
- What would it be like if you could?
Answering these or similar questions helps the client to gain perspective over their limiting belief and recognize that he/she actually has a choice and there is potential for change. It provides further opportunities to work over the limiting belief and transform it into empowering belief.
when we are well aware of our strengths we can build our personal and professional life around them, be more successful and reach our goals in our unique and authentic way. Revealing our clients’ natural gifts and strengths will support them in connecting with mindlike people and contexts, where they feel praised, valued for who they are and for their unique and authentic strengths blend while boosting their sense of belonging. In order to support the client in this journey as coaches, we can use the Strengths Finder tool, a personal SWOT tool or (if possible) undertake a 360-degree survey. A different approach to supporting the client in identifying his or her own strengths is to use some of the questions suggested below.
- What are three of your greatest strengths?
- Tell me about some of the biggest challenges in your life? How did you overcome them?
- What do you like about yourself?
- What do you enjoy doing?
- What are some unusual skills you have?
- What are you proud of in your life?
- What do you get complimented on most?
until that point the client has already gained crucial awareness and clarity regarding his/her own self, who they are, what is important for them, is there anything that holds them back or helps them move forward. All of this awareness is a great confidence booster and can be further extended through the following questions:
- How does having all of that awareness makes you feel?
- How does having those strengths makes you feel?
- How can you extend those further?
- How do you plan to use those in your current situation?
- What can you trust yourself?
- How do you plan to grow further?
- How does it feel to have a growth mindset?
This power tool can be easily blended with my coaching model and further extend clients’ experience and satisfaction with coaching.
Being authentic is being free, it’s about being aware of yourself and being confident in making choices that are aligned with our values, purpose, talents and strengths. Supporting my clients to gain ultimate awareness on who they really are, accept themselves, acknowledge their strengths, gain confidence, will allow them to increasingly express that in the world, source more energy, easily handle life’s challenges, feel the sense of belonging and how they add value to the context they interact with.
But still, as coaches, we have to bear in mind that authenticity is not fixed. It grows, develops and reinvents along with our own development, experience, learning and growth. Therefore it is not a destination one arrives at, it’s an ongoing journey.
Front page image obtained from Pexels.com:
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