Research Paper By Athina Tsellou
(Health & Wellness Coach, GREECE)
If it is not right, do not do it, if it is not true, do not say it – Marcus Aurelius
Pieces everywhere…, pieces of tools, pieces of wisdom, pieces of new perspectives, and me in the middle trying to sort out the puzzle. Every theory when examined makes sense, every practice a new revelation of what is working best but I was missing the “glue” in between. I followed the strategy of giving time to myself to digest and embody the new info. Then I noticed what talks to my heart and my temperament. I studied around it. I enjoyed every minute. I coached myself every time I was losing track. And somewhere there my philosopher-coach was born. Let me introduce him to you…
The Principles of Stoicism that our philosopher follows:
- Live with Virtue (Arete): Express our highest self in every moment. If we want to be on good terms with our highest self, we need to close the gap between what we’re capable of and what we’re actually doing. This is really about being our best version in the here and now. It’s about using reason in our actions and living in harmony with deep values. Striving for character traits like wisdom, justice, courage, and self-discipline which constitute Virtue as an all-in-one package.
- Focus on What You Control: This is the most prominent principle in Stoicism. The Serenity Prayer, a prayer used by Alcoholics Anonymous and other recovery communities, is basically the idea applied in practice:
“God, grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change, The Courage to change the things I can, and the Wisdom to know the difference.” In our lives some things are up to us, other things are not— it is really about the recognition of three levels of influence we have over the world:
- High influence: Our choices in judgments and actions
- Partial influence: Health, wealth, relationships, and outcomes of our behaviors
- No influence: Weather, ethnicity, and most external circumstances
In any case according to Stoics we better focus on the process that we lead and not the desired outcome which may be out of our control. Also by accepting reality as it comes and not resisting in vain to it we save valuable psychological energy and prevent ourselves from suffering. So no matter the situation, it’s always within our power to try to make the best with it and to live in harmony with our ideal self.
- Take Responsibility: Good and bad come solely from ourselves. This follows the first two cornel's that say external things don’t matter for the good life, so living with arete, which is within your control, is enough to flourish in life. Also, you’re responsible for your life because every external event you don’t control offers an area you can control, namely how you choose to respond to this event. This is crucial in Stoicism, it’s not events that make us happy or miserable, but our interpretation of those events. This is when a tower of strength can be born—the moment you decide to give outside events no more power over you.
The life purpose:
Using these principles as guidelines the ultimate goal of our philosopher is “eudaimonia”.
This greek word means to become good (EU) with your inner daemon (an inner spirit or divine spark). In other words… live in harmony with our highest self.
Happiness seems pretty doable, right? For the Stoics, it only consists of how we respond to events, and what we make of them. Aligning our actions with virtue is sufficient (but also necessary) for a happy and smoothly flowing life. So what happens? Why don’t we all get there with a snap of the fingers?
Life gets in the way. Reality erects itself in front of us; it catches us by surprise, seems overwhelming, causes fear, insecurity, anger, and grief, and makes us want to run away and hide. Things are tougher than we thought, and they happen differently than we expected and wished for, and we’re struggling to deal with them effectively, or even to accept them in the first place. But wait! Stoicism teaches that external events do not matter and that we must get any good from ourselves. It only seems that life gets in the way; in reality, it’s our negative emotions that get in the way. These intense emotions conquer our mind, actually, our whole being, make it impossible to think clearly and urge us to do the opposite of what we think is right.
Once our mind has been captured by negative emotions, or passions as the Stoics call them, such as irrational fear, grief, anger, or greed, these passions take over, and we react impulsively without being able to think about it.
To answer this question we need to define CBT first.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a psychotherapeutic approach that addresses dysfunctional emotions, behaviors, and cognitions through a goal-oriented, systematic process. The name refers to behavior therapy, cognitive therapy, and therapy based upon a combination of basic behavioral and cognitive research. Wikipedia Entry
The two pioneers of CBT, Albert Ellis (Rational-Emotive Behavioural Therapy) and Aaron Beck (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), shared the view that most emotional problems arise from faulty thinking and that the remedy is found in correcting maladaptive thinking which leads to change in effect and behavior. Both approaches concentrate on present problems and present thinking, in contrast to the earlier forms of psychotherapy. They provide specific tools, models, and methods to support us apply Cognition in our everyday life in a way that serves our goals.
That was the main trigger for our Stoic. After all, what is the use of philosophy if we do not live aligned to it?
The ABCDE model:
People are disturbed not by things but by their view of things, Epictetus
This quote can be conceptualized by the ABCDE model of psychological problem solving (Ellis and MacLaren, 1998)
A B C D E
Activating Event Belief Consequences Disputation New Effect
- Activating Event/Situation: Stage 1 involves a triggering event that can be formulated in a situational (objective description of the situation) and critical way (subjective account of the most troubling aspect of the situation
Example: I hesitate to work as a coach. (Situational)
I am not working as a coach because I will probably fail. (Critical)
- Beliefs: In stage 2 we recognize self-limiting/defeating beliefs triggered by the critical A
Example: I must be certain I will be successful as a coach before I make a decision.
- Consequences: The emotional effect of the belief
Example: Feeling anxious. Procrastinating about making a decision. Continual tension, making excuses for inaction.
- Disputation: Setting the belief under discussion to discern if it is true or not. In specific we answer the following questions:
Is this belief rigid or flexible?
Does this belief make sense or not? (Logical or not?)
Is it consistent with reality or not? (Realistic or not)
Is keeping this belief helpful: are the costs greater than the benefits?
Example: My belief is rigid as it gives me no options to pursue. It doesn’t make any sense waiting for something to happen without doing anything about it. It is unrealistic to believe that I will get of bed in the morning only if I know in advance how the day will end. My belief is definitely don’t helping me achieve my goal.
- New Effect: The disputation has turned the irrational belief into a rational belief, and now we have healthier consequences of our belief as a result.
Example: I will take the risk even if it fails rather than not take the risk and deeply regret it. I will focus on doing my best to work as a coach.
As shown by the ABCDE model the beliefs we hold tend to affect our emotional state and influence the way we tend to act (or not act as in the example above). In other words: you feel as you think (Burns, 1981; Dryden and Gordon, 1991).
The most important of all is that whatever happens is our choice. It is in our power to question our beliefs and choose accordingly.
Under the umbrella of coaching:
The third piece of the puzzle is Coaching. Space where the philosophy meets the method to make a change. Space where Virtue takes shape and life purpose is fulfilled.
The International Coach Federation (ICF) defines coaching as ‘partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.’
The underlying philosophy behind coaching is that we are resourceful and creative with energy, wisdom, ability, and genius waiting to be set in motion. We can create the life we want faster and more easily by partnering with a coach who helps us utilize these resources to facilitate change and realize our potential.
So how can our philosopher wear the hat of the coach and at the same time use a psychometric tool in the most effective way?
- Focus on non-clinical problems and challenges, an emphasis on the enhancement of wellbeing (rather than a diminution in ill-being).
- Concentrate on the here and now rather than the past. Work under a certain structure and pre-define the frequency and number of sessions.
- Combine the skills from Socratic questioning with powerful questioning while drilling down to the deepest thoughts of the client. In this way, while using the ABCDE model to pursue the personal meaning of the automatic, emotionally-charged thought, the coach has multiple tools of questioning and helps the client reveal layers of thought until an underlying belief is the located-the cognitive source of the coachee’s strong emotion. The same follows the questioning of the belief itself. The coach should be very careful while implementing this combination of questioning and provide at the same time a space of trust and acceptance because this constant digging inside is quite harsh and needs to be done delicately.
Poor implementation of the model might include rapid-fire questioning which convinces the client he is in a courtroom instead of a coaching session, and the coach acting in a superior way by appearing to have all the answers (the client is put in the subordinate role of being an audience for the coach’s ‘wisdom’).
- The coach is the partner who is recognizing the distorted thinking and interrupts the vicious circles of the mind through powerful questioning. Some of the common distortions (also known as thinking traps) usually hide behind specific words or expressions that alarm the listening skills of our coach to check for possible underlying beliefs.
- Shoulds and musts: these are usually in the form of rigid rules of living that we impose on ourselves, others, and/or life (e.g. ‘I must never show any weaknesses’; ‘You should always give me what I want’; ‘I must not have too much pressure in my life’). The alternative to rigid rules is flexible ones which allow you to acknowledge and act by the reality that yourself, others, and/or the world rarely fit with how things must or should be.
- Emotional reasoning: we believe something is true because we feel it strongly, e.g. ‘I feel like a failure, so I must be one’. Feelings are not facts or reflect objective reality; so it is important to examine evidence dispassionately to arrive at an accurate assessment of the situation, e.g. ‘It is true that I’ve had some recent failures but they don’t make me a failure as a person. The part does not define the whole.’
- Generalized Hypothesis: If I don’t manage to keep myself calm then I am not a good parent. These statements are also like red lights for the coach who will dig in with questions to support a possible awareness.
Example of coaching using the ABCDE model around procrastination:
Coach: What’s on your mind today?
Client: Well, I have a problem with some assignments I need to complete my studies and I constantly procrastinate them.
Coach: I see… What makes it a challenge for you to manage this issue by yourself?
Client: I cannot deal with it by myself. Everything I tried in the past to solve this problem didn’t work. I tried to put deadlines, I write them down on papers not to forget, I try to schedule them but still, I cannot motivate myself and then I lose time and get anxious…
Coach: You mentioned all these obstacles and difficulties. What positive might be there?
Client: Hmmm, only the feeling I will have when I finish with them. As I think of myself having done all this paperwork. I feel really relieved and proud of myself…
Coach: Let’s keep this feeling you expect after completion and move on. What else makes it meaningful for you to stop procrastinating this paperwork?
Client: It is an economical issue as well. The more I procrastinate finishing them the more money I have to pay for my course and I cannot afford this.
Coach: What will be different for you by the end of our session if you manage this issue of procrastination?
Client: I don’t know… Maybe I will be more motivated to start working on them. Because deeply I know that if I make the first step then it will be easier for me.
Coach: Good to know what works better for you. Where would you like to start with to move forward?
Client: Hmmm… maybe I should set a date and specific time like all normal people do.
Coach: You should… according to whom?
Client: I don’t know. In general, I am a well-organized person and I deliver things on time. With these papers that I have to write something is happening and I cannot spend a minute on them.
Coach: What might be there for you?
Client: Probably I don’t find them interesting. The subject I have chosen a few months ago to work on was exciting at the moment but now it seems pretty boring and unattractive.
Coach: What options do you have around that?
Client: Options? No! I am not changing the topic now. It took me ages to make my mind about it in the first place and I am not willing to go through this procedure again…
Coach: And if you go again through this procedure then what?
Client: Then I would feel helpless and that I have no options.
Coach: What does this mean about you, to feel helpless and with no options?
Client: That I am not creative. Yes, that’s it. I am not the most creative person you will meet.
Coach: How does this belief serve with your papers?
Client: It doesn’t. On the contrary, it blocks me a lot.
Coach: Is it true that you are not creative?
Client: No. Now that I’m thinking about it I have done a lot of things in my life that needed a lot of creativity from my side. Especially in my work.
Coach: How can you use this to move forward?
Client: I guess, I can believe in myself and rethink the topic of my papers. I can make new research and go for something that interests me and motivates me to dedicate my time to it.
In the above example, the client was bringing an issue of procrastinating some paperwork for his\her studies. After setting a clear agreement around the outcome of the session the coach uses the ABCDE model to find the dysfunctional belief and support the client to find a new outlook that serves more the original outcome.
Every tool that can help is accepted. Every change that moves us forward is welcome. Every action that takes us closer to our purpose is progress. After all, we are so alike…
Human Family (Part of a poem by Maya Angelou)
I note the obvious differences in the human family.
Some of us are serious, some thrive on comedy.
Some declare their lives are lived as true profundity,
and others claim they really live the real reality.
We are more alike, my friends than we are unalike.
We are more alike, my friends than we are unalike.
“The Philosophy of Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT)” by Donald Robertson
“From Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) to Cognitive Behaviour Coaching (CBC)” – Article by Michael Neenan
“Cognitive Behavioural Therapy” by Michael Neenan and Windy Dryden
“Life Coaching, A Cognitive-Behavioural Approach” by Michael Neenan and Windy Dryden