Research Paper By Suzi Finkelstein
(Executive Coach, AUSTRALIA)
Who is Dr Adam Fraser?
Dr. Adam Fraser is a human performance researcher and consultant who studies how individuals and organisations adopt a high performance culture to thrive in this challenging and evolving business landscape.
As part of his practice that he set up in Australia, he does research whilst partnering with various Universities through Asia Pacific. His work closely follows how neuroscience and positive psychology can be used to improve work place performance.
He has worked with elite level athletes, the armed forces and business professionals of all levels. In the last 5 years he has delivered more than 600 presentations to over 50,000 people in Australia, New Zealand and Asia.
What work of Dr. Adam Fraser am I introducing?
Dr Adam Fraser authored a book entitled `The Third Space’ and launched it in 2012.
The book The Third Space describes the model that Dr Adam created in response to his client work. Whilst working with thousands of clients and hundreds of organisations dealing with the impact of stress and the challenge of work life balance, he recognized that there were barriers to functionality relating to the sense of feeling out of control.
Dr Adam aligned his work with national and global research including that done by Martin Seligman, concluding that depression rates have risen by a factor of ten in the last fifty years. Building on this, only seven per cent of the global population feel that they are thriving in the areas of their lives such as health, social life, career, finance and community.
According to the research, one of the reasons that people are struggling is that they are suffering from overload and feeling like they can’t get on top of tasks and responsibilities. As part of their busy lives, they undertake dozens of different roles and tasks; each one requires energy and focus. In a typical day, often without noticing, they blur the lines between the requirements from each one and they then overlap. Each component can be viewed as episodes. These episodes require moments of transition between one role or task and the next role or task.
Dr Adam’s research and the research he partnered with Deakin University showed that what people do in this transitional gap (The Third Space) has a huge impact on happiness, performance and balance. The research also showed that all too often they carry the mindset and emotional state from one activity to the next – leading to negative and occasionally disastrous consequences.
Why is The Third Space worth exploring?
This model has the capacity to not only impact coaching clients but also coaching sessions. Much of the work of coaches is to support their clients to function more effectively in all areas of their lives. Dealing with overload is a common theme in coaching sessions.
`Leadership is about the moments’.  Regardless of our intention, commitment and work ethic, we are viewed and ultimately judged by our actions and behavior. These ‘moments’ are like a barometer of how our inner world is travelling. When the load is manageable and attention is focused on the task at hand, decisions, reactions and actions can be considered and intentional. As leaders in different realms, these moments need to be managed. Creating a `space’ between these moments and learning to use this `space’ in a restorative manner can be pivotal in improving not only a leadership presence but also in creating sustainable energy and focus.
The Third Space provides an opportunity to `check in’ on how one is doing, both to check the `inner pulse’ as well as the external focus. The `inner pulse’ refers to the awareness of the emotional state, including mood and the state of mental wellbeing. The external focus is creating awareness of tasks both achieved and scheduled.
In coaching sessions, another area that often requires focus is that of sustainability, particularly energy maintenance. Many clients complain of the symptoms related to burn out, including exhaustion, feelings of over load, low immunity, sleep deprivation, muscle fatigue and debilitating spasms. The Third Space, provides an opportunity to rest and rejuvenate before embarking on the next activity. By having this space, one can also increase awareness of the physiology that needs attention. This maybe in the form of back-stretches, hydration, journaling or even a coaching conversation.
What is the `third space’?
Before exploring what the elements of The Third Space entail, we need to understand what the first and second spaces are.
The first and second space refers to our daily string of commitments and the tasks and the roles that they require. These tasks may not always require us to step into a different role, but they require focus and attention. Often the tasks and roles required for the second space are negatively impacted by the remnants of the first space. A relatable example of this is attending back-to-back meetings. We are engaged, focused and consumed by the content, ramifications and the impact of meeting number one, we then shift ourselves to attend meeting number two. These meetings may be in the same room or even with the same people but they still require a different focus and attention. What happens between these meetings? We often find the conversation from the last meeting carries over into the next. Even if you are lucky enough to have the second meeting in a separate location and you are able to commute to it on your own, your thoughts most often are consumed by the last meeting or immediately switch over to the preparation and expectation of the next meeting.
The second space could also refer to a different role, such as being a parent, sibling or partner. When we transition from worker to family member, we often don’t have the space to calibrate for the new role. Driving home from work, we can be distracted with the reflections of the day or the required tasks ahead. We then open the door on arrival at home and our attention is required front and center with the present role. This may even happen sooner, if the commute is interrupted by calls or requests for immediate attention. When we are at home, our attention and presence is required but we may be still consumed or distracted with work responsibilities. This is exacerbated with digital contact, such as emails, texts or phone calls. These contacts require us to revisit this first space, attending to the needs of that space rather than being fully present in our second space.
This second space has an imprint of our thoughts and emotions that we carry from our first space, ultimately; we are actually juggling two spaces. This can cause reactions that are confused and even destructive. This imprint often causes fatigue, as this juggling of the two spaces can be exhausting. We are unable to catch our breath, reflect and experience closure from one role because we are consumed by another role.
Dr Adam refers to these roles and tasks as spaces. We spend our day transitioning from these different `spaces’. The `first space’ is what you are in right now; the `second space’ is the environment, role, task that you are about to transition into. `The Third Space’ is what is in between these two spaces. Usually there actually isn’t a `Third Space’ because we haven’t the time or the intention to create the space between.
As part of this model, Dr Adam has provided detail of what is involved in this `Third Space’. As explained, it is the space between the first and second space. Usually this space doesn’t exist, as we run from one to the other. By practicing this model, we now have the intention to create a buffer between these spaces. In order to transition to the second space in a healthy and strong manner, `The Third Space’ must provide the opportunity to replenish and reset.
The three phases of `The Third Space’ are:
Reflect – How do I interpret what just happened to me in the first space?
This is the time when we check in with ourselves on a physical, emotional and intellectual level. At this point, we can sense how we are travelling. It is similar to a debrief with yourself, digesting the experience and the significant reactions and noticing the impact that it left on you. To reflect on any questions unanswered, regrets and misgivings. This is also the time to raise awareness on any lessons learnt.
At this point it is important that there is recognition and acknowledgement of any achievements. A powerful question here is simply `what went well?’ This step embraces the data supporting the use of positive psychology. This informs the other aspect of this step `what story will I tell myself?’ If we are in a positive mindset, then we are able to create a story that supports and even nurtures our wellbeing.
Rest – Can I be still and present? Can I turn off and relax?
This phase ensures that we don’t burn out, that we are able to recover from stressful, exhausting events and replenish. By following the first phase, we are now aware of the impact on our body from the first space. We have `checked in’ on our biological and emotional needs and in this phase, we can take a moment to respond to these needs. This phase may take the form of meditation, rest, food, a walk or simply taking some deep belly breaths. Just by slowing down the breath you engage your parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes a calm and relaxed state. Our body then has the opportunity to restore a thinking space so that it can be released from the activity that it has responded to in the first space and move into the next space with increased capacity.
Reset – How will I show up?
This phase requires us to take stock of what is needed in the second space. What skills, attributes, focus is required to create a satisfying and successful result? This phase sets us up for success, how we can move into the terrain of mastery, and what is needed for this to happen. Considerations are around who can assist and how much time is needed to explore and prepare adequately. This is where we set ourselves up for success. Often, we realize at this time, that we have all that is needed.
Using `The Third Space’ as a coaching tool
Often issues surrounding conflict are brought to the coaching session; this conflict can present itself as inner or external conflict. Inner conflict may be experienced by a challenging internal dialogue or being a recipient of a negative inner critic. External conflict could result as values are being challenged or difficult conversations aren’t well managed.
The client may share a situation where they responded to a situation or a conversation in an unhelpful way. As the client reflects on their role in this dilemma they become increasingly aware of their unconstructive reaction. We often hear, `if only I had time to reflect and respond, I would have handled this differently’.
This tool can be shared with clients as a ` just in time’ tool, enabling them to be more present and focused with their challenges and opportunities.
Creating a `Third Space’ in the coaching session
This model can be a metaphor for the work done in coaching. The coaching session can be set up as a `Third Space’. The coaching session can be the space between the first space, what our client has just left and the second space, where our client is going to after the session.
This `Third Space’ is the time to firstly check in with what is on our client’s plate, reflect on what has been achieved and what needs attention. To then take some time and explore what is required, perhaps experience by shifting energy. By removing our clients from their `busyness’ and enabling them to step back and switch gears, they are able to take a rest.
Finally, we have the opportunity to support our clients to reset, ensuring they have the awareness and support to `show up’ being their strongest version of themselves. We are enabling and empowering our clients to be their strongest selves…
` The Third Space
Using life’s little transitions to find balances and happiness’.
Seligman, M., Authentic Happiness, Random House, Sydney 2002
Harter, J. & Rath, T., Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements, Gallup Press, New York, 2010
Fraser, A. The Third Space, Random House, Sydney 2012
 Seligman, M., Authentic Happiness, Random House, Sydney 2002
 Harter, J. & Rath, T., Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements, Gallup Press, New York, 2010
 Lundin, S., The Third Space, Random House, Sydney 2012