How to optimise coaching: Do the work and you double the reward!
The skill of the coach is knowing the areas you need development, and giving you the ways in which you can unlock and grow that potential. During sessions, I work through exercises with clients, I pull at threads in the course of discussion to open their awareness of other possibilities and interpretations, and I follow up with a summary of what we discussed so that they can reflect on those points in their own time. I also ask them to start a journal when they start sessions, so that they can write down any insights or questions - and they have somewhere to do the "in session" work too.
Within an hour, we can address quite a lot, and definitely that session - even if you do little else - will help you "sweat the small stuff" a little better. It's a bit like fitness coaching - do the 1 hour workout and it's better than nothing but if you want the real results, you need to do more between sessions. (It's why I check in with clients as well.)
I actually give the same talk during induction week at university - experts are there to guide, to use their skill in identifying what you need to succeed and pointing you in the direction - but then you have to do the rest. If you only do what the lectures offer, you'll get the average pass, if you have natural talent in the field - more than average, but if you work in your own time too - that's the $1m action (more if you have a natural affinity AND add work to that!) I've never turned away a student who has asked me "What MORE can I do?"...not least because they help me grow - they push me to work harder to better support them!
The way I see it, when it comes to coaching in particular - if you're already setting aside the time and cost to have the session, optimise the outcome by doing the things I suggest - and - like the student who "asks for more" - if you tell me "This isn't working, what else can I do?" I will happily delve into my bag of tricks and suggest other options, delighted that you tried it to know that doesn't suit.
Too often people fall into the trap of thinking "I need time to sort my head out". They then take time, and without a plan, or an aim, they feel better after a couple of days' rest, but little in them has changed. But, because they've stuck a plaster over the wound, they think "I'm ok now, I can get on with it"...they are back to old habits and so the cycle begins.
I'm all for taking time out, but only if you know what you are going to do with it...and "sorting my head out" isn't actually specific enough.
So here are my favourite two exercises for before you take time out:
1. The vision board
Be clear on what your goals are by creating a vision board of your ideal life - or whatever it is you are taking the time out to achieve. Vision boards are a collage of images which serve to keep you focused on what you want, and when you know what that is, you can outline the steps you need to take to get there - then do them when you have that time.
2. "Time Machine" thought experiment
I love this little visualisation - it can be used in addition to or as an alternative to the vision board. Think into the future and see yourself living your ideal life. Be clear on what it looks like, who is in the picture, where you are, what you are doing - and so on. (The more detailed the better). Then allow "future you" to give "current you" a few pieces of advice:
- What did they do in order to get there
- What is the first step
...and then start doing it.
Bear in mind that if you have sought coaching or support before taking time out, this is not there to give you solutions. It is foremostly to build your inner reserve to know that although taking the steps to achieve the "ideal" or fulfil your vision will be tough and may be met with hurdles, you have the strength to be able to ride these "big decisions" - which will ultimately make you more fulfilled than simply coping with the "smaller stuff".
When those hurdles arise, you also need a plan to cope so this is where it helps to:
3. Know the "Bottom line"
What do you need to survive. When it comes to something like a change of career, or perhaps a change in relationship status, you will have a "Bottom line" - usually financial - the amount you need to be OK - and thus not panic. Making changes will be stressful anyway, add to that the anxiety of "How can I pay rent next month" and you may be halfway through a potentially transformational change and the fear will have you rushing into the first opportunity that comes your way, even if it isn't the right one...and after the initial honeymoon period, the same cycle starts again.
So, know your bottom line and have the plan in place to ensure you are meeting it at all times. (For me, it is a second stream of income, so I can pursue my goal of writing and speaking/presenting full time).
4. Work out the root of common issues
Instead of asking yourself (or indeed me as a coach) "How do I cope when I get overwhelmed"? Ask yourself what causes you to become overwhelmed in the first place. Find out why you might be taking on so much work/the problems of others/trying to save lost souls - work out what it is you are trying to achieve. Most often it is not something that you will be able to get from anyone else, you need to be able to generate it for yourself.
This is partly why I ask for a reflective journal. I don't expect the "root" to come through one session, it'll most likely come only when you start reflecting on your circular issues (the ones that keep returning).
5. Recognise your anxiety triggers
For a longer discussion on "emotional tilt", please see this article, but keep a note of the signs you are getting stressed, and what causes it. The moment we let emotions take over we are apt to act rashly - this may mean rebounding back into a relationship we are trying to leave, or deciding to stay in a job that we know isn't good for our health or our "ideal life", therefore knowing when you are "on the edge" and having a way of restoring your balance, is greatly useful. Some of my clients watch a motivational TED talk when they are angry with work; others go for a walk to refocus. Whatever you choose make sure it is a healthy option - self soothing with alcohol or comfort eating may cause all kinds of other problems.
Finally, while I work with the mind, I always advocate the importance of physical health. This is as much because a physical ailment can have mental and emotional repercussions, but if you do wear yourself out, even if you "want" and maybe feel "in the right mindset" to achiee your goals - if your body has already said "no", you're going to have an enforced wait. So:
6. Conduct a health audit once in a while
- Physical health
This is being aware of your sleeping and eating patterns and their regularity, as well as dealing with any physical complaints such as backache...it may be an ache now, don't let it get worse.
- Social health
You will need energising and supportive people around you, so make sure that your life is full of those who stoke your fire rather than dampen it.
- Financial health
Keep an eye on your income and outgoings - you may need those "rainy day" savings, or pehaps need to change your expenditure, so be aware of what you have and where it is going.
Everything you do is optimal when it moves you towards your ideal life. But, as you can see - with all of the above, while one session (or even reading this!) may help because you know it, you still need to work with it regularly for results.
Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and author. Listen to her podcast Retrain Your Brain here; watch her psychology & coaching masterclasses on YouTube Or catch her hosting Psych Back to Basics on DisruptiveTV where she and her team discuss how psychology affects our behaviours in the workplace and what we can do about it. Follow her on Twitter/IG @draudreyt