Friday, December 30, 2011

Integrity and resolutions

What do you think of when you think of integrity? Chances are, you think of someone who walks the talk, someone who keeps their promises, someone who follows through.

When you think of integrity, you think of behaving in a way that is consistent with what your best self wants.

Now think of resolutions, of the promises you could make to others or yourself about how 2012 will be different from 2011.  Did a number of objections quickly spring to mind about how resolutions are different than promises and about how much of what went wrong in 2011 wasn't really within your control?  That voice makes itself heard inside my head, too.

Integrity is about discovering enough of yourself so that you (and other people) can predict your responses especially when the world is outside your control.  If you think about yourself, with honesty and without judgment, you'll know that more is possible and that not everything is possible.

Now ask yourself: what kind of promises could I make myself that I would keep because they would be both useful and consistent with who I am and how I think at my best? And then ask yourself: which of these resolutions would it be useful to share so that I can see my choices reflected around me?

I am going to continue to work at my yoga practice in 2011: to get to the studio at least twice or three times a week, and to make time and space to practice at home at least one or two more days a week.  I am going to tell myself that I have what it takes to become stronger, more flexible, more balanced and more in tune with the best me.

Now you know. I'm not just going to work hard to bring you the best material: I'm going to practice intentionally to be the best self bringing you the best material in 2012.

Your turn now.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Two kinds of perfect

This post is about two things: looking back at three people who had a powerful, positive impact on me this year and looking out at two different ways to think about excellence.  We will pretend that this blog is about yoga (but you will know it is really about much more).

After being intrigued by yoga for many, many years, 2011 was the year I began to practice.  I began to practice at a time that was troubled and stressful and difficult, and things got worse before they got better. Through the guidance of my gifted yoga teachers, I began a practice that mostly kept my head and heart and body balanced and moving forward.  So this is a shout out to Denise and Joe  and Jesse for their gentle, positive, persistent approach to moving me forward and bringing me back - to the yoga studio and to my better self.  Thank you.

Today,  a conversation with Denise (and then with Jesse) got me thinking about what I value most about my yoga teachers.  I have experienced about twenty teachers over the past year.  All of them have a strong sense of how to do yoga and a strong commitment to having people do it right. They sometimes use similar language to talk about what they are doing.  But there are two fundamentally different ways to define what it means to do yoga right.

In one understanding, there is an ideal way to do each pose or movement, and people are working toward more perfect demonstrations of that ideal.  This means that everybody is more or less wrong all of the time, and most people in the classes I attend are always going to be a long way away from the "right" way to do the pose.  Within this understanding, a teacher might say to pay attention to your own body, that yoga is a practice that belongs to each individual.  But they are also implying that you have to adapt to being imperfect. They correct mistakes or suggest adaptations that wouldn't be necessary in a perfect world or for a perfect yogi.

There is a different way of understanding.  It's possible to see yoga as a natural way for each body to find the stretch, strength and balance it needs for a more satisfying life.  In this version, the poses are like pathways that have helped other people to reach those goals.  Your body finds its way into a pose, and then explores what difference changes would make.  Your teacher isn't the pose police, defending yoga against your imperfection.  Your teacher is a guide who knows the territory and can suggest different ways to explore.  When one of these teachers adjusts your pose, it is not because you are wrong. It is because the adjustment will open up a new set of sensations and choices. Excellence for them means connecting the student to the practice in a way that opens up energy and focus.

I wonder how many teachers believe that what they are doing is working with natural balance, strength and focus. I wonder how many understand their role as "tweaking" (it's Denise's word) the way that a student combines their will and strength and personality with something outside themselves. I wonder what would change if every teacher believed that "tweaking" that relationship would inevitably lead to more precision, better results and greater skill.

Think about any activity you have learned to do with both competence and enjoyment. Now allow yourself to notice what changes when all your energy and focus is on exploring what else is possible when you make small differences in perspective or technique.  What would life be like in 2012 if you didn't worry about being wrong and you didn't have to think someone else was wrong to lead them to be better?

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Coaching congruence

One of the trickiest issues in coaching must be the problem of "making" people want what they should want.  It comes up in two ways.  One is that the person who hires the coach has a goal for the person being coached.  The other is that the person being coached has a goal that they don't entirely like or want. In both cases, the question asked is: "can you help someone become congruent about something?"


The first question is: how will you know it is safe to help someone overcome internal objections to a goal? Incongruence (feeling pulled in different directions when you think about something) is a message from your whole self to your thinking self.  The message is: "there's something not quite right here."

If your whole self were always accurate, then it would be easy to say that coaches should direct people to places where they are congruent - not help them to overcome their own safety signals.  But your whole self is not always right. Sometimes it has been primed (by suggestions in the external world or by anchors in your own experience) to be afraid or limited in situations that are not unsafe.  At the extreme, for instance, people with OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) seem to have permanent alarm bells going off, even when there is no reason for alarm.

There are situations where incongruence is, itself, dangerous.  This is obviously true in dramatic situations where someone's life depends on doing the right thing quickly. It is also obvious to most people that incongruence can be dangerous in all kinds of relationships - inconsistency creates uncertainty in other people, and that can snowball.  So there are also situations where the desire to become more congruent is a desire to be safe.

Even when we think we know, we do not know the difference between incongruence that keeps us safe and incongruence that puts us in jeopardy.  We do know that incongruence is stressful and takes energy away from solving problems.  We do know that incongruence means that there are other places that need our energy.

So we can reframe the problem this way:  how can a coach best support you in becoming congruent enough to decide what you want?  An outside perspective can prime your attention to move to the places where you already know the answers. A coach can offer support and reinforcement for the process by which you become congruent, separate from the context of the goal. When you are congruently relaxed and focused, you will know what to change to move forward safely.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Should you see a coach or a therapist?

As someone who works in supporting and managing change, I work with several wonderful people to support my own development and performance.  Some are advisors (they help me think through business decisions), and one is a business coach (he helps me think through how my own state impacts my business).  The other is harder to define.

Kathleen Milligan works with EFT, hypnosis, NLP and some Kathleen Milligan magic to help her clients reach inside and find what they need to behave differently.  Usually, she identifies herself as a therapist.  Usually, I call her my coach - maybe to avoid the therapy label, but mostly so that people will understand that I get tangible, practical results from my sessions with her.  Let's look at the assumptions that sit underneath the words to see what new information we can find about choosing a coach or therapist.

What is a coach?
The International Coaching 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."

Dictionaries lag behind practice: they still mostly identify coaches as people who train others for athletic or academic performance.

What is a therapist?
Trying to find a concise, comprehensive and accurate definition of psychotherapy is a fool's errand.  There is no such thing.  There are common elements among many different definitions: the idea that therapists apply a model or methodology to solve psychological problems; the idea that people who need therapy are irrational, stuck or unhappy; the idea that therapists treat disorders.

So. . . a therapist is someone you see because you have a problem and a coach is someone you see because you have a goal.  If you know what you want - find a coach.  If you know what you don't want - find a therapist.

Except that - as a coach, you will often find that the thing that people need to move toward their goal is to revisit and reframe old patterns.  That sounds suspiciously like therapy.  And as a therapist, you find that the shortest route to healing is often to identify a goal compelling enough to motivate healing.

People are complicated.  In my own set of assumptions, Kathleen crosses the line between coaching and therapy when she takes me underneath what I know to be a problem and allows me to revisit a deeper, unhappy motivation that shifts because of her presence and with the support of her techniques.  When we discover hurts or problems, we address them together and that feels therapeutic.

At other times, Kathleen helps me access the focus and resources I need to move toward a goal that I want.  That feels like coaching: I know it works because I see tangible progress towards the goal or I switch direction to a goal that feels stronger and more compelling.

Both coaching and therapy are relationships - and relationships often exist over time.  If you are looking for a one-session fix to a problem, then it will probably be clear whether you need a therapist or a coach. If you are looking for a longer term relationship with someone whose methods and perspective can alternately support you and push you, then you will need to think carefully about the coach or therapist you choose.

I'm lucky - Kathleen is very good in both roles. As a therapist, she solves problems by uncovering resourcefulness and strength in her clients. As a coach, she is an acute observer with an incredibly accurate BS detector - she knows when I am congruent about my goals and plans and she calls me on it when I'm not.  So, whatever the label, I am always glad I invested in a session with her.

Yes, I am a very good change agent. That's exactly why I know when the perspective, presence and skills of someone else will move me forward faster than I could move alone.  I am lucky and I have also used all my skills to identify the support people who offer what I need to live and work better.