- What situation are you facing that you’re really not ready for?
- What part of you says that you should be ready?
- How might this situation, which you may not have welcomed, serve as a “training partner” for your development?
- And, while accepting that one can never be fully prepared, what steps can you now take towards readiness?
In Kenya, I met a remarkable woman named Judith. Perhaps in her mid-40’s, she lived on a small farm outside of Migori, in the far southeastern corner of the country. She and her husband served us a wonderful breakfast of corn, yams, eggs, avocado, and fruit, all grown on their shamba by the family.
A Quaker, deeply committed to healing and social justice, Judith was studying counseling at a local post-secondary school. Roughly equivalent to a technical school, these programs are rudimentary by US standards, but provide basic vocational training. After several months of Judith’s schooling, Kenya’s post-election violence erupted, wracking the countryside. Thousands were killed, injured, or “internally displaced.” As a new volunteer with few skills, Judith was suddenly counseling victims in refugee camps, including a woman who had carried the severed head of her husband in a plastic bag for days before arriving at the squalid camp with nothing at all.
How could anyone be prepared to support another human through this kind of horror? Certainly Judith’s rudimentary training could not have been sufficient to the task. Yet, there she was, simply being present and doing whatever she could to alleviate suffering.
Life often offers opportunities to rise to circumstances we are not prepared for. Honestly, who’s ready to be a parent? Or, to be married? To raise a child with special needs? To help out in Haiti after the earthquake? We only learn how to do extraordinary things by doing them.
This is not to say that rigorous preparation, practice, and study are not important, even critical, to leading a meaningful life that responds to the demands of the world. They are. However, many of our most raw and essential experiences are not anticipated, let alone invited. A set of circumstances shows up; something in us responds. In every moment of our lives, we do what we are able in the face of non-negotiable givens.
As most of you know, I'm in the midst of a significant crisis around my wife’s health. For myself, and most of the people I know, a lot is coming at us. We like to think we’re in charge. We are told to create a life of abundance according to some design that we map out. Yet, often the design chooses us and it is simply ours to listen, to be present, and to respond the best we are able. By all means, make plans and have dreams and take bold actions. Yes, even prepare and set intentions. And, hold it all lightly.
So, the next level of readiness is welcoming the unforeseeable, for it will surely show up anyway and you might as well see what it offers you. Hold your plans lightly, knowing that non-negotiable givens will always shape you and your life, calling you back from your plans to be present, over and over. Welcome being Not Ready, because none of us can ever be fully ready. Welcoming difficult surprises is welcoming the curriculum that life so abundantly offers all of us.
That is a stance of profound readiness.
Many of you, I’m sure, have already seen the great movie, The King’s Speech. It’s a terrific story, and should be required viewing for any coach.
Geoffrey Rush (as Lionel Logue, a speech therapist) coaches Colin Firth (as King George VI) through a severe speech impediment. In dark days, as the world slides towards war, the country needs a king who can inspire confidence. The stakes are high.
As King George’s voice therapist, Lionel addresses the whole person in working with a deeply rooted pattern that traditional approaches had not been able to touch. Lionel is wholly unorthodox, in a very orthodox culture. As coach, he:
- Insists on an authentic relationship, not taking the role (even of the King!) seriously, and constantly speaking to the authentic person within. Lionel speaks to the human, even calling His Royal Highness “Bertie.” Our roles in life provide a sense of identity that keep us safe and our world predictable, and that reinforce habits. Increased identification with a role often makes it harder to change; a coach challenges limiting assumptions associated with role in order to liberate a greater range of actions and behaviors.
- Takes a stand for possibility, consistently believing and showing confidence that the king can learn to speak clearly and smoothly. A coach holds the belief in the client’s potential, even when the client doesn't yet see the possibility.
- Makes strong requests to establish conditions for success. For example, the work will only be successful if it’s in Lionel’s workspace, and on a daily basis. The coach must insist that coaching be done in a way that can be successful. If the process is watered down in order to accommodate clients’ short term needs, they may not end up with the clients’ desired results. Everyone loses.
- Engages George’s body, working somatically by asking him to roll around on the floor, shake himself loose, and break his patterns of embodiment. Our habits are wired in our bodies: playing, singing, dancing, and changing rigidly held body shapes will nearly always reveal new possibilities.
- Impels him into self-observation. Lionel confronts George with evidence that his stammering isn’t as unconquerable as he always thought. The recording of himself eloquently reading Shakespeare astonishes him, as do moments of articulateness when Lionel goads him to anger. Moments of realization open the possibility of more substantive and permanent change, and build his trust and commitment to the process. When we find cracks in the monoliths of our stories, we are able to see, and expand, the exceptions to build something new.
- Insists that George practice new habits and new ways of doing things. The eccentric Lionel simply knows from experience what works, and insists that the King do his homework. Practice is the essence of creating sustainable change and growth. Neuroplasticity allows the changing of even deeply rooted behaviors and patterns of thought; practice is the key.
Ultimately, with any new behavior, we must put it in action. Quoting Yoda, “there is only do or not do. There is no try.” It is in the present moment that intentions and aspirations meet the world: the ideal meets the actual.
The terrific final scene, in which King George speaks to the entire British Empire (at that time, close to 1/3 of the planet’s population) is taut with tension, as the King’s capacity to go beyond his time-worn habit is tested in a grave moment. (By the way, I intend to use the sublime third movement of Beethoven’s 7th Symphony as a backdrop to all my dramatic coaching moments from here on out!)
There’s much to be seen here. If you saw the movie already, see it again with these distinctions in mind. If not, make it a priority. This is somatic, whole person coaching, done before the term was invented.
- What experiments could you try in your coaching, using distinctions from this film?
- How might you be a bolder stand for your clients?
- Where are you reluctant to make strong requests of your clients around conditions important for the success of coaching?
Please add your comments below... what other coaching elements or principles did you see Lionel doing that we can learn from?
In Presence-Based Coaching, we build an intimate, present-moment awareness of our habits and conditioned tendencies as they arise. We work with being present with ourselves, a capacity that has many benefits. These include a greater capacity for aliveness and authenticity, a greater ability to self-correct and to remain effective and resourceful no matter what’s going on around us. And, an ability to replace worn, unhelpful behaviors we learned many years ago in a different time of our lives with new, generative behaviors better suited to what we want to produce now.
As Ken Wilber writes, such “change is not a question of will. Will is necessary to cultivate awareness, but it often gets in the way of that kind of subtle, profound inner change. That kind of change is… more of an allowing, an opening.” I wrote more about creating the conditions for this kind of change in a recent post.
Sometimes, however, we need a different kind of accountability. We seek to drive behavior change more directly, focusing less on building the underlying awareness central to long term development. Here, the approach is simple and direct: we alter our motivational system to get us into action.
There is significant research showing that the possibility of an immediate negative consequence provides a greater motivation to change lifestyle habits than the longer term negatives or the obvious positive benefits. In other words, a person may have a higher chance of success at quitting smoking, exercising regularly, or losing weight by writing a check to an organization they abhor, to be mailed if they do not succeed in meeting their goal, than by counting on the inherent health benefits to provide motivation. Peter Singer’s article in Canada’s Globe and Mail national newspaper provides interesting examples.
Want to put teeth behind that New Year’s resolution? Check out StickK.com, a site that creates rigorous contracts with real consequences to motivate people to achieve their goals. The site was developed by behavioral economists at Yale, and provides a great free service for people seeking to make real changes in which they frequently sabotage themselves. You can set up any contract you wish, build structures for accountability for yourself, and design the consequences.
So, do you really want to change? Try it. I am.