Every so often I have these moments. It feels like a loss of focus, it gives rise to a dip in confidence, and an anxiety that the ‘clarity’ I had been experiencing has drifted away, perhaps never to return. As a coach, trainer and consultant I convince myself that I ‘need’ a solid and reliable platform from which to operate successfully. A base where I feel reassured by my own purpose. How, after all, can I be fully effective in what I do if I am seeking clarity as much, if not more, than my clients?
In these periods, my go-to instinct is to read. To read and re-read passages from books that have in the past provided me with light-bulb moments. Flashes of light that put everything into perspective and allow me to get back on an even keel.
But this week it just wasn’t happening. I was scanning some of my favourite books and papers. Writers and commentators who have filled me with inspiration and energy. I was looking for the theory, or model, or piece of latest brain research that would sort me out. And then, just as I was getting desperate, and thinking that my ‘mojo’ had departed me, I started to scan some of the highlights I had made, many years ago, in a book that I read when I was first in training. Tim Gallwey’s “Inner Game of Work”.
And then the words jumped out of the page at me. “We get in our own way.”
That was it. That was all I was looking for. It was exactly what I was doing as I suffered my dip in focus. I was simply getting in my own way.
When I work with individuals or teams, we may spend time exploring, discovering, examining values, beliefs and strengths, but it usually boils down to what they are doing or not doing, thinking or not thinking, that is getting in the way of them performing, achieving or simply being as they would like to be.
Tim Gallwey entered the world of business coaching from the arena of sports coaching. He learned from hard experience that the biggest barrier people face is overcoming their own inner voice. The one that judges and criticises. It may mean well, but it undermines and blocks effective learning and improvement. To make matters worse, it often works in tandem with the external voice of the sports coach, who directs and instructs the athlete on how to correct their errors. Gallwey came to realise that, as a coach, the best thing he could do for his athlete was to get them to just observe and notice what is happening now without polluting their mind with instructions about what needs fixed. To be absolutely present and in the moment, removing concerns about past performance or anxiety about performing in the future. In other words, getting their inner voice out of their own way. This state is often described as being ‘in flow’.
Athletes who perform at their absolute best, often report afterwards that they had a very clear mind, one not cluttered with instructions, doubts, regrets or concerns. In fact, they sometimes claim to have experienced time slowing down, to have seen the ball bigger, and sometimes even something akin to an out-of-body experience.
Being in ‘Flow’ is a mental state of perfect balance, and is used by many to describe what it means to be at our most happy and content, our optimal place; neither anxious because the task is too difficult nor bored because we are not being stretched enough. It requires us to silence our inner critics and demons and to be completely at one with our current task.
So, how do we get out of our own way and allow ourselves to flourish?
- First of all, having an awareness of what is happening within us is required. Acknowledge and recognise the inner voice, the critic within us. Give it a name if it helps. Some people think of it as a naughty gremlin, others as a mischievous chimp. Whatever works for you is fine.
- Avoid judging and criticising. Replace these twin enemies with observing and noticing.
- Be prepared to try less hard. Trying harder and harder is rarely the answer. Being kinder to yourself and opening yourself up to just noticing what is happening places less pressure on yourself and creates a better platform for learning.
- Learning can only ever happen inside the individual. It cannot be forced or poured in like water into a bottle. It requires an internal breakthrough to happen.
- The best state to be in for learning to occur is one of curiosity and questioning. Create that state by simply noticing what is happening. Embrace any sense of uncertainty, confusion or ambiguity that noticing engenders, as these are ideal pre-requisite feelings for learning.
And what is required of us as coaches? Well, we have to overcome our natural instinct to tell, show and instruct. The best coaches resist that tendency and ‘stay out of the way’. This can sometimes be difficult, as we sometimes feel that we are being paid to ‘impart wisdom’. Of course, many students or clients feel the same. They expect to be told how to do it better. This is the hardest part, and the part that requires most trust. Trust of the client by the coach, and trust of the coach in the process.
Embrace your curiosity, uncertainty and vulnerability.
And, above all, Stay out of the Way!
Coaching is a powerful and proven approach to help people discover their inner courage, resilience and creativity. Would you, or members of your organisation, benefit from exploring ways to make significant improvements in personal and/or collective effectiveness and productivity? Simply drop me your contact details on the Contact Us page and I will be delighted to speak with you.