Talismanic coaching: where science meets superstition

This Article was published originally in Coaching Psychology International, Volume 8, Issue 1 (Summer 2015) – ISSN 1758-7719 – pages 16-19. 

In Daniel Goleman’s (2013) Focus, he proposes that in a world of ever-increasing 24/7 distraction, we need to become better at focusing in the here and now. In this paper we propose the benefit of “superstitious conditioning” through the use of a Talisman to help
clients focus their attention in post-coaching situations.

Learning, at its most fundamental, is based upon the creation of neural connections which either strengthen or inhibit behaviour, facilitated by attending or not attending to stimuli. Learning can be said to happen when a new state (ie, a new connection) or a new association of existing connections occurs. The stronger the associations become, the more they become embedded, meaning the associated behaviour will be more readily enacted.

As coaches, we are in a highly privileged position, able to utilise this knowledge of how learning occurs for the benefit of our clients. We can share with them tools and techniques to create and strengthen associations. Once changes are fully embedded, then the tools may no longer be required, but, in the early days, having a proxy association to aid the formation of a neural association assists with sustenance of early progress.

However, all too often in coaching, after gaining insight, clients return to the everyday fray of work. Here, they lose conscious awareness of their coaching goal as it becomes displaced by more demanding pressures. Continue reading

The Dumbing Down of Knowledge

The world is faced with enormous challenges, and we need creativity and innovation more than ever. Whether today’s focus is on climate change, terrorism, economic collapse or disease, the ‘old-world’ thinking that got us here will not be good enough to lead us to where we need to get to.

www.searchinfluence.com/No one can dispute that the growth of the internet and the explosion of personal device ownership has made available more data to more people in the space of just a few short years than was ever available in the history of humanity. The trouble is that knowledge search algorithms generally assume that volume is good. The more something is searched for, the more privileged it becomes. The information at the top of the list does not reflect quality, it reflects desirability. And, it fosters laziness. Personalisation ensures that we are presented with our ‘favourites’, the things we have ‘said we enjoy’ in the past.  Despite the diversity of knowledge that is potentially available, the interfaces through which we access information, ironically, narrows our universe.

Even in the corridors Continue reading

No Time to Think

Perhaps ‘the’ most tantalising allure of any advancement in engineering or technology through the ages has been the promise of saving us time. Cars, trains and planes certainly get us places faster than horses ever did. Bridges and tunnels allow us to take short-cuts over rivers and through mountains, saving us hours. Advances in IT and robotics mean that tasks previously handled manually have been automated with exponential levels of increased productivity.

Why, with so much technology and time-saving gadgetry at our fingertips, do people still present at coaching sessions with issues and concerns about their ability to manage their time? After all, our lives have never appeared to be more organised ~ or perhaps I should say digitised!   More and more of us are hooked up to the Net from morning to night.

Our smartphones and tablets wake us up, we check our diary for appointments and read our messages before getting out of bed. We catch up on missed shows on iPlayer or Stitcher while we commute to work. We juggle collaborating on Sharepoint, with watching company Webcasts, while occasionally dipping into our personal Instagram, Twitter or WhatsApp accounts. We may even check in on Foursquare while grabbing lunch, and be just as likely to choose where to go by WiFi availability as the quality of the food. On the way home we might burn some carbs, having gained access with our fingerprint or iris, which are digitised on the gym’s customer database. We immediately wire ourselves up to the screens on the machines so as to catch up on news, or check Facebook activity.  And when we get home, after a microwaved dinner, and a quick skype chat with your mum, our relaxation and wind down time may well include logging on remotely to your work’s email to ‘finish off’ a few things, and give yourself a fighting chance of making a clean start on things again in the morning (fat chance!).

Continue reading

Fail Big, Fail Fast, Fail Often!

In the week of the 2015 US Masters golf championship, many eyes are on Rory McIlroy. In 2011, an even younger McIlroy was on the verge of making golfing history. He carried a 4-shot lead into the final round, having played sublime golf for the first three days of the championship. However, on his final round he shot the worst round in history by any professional golfer leading after the 3rd round of the Masters. Not the piece of history he was after. Rory suffered what can only be described as a ‘meltdown’ in the unforgiving glare of the TV cameras and the golfing world.

Some pundits questioned his bottle, his psyche, his temperament, and his ‘big game’ mentality. Some said, “history shows that players who cough up big leads in big tournaments often don’t get another chance, their psyches permanently shattered by thoughts of what might have been.” (TwinCities.com

But, McIlroy went on to win 4 majors in the next three years, starting with the U.S.Open championship, just a few short months after his Augusta meltdown. He achieved his victory in some style too, setting a new championship record and becoming the youngest winner since 1923.
Continue reading

What’s changing for you right now?

                  When we are no longer able to change a situation,  we are challenged to change ourselves. ~ Viktor E. Frankl

All learning happens at ‘the edge’.   Going to the edge, and looking beyond, creates uncertainty.  After all, when nothing is changing and your world is predictable, what is the need to change, or learn anything new?  Sometimes changes are forced on us, sometimes they are sought.  Either way, they induce learning and growth.

This appears to be at the very heart of our existence as a species.  Skulls found in the Great Rift Valley of East Africa, the cradle of humanity, point to increases in skull capacity, and by definition brain size, at specific points in the earth’s history that correspond to periods of dramatic environmental change.

Professor Brian Cox’s recent BBC programme, Apeman to Spaceman,  explains that Brian Cox skullsthe earth experiences major and rapid climatic changes approximately every 400,000 years.  The skulls of various generations of hominin species (i.e. from australopithecus, to homo erectus, through to early homo sapien) reveal an almost doubling of brain capacity every 400,000 years.  The theory he advances is that human intelligence is quite literally a response to periods of rapid changes in the environment as a result of violent climate fluctuations.

And while this theory is concerned with enormous changes over thousands of years, the conditions for changes driving growth and learning are no less evident within single lifetimes.  Continue reading

Embrace Confusion

Stop and think!  How much of your waking hours do you spend being confused?  Or puzzled? Or maybe you prefer to use the the word ‘uncertain’?  If the answer is hardly at all, I would suggest you get yourself more confused, more often.

Being certain, being sure, having it all figured out, is not conducive to learning and growth. We are primed for learning when we are at the edge of of our knowledge. When our beliefs are challenged.  When the bubbles of our old certainties are popped. Continue reading

Resist the temptation to be clever

I have often been asked by people who are unfamiliar with coaching, “How can you coach people in areas that you have no experience or knowledge of?”

I sometimes use this as an opportunity to help people obtain a clearer understanding of what coaching actually is.  I spend time explaining that coaching is not the same as mentoring. That it is not about specific knowledge or skills transfer. In fact, it can actually be an advantage to ‘not know’, as it makes it easier for the coach to ask totally naive questions with no pre-judgement.

source: events.stanford.edu

source: events.stanford.edu

To emphasise this point, I will often allude to the possible dangers that can emerge when you are too close to an area. When the coach is carrying their own ‘baggage’ around, they can slip into expressing their own views, or ask questions loaded with judgement. This can be one of the biggest challenges facing the internal coach. I worked as a coach within a corporate environment for a number of years. It was hugely rewarding, and offered a tremendous opportunity to be part of great change within the organisation. However, I know from personal experience, that when certain issues arose during coaching sessions, where I as the coach had specific knowledge about something, it presented me with a dilemma. I could, and sometimes did, inject a piece of knowledge that would help clarify some confusion, and help move the client past a particular obstacle.  Indeed, it would be wrong (and could be argued as unethical) not to. However, it is important to recognise that when you are doing that, you are no longer being a coach, and it is very important to tell the client that, so as to avoid any confusion about your role as a coach.

There is a real danger however, particularly for a new coach (as I found to my cost on occasions), that you may slip in and out of your coach role too many times, or for too long. The relationship may even morph into one that is no longer ‘coaching’, and into something else entirely. You may find yourself Continue reading

Are your people ready to change?

If you’re in a bad situation, don’t worry it’ll change.  If you’re in a good situation, don’t worry it’ll change.  ~  John A. Simone, Sr.  

At a time when most businesses are seeking ways to emerge from the effects of the recession, and get themselves back on the road to economic growth, one inevitable question their leaders will all face will be, “What things are going to have to change around here to start us moving again?”  

  • Will the strategy and tactics they have been deploying during the crunch be the same ones they need to drive growth?  
  • How do they shift mindsets on their management teams from ‘cost avoidance’ to ‘growth and profit’? 
  • Do they need different types of people in their company to take them in a different direction?
  • Will their own leadership style need to be different as they move forward?
  • Are they even the right leader to take the company forward and be successful?

Some of these questions can be extremely daunting, and will challenge even the most competent leaders. However, much will depend on how the workforce has been led during the period of recession. 

Have people been continuously aware that this day was coming, or will it come as a surprise to them  that they are now expected to do things differently, think differently, perhaps adopt new practices.  Remember, even unpleasant circumstances become comfortable after a while, and people will resist moving away from the ‘way things are’ even if they are promised a better future.polar-bear-ice

It’s not enough to simply promise things will get better and hope they will change.  One major reason for this, we now know, is because of the way our brains are organised. Regular patterns of thinking and behaviour become ‘wired’ at the neural level. It is certainly not a trivial matter of expecting people to one day waken up and operate as if they had a different wiring pattern. Not even after the most rousing and stirring ‘all-hands’ kick-off event !!  Our brains need to have new connections created (and old connections disused and atrophied) over a period of time in order for new patterns of thinking and behaviour to take root. New visions, positive futures, different expectations, alternate rewards, all help generate these new connections, and ultimately, different behaviours.

That’s why the best leaders Continue reading

The Power of being ‘Clueless’

“There is no such uncertainty as a sure thing.” ~ Robert Burns

When we believe we are right, we don’t go looking for data to check otherwise. We close down our curiosity antennae and remain blissfully unaware of alternative views of the world. It can be cosy and comfortable existing in this state of course. Sticking with what you know keeps life simple. You don’t have to experience the dis-orientation of constantly questioning and challenging your assumptions. It lets you go about your daily business with minimal fuss. Life’s complicated enough, after all, without setting out to make it more challenging.

But, think about it a little longer. What if we all adopted this approach, all of the time? Nothing would ever change. Where would innovation come from?  What would happen to creativity?  The problems that we face, big and small, would simply become ‘accepted’ and incorporated into our ‘reality’, our ‘truth’, and not open to question. I guess this approach is more prevalent than we care to imagine. How much of our world, and ‘your’ individual ‘reality’, is governed by assumptions and beliefs? Continue reading

Coaching with emotion

We can’t stop ourselves having emotions. Indeed, why would we want to?  So, how do coaches coach from a place that ensures their emotions do not hi-jack their approach and derail the effectiveness of their engagements with clients?  What happens if you feel sorry for a client?  What if you get an overpowering desire to tell someone what they need to do?  What if something they say upsets you, or makes you angry?

Masterful coaches recognise that they can’t (and shouldn’t) block their own emotions, but rather, that they use these emotions to help them be a better coach.  By raising awareness of their own reactions and emotions, coaches can channel their coaching skills into better listening, richer rapport and deeper presence.

source: graciexela.blogspot.co.uk

source: graciexela.blogspot.co.uk

If your emotions leak into your questions, then they will lose impact, and judgements you are making will be transparent. If you are focusing on how you feel, you will not be listening fully to the client, and presence in the moment will suffer. Much better to be open and honest about emotions that are showing up for you. Sharing with a client that, “….this is making me feel uncomfortable right now, how is it making you feel?”, is fine. In fact, role-modelling the sharing of emotions in this way, may well help elicit a deeper exploration and sharing of emotion by the client.

It is when coaching reaches this emotional level that great things often start to happen, and progress and movement becomes possible.

The importance of engaging on an emotional level was discussed in a previous post called the The Upstairs & Downstairs Brain.

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