When you understand the system at work in human change you can make smarter choices about which coaches — or counsellors or therapists — you work with. Here I share the one source of change and what enables that so you can make smart choices.
I remember Julie Starr in my original coach training being brutally and beautifully honest:
When your client has an insight or realisation you’ll be tempted to think it was your question that did it. It wasn’t. It had nothing to do with your ‘clever question’.
What a punch in the guts for the ego. I heard it at the time — to an extent. And I saw it in sessions — where clients would have a breakthrough that seemed irrelevant to what I’d just asked or to the activity we’d just done.
I now see the change process so much more deeply — now I REALLY see how true that statement from Julie was. In the presence of that deeper seeing, now, the questions I ask or things I say matter less and less, and who I am when I’m saying them matters more and more.
Where does behaviour change come from?
The coach isn’t irrelevant in the change process by any means, and the exact words the coach uses are. Because real, sustainable change comes about from an insight within the client. A realisation. A lightbulb moment. Insight is something we can only ever see for ourselves, we can’t be given it or told it by anyone else. That’s what ‘insight’ means: sight from within. We see something fresh. Something lands for us. Natalie summed it up beautifully in this recent tweet.
When you grasp something with your intellect, you can add it to your useful bank of information. When you understand it insightfully, with your whole being, it moves you to the core. This is the space of transformation.
Think about it for yourself. When you’ve had a breakthrough change in behaviour has it been because of practical guidance, advice, or questions to figure out ‘how to’? Or has it been because you had one of those lightbulb moments? You can usually spot those because they come with an oh! Or an OMG! Or a laugh. Or sometimes they slip quietly into your mind and change happens with such obviousness and ease that it’s only after the event you realise you’ve behaved differently.
Insight is the only way that sustained change happens. This is the only way that behaviour change sticks. It literally changes us at a cellular level so that we can never see things the same way again.
Where do insights come from?
The first answer given is often, the brain. But neuroscience is yet to show us where or how ideas, thoughts, or decisions actually appear in the brain. They can show us the parts of the brain that light up in the processing of these things but not how the ideas, thoughts, or decisions are created in the first place. Not how they go from formless nothingness into the form of a thought or idea and a light on an fMRI.
In the absence of knowing this — and we might never know this — we can still look to the fact that insight and realisation are natural processes. We don’t need to ‘do’ them. The mind (and by that I don’t mean the brain, but all the invisible interconnected system beyond the brain) is designed for insight. Its a natural, innate capacity — true of all human beings.
So how do coaches help?
Coaches help by creating an environment that lends itself to insight. Insight seems to flow to us more easily when our mind is settled. As if insights are flowing through a pipe, a clearer pipe will help them get through.
What clogs the pipe are thoughts of me and them, of good or bad, should or shouldn’t, resistance to what’s happening right now. The busier our mind, the fewer the possibilities, the less the creativity, the harder it is to hear an idea or a way forward.
At the very least, a coach who just listens and asks, with nothing on their own mind, will create that environment for their client.
You can take this to the next level by working with a coach who knows and practices The Thinking Environment. Practitioners in this approach embody high-quality attention and their work is all about creating that environment in which the mind settles and flows.
Both of these approaches will tend to focus on helping people shift the quality of their thinking about the ‘problem’ they have or the change they want to make. It focuses on the content of their experience, with a view to them having a realisation about how to improve or change this specific content.
Another level beyond all of this is to work with a coach who understands the system behind the whole change process. A coach who knows and can guide you to see the mechanics — irrespective of what the content is.
A coach at this level will create the environment for insight — naturally — because they live from that space, and they will guide their client to have insights about the system for themselves because, insights about this — insights about the mechanics rather than about the content — provide a life-long anchor, grounding and understanding for every experience in life. This is the work I do.
What should I look for in a coach?
Fundamentally, someone you feel you connect with, who you’re drawn to. Someone who holds you as primary in the relationship, who is on your agenda, not their’s. The fact you’re considering a coach means there’s something you’d like to change or improve so consider what level you want to work at.
Do you want to solve this problem right here, this content, or do you want to see beyond that to the system that holds true for all problems, the mechanics?
And know that the coach you need today could change in a few weeks, months or years. Go with that. If one coach stops making sense to you, stop working with them. If another pops up who looks interesting talk to them. You are wholly entitled to do that!
And do talk to the coach first. Maybe you’ve already got to know them through online content, podcasts, blogs, etc and I’d still say talk to them, especially if you’re making a significant investment. That’s going to give you a really good sense of whether you’re drawn to them or not.
With ten years’ coaching experience at all the levels mentioned above, if I can be of help to you in your decision-making process, do just get in touch. I’m happy to help you figure out what’s right for you.
With love, Helen