“My feeling is that labels are for canned food… I am what I am – and I know what I am.” – Michael Stipe

A first grader spent a week during the summer, with her ‘favorite’ grandmother. The child was intrigued with her grandmother’s daily ritual of taking her medication. One day, the child noticed that several of the labels on her grandmother’s prescription bottles were coming unglued. Deciding to ‘help’ her grandmother, the young child lovingly removed all of the labels, from the bottles, and spread them across the table. Then the child gathered all of the bottles, and lined them up in a row, from smallest to largest.

The grandmother walked into the room, to find her grandchild, glue stick in hand, randomly gluing prescription labels onto prescription bottles. With loving patience, the grandmother thanked the child for ‘helping’ her while pointing out that each of the labels had to match the bottle containing the correct medicine.

The grandchild and the grandmother spent the next 30 minutes carefully reading the drug labels of every color and pill shape combination imaginable, until they had correctly glued all of the correct labels onto the correct medicine bottles. When the child was picked up at the end of the visit; she happily volunteered to her parents, that she could hardly wait to ‘grow up’ and become a pharmacist!

All of us have been ‘labeled.’ Maybe you have been labeled the ‘oldest,’ the ‘funny one,’ the ‘smart one,’ a ‘Daddy’s girl.’ Or perhaps you’ve been labeled a ‘diva,’ the ‘black sheep,’ a ‘gossip,’ or some negative term. We may like the labels, and again, we may be afraid to be labeled because it can be confining, limiting, and a miss-characterization of who we really are; or who we want to become. Without even consciously thinking about it, we constantly seek ‘labels’ which will define us the way we want to be characterized.

As we work with clients, we can help them discover who they are and who they want to become. We can also encourage them that they get to choose their labels. If they have been labeled in positive healthy terms, they can build on those labels. If they have been pigeon-holed into a negative, confining label, they can cast it aside or outgrow it. They can dream dreams, and set goals and become whoever they want to become, and live out their lives to the fullest!

[Coaching Questions]

  • What are some positive labels you have been given in your lifetime?
  • What are some negative labels which you have been assigned in your lifetime?
  • Have you been labeled with a Sharpie or some other kind of permanent marker, by others, and put on a shelf? If so, what have been some of the long term effects?
  • Have you checked your labels lately to see if they have ‘expired?’
  • Are you ready to move forward in your life; defined only by the labels which you have chosen?
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“A definition is the enclosing a wilderness of idea within a wall of words”
-Samuel Butler

A man was searching for a piece of land where he could build a home for himself and his family. As he went through his journey, he came upon an open piece of land, a seemingly endless wilderness where no other houses existed. The man sat quietly for a while on rock and began to think. He noticed that the land had a river running through it, and saw lush plant life growing, while many different birds and animals thrived in the woodlands. He began to see potential in what had first had seemed like an impossibility and envisioned a small farm, surrounded by countryside. In order to change the wilderness into a suitable home, he understood that he needed first to build a strong foundation of planning to successfully bring his vision to fruition.

Each and everyone of us has dreams or ideas, which are an untapped source like the wilderness. Perhaps we even fear that vocalising or making plans to bring those ideas into being will stifle or obstruct our creative side. However, engaging the left side of our brains, the side involved in planning, starts to give ideas structure. We can use words to bring the wild, uncontrolled flow of creativity into our grasp and then use them to refine the ideas and make them into goals. Logical thinking may be something that you shy away from, believing that it will bring limits to your ideas, but actually taking a structured approach can take an idea from the wilderness and make it into something tangible.

Emily, a single woman in her 30s was struggling to make a living as a waitress. Day after day, she worked long shifts, for little thanks, although inside she knew that she was capable of more. Sometimes, after a hard day serving meals, she would put her feet up and dream a little – seeing images of herself standing opening the door of a restaurant with her name over the door. To achieve her goal, Emily needed to do more than just think about her goals – she needed to plan and set up structures to make them happen. To take her idea of being a business owner from the wilderness, she could build a wall of words to define what she aimed to achieve by making these changes and equally as important, plan how to get to that stage.

As a coach, you can help your client transform their life and work towards their goals by :

  • Encouraging them to put their ideas and goals into words
  • Demonstrating how words can be used to clarify purpose and actions required
  • Assist the client to use structure to plan specific steps towards a goal or outcome
  • Discuss how defining an idea can identify possible weak or areas
  • Show the client how structured thought actually complements creative thinking

 [Coaching Questions]

  • Can you describe your goals? What do they look like?
  • How can you take your ideas/goals from the wilderness of thought into real life?
  • What words can you use to give your ideas power?
  • In what ways can you use structure to strengthen creative thought?
  • How will the changes of planning for your goal affect you?
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“I’ve never had a huge circle of friends. I can’t spread myself that thin and go 100 million miles an hour all the time. I choose to give truly of myself, entirely of myself, to the people I choose to do that with, and I can’t do that with everyone.” 
-Jeremy Northam, actor

If you’ve ever attended the circus as a child, or with your own children or grandchildren, you have seen the clown, who spins the plates. He places a dozen or more slender sticks into the ground, in a long row. Then he places a shiny white plate, which looks to be high quality china, from the upper tier of the convention center, onto the stick and gives it a spin. He then adds a second plate to a second stick, and a third plate to a third stick; on and on, spinning them as he goes.

About this time, one or more of the plates begins to wobble. The clown dashes over to the wobbling plates and gives them another spin to keep them from crashing to the ground. No one wants to see ‘fine china plates’ crash to the ground. The clown dashes up and down the row of a dozen or more sticks and plates trying to keep all of the circles spinning…all of his circles in harmony. We are thrilled at his skill, and the women in the audience are relieved, when the clown begins to remove the plates from the sticks, until he is only spinning two or three plates, at a less frantic pace.

All of us have spinning plates in our lives. Circles which we are a part of and try to manage. These circles represent our different roles in life, e.g.  parent, daughter, teacher, and business owner. Sometimes our circles overlap, like on ‘Take Your Daughter to Work Day.’

We may feel safe, protected, and loved in some circles more than others too. These circles have become a community of familiar faces and expectations for us. These circles never wobble on sticks. These circles get our regular attention.

Perhaps you are working with a client, who is going through a life transition. Maybe your client is trying to create a new circle. Perhaps you are working with a client, who is trying to decide whether it’s worth it, to keep a wobbling plate spinning. With you as their coach, they will explore what they will lose, if the plate crashes to the ground.

[Coaching Questions]

  • What are your circles or spheres of influence?
  • How do your circles define you? How do your circles overlap?
  • In what ways are some of your circles confining? Are you trying to spin too many plates at once?
  • Which circles do you feel safest in? What is it about these circles which comfort you, or give you confidence to allow you to be your true self?
  • Are you searching for a new circle? What would you like to find?
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Put yourself in a different room, that’s what the mind is for
– Margaret Atwood

[Painting by Jan van Kessel] 

Imagine for a moment that all your life you have lived in the same room. You feel comfortable, safe and secure there, with familiar objects around you. One day, the doorway opens. Suddenly you have access to a whole new room – in effect a whole new reality. Your understanding of the world needs to change and adapt, and this can be disconcerting. However, it is also clear  that you cannot sit in the same room forever in stasis – the very nature of life itself is constant change.

This same idea can be applied to our whole life. The roles we take on, the way we react to new situations and our mental state came be defined as different rooms. When we are forced to step out of these rooms during transitional periods such as divorce, death of a loved one or change in career, it can create fear. More often, changing our roles in life is an action we consciously take – leaving home for the first time, becoming a parent or starting a college course. Changing rooms is a way of growing and moving towards goals, building your range of skills and understanding which you can call on through all stages of your life. In this way, although we might change rooms by moving into a different role, we can also step back into other rooms, any time that it is relevant. You may spend more time in particular rooms at certain times in our life, but as a whole you are not defined by one “room”, you are the house, and have many different rooms, many abilities to call upon and opportunities to learn from your experiences. Ultimately, we are in control of the rooms we choose to spend time in, and how they bring us closer to our aims in life. As we move towards a new room, it is up to us to consider what we need to put into the room to make it work, and who we should have around us when we are there.

Beverley had been married to Jim since she was 18, and although their marriage had been happy at first, after fifteen years, they both had changed and needed to move on. A divorce was on the cards, and for Beverley, this would mean so much more than separating from her husband, she would also have to learn to adapt to the single life and become more responsible for her own finances. For Beverley, just the thought of change was overwhelming – she had relied on her husband for so long that moving forward and adapting seemed like a nightmare. Beverly could use her different rooms to gain confidence in this situation, stepping out of the room where she was a wife and home-maker, and into a new room where she could embrace her new role. Working with different rooms, Beverley could gain a positive perspective of her divorce and clarify her goals for the future.

As a coach, you can help your client by  :

  • Affirming the clients ability to adapt to the changes that a new room will bring
  • Helping the client to analyse fears and insecurities relating to moving into a different stage of life.
  • Encouraging the client to identify how roles and skills from one room may be transferable in a new situation.
  • Identify what preparations the client should make in order to be ready to start using a different room.
  • Reassuring the client that moving into a new room doesn’t mean moving out of the old room altogether, simply that they use it less.

[Coaching Questions]

  • Are you ready to step into a new room?
  • How will changing rooms bring you closer to your goals?
  • What does your new room look like?
  • As the designer of your new room, what objects or people will you choose to have around you? How will they effect your experience?
  • What uncertainties do you have?
  • What can you learn by using different rooms?
  • Will using a different room change who you are? How?
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Fish in the River

“I once gave up fishing; it was the most terrifying weekend of my life.”
- Anonymous

A river never sleeps and is always participating in the never-ending production and consumption cycle of river life.

All thoughts are fished from the Universal River of Consciousness which is brimming in its abundance.  Fishing practice starts at our birth and only ends when we close our eyes and say goodbye to this earth.  This leaves us with no choice while we are here.  Giving up fishing is not an option so we must constantly work at refining our fishing techniques throughout our entire lives.      

Let us take a trip down the Illinois River for a one of a kind fishing experience.  No fishing rod, net or other complicated fishing apparatus is required. 

The Asian Silver carp fish which originally came from China can be found in abundance on this river.  Any disturbance like the passing of a boat with an engine causes these fish to be startled.  The phenomenon is beautiful to watch as schools of silver carp fish leap to great heights out of the water.  Stunned fishermen and passengers find themselves shunning these ‘flying fish’ which slam at them from all angles sometimes with such force and at such speeds that the passengers on the boat could be injured.  An abundance of fish literally drops into the bottom of the boat at their feet and there is absolutely no reason to even toss a fishing line!

Great ideas come to us like fish from the Illinois River. We are often stunned by the force with which these ideas come at us, left and right. Creative thoughts and wisdom is easily replenished by the natural cycle of abundance. We take what we need for our consumption, when we need it, trusting that there will be plenty more ideas there later.  Giving up fishing is like abandoning your thinking.  You lose out on the opportunity to reel some excellent ideas in on your thinking line.

Creative people often have so many ideas (like silver carp) coming at them from all directions that they become overwhelmed by the volume and are thrown into inaction or overreaction modes.

Inaction mode comes when fear takes precedence and whispers to the mind that the ideas are abundant now but will soon dry up and won’t ever come again.  All the fish caught when in this mode are ‘put on ice’ saving them for a rainy day which quite often never comes.

Overreaction mode comes when the individual becomes overwhelmed by the burden of responsibility after receiving such abundant ideas.  They overcompensate and try to execute all the ideas that they’ve received at the same time.  The feelings of despondency and guilt take over as the individual comes to realize that they are unable to accomplish this enormous task.  Remember, it is physically impossible to consume all the fish from a good day’s catch in one meal!

Instead, individuals who respond to the abundant capture of ideas, quickly assess which ideas are too young like young fish and immediately toss them back into the river to grow some more.  Those ideas which are logistically impractical are also tossed back for someone else or for a later date.  Only ideas that are mature and practical right now are kept for execution.

Ideas come and go. The supply of fish would never run out. Trust that when the time is right and the river water of our mind’s consciousnes is stirred, the perfect ideas like the Asian Silver carp fish will jump to the surface naturally.

[Coaching Questions]

  • How abundant are the fish in your river?
  • What’s your philosophy of fishing?
  • How do you spot a “good fish”?
  • Are you willing to toss a young fish back to the river?
  • What ideas of yours are still on ice?
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The Egg

It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.
- C.S. Lewis

As coaches, we know that it’s all about transformation and ‘becoming’ are best selves. C. S. Lewis’ quote is a wonderful metaphor for us to share with our clients. Each part of this metaphor has value to impart:

The chicken or the egg?

We have all watched a baby chicken struggling to break free from their shell. We know that if they will ‘fight’ through the egg, that they will be free to explore and discover what’s waiting for them outside. We know that as coaches, our job is to encourage our clients so that they won’t give up.

Fear of flying.

We can envision the comical picture, of a full grown chicken trying to learn to fly inside the cramped, confined space of an eggshell. As coaches, through asking open-ended questions and challenging our clients to brainstorm possibilities, we can help our clients see when they are unorganized, afraid, or reluctant to take risks.

Rotten eggs

We’ve all played the ‘rotten egg’ game. It goes like this…”Last one in the pool is a rotten egg!” or, “Last one from point A to point B is a rotten egg!” On the one hand, if our clients don’t take control of their lives, or are uncertain about their purpose, they are likely to have ‘life happen’ which will limit their choices, and possibly reinforce past negative life experiences when they may have been victims, bullied, passive, or controlled. On the other hand, if our clients feel too much of a sense of urgency or pressure, they may make uninformed, ‘knee jerk’ decisions, which could have been avoided, if they’d been given more time to weigh the pros and cons. The beauty of coaching is that we serve as a sounding board for our clients, allowing them to articulate their options, and assess the likelihood of their success, while moving forward so that they aren’t left with only the rotten options.

[Coaching Questions]

  • Are you about to crack? Are you in the process of freeing yourself from any habits, addictions, or negativity which confines you?
  • Are you trying to fly, but finding yourself contained, entrapped, or limited by friends, family, or circumstances?
  • Are you afraid that you’ll be ‘cooked’ before you can break free of your shell?
  • If you feel like you’ve already been ‘cooked,’ or that you are ‘scrambled’ or ‘over-easy,’ what essential ingredients do you need, so that you can create an award winning life’s recipe?
  • Do you feel a sense of urgency, or are you willing to take a risk, in order to break free to become the person, you are becoming?
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Hammer and Nail

“If you only have a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail”
Abraham Maslow

One day, a wise carpenter took on an apprentice, to whom he would teach the art of woodwork. On the first day, the carpenter decided to teach the eager boy about the basics of the craft and instructed him on the correct use of a hammer. The carpenter was surprised to hear a pounding noise coming from his workshop when he arrived to start work the following morning.  He opened the door to find his new apprentice hammering away at a piece of leather which would be used to cover a seat. The carpenter asked the boy to explain what he was doing. The apprentice hung his head, and explained that he had been trying to prepare the leather to gain favour with the carpenter.

Instead of getting angry, the carpenter saw that the boy could learn a valuable lesson. He sat down with the apprentice and explained that although a hammer is an essential tool, it was not always the most appropriate or effective one. He told the boy that in carpentry, as well as life, it pays to take time to assess a situation and decide on the best tool. The boy could have spent hours hammering at the leather with no result, however, had he taken time to think the job through before starting, he would have realized that scissors would have been much more suitable.

We can all learn from the apprentice’s lesson. When it comes to problem solving in our own lives, it can be tempting to take the same tried and tested approach to every problem that occurs. For some people, this might be an unhealthy behaviour, such as refusing to face up to an issue in the hope that it will go away. For others it might be to approach the problem head on, knowing that they have previously fixed problems by taking that attitude before. The issue that frequently occurs is that, while we can learn from previous experiences, it is all too easy to think that every situation is essentially the same – so we take the same route to resolve it. Before we pick up the hammer to nail down that problem, we can ask ourselves – would another tool handle this more effectively?

As a coach, you can prepare your client to deal with life’s twists and turns by:

  • Helping the client identify the range of tools that they can call upon when problem-solving.
  • Encouraging the client to take time to assess situations and decide on the most appropriate approach.
  • Aid the client to learn from past situations where taking a single-minded approach has had an unexpected result.

[Coaching Questions]

  • Do you need a hammer or a pair of scissors to do this?
  • How do you know this is the right tool for the job?
  • What are the alternatives?
  • In the past, how did you resolve a similar situation?
  • How can you apply it to another area of your life?
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What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.
- Friedrich Nietzsche

The making of tea is an interesting process. Although most people assume that various teas come from different plants, they are all derived from the same evergreen. The only difference among the teas is the manner in which the plant is processed by workers. When the leaves are picked, they are spread out very thin, to dry naturally, or with machine generated heated air, to reduce the amount of water in the leaves. This process is called, ‘withering.’

The next stage in the tea making process is called ‘rolling.’ The tea is removed from the withering racks, and twisted and rolled. Some leaves are even shaken. This ‘rolling’ breaks up the leaf cells and oils are released which give the tea a unique aroma.

Oxidation, which is the third stage in the tea process, is begun once the leaf membranes are broken and oxygen is absorbed. This chemical process causes the leaves to turn the color of a bright new penny. The ‘oxidation’ stage determines whether tea is black, oolong, or green.

For example, black tea undergoes the longest oxidation. Oolong tea has an oxidation period, half that of black tea. Green tea may escape the first two stages of the process. Leaves are generally pan fried to prevent oxidation from occurring, which allows the leaves to retain their green color.

Finally, the tea is ready for the ‘drying’ or ‘firing’ stage. Leaves are carefully dried over wood fires, halting the oxidation process.

Our clients are like tea…black, oolong, or green. In many ways, all of our clients are the same. They are all steeped in the joys and disappointments of their lives. They’ve experienced change. At some point, they’ve consciously or subconsciously decided to continue to grow, and embrace life, or they have chosen to wither and die. And perhaps, their struggles have brought them to you for encouragement and focus.

Despite being tea, each of our clients is unique and different. They are unique because, their life experiences are all different. Our clients’ life experiences, whether they are pleasant or unpleasant, have shaped who they are, and who they may become.

So, as a coach, are you aware that how you interact with your client in this process effects the type of tea your client becomes? Are you making sure they take time to breathe? Are you making sure they aren’t getting burned?

[Coaching Questions]

  • What stage in the ‘tea’ process do you find yourself today?
  • Which one of your most pleasant life experiences has shaped you the most?
  • Which one of your most unpleasant life experiences has shaped you the most?
  • How has Nietzsche’s statement, “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger” been realized in your life?
  • Are you willing to continue in this ‘tea making’ process; even if it means enduring withering, rolling, oxidation, and firing? How does this process, affect the person, you are becoming?
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The Castle

Boundaries are to protect life, not to limit pleasures.
- Edwin Louis Cole

[Picture: Bodiam Castle and Bridge East Sussex England]

The castle, fortified and surrounded by a water field moat looks secure, serene and private.  The occupants have a sense of security as the walls stand strong, the bridge is controlled by a guard who ensures that only those who the host desire to have in their home are let in.  Each of us is like a castle with tall walls and moat to protect us. We decide whether to let down the bridge to allow guests into our homes, that is, our life and our space. Even when we have let in guests, we then determine how far they can go.

A boundary is the emotional, physical, and energetic space between one person and another. Placing boundaries in life determines who we are. Having a strong boundary ensures that we remain comfortable and safe. Keeping clear boundaries makes one have self-respect and also makes one earn respect from others. Weak or no boundary leaves us exposed to uninvited guests, who make us upset, angry and regretful.

Boundaries provide us a space where we feel secure, where we can grow and face our challenges without compromising our values. They are rules and policies of how we want to treat others and be treated. It prevents tension between us and the people around us as strong boundaries make it clear to others just how far they can go. We are in charge of our existence and we are in control of our own time, personal space, activities, and belongings. Just like in the castle, the host chooses which guests to welcome, which guests may stay and which rooms they may occupy. When one is not welcome to stay, the owners of the castle instruct the guards to escalate unwelcome visitors.

If you feel hurt, angry, resentful, or frustrated by others’ actions, consider whether it is a boundary challenge. Your safety and growth may be hindered by such feelings and such unhealthy relationships with others. To establish healthy boundaries, make it clear to others on what they can do to you, what are acceptable and what are not acceptable. Be firm and consistent so that people learn how you want to be treated and the consequences of their actions. Learn to say “No”, “Not now” or “Maybe later”; accept that you cannot please everyone, and that’s okay. Keep in mind: you are the master of your castle.

[Coaching Questions]

  • Who would you let in to your castle? What about them that make them welcomed guests?
  • Who wouldn’t you let in your castle? What about them that make them unwelcomed guests?
  • What is your favorite picture of yourself when you are safe and having personal growth?
  • What areas in your life have you failed to set boundaries and would like to do better?
  • What’s the price of not saying No?
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When one door closes, go through the window.
- Anonymous

Once upon a time…and in syndication…there was a popular game show. Contestants were selected based on their energy and outrageous costumes. The MC would select a contestant, who would stand next to him, sweating profusely, as they tried to decide which ‘door’ to choose. Door Number One might be hiding a clunker, or a gag gift. Door Number Two might be concealing a new vacuum cleaner and a set of attachments. Door Number Three might ultimately reveal, “a BRAND NEW CAR!”

You guessed it, Monty Hall’s, Let’s Make a Deal television show was an extremely popular show back then, which has been ‘updated,’ and is now, back on the air today. What was the attraction of the program? The contestant (and the viewers) never knew what would behind any door, “or the box where Carol Merrill was standing,” until they made their choice. We empathized with the contestants, who gambled everything for a mule, or made it into the finals, and won the grand prize.

On a more serious level, coaches help clients make choices in life too. Throughout their lives, clients will have ‘doors’ open up offering them new opportunities. Sometimes the doors lead nowhere or the opportunities behind them are real duds. Opening these doors may actually impede your client’s forward momentum toward their goals.

Sometimes your client will choose a ‘door’ which initially appears like a winning choice, but over time, may turn out to be less than they expected. Once the excitement wears off…and the reality sets in…who really wants to win a vacuum cleaner, so that they can do even more housework?

So what is the key to helping your clients choose their ‘dream’ door, so that they can win the grand prize? Help them to find their passion. Help them to find their life purpose. Help them to identify the goals and actions steps needed to live their dream. Encourage them to persevere, so that they won’t be tempted to give up, any time a smooth talking, Monty Hall comes along, and tries to get them to settle for, or trade for, less than the grand prize.

Finally, on those occasions when it seems as if the prize door has slammed shut in your client’s face, help them to re-group and look for a nearby ‘window’, or another access point they can crawl through to claim the same prize.

[Coaching Questions]

  • Are you willing to play the game with all of the energy you can muster?
  • What kind of contestant are you? Will you settle for ‘the box, where Carol Merrill is standing’…or will you play the game until you win the grand prize?
  • What is your ‘grand’ prize?
  • What doors must you open, or windows must you crawl through before you’re awarded the grand prize?
  • Are there doors you need to shut, or a window you need to open, to come closer to winning your grand prize?
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