Coaching Perspectives - 1. To Learn or Not to Learn

In the first article of a six-part self-management series, An Edge for You's Annette Reissfelder considers the shift in thinking required to truly change your behavior

As interesting as the question "What conditions the learning that precedes behavioral change?" may be, when and why we don't learn -- even when everything seems to point in the same direction -- seems almost more relevant to me.

Does this sound familiar? You know perfectly well where your weaknesses are -- whether it's communication, team motivation, delegating accountability, time management, or excessive demands on yourself... And yet somehow, you don't get it sorted.

Let me tell you a bit about my work. I work with highly focused and ambitious people on how to make best use of their potential in a specific situation. Many have excellent self-reflection skills, and have identified personal stumbling blocks -- and consequently read all the relevant books there are. They know that more of that strategy will not bring the breakthrough.

They have also experienced post-training anxiety: the feeling that persists for a few days or weeks after a seminar that they should do something differently, until it wanes and they give up, and everything would seem almost back to normal if it wasn't for that feeling of disappointment in themselves. Sounds like you? Despair not, for all this is perfectly normal! Really!

Fortunately or unfortunately, human beings are not machines! We simply can't expect ourselves to show different behavior based on a simplistic "new input equals new output" model.

We are talking about something very special here: insights/learning that guide future behavior. Behavior is not primarily determined by what we know, but by much deeper things: our attitudes, belief systems, values, and ultimately, self-image.

Imagine you prepare your much-loved boat for a rough night at sea. You anchor it in several places -- say, five points in a neat circle -- so you can be extra sure that your boat is well secured against the storms ahead. Even though many different forces (in human behavior, opinions, experiences, inclinations, attitudes and all the rest) will act against each other, as long as the ropes resist, basically not a lot can rock the boat. See the similarity?

What if you want to move beyond that? Here's how to make change work -- purists will excuse the slight oversimplification:

A. You reinforce the desired behavioral direction - by insight, reflection, and especially new goals and plans.

B. At the same time cut free one or two ropes on the opposite side, which up to now have kept the system in balance. As the pressure increases on one side, the other side is allowed to yield according to its nature. Now you can almost touch change -- things begin to rearrange, and move towards a new balance.

The rational part (A) isn't an issue –- deep down, you know what you need to tell yourself anyway. "I really should..." and "It's time I did..." are utterly non-threatening statements -- all just ways of saying it would be nice to have -- i.e., not much chance of any of this ever happening. Unless, of course, you decide to tackle point B.

But not so fast: One of the challenges is that the new behavior doesn't really fit you -- and you know it... This is why a tough re-evaluation of those ropes is a crucial step -- for it helps in finding out what are the dated patterns that aren't really linked to you any more. As this is really the tricky bit, it may make sense to work with a professional here.

In a coaching session, clients explore where they really want to go (even if they start out with little more than a notion that they don’t want to go on like this), and the coast begins to clear.

After two or three sessions, they'll know what will get them the desired results, fast. The reason they know is that they have already covered part of the distance. Many are so close to attaining their goals, all of a sudden, that they replace them with even more attractive goals. This is a very rewarding experience, since they have typically spent months or even years latently brooding over some issue before even considering hiring a coach (after all, this is still a brave decision!).

Einstein said that we could never solve problems at the level of thinking that created them. Only after changing your way of thinking about a problem, is there room to create solutions! Once you're there, it makes sense to look for new information. For this, you don't need a coach. But the principles included in my next article might come in handy! >>>

Coaching Perspectives

1. To Learn or Not to Learn

2. Seven Simple Ways to More Effective Learning

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