Your life may not have turned out the way you expected, wanted or needed it to be. In many cases, clients have achieved business success, but instead of being happy, they feel empty. Success is not what they had imagined it would be. They are disappointed with where they find themselves relative to where they thought they “should” be at this stage in their career and life path.
Successful people seek coaching knowing that although they excel in the working world, it appears to have come at the expense of their personal and social connections. Some executives struggle to maintain their success as they described having built a “house of cards.” Clients come to coaching, knowing something needs to change. They are looking for a fresh view of what is possible.
My education, training and experience as a psychologist helps me to empower you to be your best self. I enjoy working with my clients in a non restrictive, non judgmental manner. Executive coaching is different from a doctor patient relationship which requires maintaining a professional distance, setting strong boundaries, as well the assessment for pathology and a working diagnosis. With executive coaching, I do not look for pathology, I look for workability.
We begin our work together with an assessment of your your thoughts, feelings to determine to “workability” of your habits, i.e., what works and what does not work. Coaching can be thought of metaphorically as two people taking a difficult hike on a mountain. An executive coach is an expert in mountain climbing. Having hiked the mountain more often, I have the advantage of seeing where you are, where you have been, and where you are going. I will offer you new tools and I will challenge you to think and behave differently so you can begin to focus on your valued path – Living what you love.
As your coach, we will explore and consider what works and what does not work for you. We will identify what living a truly authentic life looks like as we assess your strengths and weaknesses and how you react or respond to family, friends and employees. You will be tasked with observing the ways in which you care or don’t take care of yourself. Areas of particular interest will are ones where you have become avoidant and possibly emotionally immobilized. Ultimately, our work will identify potential alternative paths that will feel more authentic.
We were all built to avoid pain and to seek pleasure. Reflexively we avoid painful thoughts and emotions, fearing that having them would mean that we have lost our control. Sadly, this perceive control and attempts to avoid pain usually leads to more pain. For example, when we buy into the belief that we cannot handle and must get rid or negative thoughts, or sad, bad feelings, we do ourselves the greatest of harm. Believing it possible to get rid of troubling thoughts we fall into habits that provide only a quick fix.
Everywhere you look, TV, internet, social media, we are bombarded with messages to become something more, to be better than we are. The message is we are defective or who we are just needs a little something more. If we buy what they are selling, we will find relief, perhaps some peace. There is a tacit promise that we will be better, made whole. Advanced marketing techniques ask us to either run out and buy or click now to receive same day delivery. Hitting the, “buy it now” button, is simply the latest in an eternal line of mindless habits, implied promises to make it better now. Such self-medicating remedies we humans turn to and include, food, alcohol, sleep, sex, and “please make it stop” pills.
Sadly, hopelessly, we learn that short-term fixes serve only to temporarily quiet difficult and painful thoughts. Soon the tenacious thoughts are back, growing louder proclaiming, “something is wrong with me, or worse, I can’t live like this.” Eventually, we recognize that nothing much has changed, and we become stuck once again. We slip back into our reflexive, automated habit, avoiding negative thoughts, helping us to avoid experiencing emotional pain. The truth is we are hopelessly locked, trapped, in a mindless loop of unworkable behaviors.
Jon Kabat-Zinn. “Acceptance is only the hardest thing.”
Accepting what is, may seem quite unthinkable, perhaps unbearable. Acceptance needs us to take the time and to make room for our uncomfortable, seemingly dreadful emotions. Acceptance requires a safe, non-judgmental space and the willingness to allow the unthinkable and unpleasant to show-up. This space must be outfitted with great quantities of kindness and compassion. Tender care will support having and arranging of inflexible thoughts that have trapped us in the idea of who we think we are or have become.
Acceptance does not mean we agree or approve of a painful, possibly traumatic event. It doesn’t insist we should be happy about confronting what is feared. In this case, Acceptance is the act of making the emotional room for a heart and mind to consider genuine feelings and what in needed to care for, let go, and to move forward.
Saying out loud what we fear or naming “FEAR”, allows us to now cope with what once seemed unmanageable. Learning to sit still, to be mindful of what has brought us fear, is an essential life skill. Think of facing fear, the acceptance of it, like sitting in a sailboat, waiting for the wind. With patience and practice, the wind will come, and you will learn to let the fear of thoughts and feelings, pleasant and unpleasant, come and go without a need to hold or to harness. Mindfully, letting go of fear, to flexibly think and feel, are your first steps on the path to living a vital and valued life.
Humans were born without the knowledge or skills to resolve conflicts. For many of us, to choose, to make a decision is a conflict. Managing conflict and attempting to make significant life decisions can be so awkward and uncomfortable our nature steers us to avoid, building a stronger habit of indecision. Inherent in our human habit of indecision, lays a cognitive bias, negativity bias. Our exceptional brain excels at generating negatively biased thoughts like, “What if I make the wrong choice?” or “I will fail, I always do.” Unless or until we are taught or encouraged to try, many of us learn to live with uncertainty. Interestingly, uncertainty, just like avoiding, is also awkward and uncomfortable. Crazy confusing, right?
Let expand on the context of choosing and decision making by considering just how many decisions you actually never had to make. You did not choose your parents or grandparents. You probably had no say in your parent’s choice to have more children. You obviously did not choose any of your amusing or annoying aunts or uncles. Most of us did not choose the house we lived in, the neighborhood we grew up in, or the schools that we attended.
As a young adult, you probably started to make some decisions, which friends you wanted to spend time with, what music to listen to, or which activities to engage in. You may have decided to work during or after high school. Unless your parents choose for you, you most likely had a voice in deciding whether or not to go to college and which college you most wanted to attend.
With age and wisdom, you choose which friendships and connections to keep or new ones to make. You decided to move across the street, to a new state, or to travel the world. You most likely chose which car to buy, to rent or to buy a house, to cohabitate or to get married. The more significant the decision, the more difficult the decision to choose becomes.
Ideally, when you do decide, you probably gathered the necessary data, to develop options and then run through a list of pros and cons for each viable option. When choosing a car, one might have thoughts of red, fast, and sporty; until you discover the cost to insure red, fast and sporty. As adults, we quickly learn that what our hearts want and what we can afford are not always in sync. What we choose, our good intentions, are based on a formula of considering what we need and desire compared to our current and future resources.
Significant life decisions are best made when we take the time to assess what we value, what we believe has meaning. To choose well, ask yourself what experienced so far, in your life, has been meaningful, was valuable. People often state that they value close relationships with family and friends, an education, a sense of community, spirituality. Others express the value of meaningful traditions and a sense of purpose and accomplishment. Some declare that they value good health, and opportunities to learn and grow through travel, cultural and international experiences, as well as the arts including theater, music, and dance.
To prepare to choose wisely, imagine choosing a life that supports what you believe has meaning and value. Imagine what could be as you carefully consider what would be possible. Make room for negatively biased thoughts to come and to go. I encourage you to choose Not to buy your negative thoughts as facts. Negative thoughts are not more true. Consider this, no artist, author, musician or athlete of note ever attempted success, without first imagining, what could be. Do that. Imagine what could be.
Once you have a vision or strong ideas of what could be, begin writing down your thoughts, draw pictures, think broadly, imagine living a life you would value. Starting from there, walk yourself backward, begin to describe the path you will need to follow to make your vision real. As you describe the path, take notes of the short-term steps as you develop your Plan of Action.
Think of goals as what you can and will accomplish, day by day, each month or year, over time. Think of your values as something that will guide your goals along the path you have declared as having meaning and value. A value is not gained by arriving at the end of the path, but rather, Values are the choices, the actions that you make while doing what you say you love – as you live your valued life.
A – Accept C – Choose T – Take Action
Taking action on what you say matters will require some courage.
Having Accepted what was once feared, you are now willing to sit with what was once painful and most certainly, awkward and uncomfortable. Choosing now, to do something different requires the courage for you to act, think, and feel, reliably with what you have declared as having both meaning and value.
One definition of courage is strength in the face of what brings pain and feeds grief.
ACTFlexibly is devoted to helping you Accept, Choose, and Take Action in the service of what you now declare as meaningful and of value to you.
This work will include the acquisition of new skills and workable actions that encourage self-agency. Agency, knowing you can, with a willingness to be open, provides you with a wiser broader, more thoughtful perspective. This larger perspective will help you to ACT Flexibly in the face of current and future adversity.
Flexible thinking supports and encourages the essential life skills of mindfulness, self-compassion with the grace necessary for meaningful change in the relationships with you-yourself and those you declare as meaningful and significant.
“Each day is a new day to do something different.” ACTFlexibly
In part 2, Choose, you declared the goals you determined necessary to outline your valued path forward. Now, Take Action, you will begin to define in more detail the actions you expect to take on along your path.
To encourage Flexibly thinking, we need to sort thoughts, feelings, and behaviors for their workability. Just as you would sort snail mail into read or recycle, we can approach thoughts and feelings for their effectiveness, or workability.
Consider sorting any behavior, actions taken or spoken, (verbal behavior), into two different batches, labeled “works” or “doesn’t.” This concept is called “Workability.” Rather than evaluating actions as either good or bad, healthy or insane, we begin to consider actions, thoughts, and emotions for their workability. Another way to view this might be asking, is this behavior useful? Will it give me the desired response?
Inflexible thinking does NOT work. Its use is short-term, and its effect is to put you or someone else down, not worthy of attention, love or affection. It is FUSED thinking which is usually linear, black and white, right or wrong, also labeled as not fair or just. This type of thinking traps us in thought corners, leading us to believe that our thoughts are/must true and request that we take action accordingly.
Another example of fused thinking is the concept of Automaticity. If I say, Mary had a little ____. You would probably answer lamb. Even though there was an equal or better chance at the answer being, a little purse, dog, hat, and so on.
Examples of Inflexible Thinking include Self-admonishment, “I cannot do this. I am not good enough”, or fused “I already ate one cupcake, I might as well eat the rest.”
Flexible thinking requires the willingness to be open to the possibility, allowing for additional thoughts, and to actively consider different perspectives to gain a broader, more inclusive view. For example, instead of evaluating your success or failure as right or wrong, good or bad, flexible thinking allows you to have a different thought, “Each day is a new day to do something different.”
An example of a Declared Value: I value my physical health
Values Consistent Action: I am committed to supporting my long-term health. My goals and actions to support this value will include, exercise 5 days a week, eating a healthy diet, choosing friends who also support and live this value.
Take Action – Walking Alongside Your Values
If you say that you value something, your goals and the actions you take will be consistent with your values. If you are not walking your talk, then your actions contradict what you stated as having meaning and value.
Tracking your courage to act in accordance with your declared value.
The center of this bull’s eye represents Taking Action that is consistent with your declared values.
How to Score:
- For each action, you take that is consistent with a healthy diet, etc., you score a 9 or 10.
- When your actions are slightly inconsistent, you score a 7 or 8.
- If you swing and miss, falling back to old habits that are not consistent, you score a 5 or 6.
If it is difficult to be consistent with the actions that support a value, ask yourself this question, “how important is this value?”
Two things, don’t beat yourself up for not trying harder. Admonishing yourself is inflexible, unworkable and not very useful. Instead, sit with what is and ask yourself, kindly, gently, “is this really what I value?” Your mind will come up with all types of thoughts, explanations to why you should live this value. Reason giving is not the best motivation for courage or taking action. What you declare as having value needs to hold meaning to you. Reason giving is another way of avoiding what you fear. Examples of reason giving:
This is too hard I have too many distractions It is cold outside
Not feeling it today, or tomorrow Someone else has more power over my actions than me
When we generate excuses for not being committed, it is time to re-evaluate what we say we want our lives to be about, moving forward.
Moving forward to living an authentic life. Living in this moment, using mindfulness and acceptance… moving forward, choosing and committing to workable options that realize a valued life – living an authentic life.
Acceptance is no longer avoiding the thoughts that trap us in an idea of who we think we are, were, or could become. A flexible awareness of what was or could be and a beginning of different thoughts, ideas, and feelings.
Our minds fight real or imagined obstacles that continue to get in the way of living a valued life. Fusion, inflexibly, keeps us trapped in the “idea of who we were or are” and this thinking thwarts Acceptance.
Here – Now. A non-judgmental view of what is happening in this moment. Noting what we think and feel about living in this moment, not the past pain of “There – Then“, or the future worry of “What – If“. Being Here – Now.
People describe who they are by stating what they do for a living, e.g. lawyer, banker, or parent. Who we are, our “self in context”, can be an awareness of experiencing an event, in this moment, without the need to form an attachment to a desired outcome.
ACTFlexibly involves creating workable choices that keep us on our unique path towards living a valued and authentic life. Describing what we value is an on-going exercise of learning. Exploring and considering options allows us to be present, and match our actions, thoughts and behavior with our stated values.
ACTFlexibly requires an all embracing, inclusive effort, each day, working to be Here – Now; Living in this moment….checking in with our Values and a Willingness to Accept and Think Flexibly as we commit to following the path, living a valued Authentic Life.