I know, I know. This is almost like asking which one of your children is your favourite.
But there are 3 “tools” that I use (I loosely call them tools, because they are completely flexible and customisable) that have made the biggest difference to my practice, and I want to share them with you in case you find them useful too!
These three tools are:
- Customisable mind maps/exercises for clients to use themselves
- Anchoring, or how to truly sediment our lightbulb moments
- Neural pathways – and how they help our transformational progress
1. How to create customisable mind maps/exercises
What do I mean by “completely customised tools?”
As coaches, we rely on our training and the tools we learn to be able to effectively support our clients through their transformation. There are many effective tools and exercises developed by known experts, that can help unlock deep internal transformation.
However, it’s also important to use tools as a guidance or framework, and not be entirely attached or dependent on them. The less we feel dependent on tools, the more we are able to allow whatever arises in a coaching session.
I believe that each individual is unique. Their challenges are part of a context. A context of their current life experience (present), of their history (past) and their dreams (future). So how could one tool or exercise fit with all possible situations and people?
Let’s say for example that a client has an important goal, but is not taking the action to solve it. They might already have identified that underneath, there is a fear of failure. But they don’t know what to do with that information or how to get unstuck and take action. Through your powerful exploratory questions, you help the individual to identify that they have a loud inner critic that pushes them to take action, but they’re experiencing resistance. This resistance comes from the emotional child part of themselves, which refuses to take action. Through some deeper exploration, the client uncovers that the child part of themselves is taking responsibility for the success of the action, and is terrified of failing. The client has an a-ha moment when they realise that they’ve been trying to “reason” their way out of this conundrum through logical thoughts (eg “I know this is stupid and irrational”), when the inner child part of themselves is emotional and needs emotional support. Thinking their way rationally through this issue, makes the child feel unheard, and as a result it is stomping its feet and refusing to take action. They then realise that this child part of themselves was screaming for love and compassion, and it just needed to feel heard.
Through all the exploration you’ve done in the session, you now have all the elements of a customised tool that the client can develop and use for themselves.
They’ve uncovered the surface-level problem (procrastination, non-action), as well as several deeper layers of what’s actually happening. By using this as a mind-map, every time the client experiences procrastination, they will be able to take the steps you took in the session, and uncover the root cause.
To develop this tool or mind map, you might ask the following questions:
> What did you uncover was underneath the procrastination? (Eg fear of failure)
> And what was underneath the fear of failure? (My inner child feeling resistance)
> What didn’t work whenever your inner child feels fearful? (Reasoning my way out of it)
> What do you need to do instead? (Acknowledge my inner child’s fear and offer love and compassion)
> What are some ways in which you can do that? (Eg journalling, meditation, mindfulness)
> What commitment do you want to make to the child part of yourself? (Eg to listen when it feels this way)
So now every time they experience procrastination, they know to go straight to the inner child and listen to it, and journal their way out of fear, with compassion and self-love.
See how in this process we’ve helped the client develop their own tool? There isn’t any exercise that says that the solution for procrastination is to offer our inner child love and compassion. This tool is now unique to the client and their circumstances and has a deeper resonance because it completely relates to their own experience.
Having an a-ha moment is often not a direct route, but a result of taking several mental, emotional or even physical steps. These steps are unique to us and our personal experience. By writing down the steps we went through to unlock that outcome, we essentially signpost the route from challenge to solution.
I encourage my clients to write down or draw the key steps they took to shift out of the challenge. This process of signposting helps immensely under stress, when we may not be in our most resourceful state. By having the mental map, we don’t need to actively think “what did I do that last time when I felt this way?” but have a quickly accessible roadmap in your pocket.
2. Anchoring, or how to truly sediment our lightbulb moments
The customised transformational tools I talked about before, help us to navigate challenges, so we can respond in more effective and healthy ways.
However, just having a transformational a-ha moment isn’t enough. Yes, it gives us an emotional rush in the moment, it makes us realise that we’ve finally figured something that we’ve previously struggled with for a long time, and that in itself is amazing. However, the real magic of the inner transformation lies in implementation and repetition.
The anchoring technique is a tool developed from NLP that has the purpose to anchor a new feeling, thought or a-ha moment, so that we can apply it in real life situations, for a long time after our coaching session ends.
Imagine a ship throwing the anchor down into the sea. The anchoring technique allows us to stop, rather than allow ourselves to go with the current, when that current takes us to places we don’t want to go to. By anchoring a new belief, feeling, thought or response, we learn to come back to that safe space whenever we need to access it.
To help my clients anchor their transformational realisations, these are some questions I might ask them at the end of a session:
> How does this realisation help you with the challenge you had?
> What will you do differently as a result of this realisation?
> What are the action steps you will take whenever this challenge occurs again?
> What will be the signal for you to realise that you’re experiencing this challenge again?
These signposts will help the client see the “clues” that they are entering procrastination and their old thinking patterns. By helping them notice the moments when they’re entering those old patterns, we give them a real chance of changing them so that they feel in control of how they’re feeling, and have a clear action plan to shift out of it on their own.
To use the previous example, if the client knows that they need to do something, a signal for procrastination might be that they’re scrolling through instagram without a specific purpose. When they do this next time, they will remember the anchoring technique and become aware that they might be procrastinating. Realising this, they can take the steps they uncovered, to move out of that non-action headspace, into action.
If they notice themselves thinking “I know this is irrational and stupid, I shouldn’t feel this way”, they can quickly remember that they’re trying to “think” their way out of an emotional situation, and be able to shift to love and compassion so that their emotional child part feels heard and cared for.
3. Neural pathways – and how they help our transformational progress
I love seeing my client’s transformation in our work together, but as one of my clients rightly pointed out before we started working together, she said “I listen to all these self-help podcasts and I feel amazing in the moment, I have deep realisations, but then I go back to my old self and still have the same challenges, which is very frustrating.”
The reason this happens is related to neural pathways.
Imagine that you’ve moved to a new house, and in between your house and the train station, there’s a big field of grass. To get to the train station and back every day, you need to cross through the field. Every day, you take the same route through the field, back and forth. Over time, you will notice that on that area you keep walking on, the grass stops growing, the ground becomes more compact, until you start to notice that a path has formed. A beaten path is the same as our neural pathways. The more you repeat a behaviour, the more that behaviour becomes the “beaten path”, or the default reaction or response to that situation. It’s an automatic response to a stimulus, that doesn’t require our conscious effort or attention.
The fact that these behaviours are automatic, is very helpful in many areas of our lives. If we didn’t have these automatic neural circuits, we wouldn’t know how to tie our shoelaces and we’d need to learn how to do it every day. We would need to learn how to use a spoon every time we eat, or how to brush our teeth every morning. Can you imagine the amount of effort and energy involved in re-learning everything every single day? That’s why automatic pathways are essential to our functioning.
But they are also why we automatically react to situations where we don’t like our reaction, and therefore the reason for many of our struggles.
How do we change neural pathways that no longer serve us?
Well, imagine that you moved 10 houses down, and you still need to cross the field to get to your train, but this time you need to go a different way. You start taking this new route every day and over time, you will again see a new path forming, just like the old one. The grass will stop growing where your steps touch the ground every day, and this too will become a beaten path. And what you might notice about the old path, is that grass will start growing on it again, and eventually if it’s not used for a long period of time, you won’t even be able to notice that there was a path there before.
This is neuroplasticity. Our ability to change our automatic thoughts and reactions over time, through repetition, and to create new behaviours and thoughts that support us better. This deletes the old neural pathway so that we no longer need to go back to unhealthy behaviours. Think of emotional eating. For some, experiencing a negative emotion is automatically linked to reaching for the sweets to keep our mouth busy (from not expressing how we feel) or to numb our emotions. But when we replace that pattern with a healthier one, say – taking a walk, then over time that will become our automatic go-to behaviour whenever we experience a negative emotion.
Over time, the more we repeat a new response to a stimulus, the more it’s likely to become a habit, and eventually it will become an automatic response that we don’t need to consciously think about.
I help my clients not just to have a realisation, but to develop a plan to build their own beaten paths until their new, healthy and supportive responses become the default response.
Understanding the function and process of neural pathways is essential in supporting our clients to create long-lasting change.
Finally, here are some reflective questions for you, that utilise the three tools we’ve been discussing:
>What specific challenges (your client’s or your own) can you use these tools on?
>What needs to happen for you to remember to use the anchoring technique with your clients?
>What do you need to repeat or remind yourself of, in order to apply these tools consistently in your practice, so that they become automatic?
You can find out more about Beatrice here.
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