One of the most common situations we see in coaching is when a person is very clear about what they want to change in their lives but is stuck in procrastination, or ‘inaction”. It is probably the time when the support of an independent outside person is the most valuable, yet why is it so hard to go after what we know we want?
Let’s break down what might be going on for us at the time when indecision is most rampant!
- What we do know is that something isn’t right. We have a sense of dissatisfaction with some area of our lives. It could be many things – the way we are living, dissatisfaction at work or perhaps a partner who doesn’t share the same values or goals that we hold dear.
- We can list all the reasons why the change is desirable and when we do this it is often with a sense of frustration as while we know those things are within our reach, we just can’t seem to take that first step to get there.
- And there is a reason for this. Because on the other side, there is something that we still value. It may be quite concrete like financial security, or it may be an attachment to a more nebulous element such as a memory or a hope, or even a safe routine! But there is definitely a big pull to keep us right where we are.
And the result of this inner conflict? It can range from a vague sense of discontent with life, or a feeling that we are losing our sanity when it is so obvious what we need to do!
When I hear the details of the dilemma, it is a time that I feel the most empathy for the person I am with – because this feeling is one we all recognise. And it can take years to resolve depending on the specifics of the situation.
At these times, as a coach we can quite often feel helpless to help because we understand a few things about human behaviour. Namely –
- If we push someone to take action and they are not ready, instead of helping them move forward we can actually create more resistance to the change. I.e. they dig their heels in further and feel under pressure to meet our expectations as a coach. Not good.
- If we offer our opinion or advice, we then take the power away from our client/friend/colleague by adopting an attitude that our take on the situation is better than theirs. Incorrect.
- If we sympathise with them and join forces in promoting the safe alternative. Not helpful.
- If we make suggestions that back up what we think their decision should be. Disempowering.
So how can we help? What can a person do who is so “stuck” and potentially unhappy?
- A coach or friend can help shine a light on all aspects of the situation. By listening to the details and the feeling behind the story, we can mirror back to the person sometimes a clearer picture of exactly what is going on for them. Even if we don’t provide an illuminating reflection, we at least gain their trust and sense that we are supporting them.
- We can put our judgements and beliefs aside.
- We can let the person know that they are not alone in these feelings and that we understand how difficult it must be when both sides have a strong pull.
- We can help them brainstorm all the options – including the crazy ones as well as the sensible ones. This is a time to ask, “If anything were possible, what could happen?”
- We can help them sort out which are the options that have value.
- By choosing the next action in an option, we break down the change to manageable pieces, knowing that these may be experiments. If it doesn’t work, then there are alternatives to try. All is not lost, plans can be changed!
- The person with the dilemma needs to recognise that where they are might be exactly where they need to be – in a place of uncertainty with a lot of thinking to do! Rushing a decision before you are ready could result in missing some essential considerations.
- Take time to accept the uncomfortable place they’re at; recognise that the feelings they have are steps forward in learning more about themselves and what they value; what is acceptable and what is not.
Letting go of control of the outcome whether you are the person supporting or the person who is stuck is a difficult thing to do, but is the greatest strength builder if we can learn to do it at times.
Perhaps it is best summed up by the ancient wisdom of the Serenity Prayer. Know what when we can take action to create change and knowing what is outside of our power to change. When we can do that, we are really demonstrating the art of self-responsibility.