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That might appear to be an odd question, but it is an incredibly important one.
I have been spending precious time of late working with some people in a small and very special drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre, learning a great deal. It is not a closed unit and the clients could walk out into their old lives at any time. However, they have to work hard at figuring out what is and isn’t ‘safe’ for them, ‘safe’ as in avoiding situations in which they would be at risk of falling back into destructive old habits.
For people reclaiming their lives from drugs and alcohol addiction this does of course go far beyond everyday risky situations such as waiting by bars of chocolate at the checkout or being offered a second glass of wine when you know you would never have a third. The challenges recovering addicts face are incredibly tough and I take my hat off to people who work hard facing the challenges. They have to do risk assessments for every potentially risky situation as they take steps back out into life. They have to figure out their coping strategies in advance. This includes a lot of work on emotions that may in the past have been dowsed with drugs or alcohol. They have to find ways to deal with upset and anger and to avoid being persuaded by others back into old habits.
How true is this for more minor addictions such as cigarettes and food? And what about all our other bad habits? Conversational habits? Habitual ways of relating? Habitual diminishing views of others and of ourselves? If you are going to tackle your addictions I applaud you. What coping strategies will you need?
What will keep you safe? This may become a favourite coaching question of mine with my coaching clients.
‘What do you want?” sounds somewhat materialistic – new shoes and car, live in a better area, more money…
But it need not be, in fact it can be the question that gets you or one of your clients back on their real track, the track where they are fully in touch with themselves and how they want their life to be. If you dig down then the things you actually want may be things like a happy family, better relationships or following the right spiritual path for you.
Coach and NLP master practitioner Julie French finds that this question is the good coaching question amongst all the coaching questions, the one that hits the spot every time and helps create new neural pathways. She also points out that if we focus on what we do want rather than what we don’t want we are much more likely to succeed. That’s because our brains don’t handle negatives very well ( as, for example, DO NOT think of an elephant in a green tutu holding up a very small umbrella with her trunk)
Read her chapter in Good Question! in order to find out how she uses this question to such good effect with her clients.
Or, if you are not in business, try substituting ‘life’ or ‘career’ or whatever other important life activity is uppermost in your mind and it’s still a very useful question.
It is Gerard Jakimavicius’ coaching question in Good Question! and it’s a very helpful one because it points to the importance of having a clear vision of where you want things to be heading. It invites visualisation, looking closely at what you are imagining is possible and filling in all the details. Who is involved? Where are things happening? What seems most important?
To quote Gerard, ‘The Vision is the end point which takes note of how you operate today and of whether you are heading in the right direction. It should be the starting point for your business plan.”
Here is an exercise you could do to develop your vision further before you start your practical plan:
- First, take a piece of plain paper, the bigger the better. A paper tablecloth is ideal. Then take some coloured pencils, crayons or felts and start doodling. Doodle everything that comes to mind about your vision in any way or order that appeals to you. Make lists, do cartoon images and sketches that symbolise things to you. Make it as well organised or disorganised as you wish. Keep going until it feels complete, covering more than one sheet of paper or paper cloth as you wish. Make sure you bring yourself and your personal needs, other people and the various circumstances of your life. Show your resources, including financial resources and the people who will support you as consultants and/or staff. Include your dreams and values and everything tangible and intangible that comes to mind. That’s just the first step.
- Second, Place the paper on the floor or on the wall at some distance from you somewhere where you will be undisturbed, probably in a large room.
- Third, walk around checking out different spots until you find what seems like the right direction and distance from the paper. This spot represents where you are now. Notice, and perhaps take notes on what you need to do to bring your vision into reality. What’s stopping you? What’s aiding you? What do you need to do? These notes may feel complete, or you may want to take one more step.
- Fourth, walk around and stop in another spot where you feel you might know something more about where you are now and what else needs to happen. Make notes from there, from that new perspective.
Not only is this very useful exercise in itself, but the visuals you create in colour and the notes you make can be kept future reference.
If the activity brings up things you’d like to talk over, do get in touch for more good coaching questions :-)
If anyone has ever asked you a question that has helped you to stop, take stock and do some fresh thinking then you know the value of good questions.
Us coaches know that they are essential, as do counsellors, therapists, managers, parents, friends and just about everybody, really.
Some of my very favourite ones are those that the New Zealand Maori psychotherapist David Grove used so wisely that others copied him. NLP master practitioners James Lawley and Penny Tomkins ‘modelled’ his excellence in clinical practice in true NLP fashion. Some of the questions he used have been grouped together as ‘Clean’ questions, questions that work with the client’s own perceptions and imagery rather than muddying the waters with the questioner’s own imagery and perceptions.
Here is an example. Someone says ‘ I feel as if a weight has been lifted’. To help them concentrate on the positive feeling in the statement without assuming you understand it, you could ask: ‘And lifted, what kind of lifted is that ‘lifted’?” That would be a clean question that could open up some useful exploration.Try it on the positive part of something someone says.
That is just a taste. The basic ‘Clean’ questions are set out in the chapter on page 131 of Good Question, in a helpful introduction to ‘Clean’ from Wendy Sullivan.
‘Clean’ questions are some of the most important tools in my coaching toolkit and I am very glad indeed I was lucky enough to discover them, so are my clients ;-)
This is Sanjay Shah’s question in my book Good Question! The Art of Asking Questions to Bring About Positive Change, which is full of good questions for coaches and for anyone who wants to improve life at home, at work or in business.
Faced with the English Channel on a grey day, any day actually, a pair of water wings, no boat and the promise of a million pounds if I make it to Calais I would definitely be in a place of ‘I can’t’.
Offered a million pounds if I stay cheerful all day I would definitely be in an ‘I can’ place.
Somewhere between the two extremes is a fuzzy area where ‘I can’t’ may be the less helpful place to be, but ‘I can’ is not where we feel and think ourselves comfortable or easy.
Sanjay Shah believes that you have to make changes on the inside before you can undertake new or previously difficult things out in the world. One way he knows this is from his experience leading people through fire walks. At the start of the day many more are in a place of ‘I can’t’ than later in the day when the fire is prepared and people are ready to cross. In between is an inner change process. He shares it for you to use at home in his contribution to Good Question!
Not with an actual fire walk necessarily. What faces you that you think you can’t do? How helpful would it be to change places to ‘I can’?
After many years of self employment I’ve got a part time job as well as running my own business and I am enjoying it, even though it’s quite tough work with recovering addicts. All my coaching skills come into play, but in a framework set up by someone else.
Though I love the freedom of a business, there’s a great deal of freedom in a job too, in different ways. In fact, there are a great deal of similarities and I can see how either can provide not only the finances for your life but enjoyment, company, purpose, creativity and everything else that gets us out of our beds in the morning and into working mode.
Here are a few similarities to get you thinking:
- You have to fit together your schedule with the needs of others (Business clients or colleagues and service users)
- You work with a variety of interesting people with many sides to their characters (Business clients/partners/staff or colleagues and service users etc)
- It’s what you make of it
Number three is particularly important of course. Given that you picked a job or business that interests you, uses your talents and gives you the opportunity to be in your flow, zone, sweet spot, whatever you call your own variety of being your best working self, then whether or not things work out well over time is probably down to you. When things aren’t going well it is easy to see the grass as greener on the other side of the fence, but it may not be, unless you have explored the mismatch between you and the current situation you have created.
Richard Todd talks about this in Good Question!, with his question “Why Are You Here and What Are You Doing?” I think it’s an important question that needs careful exploration before making a move from one side of the fence between having a job and having a business to the other. Think it through and perhaps talk things over with someone who can be objective.
After all, we are told that we live in an information age and that if only we can package it up nicely and reach the many we can make our fortunes by sharing our individual, unique knowledge with the world.
And questions are the antithesis of information aren’t they? They reveal we don’t know an answer. Many in the early days of my training and career in teaching/lecturing I was told never to reveal that I didn’t know something because that would reveal a lack of knowledge and diminish my authority. However, luckily, that’s not what my wiser tutors and colleagues were saying and it isn’t how I conduct myself. In this unfathomably huge universe I can only know a tiny fraction of what there is to know, however much I of an expert I am.
In my experience questions are an invaluable part of any conversation, presentation (even if you don’t get people to answer them there and then), meeting, workshop, life coaching session. YES! every coaching session.
Here, off the top of my head, are five good reasons for asking questions:
- People know you are listening, hopefully listening carefully
- They keep your mind actively involved
- They allow the speaker to tailor what they are saying to their audience, ie you
- They bring life to conversations by helping to move the focus along and to bring in new elements
- They can bring whole conversations into being, perhaps just from one good and accurately timed question
Given the immense power that askers of questions have in life, I would say asking questions is a very big deal!
Having survived the end of the Mayan calendar, moving home on Christmas Eve and a modest spell of snow I am now pulling on my boots to tread out into the blank snowy world of blogging again.
As I think between flurries of writing I am looking out at a snowy scene, clumps of snow dropping off evergreens and ivy, cars iced with snow, tarmac mushed with slush and and ice. There is still some white perfection but everything is changing, looking a bit messy too.
I don’t know about you but I needed that ‘whiteout’ to interrupt plans, to slow me and stop me and to give a sense of a fresh start. Beyond trite pressures to come up with New Year resolutions that are so often short-lived, what IS this year about for you? I’m busy figuring mine out in a good process, what about you?
Is the snow giving you a some crisp simplicity for a fresh start, or helping to clarify what is most important? I’d love to know.
If coaching might help you to think things through, you know where I am, in my cosy new home, at the end of a phone.
Wishing you a year of success, joy, fulfillment and all things good
In this century many of us are faced with more decision-making than in any time in history. Just choosing what to have for dinner can be a big decision with the whole of world cuisine to consider along with the tastes and dietary needs of each diner!
Staying or not staying is much more of an option in relationships.
Job contracts are different from in the past and business life tends to change.
People tend to move on more.
There are more decisions to be made and they need to be good decisions. You may have to make several at once and then there may be many more decisions to be made following those…
Perhaps if I tell you I am a Libran you will know I am one of the one in twelve who are experts in this realm. We weigh things up and might feel horrid till we can get our scales to balance.
I will write the rest as tips, for you to read on the condition that you appreciate I am still a humble apprentice in the art, like the rest of us.
- Start weighing things up. Things? Write your for and against list of all the goods and bads of each possible option. Of course there may be more than two options, in which case write a list for each.
- Score each item out of ten, with ten being incredibly important and one being important but not crucial. Do this intuitively without much further thought.
- Read each list through and notice how you feel about it as a choice. If you don’t have much in the way of feeling around it try imagining into it more and notice again. Excitement? Neutrality? Confusion? Worry? Tension? Strength? Rejection?
Depending on the nature of the decision and the time you have this may be all you can do or need to do and you might be able to do it without writing it down.
If you have more time:
- Sleep on it.
- As an advanced version of that technique, make the decision before you go to sleep. Write it down. Re-read it first thing as you come out of sleep. Notice how you feel in your body as you read it through. Notice what morning thoughts come to you and review in the light of your thoughts and feelings.
In any case, don’t skip noticing the feelings. In many ways modern societies are head-strong and life whizzes along without conscious work with feelings.
- Before you swing into action, make sure your head and your heart are in agreement.
You don’t have to go it alone.
- Find an objective listener so that you can hear yourself think.
- Consider coaching.
Once you have made your decision and acted on it, if you have worked wisely with your decision-making on the lines I suggest here, trust yourself to have made the best decision you could and let life unfold from there. Unless you have a crystal ball you have to make the best decision you can and make the best of it, whatever follows.
I have taken on some work with drug addicts and alcoholics in recovery. It is early days but it is fascinating work and already I can see the huge potential of bringing Life Coaching, NLP and Clean Facilitation into this area. Alcoholism and Drug addiction are ENORMOUS problems in the world. So many people and their families are damaged and those alcoholics and addicts who work with others may not be as clear in their judgements or as positively creative in their thinking as they would otherwise be. These facts affect life at all levels in societies around the world.
What are we going to do about it? Dig away the best we can in our own patches of life? Help those who we know are struggling? Keep up with the news and stay aware of the issues? All of these efforts are important.
I feel blessed to have this opportunity to help some people to turn their lives around. The double blessing is that I will learn and evolve in the process. After a few days I already feel this.
So this is a new area of focus for me. It’s not of course completely new as in some senses many of us deal with some addiction issues – cigarettes, caffeine in tea, coffee and chocolate, sugar, unhealthy relating behaviours, gambling, spending…..
What are the ‘Good Questions’ forming in me as I step into this work?
- How different is the inner patterning of very serious addictive behaviour from less serious kinds?
- What can I discover in myself that is helpful in helping others with their struggles?
- How can do I temper how I work with ‘regular’ (inverted commas because all clients are so different) Life Coaching Clients so that I work appropriately with people who have chosen to be in a serious programme of recovery?
What does help is that the starting points for all helping conversations, such as wanting to make important changes and consciously taking on non-intrusive support for developing a better quality of life, are in some ways similar.