A to Z of coaching: J – Joy

Joy, in the professional context, is underrated. It’s often confused with fun. It’s associated by many with not working hard enough or being unserious.

That worldview denies the reality of experiencing joy when we are at our best. It fails to notice joy at the intersection of effectiveness and ease, and discounts the value of the liberating lightness of a joyous experience.

After two years of working through a pandemic, our reserves of joy are diminished.

We stand to benefit, now more than ever, from creating opportunities for joy in our professional lives.

Joy doesn’t just arise momentarily when success is achieved. It’s present in a good job done well, for the right reasons. It arises when our interactions are meaningful, and expansive. It’s in moments of noticing, and appreciation.

Designing for joy is a good use of your time. Once you shift your mindset from viewing joy as a ‘nice to have’ to something that allows you to perform optimally, then your task is to create, or re-craft, opportunities for joy in everything you do.

Of course, designing for joy is useful for teams and organisations too. Don’t skip the important work of doing it for yourself first.

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This post was adapted from one of Aodan’s Sunday morning newsletters, eagerly anticipated by hundreds of readers. Give yourself the gift of that weekly wisdom by signing up here.

Bathwater and babies

“Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater”.

That’s a grim sounding idiom, isn’t it?

It comes from an era when you literally threw your bathwater outside, but it turns out to be quite applicable to a modern phenomenon in our professional careers.

In responding to negative events, we can over-correct and end up diminishing ourselves in the process i.e. the baby goes out with the bathwater.

We diminish ourselves by dropping standards, retreating beneath our potential, downgrading our habits and losing belief in our ability to contribute.

Setbacks are setbacks, but they don’t need to define us. We compound the setback by moving down a gear and allowing the circumstances to dictate how we respond.

Dirty bathwater shows up in different forms:  pandemics, asshole bosses, economic downturns, personal crises, market disruptions and so forth.

We have to move past all of these things eventually. And we do that by honouring our own capabilities, by building on our hard-earned assets and by remembering our own worth.

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This post was adapted from one of Aodan’s Sunday morning newsletters, eagerly anticipated by hundreds of readers. Give yourself the gift of that weekly wisdom by signing up here.

A to Z of coaching: I – Indifference

In coaching work, the exploration of the reasons behind our indifference to something can often lead to useful breakthroughs.

When our performance dips below the level we would like, or when our sense of weariness or dissatisfaction is growing, it can be worthwhile to investigate where our concern, sympathy or interest has waned.

At our best, we are alert and aware. We can discern between what requires our attention and what is less important. We are clearer on what improves as we devote our interest to it and what doesn’t require our full engagement. We can see the signal through the noise.

But when we’re sub-par, we begin to miss things. We gloss over, lose touch, become indifferent.

Why? What might be behind that?

Has something become misaligned with our values? Have we issues arising from conflict with others? Are we actively practising aversion from discomfort? Are echoes of past traumas causing us to turn away?

In creating the space to explore and understand this better, it might be helpful to recognise the benefits of adopting a more compassionate approach. And in doing so, the words of meditation teacher Joseph Goldstein may well be useful:

“Compassion is the motivation to alleviate suffering, to alleviate harm.

When it’s developed, it opens us to whatever suffering is in front of us and it overcomes the arising of indifference and inaction.

It’s not enough to admire the quality of compassion from a distance. Our practice is about making the compassionate response the default setting of our lives. This is the power of practice. This is what practice means.

Instead of falling into indifference, instead of conditioning apathy, we practice compassion so that it becomes the habit of our mind and heart. 

As we learn to open to our own pain, our own suffering, our own difficulties, of how to be with them with an open, receptive, compassionate attitude of mind, we then have greater strength and courage to be with the suffering of others – because we’ve practised it.”

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This post was adapted from one of Aodan’s Sunday morning newsletters, eagerly anticipated by hundreds of readers. Give yourself the gift of that weekly wisdom by signing up here.

Ah, I give up

The Covid situation is bleak again. Ah, I give up trying to plan anything now.

The evenings are dark. Ah, I give up on trying to exercise until the Spring.

There’s a pile of books I still haven’t read. Ah, I give up on even looking at new ones.

Social media is getting even more divisive. Ah, I give up trying to engage with it.

I’ve never been heavier. Ah, I give up on trying to lose weight until after Christmas.

The working from home era is such a drag. Ah, I give up looking for a better job until things improve.

*****

We all get fed up. It’s understandable when circumstances are unfavourable, or when we’ve just had enough of something. But being fed up doesn’t have to automatically lead to giving up.

That said, there are times when giving up is exactly what we need to do.

Every individual, when reading the list above, will find themselves resonating with some more than others. We’re all at different stages in our relationships with activities and commitments. What might be useful for some to give up on now may well be entirely counterproductive for others.

A good friend or confidant is sometimes better able to see when it’s in our interest to give up or persist. Maybe we’re stuck in a rut of low mood or riding high on a wave of delusion.

So, maybe now is a good time for you to give up. Or maybe it’s exactly the time to persist. Just ensure you’re clear on the difference, and why it’s in your interest to consider those choices carefully.

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This post was adapted from one of Aodan’s Sunday morning newsletters, eagerly anticipated by hundreds of readers. Give yourself the gift of that weekly wisdom by signing up here.

Is eco-anxiety real?

There’s a stubbornly persistent school of thought in the world that anxiety is “all in the head”.

This worldview projects downward from the ‘tough’ to the ‘weak’. Anxiety is ungenerously framed as lacking the required nerve, or not being able to tolerate the hard stuff.

Some organisational cultures still incubate this worldview and permit the dehumanising of employees in the name of results.

It is perhaps then no surprise that some have reacted with eye-rolling resistance to the introduction of eco-anxiety into the contemporary conversation.

To answer the headline question, eco-anxiety is very much a real and lived experience. Anxiety tends to thrive at the intersection of fear and uncertainty and given the emerging climate crisis, it seems quite logical to be both afraid and uncertain about the medium and long-term prospects for our planet.

The lack of an appropriate response to environmental challenges is rooted in denial and ignorance. And when it comes to eco-anxiety, denial and ignorance will only compound the problem.

Accepting that people are experiencing this along the full symptomatic range allows us to be empathetic, and accordingly more solution-focused. Perhaps the most tragic element of eco-anxiety is to increase the likelihood of disengagement and feelings of despair and helplessness, just at the time when more coordinated action is required.

It’s ok to be anxious. It’s human nature. Accepting it is the first step to dealing with it in a more useful way.

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This post was adapted from one of Aodan’s Sunday morning newsletters, eagerly anticipated by hundreds of readers. Give yourself the gift of that weekly wisdom by signing up here.

Being right vs Doing right

We get hung up on the need to be right.

A lot of suffering and waste ensues when we over-attach to an internal narrative around the significance of our role in any evolving human engagement.

While reputation has value, we tend to overinvest in our internal evaluations of it.

Consistently doing the right thing will enhance our reputation more than any negotiations about our reputation with ourselves and others might.

(‘Doing the right thing can be upgraded to ‘doing the useful thing’).

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This post was adapted from one of Aodan’s Sunday morning newsletters, eagerly anticipated by hundreds of readers. Give yourself the gift of that weekly wisdom by signing up here.

How am I changing?

Some of us don’t like to admit that we are changing as individual human beings.

We think we’re different to others, and are somehow magically exempt from the processes of evolution and development. (Ninety-three percent of drivers think they’re above average).

Often we cling to a favourite version of ourselves and will defend the idea that we’re ‘still the same’. The reality, though, is that we are indeed changing, getting older and adapting to the endlessly dynamic environment around us.

It’s more useful to accept and understand the nature of our change rather than trying to manipulate reality into a more comforting image.

And perhaps most importantly, viewed through the lens of coaching work, there’s no point following an operating manual for a person who no longer exists.

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This post was adapted from one of Aodan’s Sunday morning newsletters, eagerly anticipated by hundreds of readers. Give yourself the gift of that weekly wisdom by signing up here.

A to Z of coaching: H – Holding the space

In this alternative series on the A to Z of coaching, I’ve held off on topics such as happiness or habits or hope as candidates for the letter ‘h’, to be potentially revisited on subsequent runs through the alphabet.

Instead, I want to explore the concept of ‘holding the space’.

Wait, what? Is that one of those touchy feely things? Does it involve some awkwardness and the unexpected introduction of a candle? (This was my initial reaction to the concept, btw).

Holding the space may sound a bit woo-woo but it is, in fact, one of the key elements of successful coaching. Much of the progress made in coaching depends upon that space being created, and ‘held’.

In essence, it’s about providing the opportunity for a high quality conversation.

If I had to identify three components, I would choose:

  1. Generating a sense of safety – allowing the coachee to see that it’s ok to talk, that it feels safe, both emotionally and psychologically, to be ourselves in the conversation
  2. Building a sense of confidence – experiencing first hand that talking about this will help to improve things and that the momentum generated will give us greater courage to tackle harder challenges
  3. Staying with the uncomfortable – delaying the reflex to avoid dealing with something or not giving in to the impulse to switch to a less challenging question

From my experience, I can sense that I’ve been successful in holding the space when people share observations like “I haven’t spoken openly about that before” or “I wasn’t expecting to say that”. I also notice a sense of emotional release and a renewed ‘lightness’ arising from progress made.

However, not everyone wants that space. Some aren’t ready. Some are ideologically opposed to such work.

But for most, such conversations are highly valuable. And that value derives from the insight that what is causing us to become stuck is rarely due to unsolvable complexity, but more often a lack of willingness (or practice) to examine it properly.

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This post was adapted from one of Aodan’s Sunday morning newsletters, eagerly anticipated by hundreds of readers. Give yourself the gift of that weekly wisdom by signing up here.

A different way

One of the privileges of being trusted to help many people through the practice of coaching is to get exposed to a diverse range of perspectives on the professional world.

I regularly find myself enthralled and enthused by how some embrace challenges in a way that wasn’t obvious to me.

It’s a reminder that human ingenuity is under-appreciated and when we lose hope, it’s often because we forget how resourceful we are as a species.

Of course, we are social beings. We find ourselves looking to others in comparison and sometimes seek comfort in hoping that others think and feel the way we do. There’s a time and place where that’s helpful but in finding succour in company, we can often seek validation for a specific approach.

There are always different ways of proceeding. It may take extra effort to push beyond ‘groupthink’ but it’s usually worthwhile.

If you’re feeling stuck, it’s worth remembering that not only is there a way out, but there are likely to be multiple paths.

Sometimes in our search for different ways, we need to back ourselves to find them.

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This post was adapted from one of Aodan’s Sunday morning newsletters, eagerly anticipated by hundreds of readers. Give yourself the gift of that weekly wisdom by signing up here.

The weight of permanence

In our pursuit of certainty, we crave permanence in the things that are important to us.

Alas, so much of our world is transient. Change is constant. Impermanence is reality.

And yet, when it comes to our professional performance we have a tendency to attach permanence to events and perspectives that are no more than passing moments.

When our pitch of an idea or offering is rejected, it can feel like we are rejected and thus should not try again.

When we experience a streak of ‘bad days’, it can feel like we have lost our capability and thus shouldn’t expect to regain it.

When we are overwhelmed, it can feel like there’s no way through and we lose our belief in recovery.

But all such moments do pass. Failures turn into successes. Bad days are replaced by good days. We find ease where previously we were lost.

When moments of struggle arise, it doesn’t help us when we attach the weight of permanence.

This too shall pass.

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This post was adapted from one of Aodan’s Sunday morning newsletters, eagerly anticipated by hundreds of readers. Give yourself the gift of that weekly wisdom by signing up here.