Sunday, October 3, 2010

Turn Coaching Assignments Into Play

My clients and I come up with some unusual and even comical actions for them to try between coaching sessions. A coach I mentor wondered if a man she's coaching might benefit from something a bit frivolous "to reduce his over-seriousness."

Change in our clients comes in part when they try something different, and in part when they observe and stay with the feelings that come up as a consequence. And these tasks we typically call homework or assignments are much more likely to succeed when we approach them playfully and the client collaborates in their development. I like to use the word experiment.

The first step to develop a relevant experiment is to identify the pattern that's causing a problem, then create actions that simultaneously draw from and reframe the client's worldview.

For the man who'd been over-serious, the coach first found out what "over-seriousness" meant to him, then in what ways and to what degree he wanted to be less serious. They brainstormed words to create a Seriousness Continuum and he agreed to keep track of different ways to enact each of these states:
Funereal -- Grim -- Austere -- Solemn -- Deliberate -- Thoughtful 
The key is always to heighten awareness, so clients no longer react unconsciously and habitually. Such mindfulness can resolve an issue quite quickly.

Here are some other possibilities:
The coach might ask her client to imagine ways he could exaggerate the problem. For example, he might experiment with being "Funereal" and, while doing so, to notice how his face and body feel.

Or he could go in the other direction and act in a way that stretches him just a bit. Maybe he'll agree to wear a tie in a less serious pattern than his usual dark stripe, and to pay close attention to what happens. Do people even notice his tie? How does he know that? How does he feel wearing it?
If you set up a positive expectation, a presupposition, clients will notice a change in their old patterns while experimenting with new behavior. With the above client, for example, you could say, "Notice ways you're a little less serious while trying to be funereal," or "...while wearing that tie..."

You'll find as you explore a client's patterns that ideas offer themselves about how to "do" the pattern in a different way. Because it's important in all change work to break down generalities, helping the client be specific will begin the change. Playfully dreaming up ideas for experiments between sessions will also loosen the pattern. The experiment itself will definitely do so.