You’ve been criticizing yourself for years and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens.
—Louise L. Hay
Your Inner Coach
What new challenges might you tackle if you had a non-judgmental, curious, and insightful coach? How much more could you accomplish if you had support and encouragement from an advocate and witness?
An effective coach welcomes all parts of you, listens actively and asks mind-opening questions. The support, accountability, and perspective of a discerning guide can help you eliminate old limiting beliefs and behaviors, and identify strengths you can leverage to create the life you want.
What are characteristics of a great coach?
- Actively listens
- Non-judgmental and curious
- Asks great questions
- Supports you to create effective action and to be accountable to your goals and dreams
In the next chapter, I will ask you to make a contract with yourself to embody these qualities inside you and to utilize the skills of a great coach.
First, I’ll explain why these qualities and skills are important.
How to Be Your Own Best Friend Instead of Your Own Worst Enemy
Neuroscience research suggests a welcoming, friendly, and non-judgmental attitude promotes positive learning and behavioral change. Case Western Reserve University research conducted by Professor Boyzatis using MRI scans reveals enhanced activity in the brain areas associated with learning and behavioral changes in clients whose coach demonstrates those qualities and helps the client focus on a positive future.
Treating yourself the way a great coach would treat you is not babying yourself—it’s the best way to engage your creativity, to motivate yourself and to initiate lasting change. Yelling at yourself and judging yourself harshly will not activate the learning and behavioral parts of your brain. In short, it’s harder to change when you adopt a hostile attitude toward yourself.
You are always listening to what you tell yourself. When your mind constantly focuses on criticizing yourself and identifying how you’re screwing up, the brain only notices the flaws and that criticizing yourself and screwing up is a big priority. Sometimes people unwittingly focus on what they don’t want over and over—and then unwittingly bring it about.
“I can’t screw up, I can’t screw up, I can’t screw up…. oops, I just screwed up…”
Pay attention to what you want. Express it in positive terms. “I want to do x. I want x to happen.” Reinforce in yourself what you do want, not what you don’t want.
If You Only Listen to One Person, Listen to Yourself
Active listening may be the trickiest piece to do without an external coach or partner. However, the principles behind listening are the same as you would extend to someone else.
Active listening to yourself means giving yourself your own undivided attention. It means slowing down, turning off electronic devices, and taking regular time to focus on yourself. Active listening with a “self-focus” may mean going to a different part of your home or re-locating outside your home, and alerting loved ones you are not to be disturbed for a specific time.
Active listening means taking time everyday to treat your thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and intuitions as important—and as important reflections of your mental, emotional, and spiritual health.
When you have a strong intuition related to something you could do, it’s also important to honor that intuition by taking action.
How do I listen to myself?
The form you adopt to actively listen to yourself may vary. It can include journaling/writing down your thoughts/feelings; talking into a recorder; talking to a trusted partner who uses active listening skills, or something else that allows you to hear what you are saying to yourself.
Writing down your thoughts or feelings or talking into a tape is a great way to debrief with yourself and to gain perspective, particularly on troubling events.
Over 20 years of research, Professor James Pennebaker at the University of Austin demonstrated how writing down your thoughts or feelings might be one of the best ways to cope with challenges. It can even strengthen your immune system, particularly if your writing focuses on extracting meaning from a situation. This can be especially effective if you suffer from chronic anxiety or worry.
Speaking your thoughts into a recorder and playing them back is another way to get perspective. It gives you the sense of talking to someone—and that someone is you. Many cognitive behavior psychologists recommend setting aside specific worry time every day for a specified amount of time where you give free reign to anxious thoughts. Doing this is a way to forestall worrying all the time AND allows you to go back and hear and review what’s worries you.
Doing the exercises in this book and finding your own ways to listen to yourself are a great way to start listening to yourself. Your goal is to develop a great relationship with the only person you live with every single minute of the day—yourself.
Use Coaching Questions to Give Your Brain a Frame
Great questions are important because the way you frame a question or situation is the way your brain will frame the answer.
Great questions pre-suppose a positive future. Great questions assume there are specific actions that will get you to what you want.
Great questions empower you. They never assume you can’t have something. They never assume limitations. They never assume that two or more things you want are mutually exclusive.
If there are realities that must be respected (like past failures or time limits), they are incorporated into the question, without pre-supposing something can’t be accomplished now.
- Given that I wasn’t as successful as I wanted to be in doing x, what are ways I can act to be more successful next time?
- Given that I only have one free hour today to do x, and I have these other things I’ve committed to do, what’s the best way for me to accomplish x as well as the other things I’ve committed to doing?
Why “Whys” Aren’t Always Wise
Coaches seldom use why questions because they’re often counter-productive to taking effective action. Asking yourself why often puts you in their head and pressures you to justify yourself.
Think about how you respond when someone else asks, “Why did you do that?” “Why do you feel that way?”
Do you feel defensive? Underneath a why question is often a veiled judgment or lack of understanding. At worst, it’s a way to make someone wrong, to take blame, or to make a person feel they don’t measure up in some way.
The answer to every “Why did I do that?” question is simply, “That’s the best I could do at the time under the circumstances.” Any other explanation you offer yourself is a story, which may or may not be true.
Asking “why?” often leads to intellectualizing and self-justification. It doesn’t usually lead to action.
When “Whys” Are Wise
If you are truly confused or confounded about why you feel a certain way or why you are motivated to do or not do something, and you simply must get clarity, journaling is a great way to explore a why question.
But please avoid asking whys later when you are about to take action or to be accountable to yourself, otherwise you may create further delays in taking action or derail your goals.
In Part II, I explore other loaded questions to avoid when coaching yourself or someone else.
Can You Put One Foot in Front of the Other? (Or Why Small Consistent Action Steps Are Important)
Consistent actions are important because our minds need ways to measure our progress. Happiness studies suggest people are happiest when they make some measurable progress every day.
Big goals and enduring improvements are tied to doing smaller action steps consistently. Just as losing a large amount of weight is healthier when done more slowly (vs. crash dieting), so it is with most goals.
Particularly if you take on something big, such as something you have never done before, or you take on something that scares you, or something you feel you have failed at before, it’s best to break the task down into smaller steps.
Virtually every task needs to be broken down into smaller ones.
“What is one step I can take now toward x?” is a simple question to ask yourself regularly.
Help Yourself to “Just Do It”
Creating accountability to yourself is important because there is no progress or accomplishment without it.
One definition of accountability is an obligation to report on your activities. If you don’t have a coach to report to, you need to create a system that will help you report to yourself.
Accountability systems chart our progress so the doubting part of our minds is quieted.
If you have any tendency to discount, disregard, or minimize any small steps you take (as I do!) then you need something that proves to yourself that you have taken measurable actions.
Writing down specifically what you intend to do by when and then following up by writing down what you actually did reinforces what you’ve done and makes it harder for the doubting part of your mind to argue with you.
In a later chapter, I will share tips on creating your own accountability system.