These are uncertain times. We are faced with unprecedented complexity and a rapidly changing crisis. Some can adapt and focus on the positive. Others are barely managing. Clearly the pandemic is rocking our world. Yet amid it all, I am witnessing acts of kindness and compassion that can serve to disrupt the downward spiral of despair. Why is that?
Turns out research can tell us a thing or two about what happens in our bodies when we are frightened. In his book “Helping People Change” author and professor Richard Boyatzis explains what happens when you move from a negative emotional attractor (NEA) to positive emotional attractor (PEA) – effectively moving you from survival mode to thrive mode. When we are scared, our bodies often respond from a place of scarcity – the fight, flight or freeze modes of being. When we are hope-filled, we access positive emotions that create the space for us to be open, which in turn releases hormones that reduces stress. He further shares how stimulating a dream-like state through powerful questioning, can generate empathy, bypassing our more logical, task-positive thought process that is designed to solve problems. The point is you need both, in different doses. From experience, most of us aren’t consciously aware of how we are processing the stress in our lives. But our bodies are keenly aware of our heightened state of anxiety. It’s when we focus only on the places that scare us that we quickly descend into a scarcity mentality that has people acting strangely … witness the hoarding of toilet paper as one example.
Here’s one quick practice. In this moment, close your eyes and take three deep grounding breaths … deep belly breaths to the count of 5. Make your exhale twice as long as your inhale. As you exhale, lower your shoulders and notice whether there is tension. Notice if any emotion(s) arises as a result of this purposeful pause. Chances are, you are now more fully aware of where the tension is in your body. Imagine doing this practice hourly to get you grounded and focusing on the present. Imagine beginning your next Zoom call with a grounding practice to get everyone listening generously.
When our bodies are feeling safe, we allow deeper connection and greater compassion to flow between us. Compassion comes from the latin word ‘pati’ which means ‘to suffer’ and the prefix ‘com’, which means ‘with’. When we hold the word compassion in this way, we allow our suffering to have voice. This might explain why we are seeing more acts of compassion lately … people who are inspired to act to help reduce the suffering they are witnessing in others. For instance, one of my dear friends and sister Integral CoachTM is making soap for front line workers and inviting us to express our gratitude to those that are saving lives. I have other friends who are shopping for their older neighbours to reduce their stress of leaving the home. The SLSG is offering free, weekly Conversation Matters drop-ins for sport leaders who want to understand how to navigate these turbulent times. The point is many of us are tapping into our compassionate hearts to find the ‘one thing’ we can do to help alleviate the suffering in others.
Integral CoachesTM are trained in various modalities to support people in moving through their suffering by acknowledging the pain of’ what is’, while simultaneously creating the space of ‘what could be’. This longing is best described as a choice to move towards something that deeply matters to me. From experience, when we create a safe and welcoming container for people to share their deepest longings, our clients are often overcome with emotion. They often share with us that they have never been asked questions that provoke such powerful responses. For many, this might have been the first time that they feel truly seen, heard, cherished. This is what it means to coach with compassion.
For sport coaches and leaders, one of the practical tips we offer is to move away from compliance-based questions like ‘what do you want to improve on’ towards dream-based ones like ‘tell me what you are longing to experience’. The former triggers the ‘ought to’ response which can lead to defensive mindsets, while the latter generates possibilities and releases feel good emotions that give rise to hope. Boyatzis isn’t suggesting that compliance-based questions don’t serve an important purpose. However, he is making a solid case for not beginning there. After coaching hundreds of people over the past decade, we wholeheartedly agree.
Here’s a fun practice that you can try with family, friends, teammates, athletes, or colleagues. Next time you have a problem to solve or you want to deal with something that is weighing you down, start with sharing your dream or vision of what could be. Here’s a way to hold a compassionately based coaching conversation – let’s imagine you have 1 hour to invest in (PS – this can also work for those that prefer to sit quietly with themselves … all you need is a journal and a pen and a walk in nature):
Step 1: Spend the first 30 minutes on dreams. Ask really great dream-inspiring questions like: Tell me more about why this matters to you? Imagine it’s 2025, describe what is happening and what you are feeling? How would the world be different when you realize your dream? Where are you feeling your dream in your body? What values are being lived in this moment?
Step 2: Spend the next 20 minutes on strengths: Connect to what you are already really good at: What strengths do you currently have that you can leverage more fully? What will help you realize your dream? Describe a past experience where you thrived? In what ways can you convert those strengths into ones that will propel you forward? What do you believe you are best in the world at? What is your superpower?
Step 3: Spend the next 5 minutes on a blind spot, weakness or pain point: Let’s acknowledge that there is something weighing you down: If there was one area that you needed to strengthen that would help you move towards your dream more fully, what might that be? If you asked someone you trust what your greatest weakness is, what would they say? When you consider your more vulnerable pain point, where do you feel it in your body? What emotions describe how you feel about your weak area? What is one weakness that you are curious about learning more about?
Step 4: Spend the next 5 minutes on activating your commitment: Rome wasn’t built in a day so what is one area that you can focus on developing: What is one thing you are now inspired to try? In what ways can you incorporate a new doing that will help you step closer towards your vision? What new action will help you untangle your pain point? How will you know that you will be successfully moving towards your dream? What is one commitment you are inspired to try over the next few weeks?
Integral CoachesTM are deeply committed to helping clients activate the PEA state and we do so with presence, generous listening and deep compassion. So next time you, or someone you care about is feeling stuck, try the steps above and let us know how it goes at [email protected], [email protected] or [email protected] . Watch for my next blog on how collaboration can help us thrive.