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A coaching session: Unfulfilled values

John comes to see me, slightly depressed. He feels he lacks energy, he does not really enjoy the things he does, he thinks it is very much "uphill".

We talk for a little while, and I ask about his situation, his every day life, and his goal with the coaching session. He tells me he has been in the same company for many years, but his job has changed a lot, and he no longer feels as a part of the company - he feels like being trapped in a dead end, he used to work as a part of a creative team, but now works very much alone.
He is married and has two children, and he thinks his home life is OK, except that he lacks energy for the children, and has started to get irritated too easily. But he is very fond of his family and his house.

His goal with the coaching sessions is to have joy back in his life. He just does not know how.

I begin by asking about his job values and his overall life values. I suspect that some of the things that are most important to him are not fulfilled, for in my experience this can be enough to determine whether people have enough energy or not. It turns out that John values teamwork very much, that he really enjoys being part of a team of people with a common goal.
I also reflect upon the fact that John gets more irritated with his children than before, as this could be a sign that he is slightly stressed. Most of us experience a slightly stressed state of mind from time to time, but if this is experienced over a longer period of time it affects both body and mind. Stress is on a deep (unconscious) level caused by fear and anxiety, and it is a signal to the body to be prepared because there is some kind of "danger" ahead. This danger may be physical or psychological. on the psychological level it could be about the fear that you have no future in a company, or you may feel threatened on your identity, your skills, or your personality. A threat to the personality can be when we do not listen to our values or dreams, but try to suppress them, arguing for instance that "I am OK, and the payment is good" - this causes a frustration, and a stress reaction.

Another cause for stress can be what John describes as "being trapped in a dead end". When we no longer feel we influence our own work situation, and have difficulty seeing what choices we have, then we become unsecure about the future and our own ability to influence it, which can be a cause for stress.

I talk a little with John about his other values, and ask him to imagine a situation, where he really is a part of a community. His face lightens up while he tells about "the old boys team", who play together once a week. "How will you describe your state of mind right now?" I ask. "Joy !" John answers. Then I ask him to think of a typical work situation, and again ask him to describe his inner state. "Heavy", he answers.

John is intelligent enough to get my point, but inside him starts a - very common - defence mechanism, which I call Defence Against Change. So he starts telling me why it is impossible for him to change his job (I have not suggested that he should change his job, but he talks to me as if I have). I listen to all his arguments for a while, without involving myself in the choice for or against a change of job (this is the 'art' which every coach has to train for a long time to master: to be "indifferent" to which choices the coachee make about his life). It is impossible for me to know what would be best for John, and I do in no way wish to take responsibility for his choices.

So instead I ask him: "When you came her today, your goal was to get back the feeling of joy in your life?"
He nods.
"Is that still your goal or do you want to adjust that goal?"
Long silence, then:
"I would like to be more happy."
"Fine. Let's look at your possibilities for reaching that goal."
For the next 15 minutes I assist John to find possible ways to stay in the job and be happy, and to change his job and be happy. I am still neutral, I have no opinion about what John should or should not do. But I watch him and listen very attentively.

To make his future possibilities clearer for him, I ask John to imagine that he one by one moves into the different future time lines, by moving physically on the floor in different directions. In this way it becomes more concrete for him, and I support him to really imagine that he is out in the future, noticing what he experiences being here, and which inner state it gives him.

When we have discovered 3 different future time lines, none of them very satisfactory, I put a slight pressure on him by asking: "So what is the fourth possibility, the one which you have hardly dared to think about yet?" By asking this I presuppose that he - like many other people - has a secret dream which he sweeps away when it emerges, because he does not dare to pursue it.

First nothing emerges, but after a few minutes in which we talk a little backwards and forwards, I ask the same question again in a different way, and then John answers in a barely audible voice: "Well, three of us have talked abut making our own company - but that is not a real option."

In my model of the world everything is possible if the wish is strong enough, and if it fulfils the person's values, so I do not accept that argument. Instead I match John by saying: "No, probably not, but you might try to go out into that fourth future, just to experience what it would feel like if it were an option. ..." John takes a step forward and for the first time in his life he lets himself associate totally into the dream - because it is put into an 'if-it-were-possible-but-it-is-probably-not' frame.

He looks happy while telling me about his life as a partner - there is a new energy around him, he straightens his back and talks a little faster.
But after a little while the Defense Mechanism comes back. "But that is not possible..." and he starts over on the arguments.
The time for our first session has almost gone. I ask John whether he would like to look more on some of the obstacles for this dream ? And maybe in the next session we could also look at some of the beliefs he has about what is possible for him.
I know that it is possible to create new beliefs which support us in daring to do what we really dream of, and I believe it would at least help John to have a real choice.

John is very reflective as he walks out the door.