Self-Coaching: Exploring Exceptions to ‘The Rule of Absolute Hopelessness’

When we are stuck in the middle of a problem, it’s sometimes difficult to see a way forward. In  (life) coaching, it is often helpful to explore exceptions to the ‘rule of absolute hopelessness’. Stress throws us into survival mode and can negatively impact on our cognitive abilities. We don’t process information so well.

Questioning techniques (borrowed from Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy and Solution Focused Brief Therapy) help us to challenge our sense of overwhelm and to seek little glimmers of hope. Here are some suggestions for questions that you can ask yourself. They are also useful in working with others. If you are working with others, the questions need to be used sensitively. It’s important that other people feels as though they have been heard. If you are working on your own issues, you could get someone to ask you the questions, or else get a notebook and spend time writing down your answers.

  • Consider / Tell me about the times when you did not experience the problem so intensely.
  • Consider / Tell me about the times when you cope better despite the problem.
  • Consider / Tell me about the times when the problem doesn’t feel so great, when you feel more in control of things if only for a short time.
  • Consider / Tell me about the times when you refuse to let it get you down and control your life.
  • When was the last time you did something enjoyable and refused to let the problem get in the way of having a good time, even if only for a while.

When working with coaching clients, I invite them to take part in an observation exercise. I simply ask them to notice the times, between sessions when the problem/issue is not so intense or when it doesn’t bother them so much. The aim is not to take action or change things but purely to take note.

Ask about life coaching with Dr Gary WoodOften these observations form the basis of ways forward. Inevitably throughout our lives we will experience a sense of ‘stuckness’. Often it’s a sign that we are in new territory and learning something new. Exploring the exceptions can help to draw out the seedlings of transferable skills including coping skills. If there’s a sense of having been there before, exploring the exceptions can help instigate new learning and new ways of coping.

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