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.


Dematerialization: Crystals & Car Keys

I’m drawn to things esoteric and recently attended a talk about crystals and crystal therapy. Much of the attraction of crystals are their symbolic associations which, in a psychological sense, make them useful tools for focusing the mind. However, when the speaker raised the subject of ‘dematerialization’ I began to shift uneasily in my seat. There’s only so much a healthy sceptic can take.

We are told that crystals have a tendency to dematerialize only to re-materialize at a later time in the place you first looked. Apparently it’s the crystals way of teaching us not to become too attached. The speaker illustrated this by telling us that a particular crystal that he wanted to show us had dematerialized, which can also be translated as ‘he lost the bugger’. Maybe not so. A member of the audience interjected to tell us that his haematite had disappeared from its pouch too!

At this point I felt the urgent need to stand up and shout ‘Oh for goodness sake, wake up and smell the smoky quartz’ but instead opted for a more gentle approach. So, after the speaker had used the word dematerialize for the umpteenth time, I asked ‘Is this the same that happens with my car keys?” Of course, this gets a big laugh and grounds the discussion. Are my car keys teaching me a lesson when they are not in the place I left them only to reappear a while later in the first place I looked and to ensure my lateness?

Do mundane household objects share the same magical properties as crystals or is something altogether more mundane at play? Well there is a more earthly explanation: our perceptions do play tricks on us. When we are tired or stressed our cognitve capacities are reduced. It’s pretty stressful not being able to find something when you need it. So, the words ‘I’m going to be late’ or ‘I’ll never find my keys’ become a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s not magic, it’s one of the side-effects of cognitive economy.

Habituation is one of earliest ways we learn. Quite simply, we learn to ignore the familiar. That’s why babies make fools of us all with their quests for novelty. Our grinning and gurning cease to effect the same response after a while, so we’ll add silly noises and employ an array of props and paraphernalia in order to get the infant interested again. In short, familiarity breeds cognitive contempt. Often, we don’t lose things but overlook them and when added to the stress and the self-fulfilling prophecy explains ‘dematerialization’ in a psychological way.

Suddenly as I write this I realize that my car keys are no where to be found. I look out of the window and my car is no where to be seen. Damn! Is this bloody karmic retribution for doubting the magic of crystal dematerialization? Er no, the answer again is all too mundane: I DON’T OWN A CAR!

p.s. Speaking of karma. . .before we get lost in the world of crystals, isn ‘t it wise to consider whether or not they are ethically sourced and at what human and environmental cost? No amount of washing them under a tap or rubbing them with sea salt can cleanse bloody crystals, unless of course you buy into the magical at the expense of the bleedin’ obvious.