How We Can Change... Or Stay the Same
By Joy Reichart, New Ventures West, guest contributor
Cyd is the person in the office who is always fixing everything: the broken printer, the scheduling snafu, the delivery gone awry. They see things that are invisible to most: the bump in the ceiling that could become a leak; the fact that you’re halfway through the second-to-last jug of water and haven’t placed the next order yet. They have the answer to everyone’s mystifying computer issues (or if they don’t, they’ll find out). Whether or not this is in their job description, this is the person everyone counts on to right all the little wrongs in your shared world every day. They don’t seem to mind being the office firefighter. You wonder how fulfilled they actually are.
Nobody ever listens to your friend Jules. She is wise, she speaks truth, and she is constantly ignored, overlooked, made to feel foolish. She finds herself working for archaic institutions that are deaf to any change at all, nevermind the kind of vision she has. Daily interactions are rife with mansplaining and belittlement. She lives in an unjust world where she is the only one who can see what is necessary, and where everyone else is wrong, ignorant, stubborn, and hurtful. You feel for her but stop short of getting on board with her fight. While you fully acknowledge the world’s injustices, something about this seems particular to her.
Uncle Phil is always getting overcharged, cheated, done to. He carefully examines all restaurant bills and receipts and nearly always finds something amiss. Service folks are constantly put on the defensive and public arguments are par for the course. Other drivers on the road are enemies… he swears and screams all the way from point A to point B. You avoid going anywhere with him. Most people avoid him, period. Your heart breaks because you feel how lonely he is.
The cycle of sameness
Perhaps it is clear from these examples what kind of world each person lives in. Cyd’s world is full of problems that need solving. Jules’s world is unjust, full of blindness, and impossible to change (though change it she must). Phil is surrounded by enemies intent on doing him in.
Perhaps it is also evident why the same things keep happening for our dear friends. Somewhere along the way, likely when they were young, these patterns began to appear. Maybe Cyd’s parents fought less if they found ways to make things smoother for them. Throughout her life Jules was likely told (rather than asked) what she wanted and what was hers to do, while her own voice, opinions, and desires were squelched. Phil, perhaps, was bullied as a child and spent many years in the military.
Those patterns having been installed early in life, Cyd will now always find problems to fix, Jules’s voice will always fall on deaf ears, and Phil will always find an enemy. Always, that is, unless the pattern is interrupted.
How do we intervene?
Notice how cyclical these constructs feel, how self-sealing. That’s exactly what they are: cycles. How we change and how we stay the same is the exact same process: we pay attention to certain things, which brings about our world, to which we then respond by acting a certain way, which brings more of the same into our awareness, and so forth. These patterns keep our friends stuck, resentful, and unfulfilled.
Regardless of how or where the cycle began, it is possible to intervene, guiding the person toward the exit ramp off the circle road they’ve been driving on their whole life. Here are some ways an Integral Coach might work with our friends to loosen the patterns they are caught in and help them to experience life newly.
The cycle depends very much on what we’re paying attention to, so we might start with self-observation. Maybe Cyd’s coach gives them the following practice to take up for a few weeks:
At the end of each day, reflect on when problems arose. Take notes so you can begin to notice patterns.
- What were the circumstances?
- How did I respond?
- What might I do differently tomorrow from what I observed today?
As they begin to observe the pattern, it’s possible Cyd may also notice all the offers of help they automatically eschew. Their awareness might broaden to those aspects of the world that are not broken—that are in fact fully functional and possibly even supportive to them. Maybe they find a bit more energy to do something that brings them joy, or at least consider what that might be.
Changing our shape
There are also the ways we move through the world—the shapes we make—that reinforce our reality. Jules’s coach notices that her posture is a bit collapsed.
To sense why this is important, try on this shape yourself for a moment: roll your shoulders forward, duck your head, sink your chest. Amplify the gesture so you really get a sense of it. Walk around the room and see what you notice, what feels possible. Now imagine speaking your mind from here. How empowered do you feel? Do you get a sense of how moving through each day in this shape might limit Jules’s experience of life?
And so Jules’s coach might give her a practice like arching backward over a yoga ball for five minutes every day. This serves to help open the heart and get the body more accustomed to being open and receptive (which can also feel quite vulnerable, so take it slow, Jules!). And/or maybe Jules stands in each of the yoga warrior poses each day, shaping her body to be more aligned and direct. As her body and nervous system begin to rewire themselves, Jules might discover more dignity in her bearing, and feel more capable of making an impact.
As committed as we are to making changes, it is difficult to sustain a new way of being, particularly one that can feel so unfamiliar, without support. A coaching relationship comes with support built in. Integral coaches usually check with their clients to see what other support is available in their life.
Notice we say support, not accountability. Inherent in accountability are things like standards, right/wrong, shame, and the like. Support, on the other hand, involves inquiry, exploring places of stuckness, and uncovering blind spots. It is not simply encouragement and cheerleading. It is versatile, bringing what is needed in the moment—sometimes it’s as simple as just listening, or a suggestion of what next action to take.
Accountability especially wouldn’t work for someone like Phil, who already feels he has to defend himself, and whose inner critic is very active. If anything holding him accountable would push him further into the way of being we are trying to shift.
In addition to the supportive relationship with his coach, part of his program might be seeking out folks in his life who are on his side, noticing how they are with him, and little by little, starting to lean into their help. This of course would be in addition to self-observations and body practices. Given what you know about Phil, can you think of some practices and observations that might be useful here?
The integral nature of change
While each of these approaches are useful, no individual aspect of an Integral Coaching engagement works on its own. Nor are we focusing on just one area of a person’s life. For real change to occur, we must work with the whole human being across various domains of their life. As such, shifts will appear for the person in aspects of their world beyond the issue they brought to coaching. It takes skill to assess what this is for an individual and design a comprehensive coaching program that addresses their particular areas of growth.
However, beginning to notice these patterns in ourselves and others can go a long way toward inviting something new. As you read this, what have you discovered about your own cycle of changing v. staying the same? What feels possible from here?
You can learn and practice this way of working with others in Foundations of Coaching, our virtual introductory workshop, next happening July 21-23. Use the coupon code MindfulLeader for $100 off.
Joy Reichart is the Communications Director at New Ventures West in San Francisco.
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