Mining vs Backfilling Content

My friend James Tripp pointed out to me that a lot of public speakers speak with what he calls ‘backfilled content’.

What he means by this is that some people first get the idea that they would like to be a ‘speaker’ and they then ask themselves; ‘What shall I speak about?’.

Next they might choose a ‘market’, investigate what ideas would serve that market and then, through a mix of research and critical thinking, construct and organize ideas into a format that can be cohesively shared. At a surface level, these ideas may in-fact serve. Square pegs fit well in square holes.

More to James’ point though, when you see these speakers speak, although you might find their ideas interesting and sensible, they leave you feeling empty.

In a way, it is similar to the emptiness one feels after viewing a modern Hollywood action film. During the film, you ride an emotional roller coaster, but walking out of the theatre you are left with no sense that anything important happened. There is no narrative that lingers, no insight or meaning for you to take with you. You paid to have your heartstrings raped by something that you discover afterwards never existed.

With speakers who backfill their content, similarly and inversely, you are left intellectually pleased that the pegs fit in the holes, but your heart is left where it began. No, in fact, your heart is left more empty, because the moment they walked out on stage, for their courage, you gifted them with the opening of your heart and then bit by bit, as they spoke, while waiting to be filled, it leaked and drained itself.

In contrast, there are speakers who speak not because they want to ‘be a speaker’ or because they have some other end result that that ‘speaking’ may serve. There are speakers who speak simply because they have something to say. There are speakers who speak because they have something they have lived and that they have experienced. They have something that is so hidden to others, but which they can see so brightly, something that is so blindingly obvious to them, that they cannot help but share it.

I won’t make an objective statement that the latter approach is ‘better’ or more ‘right’ than the former. However, I will suggest that the impact of the latter is greater. When we hear from people whose spoken sharing is a birthing of their deepest knowing, we are moved and served more wholly and completely than otherwise.

As I am in the process of creating content for a new project on leadership, I find myself being pulled into wanting to ‘get it right’. I find myself trying to ‘backfill content’ to make it ‘good enough’.

Catching myself out on this (largely with the help of my wife over lunch yesterday), I decided to turn James’ concept into an exercise in NOT backfilling content.

The approach is simple. I ask myself this question:

“What do I KNOW?”

By this I mean, ‘What do I know viscerally in my body? What is most true for me right now? What do I know from where I stand in this moment?’

Settling into creating content only from what I KNOW (instead of from what I think I ‘should know’ or ‘need to know’) I have found to be very liberating. I’ve gone from being blocked in my writing to actually having to manage my superfluity.

In the coming weeks I will be sharing ideas on New World Leadership from a place of deep knowing. This action serves a number of purposes for me. It is a practice in writing from a deeper place, a risking of sharing of ideas that may be uncommon and, of course, it is a means of producing content for my work that is not backfilled.

When our content is not backfilled, what then shall we call it?

I’m not looking for another name for filling a hole. The point is to not be filling a hole of content in the first place.

What I feel I’ve got is a mountain of amorphous and unarticulated experience, perspective and insight to share.

Maybe instead of ‘backfilling’ a hole, I am ‘mining’ a mountain.

That’ll work.

Mining Content vs Backfilling Content

How to Be a Powerful Coach – #10 LOVE

The most powerful coaching I have ever participated in has come as a result of letting go completely and allowing love to carry me.

Water is flowing against my chest, bubbling up under my chin and around my neck, making sound as it empties over my shoulders. Beneath the surface, it pulls at me under my outstretched arms. It comes around my sides, between my legs, over my feet and through my toes. My hands grip the long, slender branch of an outstretched tree. The wet bark burns the skin of my palms. Despite the rushing of the water and the seductiveness of being carried, I am committed to staying right here. Holding tight, I am tempted by thoughts of releasing into the current, of the rushing becoming a calm as we join each other, of the still world around me suddenly in motion and of the yawning anxiety of uncertainty sparking into aliveness. Unable to stomach the risk though, I come back to the rushing and the branch and I tighten my grip.

This is how I live most of the hours of my life. Just beyond my awareness there is a current of love rushing around me, pulling at me and begging me to come with it.

It is something I’m only aware of when I am present enough to notice I’m gripping the tree branch. When I slow down enough to notice the cool water running around me, sometimes I am actually able to let go. Sometimes I’m able to muster the courage to let love take me, to let it speak through me in words, to let it bring me into deeper presence, to let it move my arms to an embrace or even to simply let it soften my eyes and to birth a smile.

Other times though, when I notice the rushing water, I’m scared shitless. Scared to just love. Scared where it will take me. Scared what will happen if I allow love to come through me as fully as it begs me to.

Sometimes I go in spurts. I slip from branch to branch, letting love carry me a bit at a time. Tasting it. Feeling it. But not really going with it. Not completely.

Love is the Unfolding

In case my metaphorical musings do not give you a clear sense of what I mean by ‘love’, then please allow me to explain. When I use the word ‘love’, I mean the current of life’s creative unfolding. Whether this creative unfolding is predetermined or the result of man’s will is not my concern. Here, by ‘love’, I mean simply to point to the current of this unfolding.

In my musings above, I mean also to say that love can be felt in every moment and that doing so requires us simply to slow down and to open to it.

The times when I let go completely and am carried in love’s total embrace are the most liberating and fulfilling.

In addition, the results of being carried by love are always the most breathtaking, impactful and life-changing. This is why I consider LOVE to be the most powerful principle in coaching.

The Purpose of Life is to Pro-Create

Post my Catholic up-bringing, deep in the throes of an atheistic, rational worldview throughout my late teens and early twenties, I was certain that the only point of life was to biologically procreate. Everything else, I considered to be extraneous entertainment for the animal we call ‘man’.

Now in my late thirties, I have ventured far from atheism and into a world that is deeply spiritual and purposeful. Today, however, I do once again consider the purpose of life to be procreation. This time though, there is a subtle, yet important difference.

When I was younger I was referring to the literal meaning of ‘procreation’ – that is the biological procreation of animals. Today I consider such reference as myopic and empty. When I say now that the purpose of all life is to procreate, I mean: Life is creation.

Life is creation, not just biologically, but in all ways and completely. Physically, geologically, chemically, biologically, energetically, memetically, spiritually and so on. Furthermore, I see that all creation happens as a result of a coming together of things into new things.

Creation Happens Through Sex

All things are born of procreation. In the same way that a woman and a man make a child, the sound ringing from a struck cymbal is the procreation of a wooden stick meeting a metal disc. In the same way that two dogs make a litter of puppies, your evening’s entertainment is the procreative ménage à trois between your television, the electric company and the money you used to pay your utility bill. Most every-thing in our modern world is the result of a kind of memetic procreation; a mixing of ideas that gave birth to a near infinite diversity of physical forms.

In the same way that there is a sexual magnetism which draws animals to intercourse and ensures a transfer of genetic material, there is a more subtle, but equally real force which moves ideas through the world and ensures a transfer of memetic material. In this sense, every conversation is intercourse. Every book read is intercourse. Every song listened to, theatre attended or film watched is intercourse. Every glance given is a sexual offering. Every smile received is penetration.

Creation not only happens through ideological and biological sex, it happens also though physical, geological, thermological and chemical sex too. Eating is an intercourse between food and our body, the offspring of which are heat, fat, muscle and excrement. When I drive a shovel into the earth and move dirt, I and the shovel immediately become the proud parents of fraternal twins whom we might name ‘hole’ and ‘pile’.

If the purpose of life is to pro-create, then sex is the act of living. If sex is the act of living, then as a coach, I see it as my job to make deep and passionate love with my clients.

Making Love With Coaching Clients

If coaching is about supporting our clients in creating, then great coaching is great love making.

By no means do I claim to be an expert at love-making in any of its forms. As I started off this article reporting, most of the time I am petrified of the idea of letting love take me. (Which is the oddest thing considering how fantastic it is.)

What I do know is that the greatest love making experiences I have ever had in my life have come as the result of completely letting go of the branch and allowing love’s current to move me wherever it wished. The greatest sex I’ve ever had is when I’ve let go completely. When with my hands, I have moved and made things – not for reason, but for that subtle flavor of love we call ‘inspiration’ – they have always been the most beautiful and special things. When I have acted in business and philanthropy – not because it was sure to bring success, but because I turned up the volume of my spirit so high that I couldn’t help but dance – the results have always been most spectacular.

When I am sitting across from a client, peering deeply into their eyes, as they spill their heart to me…
When they say something that begs to touch me and I let it all the way in…
When their liberation is my own liberation…
When I allow myself, even for a moment, to fall deeply in love with them…

…there is always a small fire that ignites inside me.

From this fire emerges ideas and questions that, through reason, I could not have made myself consider. Also from this fire comes a kind of courage that has me share my love, typically in the form of story, statement or question, despite any fear that might otherwise cause hesitancy.

I consider myself to be a creator. Not an omniscient, theological creator, but a part of the inherently creative whole of All.

As a creator, my purpose is quite simply to create.

As a coach, my pro-fession, then, is ‘pro-creation’.

My most powerful work, as far as I see it, is to merge with my clients to fall deeply in love with every moment, to allow the current to take me and to watch as something beautiful is born of our being together.

*[Attached photo is of my finest creation at twenty weeks in utero.]

 

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How to Be a Powerful Coach – #9 NOTHING

It struck me once that everything comes from nothing.

We don’t typically think of it this way though. We consider things to have come from things that preceded them. Apples come from trees, kids come from parents, etc. What struck me though is that in the same way that something comes from that which preceded it, when something new is created, it also replaces a ‘nothingness’ that previously was. In this way, ‘things’ come from ‘nothing’ as much as they come from other things. The only real difference is a point of reference. I am not denying causality here. My focus is on the creative relationship between nothing and everything.

Besides this being a strange way to think, I find it to be a frame useful in disentangling me from the crushing grip of reason, which can be a very real obstacle in the art of creation.

 

Go Before You Know

If everything comes from something else, then there are a whole lot of things to consider before something can be created.

If we want to build a business, then we need to consider all the parts and pieces that will make up that business. If we want a relationship, then we need to consider all the possibilities and paths to finding that person.

Considerations like these are of course useful, but wanting to ‘know before you go‘ is why so many people get caught in ‘analysis paralysis’ and never create anything.

When we instead take the perspective that everything comes from nothing, a new idea requires no pre-consideration to be made manifest. The only thing a vision requires to be created is ‘nothing’, which is always available.

If we want to build a business, and we know that it will be built from absolutely nothing at all, then we can relax into the nothingness and begin our work. If we want a relationship, and we know that relationship will emerge from nothing, then we can relax into the creation of that relationship, even if there is nothing apparent to us that would logically precede it.

To create from nothing, we are free to act without knowing what’s going to happen or how we will get there. More simply, to create from nothing is to ‘go before you know‘.

Going before you know is easier because there are no requirements or rules about what must happen in order for your idea or vision to be created. Your only requirement for action is nothing.

 

Silence, Spaciousness & Creative Genius

Not only do I try to create from nothing in my life, but I bring this approach into my coaching as well. In the moments of a coaching conversation where I think I need to bring something, I try to relax into nothing.

Being ‘silent’ might look like nothing, but it isn’t necessarily nothing. I could be thinking while silent. I could be using silence as a thing. But silence is often what happens when I direct my attention towards nothing.

By ‘direct my attention towards nothing’, I mean to look for the space between all of the things that otherwise occupy my attention. More specifically, I look for the space between my thoughts or the space between my feelings. It’s a kind of meditation.

As my attention moves towards nothing, all of the things that typically keep my attention settle down and a deeper presence arises. (See article #5 in this series for more on ‘presence’.) A kind of ‘spaciousness’ emerges, which we might be tempted to call ‘nothing’, but I think is actually something. Maybe it’s a deeper intuitive place, a connection to a greater whole or spirit.

The thoughts that come from this space are generally more potent, more useful and more inspired. It is the place where our creative genius is accessed.

 

The Power of Nothing

My most powerful coaching always comes from the spaciousness created when I put my attention on nothing.

When I coach from nothing, I have no story about you. When I coach from nothing, I don’t have any thoughts about your challenges or your capacity. When I coach from nothing, I don’t have any beliefs at all. In fact, when I coach from nothing, I don’t even believe in you. This is strange for me to say, because my coaches ‘believing in me’ has been one of the most important gifts I’ve received from them. I think there is something even more powerful about NOT believing in people though…as long as we are coming from nothing so that, simultaneously, we are also not not-believing in them too.

The ancient idea of a guru is that they are a window through which God’s light shines. I like this idea. In a similar way, I like the idea that by bringing absolutely nothing to a coaching conversation, I am able to create a cleaner reflection for the person I am in dialogue with. My intention, as I often tell my clients, is to be so close to nothing that I am like the mirror on the Hubble space telescope.

My goal in coaching, and in public speaking for that matter, is to be purely reflective or purely translucent. When I am writing, coaching or speaking on a stage, my intention is to peel back the thinking that gets in the way of my attention on nothing. The more my attention is on nothing, the more access I have to words that unfold from my intuition. One of the places I am learning to do this is in facilitating groups (as opposed to ‘coaching’ in group settings).

My teacher, John Wineland, is an artist of nothing in how he facilitates the men’s groups he leads. I recently completed an eight month journey with seven other men which was lead by John, but my memories of the group include very little of him. His work was to create something from nothing between the men in the group, which he did so much so that his presence was rarely needed and often barely felt.

My goal with learning to facilitate is to come so close to nothing that I disappear.

 

Being Nothing is Grounded

In article 8 in this series, I wrote about how our ‘being’ has a profound impact on the people we coach.

What, then, is the impact of ‘being nothing‘?

For me ‘being nothing’ represents the lack of association with identity or even a sense of self. The closer we get to nothing, the less stories and beliefs we have in the way of creation. As described in the article on ‘being’, a dialogue with someone who is ‘being nothing’ will transfer nothing into you.

It reminds me of what happens when, wearing socks, you run around on carpet in the dry air of winter and then touch a doorknob. You’re all charged up with the something of static electricity and touching the doorknob returns you to nothing.

When we experience someone as being nothing, we say they are ‘grounded’. We say they are grounded because it is as if they are connected to the ground. We experience them as immovable, like a deeply rooted tree.

I’m sure you can relate to the experience of being in conversation with someone who is very grounded. You have probably noticed yourself becoming more grounded as well, just by being with them. This is exactly how being nothing can transfer from us into our clients.

It is powerful to ‘be nothing’ in a coaching relationship because, through the transfer of being, it creates a groundedness in the person you are coaching. Even more so, being nothing creates a groundedness in your clients within the context of the conversation you are having. Your client’s experience of being grounded while imagining an aspect of their life has real impact on what action they will take. For example, talking with my apprentices about money while my being very grounded directly enables them to have more grounded conversations when they are offering their own high-fee coaching programs.

 

Nothing is Difficult (For Me)

In my knowing that everything comes from nothing, one might expect I am always using ‘nothing’ as a means of creating everything. Nothing is further from the truth. 😉

First of all, we never actually ‘get’ to nothing. We wouldn’t exist if we did. It is about moving in the direction of ‘nothing’ (using our attention as described above) because on the way to nothing, that which is created is of a greater quality. We are simply more effective when we create with our attention on nothing.

Despite this, I find putting my attention on nothing very difficult to do. Stillness practices help. After a short run on the beach this morning, I sat by the surf and tried to put my attention on nothing. There were maybe a few brief moments of spaciousness, but from them some vibrant ideas emerged. They were exciting ideas and they came on their own as if they were hatching from eggs. I find the more committed I am to a routine morning practice, the more accessible nothing is throughout the day.

Besides not being very good at always putting my attention on nothing, if I’m honest, I also find it scary to do. My identity is built so profoundly on reason, that I find myself incredibly tied to it. Most of my life and work is actually spent unconsciously trying to create things from other things. I try to figure out the ‘right’ or ‘best’ things to do to build my business, the ‘right’ or ‘best’ way for my wife and I to communicate, the ‘right’ or ‘best’ way to serve the people I’m coaching.

One of my challenges is that I can do a relatively good job creating from reason and my identity. This is a blessing in that it creates security, but it is also a curse because my dependence on reason and identity keeps me from creating more at a genius level.

Despite nothing being so difficult for me, I am committed to creating everything from nothing. I am committed to seeing where I am trying to create from other things or be something and to shift my attention to nothing.

The religious myth of crucifixion, I believe, communicates a fundamental principle to being human. The idea that ‘to die for others is the highest act of service’, I take as a symbol suggesting that our deepest service comes through sacrificing the self and being nothing.

As I said some years ago on my YouTube video ‘How to Escape the Scarcity Trap’, killing yourself is an effective way out of scarcity, both emotionally and financially.

In this sense, I am committed to crucifixion for my coaching clients. I am committed to nothing because I don’t see any greater path in life.

 

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How to Be a Powerful Coach – #8 BEING

What if all the questions we ask – all the things we say and do in coaching – are a superficial dance, the impact of which is minute at best?

What if the conversation we think we are having is just ripples on an ocean? What if beneath the surface of our awareness is happening a giant mixing of waters and an interplay of countless beings?

I have always loved the ocean. I remember leaning over the side of my father’s boat and staring down at the water for hours. The focus of my eyes would pull in to my wobbling reflection and then back out through the surface. I would breathe softly and keep my eyes still, looking as far as I could for what was underneath.

When I take clients on coaching intensive day hikes, along the cliffs on the South Downs in England, there is inevitably a moment when we stumble through a crack in our conversation to a place of surprising truth. Our gait slows, we stop and they look out beyond the edge of the cliff to the horizon at the end of the sea. The surface of our thinking, like the surface of the English Channel, is quiet and turning, capped with white water. Beneath, there are many happenings – happenings that will change the surface forever.

Doing the Work

The idea that what I ‘do’ transforms people is very seductive. I like to think that through my clever questions, perspectives and articulation, like a wizard, I cast spells of positive change. This is what appears to happen, and since I often identify with what I do, it feels good too. However, the longer I am involved in this work, and the more I experience the impact of myself on others and others on me, the less convinced I am that what we say or do has much relevance.

First of all, when I speak of transformation in coaching, I am typically not speaking about changing behaviors or habits. I am also usually not speaking about developing new ways of thinking. (Although I do consider the evolution of cognitive complexity another kind of worthwhile growth.) The transformation I am typically speaking of is the removal of fear so that one can live more fully from a place of love and creation.

As we know, fear hides mostly in our unconscious. Indeed, we can do ‘deep coaching’ to explore our shadows one-by-one, bringing the unknown to light and discovering there is nothing to fear. Through philosophical inquiry, we can come to discover all beliefs, and even our identity, are illusory, thus setting ourselves free from the incessant wrangling of our thoughts. These kinds of ‘work’ take patience and persistence, but through them we can individuate ourselves and become fearless.

What I want to discuss here though is an even more accessible path to fearlessness. One that, as coaches, we are well poised to provide.

Closing the Gap

“There is a gap between ‘who you BE’ and ‘who you ARE’.”

When I speak the above words, even without defining the concepts, people inevitably nod in agreement.

Is ‘who we BE’ our habits and routines? Or is it our identity or conscious sense of self? Is ‘who we ARE’ the totality of our unindividuated consciousness and unconscious? Or are we the greater whole from which our individual awareness emerges?

I don’t know. And I don’t think it matters.

What matters is that people experience there to be gap between who they BE and who they ARE.

What people also experience to be true is that the larger this gap, the more fear they feel and the smaller the gap, the more love and fulfillment they experience.

The focus of my work as a coach then, is helping people to close the gap between who they BE and who they really ARE.

Human Beings are Dialogical

In his book ‘The Ethics of Authenticity’, philosopher Charles Taylor explains that human-beings are ‘dialogical’, meaning that who we are (or in our language, ‘who we BE’) is the result of an ongoing dialogue between ourselves and the world. In other words, each and every human-BEing is a dynamic focal point of consciousness that is continually co-created along with the thousands of other focal points of consciousness it comes into contact with. Who we BE is continuously evolving and subject to everyone and everything in the world.

If this is the case, then another path to fearlessness is by coming into contact with fearless people. Through being in dialogue with people who have a smaller gap between who they BE and who they ARE, your gap becomes smaller.

Being the Path

In my experience, the quickest and most effective path to fearlessness, is to simply ‘be’ with someone who is more free, fearless and loving than I am.

The most powerful experience I have had of this in the coaching context was in spending time with The Ultimate Coach, Steve Hardison. (In fact, shortly after being with him, I wrote about the experience on my blog.)

Looking back a year and a half to my time with Steve, I can say that simply ‘being’ with him changed me. Before we met I had some fears around money. Since that time, I no longer have those fears. Sure, there were things he said that I took with me, but I do not believe his words were the thing. His words were alive with being when they left him. His being is what changed me.

“Wands are only as powerful as the Wizards who use them.” – Hermione Granger, Deathly Hallows

In the same way, after spending three years in close dialogue with my coach Rich Litvin, his certainty around the power and impact of coaching and his commitment to serving people bled into me. Yes, he mentored me and coached me and this had significant impact, but I actually believe the greatest impact Rich had on me was through his being-ness bleeding into mine.

This concept of ‘being’ with fearless people as the path to self-liberation is what I believe Marianne Williamson was referring to when she famously wrote:

“As we are liberated by our own fears, our presence automatically liberates others.” – Marianne Williamson

In fact, I often attend Marianne’s Monday night lectures in Los Angeles, not because I want to hear what she has to say, but because while being in her presence, there is an unconscious mixing of her being into mine. I don’t take notes. I don’t even think very much about what she has to say. I just sit there and soak her being in, enjoying the bliss of wholeness as the gap closes. Over the days that follow, especially in working with my own clients, I can feel the difference in how I be with them.

In The Psychology of the Transference, Carl Jung uses the symbol of marriage to show that the force which drives individuation is the tension between unconscious opposites.

Although he speaks primarily of individuating an individual’s unconscious shadow into conscious light, I believe there is also a deeper, more mystical message. In his writing on ‘alchemy’ and the ‘marriage quaternion’, I am reminded of how any two physical systems joined together will find a natural state of equilibrium. Likewise, I believe Jung suggests that the unconsciousness of two human beings, when joined and held in close relationship, will also reach a kind of equilibrium.

As I near my forties, still transcending a life of literalism, I am finding much wisdom and inspiration in myth and religious texts. This same message can be read in Christ’s words:

“I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.” – John 8:12

In its psycho-spiritual take on Christianity, the book ‘A Course in Miracles’ delivers the message even more directly and simply:

“The Kingdom of Heaven is entered two by two.” – A Course in Miracles

 

Don’t Walk Your Talk

I’ve heard it said, for two different reasons, that coaches should ‘walk their talk’. I disagree and for both reasons.

1. “You should ‘walk your talk’ because doing so justifies your ask of your client. ‘How can I ask you to do X if I’m not even doing it myself?'”

2. “You should ‘walk your talk’ to ‘set an example’ for your clients.”

What I do believe is that, as a coach, you should ‘talk your walk’.

By ‘talk your walk’, I mean speak what is most true for you. When you are speaking what is most true for you, you are closing the gap between who you BE and who you ARE. By closing this gap, who you BE is fearless and loving.

Be the Source

When you BE fearless and loving, through an unconscious mixing, you are being what will most serve your clients.
This is said most simply in the immortal phrase:

“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” – Mahatma Gandhi

Gandhi did not mean for you to be first to change so that you could then justify asking it of others. He did not mean be the change to set an example for others. Gandhi said ‘be the change’ because he recognized that your BEING is the actual source of the transformation of the world. He got that human beings are ‘dialogical’ – that who we are is part of an undivided whole.

Transforming Gandhi’s words slightly, we can create a clear and simple message for powerful coaching:

“Be the change that you wish to see in your client.”

Be the source of transformation for your client.

Be the fearlessness you wish for your client.

Be the love you wish for your client.

Keep Dancing

None of this belittles the work we do on the surface. Being the change doesn’t mean we don’t need to ask powerful questions and help our clients to create powerful insights.

I very much believe we should continue this dance and that we should endeavor to dance as beautifully as we can. The dance, after all, is what brings people to the music. In our dancing though, let us remember that the dance is not the thing. The thing is below the surface, under the white water, where the mixing of who we be occurs.

The Call to Greatness

When I realize that my greatest impact on my clients (and on all people for that matter) is not what I say or do, but who I BE, I am immediately called to greatness. When I consider myself to be the source of my client’s growth, I am inspired with a sense of duty and responsibility that drives me to close the gap between who I BE and who I AM.

When I acknowledge myself as a life-giving well, I begin hearing the call to greatness in all aspects of my life. The experience reminds me of when I was a little kid and still believed in a Catholic God and Santa Claus. Even when I was alone with some paper and a book of matches, I knew they were watching me.

The sense of omniscience is the same today, but instead of it coming from an all-powerful being who judges me, the omniscience is a reminder that I am part of a greater whole. Instead of experiencing fear, I experience the capacity to create and to serve.

In following this call, my work takes on a deeply spiritual meaning. Even when I’m alone, outside the sight and earshot of everyone, I am being in service to the greater whole.

When I meditate, it is for All.

When I eat, it is for All.

When I say or do anything, it is for All.

Being the source of transformation is as much a gift to receive as it is to give.

 

Coaching Questions to Ask Yourself

-What makes up the gap between who I Be and who I Am? Where am I NOT being who I am?
-Where might my ‘being’ be positively impacting my clients?
-Where might my ‘being’ be negatively impacting my clients?
-What do I know is true about who I’m being that is probably impacting my clients negatively, but don’t want to admit?
-If I were to ‘be the change’ I wished to see in client X, who would I need to be? Where, in all aspects of, my life would I need to be this?

 

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How to Be a Powerful Coach – #7 INCONSISTENCY

Last year, a few months after finishing a coaching program, one of my clients emailed me saying:

“Hi John, It’s incredible how much more productive I’m being since we stopped the coaching. I’m not sure what it is, but I’m on fire!”

Sitting upright on the bench in the cafe, I raised my gaze over the top of my screen and thought, ‘Shit! My coaching sucks. My clients are better off without me!’

My stomach turned and my breathing went shallow. Noticing this, I relaxed my back against the wall and breathed deeper into my belly. As the fear settled and I found stillness again, a bigger picture came into view. A small smile crept across my face.

‘He finally stopped waiting for me,’ I thought.

Coaching Can Be the Obstacle

It’s not uncommon for a coaching relationship to become the primary obstacle in a person’s growth.

Some years ago, I had finished a private coaching program with my own coach and was waiting for a group coaching program with him to start. About halfway through this period, I realized there were a number of things I was waiting to act on until I had a coach again.

‘Once I get some coaching on this, then I’ll do it.’

Seeing this, I realized how much I was disempowering myself. I’d taken the experience of accessing more of my capacity through coaching and turned it into a prerequisite for stretching myself.

Once I acknowledged this, I created a structure to encourage action. I decided that I wouldn’t hire another coach until I had done the things I had been waiting to do.

In thinking about the emergence of disempowering coaching dynamics, I asked myself how this could be avoided with my clients.

Be Undependable

One of the simplest ways I discovered was to oscillate my support on and off within a coaching program.

For example, in my year-long Apprenticeship, the next of which begins this Spring, I have week-long ‘coaching blackout’ periods every month. During these periods, my Apprentices do not have a coach. Not only are they on their own without my support, they aren’t allowed to have coaching from anyone else either. During this time, they are unable to depend on me for support.

Another way I help my clients to remember they do not need me is by how quickly I respond to them. Sometimes I respond to their emails immediately and at other times, I’ll wait days. In fact, one of the situations in which I am likely to wait days is when I feel my client reaching out in a sense of desperation.

When I read emails with sub communication like, ‘I need you! I can’t do this without you!’, I close my eyes, feel the pull to reach out and save them and then I just sit with that feeling. I take a breath and ask myself, ‘Do they really need me?’ Deep down, I know any answer other than ‘No’ is a lie. So I just sit with it and breath and see what comes. Eventually I receive a thought like, ‘Nope…they don’t need you. Best to just let them discover that on their own.’

Other ways in which I ensure my clients cannot depend on me is to change up the way that I coach. Sometimes I respond to their emails with long and detailed text, sharing perspectives and insights and asking questions. Other times, I’ll just respond with one or two words. Sometimes I’ll make suggestions or give advice and other times I’ll just ask questions. Whenever I see patterns, habits or routines in my way of coaching – or when I see clients becoming dependent on my way of being – I interrupt it by doing or being something different.

Essentially, my intention is to be as inconsistent as possible – both in my availability and in the ways that I coach.

The Power of Inconsistency

Katanas, the swords of Samurai warriors, are supposedly the strongest and most powerful swords on earth. To produce them, one must heat the steel, hammer it down flat, fold the steel back onto itself, and then hammer it down again. The swordsmith keeps repeating this process, and each time they do, the steel gets stronger and stronger.

In this same way, I learned that bringing inconsistency to my coaching folds the steel of our relationship. Each time I fold it (by being unavailable or by changing how I coach) and hammer it down (by being there or by coaching in a new way), not only does the coaching become stronger, but the client is reminded that they do NOT need me.

Paradoxically, being undependable as a coach actually empowers my clients. Through my inconsistent support, my coaching relationships become stronger and my clients become more self-reliant.

There are a couple of other ways I’ve discovered that inconsistency serves my clients.

Be The Fool

By being inconsistent, I am often irrational in my requests, challenges or suggestions. Most people are so surrounded by rationality and sensibility, that there is nothing in their world to shake them up enough to consider things differently. In the Middle Ages, Kings used to have someone close to them whose job was to act ridiculous and irrational so that unconsidered perspectives would come up. (For more on ‘Perspectives’, see article #4 in this series.) Common names for this person were ‘The Fool’, the ‘Court Jester’ or ‘The Joker’.

By being inconsistent in the way of The Fool, I am able to take my clients places they would otherwise never go. From these places, they are able to see things they would otherwise never see. Also, by being willing to go to these places in dialogue, in a way, I am creating the permission for my client to actually go there in their life.

Be Mysterious

Another way I have found inconsistency to serve my clients is by being enigmatic and ungraspable. By speaking in zen koans and short phrases that fail to deliver clear, explicit instructions, I leave it up to my clients to make sense of what I am saying. One of my favorite ideas to share lately is:

‘Your vision is the path.’

There is so much richness in this idea. I could spend over an hour expanding on it with explanation and example. However, I find that by sharing just those five words and allowing my clients to work out what it might mean for them, actually has them develop deeper and more impactful insight. They have more ownership over it than if I were to explain it myself.

Stomaching Inconsistency

This kind of work is like watching your kid in the pool flapping his arms because he’s afraid he’s going to drown. You know he’s in the low-end of the pool and that he can just stand up, but it still hurts to see him struggling and afraid. At times, it can be difficult to stomach being inconsistent with clients.

Just this week, it was very difficult for me to not reach out and support one of my Apprentices who was in a funk and practically begging me for help. It was very difficult for me to NOT say ‘yes’ to his request to speak with me, but deep down I knew that doing so would encourage the scarcity and self-interested mindset he was reaching out in desperation from. It was hard, but I breathed deep and acted from my truth by saying a bold ‘NO’ to his request.

To be inconsistent in your coaching requires a willingness to watch your clients struggle. It requires courage.

The way I create this courage to Be Undependable, to Be The Fool and to Be Mysterious, is to remember the true impact these ways of being have. By showing up in these ways, intentionally and from a place of love, I am helping my clients to be more self-reliant, to consider completely new possibilities and to create insights that are deeply powerful for them.

When I really need a boost of courage, I remember Ralph Waldo Emerson’s immortal words:

“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day. — ‘Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.’ — Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.”

 

Coaching Questions to Ask Yourself

– What action do I know I could be taking, but which, if I’m honest, I am waiting to take until I ‘get some coaching’ around it?

– Where am I being always dependable for my clients? Where could being Undependable serve them in becoming more self-reliant?

– Where have I been coaching habitually in the same way? How could I change this up? What would be the opposite approach?

– Where am I being wholly rational and sensible in my coaching? How could I be more irrational and play The Fool?

– Where am I explaining too much or giving too much detail in my coaching? How could I adopt a more enigmatic approach, say less and require my client to do more work in making sense of what I’m saying or asking?

How to Be a Powerful Coach – #6 FEELING

“You’re in your head.”

If there’s a single phrase I’m sick of hearing, and yet always curious as to when I’ll hear it next, it’s this one.

In fact, I heard it this past weekend when I was speaking with Mel Carnegie, a woman I just shared the stage with in Zurich. Attempting to receive her thanks for what had happened the day prior, I was thinking so much about what to say in response that I lost contact with my body. She noticed, pointed it out and then helped me to ‘drop back in’ by moving my focus to my lower belly. As soon as I could feel my body again, I could actually receive her thanks.

I still live most of my life in my head, but with practice I’m becoming able to stay more in contact with my body.

What does it mean to be ‘in your head’ or to ‘drop into your body’?

In the same way we can focus or widen the awareness of our vision, we can focus our inner awareness on a single point or over our entire body.

For me, being in my head means my inner awareness is limited to the area between my forehead and the back of my head. When I’m in my head, the only light on the Christmas tree is the star at the top.

To drop into my body, for me, happens when I move my inner awareness from my head down into my belly. This can also be an expansion of awareness from the top of my head to my groin, or even my whole body out to my toes and fingers. When I’m ‘in my body’, it feels like the whole Christmas tree is lit up. I can feel everything, even if I’m not thinking about it.

How does being in your body help you to feel?

When I’m not aware of my body, I don’t notice what’s happening in there. There is so much information available through feeling my body. When my awareness is limited to just my head, I’m essentially tuning all that information out.

It reminds me of when my band was in studio listening to a mix of the songs we had recorded. I clicked the ‘isolate’ button on one of the many digital tracks and suddenly, a song thick with a myriad of instruments and vocals became a single, shallow, lonely guitar string being plucked in a monotonous rhythm. Turning the ‘isolate’ button off, the song burst back to life and I was hearing all of it again.

Being in my head is like having the isolate button on. Being in my body is like listening to the full mix.

 

What does it mean to ‘feel’ something?

Before I go into how and why feeling helps coaching to be powerful, I want to make a clear distinction; Feeling vs Feelings.

Feeling, as a verb (v), is the experience of a kinesthetic sensation. It happens only in the present moment, without time and without thought. It is a form of consciousness, not a physical ‘thing’.

Feelings, as a noun (n), are your emotions. They are the sensory information created by your nervous system in relation to your thoughts, be they conscious or subconscious. Feelings (v) emerge from the dance between memories, imagination, current sensory stimulation and thoughts. As all nouns, they are an abstracted context, and thus they exist in time.

Do we feel our feelings?

Yes, we feel (v) our feelings (n). This is how we know we have a feeling (n)! For example, if you are sad, you can probably feel (v) the sadness as a weight in your heart. If you are mad, you may be able to feel (v) the anger as tension in your face.

You can also have feelings (n) about what you are feeling (v). For example, you may have the feeling (n) of anxiousness about a cramp you are feeling (v).

In fact, most of what we spend our time feeling (v) are actually feelings (n) about something we felt (v) in the past or that we imagine feeling (v) in the future. Most of what we feel (v) is actually a kind of feedback between our thoughts and our feelings (n).

Imagine instead of pressing the ‘isolate’ button on the mixer to turn off the other tracks, I instead put the volume of the microphone up all the way. The microphone would feedback through the speakers, making a loud horrible hum that drowns out the rest of the music. All we would be able to hear is the feedback; nothing else.

To feel anything other than the feedback of our thoughts and feelings requires presence. (See article #5) When we are present, we free ourselves from time and settle into the moment. As the thoughts settle, the feedback lessens and we can hear the whole song again.

Through being present, we can turn the volume on the microphone back down, and feel our whole body.

 

Why does feeling the whole body matter?

Feeling the whole body matters because it improves our capacity to know.

Everyone can relate to the idea of the aboriginal person, who has lived their entire life in nature and without industry or technology, is probably able to feel things the rest of us cannot feel. Maybe they can feel the pressure change in the atmosphere and know that it is going to rain soon. Maybe they can feel the subtle pull of the magnetic lines of the earth and always know which way is north. Who knows?

The more we can feel, the more we can know.

 

How does feeling create powerful coaching?

Empathy is the ability to feel what another person is feeling. Whether this is due to ‘mirror neurons’ firing in response to recognized patterns via sensory input, some sort of mild electromagnetic waves or whatever else, the reality is that human beings feel what other human beings are feeling.

In a coaching relationship, the ability to feel what your client is feeling is essentially a pathway into knowing what they know – or could know. I say ‘could’ know, because in many cases the client is not feeling (v) the feelings (n) they are having. The fact that they are not feeling them, does not preclude YOU from feeling them however.

Your client can be having a very subtle emotional experience in relation to something you are discussing and not notice the emotion. Through empathy, you may experience the emotion as well. If your own internal feedback is low enough – and if you are in your body – you may feel that emotion they are having before they do.

Emotions are not definitive markers of anything in particular, but they can point you in the direction of things.

My coach Rich Litvin taught me that when I notice myself getting a bit nervous during a conversation, and it’s not something that I’m normally nervous about, I should consider that it may be their nerves I’m feeling. I don’t just immediately assert that the person is nervous, but I do take it as a clue and start exploring.

Feeling what my clients are feeling, in a straightforward way, helps me to know what they are feeling about the thing we are talking about (happy, sad, excited, scared, ashamed, etc). In a less direct way though, feeling (v) my client’s feelings (n) helps me uncover things like what they aspire to, what they are hiding from me, what they are hiding from themselves or where they have a greater capacity.

Uncovering these things allows for deepening the conversation, which can dramatically raise the impact of the coaching.

Lastly, I’d like to mention that in the same way that you feel what your client is feeling, through empathy they also feel what you are feeling. The more you are able to feel relaxed, the more relaxed your client will be. There is much more to be said about this and I will discuss it in upcoming articles.

How can I learn to feel more?

1. Breath

Through different breathing practices, especially Kundalini yoga, I find I am coming to feel more of my body. My teacher, John Wineland, tells me that breathing into my belly and perineum is ‘waking up’ the neurology around my gut and groin. It’s definitely something I need to keep up with as when I fall off my routine of breathing exercises, I notice that I notice less.

For the past two months, I’ve also been doing a training that involves a hyperventilation technique. The irregular levels of O2 and CO2 that I generate through hypoxia and hypnocapnia creates all sorts of weird experiences in my body (tingling, numbness, pins and needles, a mild electrical current). It’s like turning up the volume on your nerves so you get to feel, at a much more obvious level, what is usually subtle. When breathing returns to normal and the volume turns back down, I am finding I have a memory for the sensations and I’m able to detect them a bit more than I otherwise used to.

2. Create More Subtle Distinction in Sensations

For the first thirty years of my life, I knew just one kind of hunger. I was either hungry or I wasn’t. There were levels of hunger, but there was only one type. Then, in my early thirties, I began experimenting with diet and paying attention to how different foods made me feel.

Today I know all kinds of hunger. I know the craving of carbohydrate, which is around my solarplexus and is a gnawing, aching, annoying hunger that creates a sense of urgency. I know the hunger for energy, which just feels like an empty belly. I know the hunger of anxiousness or procrastination, which I can feel in my belly but also in my arms and legs. I know the hunger for nutrition, which I can feel all throughout my body as opposed to my stomach.

Before I could feel these different types of hunger, I didn’t know what my body wanted other than ‘more food’. It was kind of like giving a baby a bottle every time it cried. Maybe what it really wanted was to be held, but I didn’t know that.

Through my experimentation, one sensation of hunger has become four sensations. Creating these subtler distinctions allowed me to feel things I wasn’t feeling before. Thanks to this, I now have access to information I didn’t have before. Information my body has always been providing me, but which I wasn’t receiving.

In this same way, we can learn to feel more by feeling what we are feeling more closely. To feel something more closely, means to pay more attention to it.

It works kind of like when you meet someone new. At first they are just this person, but the more time you spend with them, the more you start to see all the different aspects of who they be.

Get to know a single feeling well enough and it will fragment into multiple similar, but also distinct feelings.

Paying attention to what you feel is like putting water on a Gremlin.

3. Increase Your Feeling Bandwidth

We have created a world where extremes are rare and comfort is the norm. Our environments are temperature controlled. We put padding between our feet and the earth. With clothing, we protect our skin from the air and the light. When discomfort arises inside, we medicate the symptom so we don’t need to feel what is happening to our bodies.

While we enjoy the pleasurable benefits of our outside-in creation of comfort, there are costs.

First, we lose our physical ability to manage our comfort from the inside-out. For example, most of us are unable to consciously manage the temperature of our bodies. After a decade of saying “I’m just not made for the cold”, only now am I learning to control my own thermogenesis.

Secondly, and more importantly in the context of powerful coaching, the range in which we are able to feel without freaking out has become extremely narrow. For example, we run into an air conditioned building if it’s over 90F (32C) or put on a jacket if it’s below 60F (15C). (At least, I do!)

We have lost bandwidth in what we are able to feel. Bandwidth matters because feeling is relative.

For example, the pain scale doctors use is 0-10 where 0 is ‘no pain’ and 10 is ‘ultimate pain’. If the most pain you’ve ever felt is a needle prick, then you’re going to call a needle prick a 10. Case in point, my wife finds acupuncture to be a bit uncomfortable and in that discomfort has little distinction. In my teens, I was into body piercing (nipples, eyebrow, tongue, ears) as well as stretching the holes with thicker needles. Today, I enjoy acupuncture and even feeling the slightly different widths of the needles the acupuncturist uses.

With increased bandwidth, it’s not necessarily that you can feel ‘different’ things, but I believe we can notice the difference in the strength of what we are feeling with more subtlety since we don’t ‘freak out’ near the edges.

There seems to be a correlation between the bandwidth of what physical sensations I am willing to feel (v) and what feelings (n) I’m willing to feel. For example, the more willing I am to take a cold shower, the more willing I find I am to do something that makes my stomach sink with fear.

This could just be my imagination and it is certainly something that could be scientifically tested. Even if it is just a placebo, I’m happy utilizing it!

To increase your feeling bandwidth, get uncomfortable.

Do things that make you feel uncomfortable physical sensations and do things that make you feel uncomfortable emotional sensations.

Speaking of cold showers, the training I mentioned I’ve been doing lately also involves cold immersion. I’ve taken cold showers in the past as a practice in moving towards the fear response in my gut. In my current training though, the cold immersion is about actually feeling (v) the cold, exploring what it feels like to be cold. Through taking 10 minute cold showers in the mornings, not only am I discovering subtle distinctions within the feeling of cold (like I did with ‘hunger’), but I am also feeling things I had never felt before. For example, I’m discovering what it feels like the moment my body begins producing heat, what it feels like for the capillaries to constrict, how good it can feel to have cold skin and a warm core.

In the past, I have also explored the extremes of heat while crossing Death Valley on a bicycle in the summer time. In a way, it was pure bliss to be borderline delirious under an oppressive sun. It’s something I often go back to in my body’s memory.

If you want to increase your feeling bandwidth, consider taking some cold showers and maybe doing some public speaking. Get curious about discomfort and pain and start exploring!

4. Make Love

Enough with the pain. Pleasure has it’s benefits too!

Our bandwidth of pleasure probably hasn’t narrowed very much over time, however this doesn’t mean experiencing pleasure with more presence cannot increase our ability to feel.

Before I met my wife, I experienced food pretty much with the standard categories of ‘sweet’, ‘spicy’, ‘bitter’, etc. I also judged food as pretty much ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Through her attention to finer details and her sharing them with me, I have come to appreciate food on a much deeper level. I taste more now than I used to taste. I’m also learning to taste all the subtleties in wine (albeit slowly, as I don’t drink alcohol very often).

The thing about pleasure is it slows down time. The greater the pleasure, the slower time moves and the slower time moves, the more detail we get to experience. My deepest and most subtle abilities to feel have certainly come through my many experiences with women, but these are also rivalled by the times I’ve spent alone in nature. It sounds cliche, but the more of my skin touching the earth, the more I feel the earth. I spend a lot of my time completely barefoot, mostly because I like to feel the grass, the sand and even the asphalt beneath me. Be it a woman, or Mother Earth, there is something naturally grounding about it plugging into the polar opposite of my thinking mind.

Within every pleasurable experience are a multitude of pleasures waiting to be discovered.

Remember, feelings are like Gremlins. If you want more of them, just add water.

5. Ask parts of your body questions.

One of the ways to get more in touch with what we feel is to ask ourselves to answer questions ‘from’ different areas of our body. Here are four questions I find useful to ask about a particular issue:

1. What do I know from my head?
2. What do I know from my heart?
3. What do I know from my gut?
4. What do I know from my groin?

Most everyone comes up with different answers to these questions. Granted, it may be that we have cultural ideas about what each of these locations represent (I.e. rational, loving, instinctual, sexual), but my experience is that there can actually be a subtle localized feeling (n) associated with each of the points of consideration.

I do not make any assertion that any particular ‘location’ of a feeling asserts any kind of ‘truth’. I just consider it to be more information. I think it is worth considering that the place in your body you act from will be the source of what you create in the world. For example, if we act from our heads, our creations will be of our heads and they will serve our heads. If we act from our hearts, our creations will be of our hearts and they will serve our hearts.

No part is true and all parts can inform you.

6. Get a teacher.

Earlier, I mentioned the importance of being able to feel what other people are feeling. In this same way, having a teacher who can feel in you what you can not feel in your own body, can be a great way of helping you to ‘wake up’ to what you are feeling. For example, my teacher, John Wineland, feels things that I am feeling before I even feel them! Numerous times he has brought my awareness to something that was going on inside my body which I hadn’t noticed because I had the ‘isolate’ button on and was just listening to the single guitar track. My wife is feels more of what I am feeling than I feel myself, but I’m much less patient with her when she points it out!

Find a teacher who can feel what you are feeling better than you can yourself. In general, women are wired for this more than men, but this doesn’t mean guys cannot learn to feel deeply. My wife says her experience of John Wineland is that he feels as much as a woman does, probably even more than some.

 

“But I’m NOT in my head. This is just how I feel things.”

When people retort that they aren’t in their head, I’m always skeptical. Reason being is that in order for someone to reasonably make the accusation that someone is in their head, they need to be able to feel the difference. The more I learn to feel my body and get out of my head, the more I am able to feel when other people are in their head.

At the risk of sounding elitist, feeling is kind of like a super-power. I watch my wife in wonder when she feels things I can’t feel. The more I become able to feel, the more I realize what I was missing out on before.

With the isolate button on, if you aren’t used to hearing anything more than that, you’ll just assume the single guitar is all there is. You won’t know you’re missing out on anything.

There is always more to be had from life though. There is always more to see, more to hear and more to feel.

Get out of your head, into your body and feel all of the music.

Coaching Questions to Ask Yourself

1) What does it feel like when I’m in my head

2) What does it feel like when I’m in my body

3) Where, in my body, am I right now?

4) What could I do to feel more?

  • What do I know about this from my head?
  • What do I know about this from my heart?
  • What do I know about this from my gut?
  • What do I know about this from my groin?

 

 

How to Be a Powerful Coach – #5 PRESENCE

I thought I knew what presence was…

…until I held my first nephew in my arms and stared into his eyes.

I thought I knew what presence was…

…until I stood beside my father-in-law as he took his final breath.

I thought I knew what presence was…

…until I held my wife’s hand for 36 hours through losing the baby in our first pregnancy.

Every time I think I know what a presence is, something happens that shows me an even deeper experience of it. Without exception, it is an experience that reminds me of the temporality of our existence – be it the phenomenality or tragedy of it. These experiences tear me out of time and bring me deeply into the present moment.

My intention when coaching is to bring myself as close to these experiences of presence as possible. I can’t say I manage to recreate the same presence I have when awoken by the miracle of life or death, but the more I practice, the closer I come to it.

+ What is Presence?

For me, presence is the absence of time, and with that, the absence of engaged thought. Thoughts may come, but they pass like clouds over a field.

Presence is seeing and feeling everything at the same time. It is both the widest periphery and the tightest focus.

Presence is the blurring of self and other.

Presence is the moment an old television turns off and there is just that fading, high-pitched squeal in the silence as the electrons drain from the tube.

Presence is knowing all of it without explaining any of it, even to yourself.

+ Why Presence in Coaching

There are two reasons I believe presence is so powerful in coaching.

First, the more present I am, the more I receive from the person I am coaching. Every neuron dedicated to engaged thinking is a neuron not dedicated to being aware. The difference I’m aware of is only a fraction of the actual difference. The more present I am with a client, the more my whole body perceives, experiences and comes to be aware of what is happening for them.

As a coach, the ability to communicate someone else’s truth to them is one of the greatest gifts we can give them. Being able to communicate this truth depends on our being able to see it. Powerful presence is the foundation of our ability to see.

The second reason I believe powerful presence produces powerful coaching is because presence has people feel safe. The more present I am with someone, the more they relax. The more they relax, the more they can hear, understand and ‘receive’ what I communicate to them.

In summary, the more present we are, the more we are able to see a person’s truth AND and the more able they are to receive it.

+ How to Be More Present

The more unattached I am from the past or future (and for me, my distraction is almost always ‘future’), the more present I am.

One of the places I am always working on deepening my presence is with my wife.

Earlier this year, I heard someone say the words ‘all the time in the world’.

Before that moment, I’d always heard those words as a single phrase that simply meant; ‘I’ve got time’.

For some reason, in this instance I heard the words more literally.

It suddenly struck me that I could actually give ‘all the time in the world’ to something. Granted, if I did spend the rest of my life doing exactly the same thing I was doing in a particular moment, I would certainly die before very long. But still, it was possible. I could conceivably commit the rest of my life, no matter how long it happens to be, to absolutely anyone or anything.

So I asked myself…

“What would it be like to actually commit ALL of the time I have, for the rest of my life, to being with someone, just fully listening to them? What would it be like to forfeit everything else I had desired, planned for or dreamed of for the sake of being here, right where I am, and doing just this one thing, forever? What would it be like to resolve that I am willing to die, right here, doing this?”

One day, while my wife was chopping some vegetables, I decided to try it out. In that moment, I chose to have all the time in the world to just watch her. A few things came up and I decided that I was willing to sacrifice them, in service of watching her, no matter how long it took – even if she chopped vegetables into eternity. (When she is preparing dinner and I am NOT present, it does sometimes seem to take this long!)

The experience was extraordinary. I saw my wife in a way I’d never seen her before. I enjoyed watching her and my experience of time melted away. The presence was deep and palpable. Not the same, but very close to the times I have faced life and death.

When I choose to have ‘all the time in the world’ for someone I am coaching, it is as if I am deciding in that moment, right then, to be with them forever. I essentially clear the slate of anything and everything that was ever supposed to happen in my future. I’m saying…I give up on ALL of that and I choose to instead be just here, now.

Being with you forever, right now, has me see you in ways I was never able to see you before. In ways I could never see you when I was, in my mind, anywhere else in time.

When I am coaching you, having ‘all the time in the world’ for you is the only way I ever want to see you because it is the only way I can see you. The past and future do not exist other than in story and I do not want to dirty my reflection of you with them.

It might seem weird to say that during a coaching conversation I am going to commit all time for the rest of my life to being in that conversation. ‘Isn’t that unrealistic? What if it takes all day and I have other appointments?’

Having ‘all the time in the world’ for someone is not an external commitment that is subject to the rules of time. It is an internal commitment, experienced moment by moment. It is not an assertion or a promise about the future, it is a way of being that unhitches you from the future.

After my wife’s miscarriage, she told me, “I have never felt you like I did yesterday.” She called me her ‘feeling stone’, describing it as a rock with tears dripping down it. Feeling and yet immovable. I’m looking forward to being this for her again in a couple of months through the successful birth of our first son. My commitment is to continuing to bring more and more of this into my work as a coach too.

There are three main approaches I have to developing more powerful coaching through greater presence. The first is noticing when deep presence is thrust upon me and gleaning as much as I can from those experiences. Second, I spend time in stillness and become more familiar with a quiet mind. Third, I make choices using insights (like having ‘all the time in the world’) to intentionally practice presence each time I coach someone.

** Coaching Questions to Ask Yourself **

– Who would you like to have more presence with?

– Would you be willing to literally give them ‘all the time in the world’?

– If you chose, in a particular moment, to be with them in that moment for the rest of your life, no matter how long it happened to be, what might be different about your experience of them? How might this impact them?

– What takes you out of presence? What distracts you?

– What else could you do to create even deeper presence?

How to be a Powerful Coach – #4 PERSPECTIVES

We cannot create what we cannot see.

Since our choices are always limited to the options evident to us, one way we can powerfully impact people is to show them what they can’t see.

For example, if your client’s two considered options are (A) raise funds to start a business OR (B) stay in corporate job, then they are limited to just two paths in their life. Here are some other perspectives:

(C) What if you were to boil down your business to a single, simple service? What would that service be? What if you just started DOING that thing for people, one person at a time, on the side of your corporate job? What if DOING that created momentum that you could grow into your business?

(D) What if instead of you needing $1M to start your business, you only needed $100K? What would that look like?

(E) What if you could work your corporate job from home just 3 days per week instead of 5, keep the same salary and then use the other days to work on raising funds?

The moment one sees new possibilities, they have new options. With these new options, they can make different choices. With different choices, they are empowered to create a different life – a life they did not have access to before.

 

* But Doesn’t the Client Have Everything They Need Within Them? *

You may have heard the idea that to be a powerful coach you don’t need to bring anything to the conversation other than an ability for people to look inside themselves and find new solutions and insights.

I think this is true. This can be powerful. However, it can be even more powerful to bring perspective to a conversation that is well outside of the realm of the person’s imaginative likeliness.

For example, imagine a coaching conversation happening before the invention of the wheel. The client is building his business of sleighs that camels pull across the desert and he wants to improve his business. The chance that a context-free coaching question may lead him to come up with the idea for using a ‘wheel’ is pretty unlikely.

However, if that coach had seen a wheel before – if she had the perspective of movement using wheels – then she could share that perspective and impact the client in a way he may have never been otherwise impacted.

As much as I appreciate the power of having people reflect within the context of their own perspectives, bringing additional perspectives can undeniably be even more powerful coaching.

 

* How to Have Different Perspectives *

1. Seek Diverse Experiences

In a talk promoting her new book ‘Big Magic’, Elizabeth Gilbert tells a story of how her mission to help people find the one, single, burning passion to commit their life to was misguided because they are missing the fact that many people are not here to do just one thing their whole life. Instead, she says, they are here to be like a hummingbird. In the same way the hummingbird goes from flower to flower, taking a taste and moving on, the mission of some people is to do lots of different things and to gain lots of different experiences. Just as the hummingbird creates more beauty in the world by cross-pollinating flowers, these people create a more beautiful world through the blending of all of their diverse experiences.

Perspectives are the gifts of diverse experiences.

The more ways we experience the world, the more ways we get to see the world. Anyone who has travelled far from home knows this to be true. The way you see everything when you return is richer and more complex. If you want more perspectives, seek more diverse experiences.

One of the best places to get new perspectives is from other human beings. Yes, we can get perspectives from books and videos, but through human dialogue we access possibilities that fit our unique circumstances and we can access them much more quickly. Have lots of conversations with people from lots of different worlds.

I remember the famous UK magician once writing that his ability as a magician really improved when he stopped hanging out with magicians and started spending time with actors and artists. I have taken this same approach with my life in that I spend a lot of time in conversation with people who are not coaches.

2. Be an Outsider

Another way to have different perspectives is to serve people who have a different background and live in a different box than you.

For example, one of the things that empowers me to serve business leaders who have teams of employees is the fact that I have NOT spent my entire career managing teams of employees. I do not live and work inside the box that they live and work in and so I can share perspectives with them from the ‘box’ of my world – a box they have never been in and do not have access to other than through me.

3. Change Perceptive Positions

Every perspective we have emerges from the perceptive position we take. By ‘perceptive position’, I mean the assumptions, worldview and stance we are in when we hold a particular perspective.

This picture is a physical example –

perspectives

From afar, it looks like a human skull. From this perceptive position we might take the perspective of fear, providing the options of ‘scary’ or ‘not scary’.

From up close it looks like a painting of a woman looking in the mirror. From this position we might take the perspective of beauty, proving the options of ‘beautiful’ and ‘not beautiful’.

Depending on our perceptive position, different perspectives become available and obvious to us.

Having a number of ‘perceptive positions’ helps me to generate fresh, new perspectives. I try to take note of these as I recognize myself standing in them. In fact, many of the over 200 videos on my YouTube channel contain descriptions of these perceptive positions.

Here are some of the perceptive positions from which I find I am able to generate the most powerful perspectives for my clients.

(1) Going ‘Meta’ – Talking about the conversation explores ‘higher level’ perspectives, which paradoxically can take the conversation deeper.

(2) Embedding – Create what you are talking about, right then and there. For example, role play the actual conversation your client is talking about having.

(3) Distinctions – Look for subtle differences within the familiar. Create new perspective by contrasting these differences as distinct. (*A creator of distinctions, I believe, is one of the MOST powerful perceptive positions for a coach.)

(4) Likenesses – Consider where there is already proficiency and competence. Create perspectives that parallel these things to the challenge at hand.

(5) Opposites – Consider the exact inverse of what you (or they) have been doing as true and see what perspectives arise.

(6) Breaking Rules – Acknowledge the constraints within which you are working and then generate perspectives intentionally beyond them.

(7) Yielding to Fear – Consider fear to be a warning that self-interest is too high. Yield to that fear by switching your focus onto others. See what perspectives arise through being other-oriented.

(8) Inconsistency – See consistency as a lie. Come from a place where truth is that everything always changes. What do you see from this position?

(9) Wholeness – See autonomy as delusive and consider yourself as part of a greater whole. What perspectives do you have when you are not separate from anything?

(10) Illusion – Adopt an active nihilist perspective. Acknowledge that all meaning in the world is made up and thus any meaning can be created.

(11) Emergence – Move from a linear, causative framework to a non-linear, correlative one. Allow for results to be dependable even when you cannot connect the dots.

(12) Obstacle as Path – Have what stands in the way become the way. (A’la the stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius)

(13) Vision as Path – Boil down the essence of your end vision and have the thing be the action that creates it.

 

** Coaching Questions to Ask Yourself **

– How are my diverse experiences contributing to my impact as a coach? What other experiences could I have that would add to my ability to take and share perspectives with my clients?

– Where have I been considering my lack of experience as a limitation for my clients? How can the fact that I am an ‘outsider’ actually be an asset to them?

– Which of the above perceptive positions do I already take? Which could I try taking? What perspectives arise when I do?

[ NOTE: I actually began expanding on each of the above perceptive positions with examples of perspectives that might emerge from them, but it made this article far too long, so I’ve left it out. If you’d like me to explain or expand on any of the above perceptive positions, comment below telling me which number(s) and I will happily do so! ]

How to be a Powerful Coach – #3 WORDS

The words we think, speak and write create the world around us. Not just the world as we perceive it – but the actual, tangible world.

Loving words create love. Fearful words create fear. Constructive words manifest. Destructive words tear down. Limiting words limit. Opening words open.

Words are magic. Through spelling we create words, and with words, we cast spells of creation.

Since physical action follows from spoken and written words, it may be obvious that these influence the creation of the world. However, this is only part of the influence. The smallest part.

The words we think have even more impact on the world than what we say. But how?

Our thoughts (i.e. the words we think) both create and emerge from our emotions. These emotions influence our actions, behaviors and character.

“For as he thinketh, in his heart so is he.” – Proverbs 23:7

Our actions create the world directly. Our behavior and character influence the actions of others take and thus create the world indirectly. Just as genes are the building blocks of higher organisms, memes (ideas, thoughts, words) are the building blocks of the human-made world. The words we use in the privacy of our own minds actually create the physical world.

Your inner words create the outer world.

This is why I believe in his book The Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz wrote ‘Be impeccable with your word’. This idea is often misunderstood (even by Oprah) as referring to ‘being in integrity’ and ‘doing what you say you will do’. What I believe Ruiz actually meant is to be impeccable with your choice of words because the words you use create both your experienced world and the actual world. 

Since the words we think, speak and write have such influence on what we create, as a coach I put a lot of attention on the words people use.

 

+ How to Change the Words We Think +

First, what does it mean to ‘think’ a particular word? Are thoughts something we can control? Don’t they just happen?

Yes and No.

We don’t have influence over the thoughts (or ‘words we think’) that arise in the present, but we do have influence over the thoughts that will arise in the future.

We influence what thoughts will arise in the future through what thoughts we choose to engage with in the present. If we engage with a thought – if we believe in and identify with the words happening inside our heads – then those thoughts will continue to reoccur in our future. If instead, we witness the thoughts but remain disengaged, not believing and not identifying with them, then those words will lose their relevance. Making the choice to witness, unbelieve and disidentify with thoughts over and over again, changes the thoughts that happen.
Without bringing any new words to replace the old ones, I find more peaceful and productive words tend to emerge on their own. We can also choose to intentionally engage with specific words and after awhile those words will occur on their own.

Simply said, we can change the words we think by simply witnessing them and allowing better words to emerge OR by witnessing them and intentionally replacing them.

 

+ How to Help Other People Change Their Words +

Obviously I can’t know what people are thinking, but the words we speak and write are typically the same words we think. By listening closely to the words people speak, and watching closely to the words they write, I am given a glimpse into their inner world.

Since I hold the words we use as the building blocks of all creation, I never hesitate to interrupt someone to point out or challenge their use of words. In the past, I may have heard words that felt fearful, disempowering or limiting, but not wanting to come off as ‘pedantic’, I’d just let it go and not say anything. Over the years though, I’ve found that there is actually no such thing as being pedantic.

Instead I have found that vagueness lacks power, ambiguity is the downfall of creation, that the use of words which are disassociated, limiting, fearful or unloving create unsconcious obstacles for people.

A typical example is the use of the word ‘hope’ in a way that abdicates personal responsibility.

“I hope I’m just as honest with the board members in our next meeting as I’ve been with you.”

One might let this go saying, “Oh, I know what they mean.”

But ‘what they mean’ is not what they are saying, both out loud and inside their head. Remember, the words people think and speak are casting spells of creation. Even if once brought to awareness a word is recognized as not literally true, thinking it still has impact on them and the world. So in cases like this, I do not hesitate to point it out.

Recently one of the coaches in my Apprenticeship challenged me on my challenging her of her word use.

“Oh, that’s not what I meant.”

“Really? Are you sure?”, I’ll say. “How do you know that? What if using that word IS having an impact?”

As she struggled with this, I then went on to discuss with her the impact of our words, both spoken and thought. Once she saw the value in it, we then went on to explore what might be a powerful upgrade to the words she was using. She is now witnessing the use of the words that were limiting her and replacing them with words that empower her to create high paying clients more effectively.

This article is not the place for me to list ’empowering’ words and ‘disempowering’ words. However, on my YouTube channel, the over 200 videos I’ve created for coaches, leaders and people who want to create a life they love, are essentially short clips of me articulating distinctions in words.

By helping people to be more specific and to upgrade the words they use, I watch them be swept into deeper currents of life’s unfolding. I watch their upgraded words become a powerful tool of creation. I watch them experience the world more beautifully and I watch more of what they love become manifest.

Nothing is insignificant. Nothing is trivial. Never are we pedantic.

As we evolve our words, we cast spells that evolve the world.

 

How to be a Powerful Coach – #2 INTEGRITY

When it comes to being a powerful coach, ‘integrity’ is something I have found to be crucial. When using this word, I am actually referring to BOTH it’s two definitions.

Integrity

/inˈteɡrədē/

noun

1. The quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness.

2. The state of being whole and undivided.

I will take these one at a time.

 

++ Having Strong Moral Principle ++

I never took a formal coaching training, so I never signed up not to bring ‘my stuff’ into a coaching dynamic. In fact, I actually completely disagree with the idea that as a coach we should remain inert and neutral. I disagree with this for two reasons.

Firstly, because it is impossible. We might ‘think’ we are being neutral, but our biases will always leak out of us in ways we don’t realise – our voice tone, our facial expressions, our choice of questions and what we focus on, etc.

Second, I believe the greatest gift we have to give the world is who we uniquely and most genuinely are. To attempt to act as an inert, neutral, unbiased instigator of insight is to suppress those things that we most value.

Instead, I coach with an agenda.

My agenda is to create a world where people are more loving, more open, more individuated, and more psychologically, socially, emotionally and spiritually developed. This agenda is both explicit and implicit in that I tell my clients this AND it plays a role in directing everything we create together.

Being that my agenda is explicit, people only work with me if their values match mine. Shared values make great partnerships.

It is not my experience that it matters WHAT my moral principles are. There are some very powerful coaches out there that have moral principles diametrically opposed to mine. Over the past six years as a coach, mine have also changed quite a bit.

I find that simply HAVING principles and STANDING for them is what creates my coaching as powerful. My moral principles today center around things like love, service and wholeness.
Having moral principles is one thing. Having STRONG moral principles, however, brings us to the second definition of integrity.

 

++ Being Whole & Undivided ++

For me, being ‘whole and undivided’ means I have total alignment between the following four points:

1. My deep inner knowing.

2. My consciously engaged thinking.

3. My spoken words.

4. My actions.

When I have alignment along these points, who I am at the deepest level is aligned with the thoughts I believe in, which is then expressed by what I say and then is followed up by my actions. This is generally how I aim to create everything. It is also how I have experienced creating the most powerful impact as a coach.

At a very basic level, being aligned in this way creates a congruence that fosters a trusting coaching relationship. Much more than this though, when I am able to consciously acknowledge my deepest knowing (be it fear or love), and express that knowing, I am accessing my strongest ability to reflect. When I am being ‘whole and undivided’, I am thus being the most powerful mirror I can be for my client. Any breakdown in my integrity, between any of the four points listed above, is an immediate reduction in my impact on my client.

In the moments when I say I will do things and then don’t follow up with action, in those moments when I entertain thinking that is superficial or ‘all in my head’, in those moments when I hold back from speaking the thoughts I feel are true – the impact I have on people immediately drops.

I can literally feel the power drain out of me when I lack integrity.

In this sense, I take integrity as a kind of ‘structural’ integrity. If I want to be a support system for the people I am coaching, then I want to be the kind of support system that will carry the weight of the work we are doing – no matter how heavy it is. My aspiration is not to be like a rope bridge with wooden planks, it is to have structural integrity like the Golden Gate Bridge.

This is the kind of structural integrity and power I want to create for people.

In addition, integrity is not something that I consider only during my coaching sessions. Be it with my clients, my wife, my family and friends, strangers on the street or even the private moments with my own self, I consider integrity in all of these circumstances to be equally influential on my power as a coach.

 

*** Coaching Questions to Ask Yourself ***

1. What are my moral principles?

2. Do I coach with an agenda? If I did, what would it be?

3. Where in my life am I not standing strong in my moral principles and how might this be leaking power from my coaching?

4. Between the four points of deep knowing, engaged thinking, words spoken and action taken, where might I be lacking structural integrity?

5. Where else in my life do I know I am lacking integrity and thus leaking power as a coach?

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