How to Ease the Pressure and Still Make Progress

My clients come to me overwhelmed, confused about next steps, and in need of some TLC. Typically the last thing they need is for me to add more pressure to help them reach their goals. Coaching as a profession is waking up to this reality, and many of us are now choosing to frame what we used to call accountabilities as experiments. 

Thinking about life as a series of experiments can make a huge difference. So, don your metaphorical lab coats and goggles and imagine with me the implications of this frame.

Side note: I'm making two big assumptions here: 1. my client is acting with good intentions; 2. he is in relatively good mental and physical health, or if he does have health problems, he is under the care of the appropriate medical professional. 

Let's say a client wants to improve his physical fitness and has summoned up the courage to experiment with running. He finds a Couch to 5K program that looks like a good fit, and goes for it. And the next time I talk with him he is really disappointed in himself. He tells me he failed. He could barely make it through the first step in the program, and can't imagine doing the next one.

As his coach I'll likely hold back from talking to make sure he has said everything he needs to say about his run. Then, I'll ask him to what the high- and low-lights of his run were. Here is what my fictional client reports:

  • His shoes were uncomfortable.
  • There were some beautiful trees along his running path.
  • All he wanted to do was give up, but he finished it.
  • His old gym teacher barked in his ear about how slow he was the whole time he ran.
  • He felt better when he was walking.

Now we (me the coach, you my trusty sidekick in a lab coat and goggles) have some information to help the client learn more about what kind of exercise resonates with him. We know he appreciates beautiful trees and he's cool with walking. We know his old gym teacher's critical voice lingers in his ear, he may not have the right shoes for the job, and at times he felt like giving up, but he ultimately finished the the first step of the program.

Here's where things get fun in a coaching session. As a coach I work on the premise that everyone is creative, resourceful, and whole. It's not my job to fix the client based on the information he gives me. I'm there to ask powerful questions about the experiment to find out what is going to empower him to keep exercising. 

This guy may decide he wants to buy some new shoes, consider a walking program, join a nature walking club, wear ear buds and blast Pantera the next time he runs, or decide he was being too hard on himself and give the first step another go without changes. At this point, whatever floats his boat and gets him jazzed up about exercising is what I care about. I want him to exercise and have fun while he does it, because it's his goal, and if he is having fun, he is all the more likely to do it. 

My favorite boss so far is an internationally renown scientist. One of of the traits I most appreciate about him was his willingness to treat much of life as an experiment. He never fully scraps any endeavor. Once he wrote a piece on a highly technical subject that his audience didn't understand. Instead of blaming the intellect of the audience, he told me his experiment had failed to communicate the subject properly, and set about re-writing it. He didn't beat himself up about it; he moved forward. The man has published more papers in prestigious journals than anyone I know.

What if as you move along the stream of action that is your life you chose to experiment rather than succeed, fail, achieve, slack off? What would it look like? My experience is experimenting takes the pressure off. See what you think. Lab coats and goggles are optional.