As trainers, we can’t impact the actions of those we train, but we can have an influence on how our learners think about their actions and encourage them to make better decisions. Here, coaching experts Jenny Bird and Sarah Gornall explore how self-care plays a big part in this.
What do you notice about the assumptions and self-fulfilling stories people tell themselves? Often, much of the work of training is unpicking the ideas that limit people in their work and lives and encouraging them to see other perspectives, thereby liberating their creativity.
What is your role in this? There can be huge organisational expectations of the transformation you can bring about.
You support people in changing their ingrained habits of pressured working, emailing reports in the early hours, clogging up their diaries with back-to-back meetings, or eating stale sandwiches in front of the screen without so much as noticing the filling.
You train them to care for themselves more, to believe in themselves more, to have realistic assessments of their own impact and capability.
An unobtainable measure of perfection
Many people discount their own potential, measuring themselves against an unobtainable measure of perfection.
A lot of creativity, contribution and self-compassion can be lost because of the limiting and punitive stories we tell ourselves: ‘I’m not good enough, I need to work harder, I must get this right if it takes all night’.
When we tell ourselves these stories, we brainwash ourselves and become demoralised and disempowered.
Conversely, when you can train people to tell a positive internal story, you’ll liberate energy and capacity.
Recent surveys of the impact of training in the company show that enthusiasm at the end of a workshop quickly fades and within a few days, new habits have withered away and there’s been a reset to normal.
Change, and sustaining new habits, is likely to need support. There are better ways and we need to keep practising the change to make it stick.
Company health and wellbeing policies seem to put all the burden of responsibility at the trainer’s door. This looks like a recipe for performance anxiety, failure and anxious anticipation of public shame.
The first thing to note is that the only person over whom we really have control is ourselves. We can’t change others.
We can offer tools, stimulate insights and model alternative ways of being. We can challenge and support, champion new behaviours and share feedback with people higher up the food chain.
In the end, it’s up to the other people, in this case those we are supposed to train, to decide for themselves what do with the information, knowledge and insights that they now have.
We are in control of the perspectives we take and we can show others how to recognise, reframe and reboot their internal monologue setting it to positive.
Ideas and tips
Here are a few suggestions based on our experience of years in the leadership and development space.
- Start with yourself: if you are a model of managing focus to support your own wellbeing, and your language shows that you accept yourself, then others will trust your word. Walk the talk.
- Use a coaching approach: if you lecture, others will feel judged. Listen to where the people are coming from, explore and help them see the stories they are telling themselves. Ask open questions, reflect on learning and support them to know that they can choose their own perspective.
- Believe in the good intentions of others: their habits were most likely formed in response to their environment, modelled on family or company behaviours. Change, and sustaining new habits, is likely to need support. There are better ways and we need to keep practising the change to make it stick.
- Find out what the pain is: at the beginning of a session, find out where the rub is. What’s the behaviour/stress that they want to move away from? What’s the worst they fear? Get those assumptions, myths and stories out there!
- Introduce some humour: most of the worst-case scenarios can be lightened by exaggeration – e.g. ‘the consequence of always being reactive to the urgent and important stuff is almost certainly stress, burn-out and death!’ Humour diverts the brain from the problem, with the result that flow and solutions come more easily.
- Help them paint the ideal: if they don’t want the pain, what do they want instead? Help them to build as vivid a picture of this as possible. Maybe cement the visualisation with a sketch, body posture or mantra, engaging different parts of the brain as you do so.
- Help people recognise the stress triggers: what triggers the stress reaction? How can they notice when this is happening? What responses can they plan and practice, so that they can use them more speedily if in need?
- Practice mind/body awareness, breathing, and relaxation exercises: bodily responses are a clue to our state of mind. Teach techniques for a body scan, followed by reflection using questions such as ‘where did this come from?’ ‘Is this what I choose?’ ‘If not, what?’ Model and practice breathing patterns. Breathing gives the brain oxygen, calms us, and creates the space to help us manage ourselves. Bring in an expert to teach yoga and mindfulness.
- Offer prioritisation models: explore how models such as the Do-It-Disc*, which we’ve evolved working with clients in highly accountable positions, emphasise the importance of spending time on review, rest and restoration. The mind works well when allowed to rest and play. Counter the belief that it’s impossible to take time off/ have a lunch break/ ignore emails at the weekend. Build understanding of the value of stepping back and returning to work with fresh energy and focus.
- Develop self-awareness and personal permissions: we all have internal drivers and messages about how we need to relate to others – our own internal sources of stress. In the world of transactional analysis (TA) key drivers are perfect; be strong; hurry up; please people; try hard. There are matching permissions that we can give ourselves, which help us to take care of ourselves. These can become personal mantras to use in times of stress. ‘I can take the time I need’, and ‘I am enough as I am’.
- Explore and develop the roots of wellbeing: our Wellbeing Tree* is an illustration of what might nourish wellbeing. Encourage people to draw their own tree, labelling the roots with aspects that are important for them, such as values, integrity, emotional balance, positive language and connection. Which roots are stronger? Which ones need nourishing?
- Encourage reframing: our self-talk impacts hugely on how we feel about ourselves. Demonstrate the impact of moving from ‘I can’t’ to ‘I could’; from ‘but’ to ‘and’; from ‘there’s nothing I can do’ to ‘what might I do?’
- Develop accountability: ask what’s stopping them? Are they going to allow that to happen? If not, what will they do about it? Suggest self-care pairs who commit to coaching and supporting each other. They can ask ‘what went well? ‘How did you feel?’ ‘How could you build on that?’ Suggest habit-tracking apps to support new behaviours.
- Work in bite-sized chunks: if you’re running training, have several short sessions over a period of time, allowing cumulative practice, review, accountability, learning from others and celebration. If you’re having conversations, don’t try to cover everything in one go. Keep it focused and digestible. You will get there, step by step.
*The Do-It-Disc and Wellbeing Tree are described in more detail in our recent book, How to Work with People… and Enjoy It!
Interested in this topic? Read Mindfulness: inviting your learners to stop before they start.
About Jenny Bird
Jenny Bird and Sarah Gornall have contributed significantly to the coaching profession in the UK and Sarah is currently President of the UK Chapter of the International Coach Federation (ICF). They draw on extensive experience as both leaders and coaches of senior executives in their recent book “How to Work with People… and Enjoy It! (Routledge). Their previous book “The Art of Coaching: A Handbook of Tips and Tools” has met with wide acclaim.