By Susan Wright, TCP President
There is a lot of focus on intention these days as a concept and practice. New science has shown that what we think about actually creates physical matter. For example, the structure and activity of the brain can change in response to experience, an ability called neuroplasticity. We have known that we construct our reality through our own perceptions and beliefs for a long time but now we know that we also construct the actual physical world around us through our thoughts. For example, Darrell Daybre writes in his book, “The Greatest Secret”:
“Creation of anything in the physical universe is determined by what kind of attention you place on it. In other words, what you think about the most, you bring about. What you focus on, good or bad, you begin to create.”
This has tremendous implication for coaches. We are after all in the intention business. We work with our clients to clarify what they want and then help them to work through their resistance, be it doubt or fear, to focus their intention and action on achieving their goals. In short, we work with the client’s intention to be all that they can be. And we as coaches work from our own intention to bring all that we are to our clients. This article explores both sides of this coin of intention and how our effectiveness in supporting our clients depends on our ability to create and sustain “positivity”.
Positivity in the Client Relationship
So what is positivity? Well, to begin, it is the opposite of negativity. We all have tapes running in our heads all the time. These inner ‘voices’ are sometimes called gremlins or judges or nay-sayers. Whatever your name for them, they are the negative self-talk that keeps us from living at our full potential. They are the self-limiting beliefs that we play over and over in our thoughts. “I can’t do that – I’m not smart enough.” “If I do what I want, others will suffer.” “If I take that job, I’ll fail.” We all have times in our lives when this negative self-talk gets the better of us. The role of a coach is to help us work through it to create a more positive vision of a different future. As coaches, we know that helping clients get their self-limiting beliefs, their negativity, out in the open so they can examine their sources and work on reframing the gremlins into self-fulfilling beliefs is the hard work of transformation. It is changing the client’s story from what Hargrove calls “rut stories” into “river stories”. Rut stories are the negative stuck positions where there appears to be no way out; river stories on the other hand flow from our intentions to our reality – virtually anything is possible.
Positivity is also critical because, as Daybre says, we attract what we focus on, good or bad. I have a colleague who spent two years focusing her intention on being “debt free”. The more she focused on it, the more debt she attracted to herself. Finally, when she realized she had been focused on a negative intention and reframed it to “living in abundance”, she immediately began to attract the kind of work and income that she desired. So part of our role as coaches, as we focus client’s intentions, is to ensure that they are positive and will attract the kind of energy the individual desires.
Positivity is the power that comes from positive thinking, from positive intention. I often tell clients to take 5 minutes at the beginning of each day to set their intentions for the day. How do they intend to behave positively in that important meeting to establish a collaborative climate for negotiation? What positive intention do they have for that difficult conversation with an underperforming employee? It is amazing how setting the intention creates the desired outcome. At the end of the day, I suggest they take another 5 minutes to reflect on their behavior – did they achieve their intention, if not, why not and what do they intend to do differently tomorrow? This simple technique can help clients to begin to change their outlook, to transform their stories from failure, or fear of it, to success in whatever areas they want to address. I also know a coach who calls his clients every morning for a month to set their intentions – only 2 minutes a day helps to change the pattern.
Positivity in the Coach
Positivity is, then, what coaches create in their clients as a transformative agent of change. And it is also the stance that coaches themselves take with their clients. It is the ‘can do’ attitude that helps someone who is stuck to get moving, to see the possibilities, to be excited about a better alternative. Coaches are role models of positivity – they bring their positive energy and intention to the coaching relationship and hold out the possibility for their clients by living a positive life themselves. It is in fact the ability of the coach to embody positivity that allows clients to trust that they too can achieve their best potential.
When working with our clients, we use the term “unconditional positive regard”, a phrase coined by Carl Rogers, one of the grandfathers of the human potential movement. “UPR” is the way the coach shows up for the client, ready to listen, not to judge, to be unconditional in support of the client’s story. It is the intention of the coach to hold the client in unconditional positive regard that gives clients the safety, the trust, to confront the problems or issues they face. The coach does not have to accept or agree with everything in the client’s story – in fact, it is important that the coach be able to see the discontinuities in the story and challenge the client at the appropriate time. The critical point is that the coach is able, despite resistance and setbacks, to consistently hold this appreciative perspective throughout the relationship, and to repair and rebuild it if it is temporarily lost.
Here is a brief exercise in intention you can use with your clients, or by yourself, to reframe your negativity into positivity.
1. Surface the negative voices – get those gremlins out into the open by saying them out loud. Hear how they sound and feel how they make you feel. You may feel defeated, sad or angry at the statements when you say them aloud.
2. Reframe the voices – now take each negative statement in turn and reframe it positively. If you’re the coach, say the negative statement to the client using exactly the same tone of voice. Then ask the client to turn it around and say it positively aloud. Hear how the positive voice sounds and feel the difference in how it makes you feel. You may want to sing it, or dance it, or shout it – be expressive!
3. Make a commitment – to reframing the negative voices each time you hear them into the positive statements you have just made. Monitor your thoughts and know that your positive intentions will attract what you want to you, just as your negative gremlins will keep you stuck in unwanted patterns. And remember, as a coach you can only work with healthy, self-responsible adults. If your clients cannot imagine themselves out of their rut, they may be candidates for therapy instead of or in addition to coaching.
Although the word positivity may be new, the concept is as old as time. As coaches, we can take advantage of this ancient wisdom as well as the new science to support our clients in achieving their dreams, and to live ourselves as models of positive intention.
Begley, S. Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain: How a New Science Reveals Our Extraordinary Power to Transform Ourselves. Ballantine, 2007.
Daybre, D. The Greatest Secret: The Secret to having all you’ve ever wanted. The Center for Extraordinary Living, 2004.
Hargrove, R. Masterful Coaching. Pfeiffer, 1995.
Rogers, C. On Becoming a Person. Houghton Mifflin, 1961.