I know that sounds like a huge claim and I don’t make it lightly, but the more I’ve worked in the field of personal development as a coach and trainee therapist, the more I keep coming back to one key question.
Before I share my nomination for the best question ever, I need to explain a little about the context. With coaching clients, we usually contract to work on an issue or situation that is real and present for them, at the more tactical level if you like. However, for the most part, we usually end up working at a much deeper level. So, we can end up discussing how a client’s earliest relationships are showing up within their current relationships. Or how some deeply held personal beliefs, are creating a mental obstacle course that clients are finding tough to navigate. It’s the part of the work that I love, and it always feels hugely gratifying when someone makes a significant connection with a deeper issue, which in turn helps them to move forward in the here and now.
I’ve used this question for myself when I’m feeling stuck – and don’t get me wrong, it’s not always an easy response!! But it has helped me see a situation or person from a different perspective, which in itself has been freeing somehow.
OK so here’s THE question……….drum roll please………………………………………………………
“What is it about me that is finding this difficult?”
Simple huh? Well maybe yes, but I think we can break it down into some key parts. Starting with “what is it about me…?” By focusing on the me in this question we are already starting to take ownership and responsibility. “Men are disturbed not by things, but the view which they take of them.” So said Epictetus….and how right he was! If we can recognise our own subconscious thoughts or biases or even what it is in our history that has shaped our perceptions; we’ve already made a big step towards making a positive change for ourselves.
When I’ve used this question for myself and with clients, I’ve noticed how we are able to identify deeply held beliefs, that no longer serve us or some deeper underlying fear or concern that is unconsciously holding us back. We all perceive and interpret things differently and often the lenses through which we view the world are tainted by stuff that is very much out of our conscious awareness.
The second key element in this question is the “this”. For this we could insert “this person” or “this situation.” And again, when I explore this with my clients we often find out that we are talking about something that is much deeper than what is evident in the moment. By focusing on what is it about “thisperson” we’re able to learn more about the familiar patterns of behaviours that we play out in response to others. Or we might highlight some characteristics in others that we don’t like about ourselves. I could go on but that gives you a sense of where this can go. Psychotherapists would probably call this phenomena projection or transference; which is fascinating stuff, but perhaps for another time!?
So, why not try it for yourself the next time you are finding a conversation or situation difficult; or when feel that someone is triggering something in you; or when you notice a strong emotional reaction to something that’s happening. Let me know how you get on. Be prepared for some discomfort – buckle up, it’s gonna be a bumpy ride – but it will be worth it!!!!