If you change nothing, nothing will change!

I thought it might be nice to reflect on the success I have just had with one of my clients. Obviously, I can’t use her real name and I can’t share her details, so for now I will call her Julie.

I had a wonderful Skype meeting with her last week. She was excited and talked non-stop for the first ten minutes. You see, Julie had just received her first royalty payment for a book she has written. I won’t share with you the amount she received, suffice to say it was the equivalent of six months income for the average UK and US employee!

What makes this story more poignant is that Julie almost ended her own life two years ago. She experienced a really bad run of luck and it all got too much for her. Her doctor prescribed antidepressants and he recommended she see a counsellor. That’s where I came into her story.

In need of a life coach

Actually, Julie didn’t need a counsellor, she needed a life coach. Sure, her mental health wasn’t all it could have been and there were some issues that were troubling her, but the root of Julie’s problems was centered around her feelings of inadequacy, low self-esteem and lack of confidence in her abilities. Julie wanted to change her life, she wanted to get out of the rut and drudgery of her daily grind, but she didn’t know how. No amount of antidepressants or other medications would have helped Julie to make changes in her life.

Julie was a very creative person. She loved to paint, draw, take photographs and she really loved to write fiction. However, her lack of self-confidence was always the stumbling block. When I first met Julie she showed me a wonderful portfolio of pencil drawings she had done. But each time she pulled out a drawing for me to look at she would say stuff like “this one isn’t very good” or “I don’t like the sky in this one”. After looking at ten pictures I stopped her and asked if she could find one she really liked. She couldn’t bring herself to say any of her work was ‘good’.

I won’t go into detail about why Julie lacked self-confidence. There was a whole load of reasons. Sometimes, the wrong thing to do is to look back for reasons. Sometimes it is better to look to the future and forget the past. Some people need psychoanalysis before they can move on to greater things in their lives, but some people just need to look at the ‘here and now’. It is always a dilemma that I have when working with new clients; do I go for the treatment that is based on analysis or do I go for life coaching techniques. With Julie, I decided life coaching was the answer.

What is life coaching?

Let me pause for a second to explain a little more about life coaching.

Life coaching is a means of helping people, usually a person, tap into their true potential and to realise their aspirations and dreams. I like to use the analogy with tennis. Suppose you wanted to take up tennis as a new sport. You could read a book on the subject, you could watch numerous YouTube videos, and you could talk to other players about the sport. However, none of those things will get you playing tennis. So, you decide to buy a racket, some balls, and find a wall to practice against. You might pick up the basics through self-teaching, but you will almost certainly pick up bad habits too. You might find progress is very slow and you may become demoralised and give up.

You might find a tennis coach. He will teach you the basics, then, as you progress, he will teach you more advanced techniques. Perhaps you will get into competitions and your coach will support you through your matches, helping you to analyse your opponents strengths and weaknesses. Your coach will set you goals and objectives and he will work with you to help achieve those. He will pick you up and dust you off when you fall down and he will encourage you. He will almost certainly push your boundaries, but in a safe and encouraging way. Together you will win. But the one thing he will not do is to play your matches for you. YOU will do that yourself. YOU will learn, YOU will play, YOU will win.

Life coaches have the ability to help you shed light on difficult situations. They will do many things, such as setting regular goals and targets, looking at the big picture so that you can look at the detail, have regular check-ins, motivate, identify your strengths and weaknesses, and, most importantly, help you to work smart rather than work hard.

I read an interesting piece about life coaching in a recent edition of the Public Management magazine. The author reflected on a recent study that showed training alone increases productivity in companies by about 22% while training combined with coaching increases productivity by over 80%.

Life coaching is incredibly popular now. Why? Well, it is simple really. More and more people are getting tired of what they ‘should’ do and are ready to do something special and meaningful with their lives. The problem is, most people can’t seem to see a way to reorient their life. A life coach has a vast toolkit that can be used to help reset and move forward.

Back to Julie

Julie wanted to change but her self-doubt held her back. For years she didn’t change. The desire was there but she couldn’t see a way to make a breakthrough. Her self-esteem was rock bottom, her mental wellbeing was in need of help, and her belief that she was a valuable person was almost non-existent. There was one positive thing about Julie that I recognised immediately – she wanted to change. In fact, her desire to change was as strong as I have seen in anyone before.

I started work with visualization techniques. Between us, Julie and I pictured success. Julie didn’t want to be a millionaire, she didn’t want fancy cars or exotic holidays, she just wanted a life that was fulfilling. So, we pictured it together. Through a combination of relaxation techniques and self-hypnosis, Julie was able to start ‘seeing’ her new life. A good start.

After you see what the future might look like, the next stage is to plan how to get there. It really is like a journey. If you want to arrive at your destination, you need to travel. So, together Julie and I planned her journey. We looked at her strengths and weaknesses. We looked at the things she could do now, and we looked at subjects she was passionate about. We came up with a plan. Julie would write a book. She had been scribbling away for years but she never thought her idea would fly. Well, it was time to give it wings.

Life coaches need to check-in regularly, so that was exactly what I did with Julie. I checked on her progress, I motivated, I listened to her when she was down and struggling and I picked her up again. Her strength grew each week. We developed ways to help her build self-confidence and we laughed when my ideas went horribly wrong (yes, life coaches get it wrong sometimes!).

Finally, it was judgement day. Julie had sent her work to a literary agent. To her surprise and delight, the agent emailed and asked to meet for a discussion. I spent two hours with Julie before her meeting with the agent. We had coffee and we walked in a local park. I needed to build her confidence to an all-time high so that she would go into her meeting and wow that agent. And she did.

Beaming from cheek to cheek, Julie emerged from her meeting triumphant. Her agent agreed to get a deal for her. And the rest, as they say, is history. Julie is writing her second book.

The one thing I want you to take away from Julie’s story is this. I, as the life coach, didn’t write her book – Julie wrote it. Julie came up with the ideas for the book, Julie constructed all the characters, Julie spent days, weeks and months writing, and Julie closed the deal with the agent – not me. All I did was to take a person who needed direction and work with her to help her find the answer. Life coaching is wonderful.

I really hope you enhoyed my piece on life coaching.

I have a new podcast series on life coaching coming out very soon. Keep in touch.

http://www.ahelpinghand.biz

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stress or pressure – is there a difference?

Stress or pressure

We often hear people talking about being under “stress”. Tight deadlines at work, colleagues who can be a little tetchy, and that damned IT system playing up again can all result in people complaining and saying ‘I’m stressed out today’. Well, generally speaking, they are not ‘stressed’. Actually, they are under “pressure”.

There is an important difference between pressure and stress. Someone who is suffering from stress will certainly know about it, because they will have needed help to sort themselves out. But more on that later. Firstly, let’s talk about ‘pressure’.

Pressure is good for us. Pressure helps the body to prepare for the ‘flight or fight’ response. Our brain wants to keep us safe so whenever it senses danger it releases chemicals into the body. I refer to this as ‘pressure events’ that trigger a response.

What is a pressure event? Well, it is anything that the brain detects as danger, or put another way, something that the brain detects as abnormal. Imagine sitting quietly at lunchtime, sitting in a comfy chair while enjoying a sandwich from Marks & Spencer. Someone creeps up behind you and shouts BOO. Almost immediately your brain will respond. You heart rate will go up, your arteries will dilate a little, your breathing will increase and your pupils will dilate too. All of this will happen in less than one second. Your brain has sensed danger and has put you on a state of readiness to react. But, you are not under stress. You are under pressure.

Brain and body arousal

Without getting too scientific, the following sequence of events follow a pressure event. The pre-frontal cortex of the brain senses something is abnormal. An immediate response is made through the Hypothalamus Pituitary and Adrenal System (the HPA axis). A special hormone is released, called the corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH).

The pituitary gland comes into action at this stage and it releases adrenocorticotropic-releasing homones (ACTH) into the blood system. ACTH acts on the adrenal cortex and tells it to release cortisol. The adrenal system then releases adrenalin into the blood system, while insulin is produced in the pancreas to convert some glucose into glycogen, just in case the body needs a blast of energy.

And all of this happens because someone said BOO!

The point I am making here is that the brain will react to pressure. Sometimes, pressure is because of an external event or sometimes it is simply because we think something. When we get angry at a person the brain sees this as a pressure event and, again, releases all those chemicals.

Pressure on a daily basis is good for us. It tests the central nervous system and it gives it a good workout. We might experience over 100 pressure events every day. Think about it. The driver who cut us up this morning, the coffee machine that delivered a latte instead of an Americano and the MD who failed to read the report that you spent last night preparing. These are all pressure events. And, they are good for us. Well, maybe not the MD one – that is just downright annoying!

Crossing the line

Now then, I want to explain something that I call ‘crossing the line’. Imagine a line drawn in the sand. The line is just out of reach of the tide. Imagine placing a brand-new ipad on the sand just above the line, on the dry side. You sit back and watch the tide come in. You know that it will ebb and flow as it gets nearer and nearer to the line, but you know that the usual tide never quite reaches the line in the sand, so your ipad is quite safe.

One day, an unusual event occurs. The tide comes and goes as usual but you start to worry because the ebb and flow is getting faster. Something is wrong today. Suddenly, a vast tide comes up, crosses the line and drenches your brand-new ipad. It is damaged beyond repair.

The line in the sand is analogous to pressure events. When pressure bobs about inside our brains it can come and go nicely, without causing too much harm. However, when pressure events start to come more frequently, and pile on top of one another, there comes a point when the line is crossed. That is the stage when pressure changes to stress.

With most people, crossing the line is a major and serious stage. Most people will never be able to get back below the line again, not without proper help. Their symptoms will continue to manifest as irritability, sleep disturbance, eating disorders, compulsive behaviour and a whole load of other things.

Antidepressants and therapy

Crossing the line is when normal everyday pressure turns into a serious medical condition. At this stage, a person will be in much need of help. It is far from impossible to get back to normal again, but it will take time and patience. Depression is a very common symptom at this stage. A person suffering from stress should visit their GP, who will more than likely prescribe medication, often antidepressants. One of the most common types of antidepressant are the Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs). These help to sort out the chemical imbalances in the brain.

Why does a chemical imbalance occur in an otherwise healthy brain? Well, the answer is simple really. Remember the story about BOO? All those chemicals that are released each time we have a reaction to a pressure event need to disperse. If pressure is under control and we are not subjected to too much pressure, the flood of chemicals can fairly easily dissipate and be converted into chemicals that can pass out of the body. However, when these chemicals reach an amount that overwhelms the brain and body, the balance within the brain can be disturbed. We need medication at this stage to sort out the imbalance.

Something very important though is that medication on its own is not always enough. Medication will definitely treat the symptoms but they rarely fix the cause. Cause and symptoms is something that I will mention a lot in further posts and podcasts. Suffice to say for now is that symptoms will always appear because something is wrong. The cause of the problem needs to be fixed and this is where counselling and therapy come in. Hypnotherapy is an excellent technique for delving into the brain to access the cause of the problem. Find the cause and the symptom will disappear.

Check out my podcasts on http://www.ahelpinghand.biz