Thursday, March 28, 2013

Brief + Positive = Power

This week, I have listened to smart well-trained coaches who believe that any sustainable change takes at least three months, and to another smart, well-trained coach/therapist who says that research shows 3-10 sessions is the optimal length for helping someone make a desired change. Both camps insist that they get results for their clients, although the expert in brief interventions did not claim to get results for everyone. She claimed that it is only possible to get results from people who are ready to change.

Both camps claim to be client-focused (which is to say that they claim the client is the expert on his/her own life), although the longer camp seems willing to be more "directive." 

How is it possible that both camps are telling the truth?  Because the problem for someone who wants to change is that both camps are telling the truth, from a certain point of view.

Directed change does take time. If I have to convince you, a little at a time, that change is desirable and then convince you, a little at a time, to test some strategies I am offering, then change will occur a little at a time. After three to six months, there will be enough little changes that one or both of the client and the coach to be convinced that change has happened. Will that make it sustainable? How many of the coaches check back in after a year or two to find out?

Brief change is counter-intuitive.  We believe that our choices and behaviours are either driven by conscious thought or driven by repetition, and neither of those seems likely to change simply because we redirect our focus.  But our intuition is often wrong. In their new book, Decisive, Dan and Chip Heath note that intuition must be trained to be reliable. Your intuition on what works for change would only be reliable if it were based on rigorous practice in a predictable environment.

A metaphor works better. The one the Heath brothers use is the spotlight. Imagine your life as a stage. There is only one spotlight on the stage: this spotlight is your attention. Whatever it illuminates is the whole of the story until the spotlight moves.

It's hard for coaches to put aside the problem-plagued predisposition of our anxious society. It's hard to let go of being the expert who can solve the puzzles and point the way out of the maze.  When they do, when coaches relentlessly focus on what is working and what is desirable, they move the spotlight. Suddenly, a client has a new life because what they can see is really what they get, at least as long as they maintain focus.

Brief coaches work for the moment when the spotlight is focused on the desired future. They know when they've hit it by watching the reflection of that future in the client. They know that one moment of illumination changes everything. Even when the spotlight shifts, we now know what is waiting on that space on the stage. We know that we have the power to shift the spotlight back and take another look.

You can't want what you don't know exists. Once you know what it is you're looking for, it's much easier to find it. Even if you've only looked at it long enough so that you will recognize it when you make it happen.

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