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Conversation between a Guy and a Coach.


Guy: So what is it that you do here?


Coach: My favorite way to answer this question is to say that coaches are experts in change. Normally men come here because they are experiencing some sort of “stuckness.” They are facing a career change, relationship change, identity change, or something else, and are looking for a set of tools or guidance to get them through it. In a nutshell: We help guys create change in their lives.


Guy: Okay. So how do you do that?


Coach: This format of you asking questions and me giving answers is familiar. In sessions, it’s almost always the coach asking questions and the client giving answers. So we’re doing it backwards here. One mechanism for helping guys change is through asking really good questions.


I’m reminded of an excerpt from a classic book on improvisational theater called Impro by Keith Johnstone. In it, a teacher is faced with a student who is convinced he lacks creativity. The teacher asks the student to create an improvised story, but he declines. He “can’t think of anything.” The teacher proceeds to ask the the student a series of “yes or no” questions:


“Is there a boy?” “Yes.”

“Does he go to the store?” “No.”

“Does he go to the moon?” “Yes.”

“Is it made of cheese?” “No.”

“Does he meet a woman there?” “Yes.”

And so on…


By the end of the series of questions, of course, the student finds himself the creator of an elaborate tale.


In a similar manner, an experienced coach can use good questions to pull remarkable creativity, insight, and problem-solving out of a client who is experiencing stuckness.


Guy: That sounds kind of cool. So how do you start?


Coach: That depends, of course, on the individual. But one of my favorite questions to ask is: “What’s important?”


Individuals have profoundly different answers to this question depending on their life situations and priorities. Answers are often something like a guy’s health, wife, kids, God, job, responsibilities, or some combination. Subsequent questions are downstream from that first answer.


Given that BLANK is important, is your behavior appropriate? Why is BLANK important? Are you sure BLANK is important? In an ideal world, what would your life look like with respect to BLANK? What does that mean for you as far as behavioral change?


Guy: Okay. But my job is important. My kids are also important. My wife is important. If anything it feels like there’s too much that’s important and I’m unable to keep up with it all. I’m overwhelmed. That’s why I need coaching. So can you help me?


Coach: Well yes, of course. In fact, you’re bringing to light one of the common circumstances we see in our work.


To begin with, I will point something out that’s obvious: I am a man. I like to solve puzzles. I like to optimize. I like to min-max. I like to win. It is very interesting for me to optimize things and to see my clients win. I am confident that, working together, we can set up systems that work for you, and get you operating at an extremely high level of performance–perhaps higher than you ever imagined was possible. This is absolutely something we can do and have done before many times.


But I also must point out that the question you asked changed the scope of our conversation. Did you catch it? Did you notice that in your language you brought up your feelings?


Guy: I guess I did.


Coach: It’s okay, man. I have those, too, once per year.


Anyway, those “feelings” indicate that there may be something else that’s important beyond the list you gave. It may be important, too, to feel good.


Here’s a question for you: Is it possible that after we do the hard work–and it will be hard work–of optimizing every system in your life, that your feeling of overwhelmedness will persist? That you will continue to feel as though there is too much to do?


Guy: Man, I really don’t want to talk about my feelings.


Coach: Hey bro, you’re the one who brought up how you feel, not me. I feel great.


Guy: Fine, I admit it. I want to optimize my life, but I suppose I also want to feel better.


Coach: That’s honest. Thank you. So do you recognize that you might be on a kind of “life optimization treadmill?”


Guy: I do.


Coach: Good. Let me share a quote with you, then. It comes from G.K. Chesterton: “Men did not love Rome because she was great. She was great because they had loved her.”


Guy: What does it mean?


Coach: What do you think it means?

Guy: I really don’t know.


Coach: Honest again. Thank you.


We work here by starting with love and letting the greatness flow downhill like water. This is antithetical to your current operating standard.


You are withholding love from yourself. When you say, “I feel overwhelmed,” that’s what is going on. You are punishing yourself because you feel unable to fulfill an obligation to the world around you. Following me so far?


Guy: I think so.

 

Coach: Good. You have a kind of contract in place–a contract that is pervasive in our culture. The deal is that if you perform optimally, then on Friday, at the end of the workweek, you will receive a reward. You will then–and only then–be entitled to feel good about yourself. Crack a beer, put on the game, hug your brother. Think: beer commercial vibe.


In all other cases, however, you should feel bad.


Guy: Yep. That’s me.


Coach: Oh, I know it. I’ve lived it. Well, here’s the deal: The new world order is that we’re playing by Chesterton’s rules. We’re starting with the love and letting the results come from that foundation. But we set the foundation, first.


In the few sessions that we’ve had together, I’ve come to understand that you are absolutely someone who is capable of executing the plan we’ve laid out for you in session. We’ve seen you do it before. That stuff is, frankly,  easy for you.  You’re that kind of guy. But as your coach, I’m far more concerned with whether you’re able to do the “love” part.


Guy: But I do love myself.


Coach: Do you? Because you appear to be punishing yourself for inadequate performance. If your son were overwhelmed by the tasks facing him, would you punish him?


Guy: Well obviously not.


Coach: Would you tell him to punish himself after he dropped a ball?


Guy: No I would not.


Coach: Then why are you treating yourself differently? (And by the way, I’ll point out that you’re not modeling that behavior for him and therefore not teaching that behavior. But that is a discussion for another time.)


Guy: Well, I’m a grown man. I should have my shit together by now.


Coach: I appreciate your honesty, yet again. Again, your language is telling. The word “should” signals “guilt” all day long. Any time I hear it, I feel a client’s guilt. It’s perhaps impossible to use the words “I should” without some level of implicit guilt in tow. That “guilt” you feel is a lack of forgiveness, an absence of love for yourself.


So here we are with a “man up” moment. Are you going to man up and start with love? Or do you want to continue to withhold love from yourself until you have met some arbitrary performance standard set by the culture at large, that–not insignificantly–will also move further away as you approach it?


Guy: You make a good case.


Coach: I’m good at my job, motherf—-er.

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