Coaches are not magicians or gurus. Although there is something undeniably alchemical in the coaching process, all good coaches know that the novel genius that emerges in transformation is not created by them.
The coach might facilitate development. She might hold the space. She might be the client’s guide as he explores the new territory of self. But the coach is not the hero of the story. The client is.
Transformation takes guts. It’s not easy. Understanding that fact and knowing how to support someone who is going through personal change is one of the coach’s primary roles.
But the coach can only do so much. The glory in self-development may belong to the client, but the bulk of the work lies with the client too.
We have spoken before on this blog about the resistance that arises when we engage with change. It is guaranteed. But how you respond to it makes all the difference in the success of your coaching journey.
The same, of course, applies to all challenging episodes in a person’s life. When we are met with difficulty, it is up to us to draw on all our personal resources to overcome the obstacle.
This is typically called resilience. It is related to self-reliance and self-confidence. It is the ability to get back up and succeed when things get tough. It seems some people are naturally more resilient than others, in the same way that some people appear to exude effortless self-confidence.
Resilience and self-confidence can both be learned and practiced. But not all sources of resilience or self-confidence are equal. To flex and flow with life’s greatest challenges we need to anchor our confidence in a deeper sense of self.
Level One: ME
One could fill a large library with the self-help books that have been written to teach the skills of Me. This is the persona we present to the world, the one that we take into business meetings, and social events.
When we talk about self-esteem or self-confidence, we are normally talking about this persona. Most wisdom traditions refer to this part of ourselves as something like “the small self”. Some people call it the ego. Establishing a healthy version of this self is the primary focus of most forms of psychology. It is also the most fragile part of ourselves.
The Me self is a shapeshifter, willing to invent all sorts of masks or stories that we tell ourselves to a) make us feel better; or b) make us feel worse. It is from this level that we receive the thousands of negative thoughts every day that, though intended to keep us safe, actually makes us feel like we’re not good enough.
However, the malleable nature of this level of self also counts to our advantage. We can, to a degree, change the narrative in our minds through intentional changes in behavior and thought construction. Consequently, we shift how we see the world.
This is a powerful, proposition–in many ways miraculous. Neuroscience has confirmed that our brains are neuroplastic; by proactively shaping what we think, we can, almost by sheer willpower, direct our own success.
However, most of this happens at a mental level and over-reliance on this vehicle can lead to trouble. This identity is more brittle than we believe. The stereotypical mid-life crisis is an example of this identity beginning to crack.
A change like that can be devastating if you’re not rooted in a deeper sense of self.
Useful ME practices:
- Power poses
- Strength or HIIT training
- Mindfulness practices
Level Two: WE
Almost all coaching work begins with a view of the future: either a goal or a vision of what success will look like.
So, it is with all positively transformative processes. Change is constant; it will happen whether you want it to or not, but a coaching program, for example, is born when an individual deliberately embarks on a path of change.
Intention is critical to sustainable growth and success. It provides a north star and center of gravity when we feel like we might be losing our way or our resolve. At its fullest, that intention works towards the achievement of a vision or purpose.
Finding one’s purpose seeks to answer the question: why am I here? An interesting thing happens when people allow themselves the time and space to truly contemplate their answer. For most people, their purpose is less about ME and more about WE.
Whether it is to provide safety and support for their families, to be a loving parent/brother/sister/partner, to make an impact in the community, or to contribute to the happiness of all sentient beings, when humans consider the purpose of their lives they invariably look outside themselves.
This shift to an identification with the WE gives a different solidity to confidence and resilience. It is tangible when you meet someone who is driven by genuine purpose, rather than a constructed persona of confidence.
Paradoxically, if you really want to develop the confidence that will lead to personal success, let go of it. Stop trying to be confident, and rather access the deep confidence already inside you: the part of you that knows that you are here to offer meaning beyond yourself.
Useful WE practices:
- Heart-centered meditations
- Shamanic visioning
- Holotropic breathing
- Vision boards
Level Three: Unity
There is a reason that many who face terminal cancer report a feeling of liberation that descends on them at some point during their process. It is the same reason that survivors of near death experiences regularly display an increase in self-esteem or confidence.
People in these situations have been invited to confront their own mortality, the greatest fear of all. Some argue that the fear of death is the root of all fears, but those who have touched death have been given an altered perspective on what matters.
Many of us have had a traumatic experience that clarifies our priorities, something that helps us see what is most important to us (it’s usually not an expensive car or a high-powered job). But those who have been near death sometimes develop a different understanding.
They have an experience of something beyond time and space, something that is both within us and we within it. It is inexpressible, but it could be described as eternal, unchanging, one.
That timeless unity, the part of all of us that transcends time and space, is what most traditions point to as the ground of all being. A visceral experience of it forever shifts one’s view, releasing a confidence and resilience that is unshakeable. From this place, one knows that all is always as it should be; everything will be okay.
It is rare to meet individuals who orient consistently from this place; those who do appear fearless. But you don’t need to wait for a life-threatening event to access to this foundational self – that can be cultivated.
Useful UNITY practices:
- Zen/transcendental/tantric/Sufi meditation
- Contemplative prayer
- Dream yoga
It is not necessary to access all three levels of confidence and resilience in order to lead a happy, fulfilling life. But the invitation is always there to explore the deeper parts of our selves and bring their power to the surface.