Coaches: Help Your High-Achieving Clients Get Unstuck

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According to Acceptance and Commitment (AC )Coaching theory, clients get stuck because they lack the psychological flexibility necessary to manage troubling thoughts and painful emotions that create barriers to taking action.

I’ve found this to be particularly true with very intelligent, high-achieving clients, because they are so used to relying on their minds to think their way out of problems. They use their intelligence and problem solving abilities to control and change variables that they find contributes to their problems.

This works great when the variables involved are things that they can control (aspects of their environment and their behavior). Think of these things as external factors because they exist outside of the mind. They can use their superior intelligence and drive to control, avoid, or eliminate the external factors related to their problems or distress.

This doesn’t work very well however when dealing with things that they cannot control (troubling thoughts, negative self-talk, and painful emotions and mental images). Think of these things as internal factors because they exist in the mind. AC Coaching has shown that thoughts, feelings, self-talk, and mental images come and go on their own.  Feelings in particular cannot be consciously controlled. Clients cannot simply will themselves to feel happy, sad, angry, or any other emotion.

AC Coaching research has found that trying to control, avoid, or eliminate  internal factors actually makes them worse. When clients focus their attention on troubling internal factors it keeps them in the forefront of their consciousness and intensifies them. Highly-intelligent clients are particularly vulnerable to this since they are often prone to overthink issues and ruminate on them for extended periods of time

This contributes to their getting stuck in a rut because they want to control, avoid, or eliminate these troubling thoughts and painful emotions before taking further action.

Why Clients Get Stuck

Other factors contribute to clients trying to control, avoid, or eliminate troubling thoughts and painful emotions. There are six causes (called core processes by AC Coaching) that lead to psychological inflexibility and getting stuck. The six processes that lead to clients being psychologically inflexible were originally described in the Hexaflex Model  (Strosahl, et. al, 2004).


Figure # 1. The Hexaflex Model 


1. Attachment to the conceptualized self. The conceptualized self is the internal picture clients have of themselves. It is also known as the self-as-content view and basically describes people as the sum total of their thoughts. This is the dominant view shared by very intelligent clients and high-achievers.

2. Cognitive fusion is over-identification with one aspect of the conceptualized self. When clients over-identify with one aspect of their conceptualized selves it throws their perspective out of balance and limits the way they view issues and problems.

3. Dominance of outmoded scripts and learning  involves letting unhelpful, outdated versions of the conceptualized self (expressed as non-verbal messages or scripts) serve as barriers to setting goals and committing to take action.

4. Experiential avoidance involves avoiding taking action because it is easier and less painful to do so than to try something new or to change some aspect of their lives.

5. Lack of clarity of values involves being unclear about core and satellite values and therefore not setting values-based goals. Clients who are unclear about their core and satellite values often let others set the direction of their lives.

6. Inaction, Impulsivity, and Rigidity can be lumped together as processes that join forces to undermine goals and action plans.

These six processes contribute to psychologically inflexibility, create barriers, and make it harder for clients to deal with situations in new and creative ways.

Getting Unstuck

Getting unstuck involves developing greater psychological flexibility. Anstiss and Blonna (2014)  developed the Ramp Model (see figure # 2) to illustrate how this works. This model illustrates how to offset the effects of the six core processes that contribute to psychological inflexibility.

It is a key construct in Acceptance and Commitment (AC) Coaching, a new discipline that applies the principles and practices of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, to coaching.

Figure # 2. The Ramp Model 

The following is a short overview of the six factors in the Ramp Model that are used to help clients develop greater psychological flexibility.

1. Valued Living helps coaching clients clarify what really matters to them, their values, and explore how they may manifest their values or live more fully in harmony with them over the coming weeks and months

2. Contact with the Present Moment, based on Mindfulness,  teaches clients how to pay attention with openness, flexibility and curiosity to what is happening in the present moment.

3. Committed Action involves helping clients commit to acting on important life goals which are in harmony with their values (aka; values-congruent goals).

4. Acceptance helps clients accept, allow, tolerate, and be willing to have and make room for unpleasant thoughts, feelings and sensations, especially when taking values-congruent action.

5. Observing Self training helps clients notice unhelpful troubling thoughts and painful emotions thinking and gain separation and distance from them.  This helps defuse them as barriers to action.

6. Disentanglement works with Observing Self by providing different techniques to separate and defuse from thinking and feeling barriers to action.

The process of AC Coaching involves helping clients move up the ramp using all six processes, develop greater psychological flexibility, and get unstuck.

The process of AC Coaching is helping clients progress up the ramp – perhaps first working on one skill, and then another. In reality, the AC coach works with the client on several skills in any one particular coaching session, and the skills are all rather interconnected.

Learn More ….

My AC Coaching Course will show you how to help your clients become more psychologically flexible by using easy to learn techniques derived from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.

Find out more by getting a free copy of  my Training Course. This 30 minute training course (a $79.00 value) is yours free .

Click Here to Obtain Your Copy of Your Training Session



Anstiss, T., Blonna, R. (2014). Acceptance and Commitment Coaching, in Passamore , J. (Ed). Mastery in Coaching: A Complete Psychological Toolkit for Advanced Coaches. London: Kogan Page.

Strosahl, K., Hayes, S. C., Wilson, K. G. and Gifford, E. V. (2004) ‘An ACT primer: Core therapy processes, intervention strategies, and therapist competencies’, in S. C. Hayes and K. Strosahl (eds) A practical guide to Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, New York: Springer.



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