In this post I’ll show you how to help your coaching clients become more psychologically flexible through commitment.
In a recent post I discussed the six components of psychological flexibility. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and AC Coaching have found that there are six key factors called core processes that contribute to becoming more psychologically flexible; Valued Living, Mindfulness, Acceptance, Commitment, Observing Self, and Disentanglement ( Anstiss and Blonna (2014) .
In this post I want to focus on Commitment, the action part of Acceptance and Commitment (AC) Coaching. When clients commit to something, they pledge to follow through with their plans.
Remember: Acceptance involves having clients become more mindful of what is going on in their internal (thoughts, feelings etc.) and external (behavior, physical environment) environments and accepting this reality for what it is. This reality often involves pain and suffering that most clients want to control, avoid, or eliminate from their lives.
Commitment embraces this pain and suffering and coexists with it as clients take action towards meeting their values-congruent goals. The best example I can give is a long-term relationship or marriage where clients are mindful of the work and sacrifice involved in such a commitment , accept this, and decide to co-exist with it while moving forward in the relationship.
Getting clients to commit to taking action that is consistent with their values-congruent goals is the foundation of AC coaching. Because most clients raised in American and other Western cultures have been taught that pain and suffering is bad and should be controlled, avoided, or eliminated, re-educating them to embrace their troubling thoughts, painful emotions, and bitter past is a challenge. Even worse, most clients have been taught that analyzing these things to death is the best way to deal with them.
Taking values-congruent action while co-existing with their pain and suffering is hard work and not for the faint-of-heart, but it can be learned or re-learned. Since pain and suffering can sometimes seem very abstract, I always ask clients to describe something that they accomplished that was really important to them. It could be anything from success in sports to raising a child.
I then ask them if it was easy and did not involve any sacrifice, troubling thoughts, painful emotions, second-guessing, sleepless nights etc. (aka pain and suffering). These internal factors exist in their minds.
They usually realize that anything that they have accomplished that had any value to them usually was usually accompanied by pain and suffering that they accepted as they moved forward and took action.
Clients often equate pain and suffering related to their thoughts, feelings, and self-talk (internal factors) with other tangible barriers to their efforts to move forward. Barriers such as lack of financial resources, additional training and credentials, child care and other forms of support are different from pain and suffering associated with thoughts, feelings, and self-talk, and often can be controlled, avoided or eliminated. These are external factors in the outside environment.
This is where you have to redirect their focus to their internal factors and make sure they understand the difference between the two types of barriers. Clients need to accept that it is normal to have troubling thoughts and painful emotions associated to the things they want to accomplish. This will allow them to start coexisting with them and continue working towards their goals.
There are many AC Coaching techniques that are used to teach clients how to coexist with and embrace their pain and suffering as they take values-congruent action. Metaphors are often used. The following is a metaphor I use with my coaching clients over the years. It is taken from my book, Maximize Your Coaching Effectiveness with Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.
Acceptance & Willingness Activity: My Acceptance & Willingness Umbrella
Purpose: The purpose of this activity also relates to using metaphor to help clients develop acceptance and willingness to act despite the troubling thoughts and personal scripts, scary pictures, and painful emotions such action provokes.
Information: The metaphor, My Acceptance and Willingness Umbrella, shows clients how they are already take values-congruent action (going to work, taking their kids to school, going food shopping etc) despite obstacles (rainstorms) by accepting them and using appropriate coping resources (umbrellas). Rather than letting the obstacles stand in the way of taking action, they accept that pain and suffering are part of these actions and are willing to act while coexisting with them.
- The next time you feel stuck and unable to take action because of the troubling thoughts, outdated personal scripts, scary pictures, and painful emotions, associated with it write those thoughts etc. down.
- Next, close your eyes and visualize the sky darkening, the wind picking up, and rain clouds swirling all around you.
- Now imagine that the messages your mind is telling you about the situation you are stuck on are raindrops just beginning to fall on your head.
- You feel the drops and say to yourself, I’d better use my umbrella.
- Imagine that you open your umbrella and it provides instant relief from your troubling thoughts, outdated personal scripts, scary pictures, and painful emotions. Like raindrops, they bounce off of your umbrella and don’t interfere with your doing what you need to do.
- As you continue “walking in the rain” with your umbrella, tell yourself; Just as I can use a real umbrella to help me manage the rain, I can use my acceptance and willingness umbrella to help me live my life while coexisting with unhelpful thoughts and feelings.
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Antiss, T., Blonna, R. (2014). Acceptance and Commitment Coaching. in Passmore, J. Ed. (2014). Mastery in Coaching :A Complete Psychological Toolkit for Advanced Coaching. London: Kogan Page Publishing.