Navigating through our lives at one level would seem simple. Get clear on what you want and take steps to get there. Jobs, houses, holidays, promotions, exam results, fit bodies, whatever.

This is also essentially how professional coaching works. If it turns out that thing you want isn’t achievable for one reason or another, work on acceptance of that fact or try for something else.

However, what if what you want isn’t a ‘thing’. If what you want is something like ‘joy in the moment’, or ‘being present’ or ‘inner stillness’ or ‘a sense of peace’? Things that you cannot hold in your hand and say ‘Hey I got it’.  How does the process of steering towards goals work here?

Well in a way it doesn’t. The desired ‘things’ that are about an ongoing way of experiencing life rather than something you can see, often require us to let go, rather than go after.  Here’s where one of the tools of coaching can help our efforts – creating reminders – can help our efforts.

When my children were very little and every day meant lurching from one chaotic situation to another, I just couldn’t get a sense of the order that previously brought me calm. I could not even figure out what to do next a lot of the time. I could not focus, prioritize or think straight. I lived in a state of low-level anxiety and constantly carried out wheel-spinning actions that resulted in me moving but not going forward.

Then I hit upon an idea. I made a big sign that said “What is the priority here?” and stuck it on the fridge. As soon as I read that sign reminding me to focus, I could figure out what to do next. Out of the endless tangle of options that I had – feed children, put washing away, unpack groceries, put children down for nap, wash dishes, have cup of tea, make phone calls etc, I was able to identify the one thing that most needed to happen. In a sea of disorder, I had one little piece of clarity and order – my next action.

Reminders are useful at work as well. As a coach in business settings, I often ask people, what is the one thing that will improve their performance and effectiveness (and therefore their sense of calm and control). The most frequent answer is, to set aside some time every day or every week, to review the following day or week. The interesting thing is how difficult people find this to do, even though they know it will improve everything about their day. Leaving aside ‘performance effectiveness’, they will feel happier.

The even more interesting thing is when I ask how long it will take to do this review process. The slightly embarrassed answer is, on average 5-10 minutes. Five to ten minutes that will change the day from low-level stress and urgency to calm control.

I don’t really know why we human beings are like this. Something about the demands of the moment being more compelling than a longer term plan probably. However there are relatively easy tools available to fix the problem. Here are some tools that other people have found work for them:

–       a calendar appointment in Outlook set for just before their day starts

–       planning the next day on the trip home

–       going to a coffee shop on the way to work.

Do you get the picture? Human beings need tools and reminders to force our minds to rise above the morass of the immediate to a clear assessment of what we are doing.

Currently I wear a stretchy string of beads on my left wrist. Not for decoration,  but to remind me to be present to what is going on right now. To refocus the irritating sense of stressed distraction that characterises so many of our lives.

What is the day-to-day experience of life you would like to have? What will remind you to focus on that experience? What will help you move from unconscious habitual responses to conscious choices about your life?


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