Coaching is a profession beset by the curse of the self-help guru, and so I am a little wary of ‘how to…’ guides. In my view there are no ‘3 quick steps to change’. Significant change is generally, as the psychotherapist Carl Rogers described it, viscerally and physiologically challenging.
Equally, since the essential ingredients of coaching are 1) you, 2) a coach, and 3) a dialogue between 1) and 2), following a ‘how to…coach yourself’ guide is a bit like performing a one-man tango – possible, but curious to observe and not nearly as fulfilling.
However, I was recently challenged to write a blog post to summarize what I do as a coach and I like a challenge. The following is a brief summary based on my reading of one of the adult learning theories on which my coaching model is established. I hope it’s useful to you.
Reflection, Discourse, Action
Jack Mezirow’s Transformational learning theory has its roots in the socially innovative work of individuals like John Dewey and Paulo Freire. It emphasises the importance of learning through reflection, critical discourse, and action. The following outlines how you might apply these principles to your own learning and development…
1. Reflective practice (or, writing stuff down)
Have you ever kept a diary? If you have you may have experienced the dissonance involved in trying to articulate, in writing, the experience as you experienced it. And if you have kept a diary you’ve doubtless had that cringe moment reading it back at a later date where you see yourself as a person distinct from the one who wrote those words.
Reflective practice is like that. Something happens during the process of translating from head to page that establishes meaning from out of experience. And revisiting what has been recorded brings a fresh (if not always comfortable) perspective on past events, and on the present. One of my clients summed it up as “looking backwards to move forwards”.
You don’t have to keep a diary but, on occasions when you need to make sense of things, articulating your experience in a medium other than thought (writing, drawing, mime) can be fruitful.
2. Critical Discourse (or, talking about stuff, honestly)
The best piece of advice I’ve encountered while studying is this: having written down an idea or statement, take a step back from that statement and ask yourself “is it true?”
While it’s good practice to do this for yourself, there’s no substitute for the feedback you get through running your “statement” by someone who’s opinion you value (and who won’t be afraid to tell it straight). The process doesn’t end once you’ve had that conversation so return to step 1, reflect and see what else emerges.
3. Action (or doing stuff)
While thinking and talking goes a long way, where experiential learning is concerned, in the end it’s the doing that counts. It’s in the clumsy, phew-I-think-I-got-away-with-that nightmare of trying something out that a new set of experiences are born.
And then, once you’ve done the doing, it’s back to the thinking and the talking. Or, if you’re feeling daredevil, thinking while you’re doing. Meta-reflection, or praxis, as Freire terms it, involves reflecting while acting; maintaining self-awareness and critical focus in the moment so as to address your assumptions and perspective when it matters most.
And that’s it. 100 years of education theory distilled into 600 words. I realise I may not be telling you anything you don’t already know. Perhaps just presenting it from a different perspective.
Coaching done well and underpinned by this philosophy, is a fulfilling and collaborativeexperience. And since I like to practice what I preach if you have any comments, critical or otherwise, on the above I’d be happy to hear from you.