Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Habits of a Lifetime

As a coach I work with clients to "manage change" and to "facilitate transitions".

In theory this is a great space to work in. After all, it's universally accepted that coping with change can be challenging. Yet, we live in volatile and fast moving times where the old ways of doing things often no longer obtain. It is increasingly important then that we develop skills for embracing and managing change in order to remain effective, productive and competitive. Adapt or be left behind. A good coach should be very happy operating in this millieu!

Paradoxically, we (and I don't mean only coaches) need change to be challenging.

Many people (my dear mother among them), say: "people don't change". After much thought, I think this is correct in most cases. Fundamentally, people don't really change. Nevertheless, people can change how they react, behave or feel about a goal, person or situation. In other words, while we stay basically the same person, we evolve and develop and sometimes, we feel transformed.

This is where a coach can help - in this journey towards new ways of seeing or doing things. Indeed, given our propensity to resist change, to stick with what we know or to take the safe route, coaching can be invaluable.

Indeed, today I had a realisation that despite my best intentions and excellent coaching skills, I may in fact be a difficult client to self-coach.

I was in a driving lesson when this dawned on me...

Yes - I know - driving lessons at my time of life!

The thing is that I have been driving for 20 years but for the past 13 I haven't driven often, apart from 4 months in 2009 when I was living in Australia.

So, I'm out of practice, a little nervous and unfortunately, not qualified to drive in the UK.

But I can drive. So the challenge is not that I have no ability or competence. The challenge is to change bad habits and re-learn the skills properly.

No big deal, right?

Well, let me just say that I have new found respect for teachers of adults. How do they stay calm and patient with students who think they know what they are doing? How do they not guffaw at the silly, unforced errors repeated over and over again? How do they not just lose it entirely with people who refuse to follow basic instructions?

At one point my instructor - South African thirty-something - told me:

"You have to listen," in a tone of carefully masked frustration. Hand on heart - no one has ever had to tell me to listen before! 

The whole situation was ludicrous. I'm an experienced driver. I know the rules of the road. But I would have failed a driving test today. For a series of small mistakes - giving way when I could have gone through the junction, moving into the empty right lane without checking my right mirror, approaching a roundabout at 15 miles an hour, stopping over a white line at a red light, crossing my hands on the steering wheel. 

It was very humbling. And I was reminded that changing how we do things, breaking a habit, is not easy. In confronting the fact that change is hard, one becomes disillusioned, disheartened; one wonders why one is bothering.

There was a moment this morning when with aching knee and ankle joint from all that slow speed gear changing, I suggested we end the lesson and have a coffee; perhaps refer me on an automatic vehicle instructor? ie give up.

I mean, it's not as though we have a car or need to drive anywhere, really. I don't need to have a licence. don't really miss driving. One can manage on foot or public transport. Plenty of people can't drive...

But my instructor - coach - talked me through it, as good coaches do. 
"Don't be put off. Most new students feel some discomfort using muscles not usually used. It will get easier. You are doing well. Let's persevere."

"Ok," I said, compliantly. Mostly to save face. I wasn't completely convinced...

There came a powerful realisation. A few well chosen words of encouragement can go a long way. 

So I punched through the pain barrier - like I do at the gym without ever complaining. I even saw the humour in the situation and was thus open to the idea that I was not giving of my best, but being defensive or resistant to letting the learning happen. I was so wrapped up in the fact that I could drive already that I wasn't open to the idea that I had some learning to do. 

Thus, there came the next realisation. The instructor asked me (for the fourth time) if I noticed the car shuddering and could I tell him what I was doing that was causing that. I knew it had something to do with clutching and accelerating and pace and timing but I wasn't sure. Like when I have to reverse, I don't remember which way to turn the wheel (scary?).

So I said: "No. I don't know."
He said: "I've only told you three times."
I said: "I wasn't listening."
He said: "I know."

And there followed the third realisation. I can't learn to do something differently if I don't engage with the process openly and willingly. When the Offspring say they don't know after I have explained something to them, it's not because they're stupid or lack focus or have a poor attitude to their work. Rather, they are probably not interested enough to listen attentively. 

And in admitting I was not listening, the ear muffs came off and I finally heard him!

Thought provoking stuff.

So - next time you find yourself resisting a change you think you have embraced, pause for a moment and ask yourself, what are you resisting? Are you truly ready, willing and able? Are you listening? Do you need some encouragement? 

Or quite simply - is this a change you actually want to make?


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