“Others will give you tips and tools. I’ll help you deal with the parts of yourself that won’t use them.”
I came across this quote a few years ago during a training. It sheds light on what can be a key difference between coaching and therapy. And it describes one of the ways I like to help clients. Because it works.
The idea that we possess different parts of ourselves reflects the complexity and capacity of the human experience. Just one example is how we can feel more than one way about something. I heard the other day someone describe why she was excited about a new opportunity on the team she leads at work. She also described how she’s scared about how the opportunity might change her life. Part of her is excited, part of her is scared.
More often than not, when I ask a client what ideas they have about how to address the problem they want to solve, they tell me the tips and tools they’ve heard from friends, family or perhaps other professionals or read online (Reddit, Instagram and TikTok seem to provide a wealth of suggestions these days). They tell me about their efforts to put those tips and tools into practice. Yet somehow the situation persists. Having ideas about and even trying them hasn’t been enough. Sometimes it even backfires.
But why would all parts of ourselves not want to use a tip or tool aimed at a positive change? The answer can be found by considering why we do what we do.
When it comes to our behaviors, we do what we do out of drivers like instinct, habit, conditioning, expectations, underlying beliefs or the desire to pursue or avoid something. If a behavior is present, and especially if it’s persisted over time, we can be sure it satisfies at least some part of us. That part is going to have a vested interest in keeping things just the way they are. According to that part, why fix what isn’t broken?
Introduce change to the part of you that likes things the way they are and it’s automatic response is a version of “oh hell no”. Suddenly you have an internal conflict on your hands. And nothing thwarts progress like conflict.
Knowing but not doing, trying and falling short – these are common cycles that also thwart progress. That’s why advice like tips and tools can backfire. When we know but don’t do, we can put pressure on ourselves, pressure that builds and can amp up the stakes and diminish our resolve. When our efforts fall short, we can feel defeated, lose momentum, become unwilling to try again because why would next time be successful? A person can only take so much.
Tips and tools can be an important part of the change process – after all, the human brain craves and sometimes demands concrete, tangible ideas about how to solve a problem. But parts of ourselves want things to stay just the way they are so they will get in the way of us using tips and tools.
Having ideas about what to do and even trying tips and tools is often not enough. Sometimes it even backfires.
I like to help clients learn from all parts of themselves so that real, meaningful change becomes possible. If you’d like to explore how we may work together, please contact me. I’m here to help.