Thursday, November 12, 2009

Coaching Lessons: Identifying Bad Habits

Why is it so difficult to overcome bad habits? One reason might be that we do not know which of our habits are bad for us.

Sometimes bad habits feel like good friends. They become so familiar that we feel that we cannot live without them. They are always around; they never leave; they are with us through thick and thin.

It may seem strange, but sometimes it feels that bad habits are loyal to us. And we seem to be programmed to return the loyalty.

Rarely do we identify a bad habit without an outside intervention. But when someone tells us we have a bad habit, we often react as though he was criticizing one of our good friends, and, by extension, impugning our judgment in choosing and keeping such a friend.

I started thinking about this subject after reading a post by Executive Coach Steve Roesler. In it Roesler shows how a coach might help a client identify bad habits. I want to look at his points more closely, because they show clearly how coaching is the untherapy. Link here.

Roesler's first point struck me especially: You know it's time to change your habits when "people you trust strongly believe that you should make a change."

You do not discover your bad habits by searching your soul. Your soul does not tell you that it is time for a change. Your soul is more likely to prefer the status quo. It is familiar, comfortable, and, as I said, a really good friend.

Roesler wants you to look outside, to listen carefully to what those nearest and dearest tell you, and to act accordingly. These true friends will be more honest with you than your own mind.

In his next examples Roesler shows how coaching deals with emotions. You will see that it differs radically from the therapist's approach.

If you become obsessed with the fact that you are under-appreciated by your boss, if you are thinking about it all the time, if it is tying you up in emotional knots, you should not ask yourself why you are feeling what you are feeling. You should, as Roessler says, start looking for a new boss.

The emotion is telling you something. It is making a situation increasingly uncomfortable. It is pointing you toward action. As Roessler says: "There are times when letting go requires real action, not just a mental exercise."

The same principle applies when you are consumed by envy about the achievements of others. The meaning of this envy: you have probably not been pursuing goals of your own. The solution: start making a concerted effort to push yourself to do so.

Clearly, this differs from the therapist's effort to discover the infantile neurosis that is generating the negative emotion. Where a therapist would direct your attention into your mind, the coach directs your mind toward planning take action. Then it directs you to take action.

The same principle applies when you find it difficult to accept criticism of your performance. Do you react negatively when your annual review offers suggestions for improved performance? Do you think angrily that you have been misunderstood or sabotaged, that nothing is really wrong.

When you overreact emotionally it does not mean that you are reliving an infantile trauma. It means that you are taking it all too personally, as a repudiation of you as a person.

The solution is not to get in touch with your anger toward your sister, but to take a step back, look at yourself, and evaluate your own job performance. As Roesler suggests, you should collect evidence that would make sense of the review you received. Thereby you would try to look at yourself as though you were an objective observer.

Roesler's last point concerns what I would call our excessive tolerance of the bad habits of others. It's a bad habit to put up with rude and offensive behavior, whether in personal relationships or in more collegial relationships.

So, when the person at the next cubicle, in Roesler's example, is doing something annoying, listening to loud music or constantly tapping his fingers on his desk, you should say something, politely and seriously. If the behavior does not stop, you will try to involve higher authorities.

This is a simple exercise, but one that yields an important observation. You feel better doing something than doing nothing. As Roesler puts it: "you'll know that you took action, which will give you an internal sense of honesty and integrity. That almost always leads to a better sense of self."

Why so? Because you will have corrected your own bad habit of not doing anything for fear of intruding.

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