Coaching has helped me understand myself more thoroughly — through increased curiosity, understanding, and learning
As humans, we often take our ability for self-awareness for granted. We plow through life on autopilot unconsciously repeating ingrained patterns. We follow the expectations that our families, teachers, friends, and culture have for us. We live our lives according to the socially prescribed script.
Without self-awareness, we end up falling into the trap of doing what is easy, of following scripts written for us:
- We keep our opinions to ourselves at a work meeting because there are people senior to us who will make the decisions.
- We call our parents every day without fail because we worry about what they will say if we don’t.
- We forego deeply knowing our partners, distracting ourselves with wedding planning, house renovations, friends, pets, and children.
Typically, it’s much easier to follow the scripts life offers us. In doing so, we avoid the pain that self-awareness might bring. We avoid the discomfort and disappointment that living life more true to ourselves could cause others.
Living by the scripts that have been written for us is often safer and more comfortable. Authoring our own life, on the other hand, requires risk, uncertainty, and even pain in the short term. But the payoff is much greater in the long term.
My work in becoming a coach and working with my coach has mostly centered around my own self-awareness and identifying the scripts I have unconsciously followed. I grew up just trying to get along with others and rarely sat down to get to know myself and question the life I was living.
But coaching helped me shift my approach. It helped me self-reflect and understand myself better in three key ways:
Getting curious about ourselves and realizing that no question is not worth asking is a fundamental skill toward attaining more self-awareness over time.
It may sound obvious (and to be fair, it is) but in being honest with ourselves and assessing how good we are at asking ourselves these questions, we may quickly realize we have some work to do. Not just when we make a mistake or when we have a really difficult decision ahead of us, but all the other times we follow the scripts that are keeping us complacent.
- A curious coach drives our own curiosity: The powerful questions that a coach is capable of asking comes from extensive training in deep hearing. A coach responds to what they hear with questions that may be new to us, as we explore who we are. When we are asked questions that we may have never asked ourselves before, we learn new things that foster a deeper sense of self-curiosity.
- Coaches make observations based on what they hear: With objective perspectives, a coach can observe the things we say without the bias that we may hold or that those close to us may hold. What a coach sees can help us expand on our own limited perspectives and help us ask questions of ourselves that we may otherwise have never considered asking. In turn, the answers we come up with expand our self-awareness.
- Coaches ask “what” instead of “why” questions: As crafty, ego-driven humans, we can rationalize almost anything to come up with a seemingly valid why. However, by focusing on “what” questions, a coach helps us work to dissect the things that cause something to happen, rather than rely on our own bias reasoning. Using the answers to “what” questions, we can break our experiences down into facts, rather than opinions.
In my training to become a coach, I have come to realize that the extent of my curiosity of others only goes as far as the curiosity I have in myself. The more I seek to learn about myself, the more self-awareness I build, and the more curiosity I have to learn about the clients I work with. This curiosity translates to other relationships as well, giving me the capacity to learn about the people I care about, deeper than I could have without the gift of coaching.
“My advice is, I’d rather see someone go through change consciously with an awareness about what’s going on for them — radical self-inquiry — rather than have it happen to them and be blindsided by external forces.”
— Jerry Colonna
Questions that drive curiosity:
- What is my role in contributing to the challenges that I face in my life?
- What should I be saying to the people in my life that needs to be said, but hasn’t been?
- When do I feel triggered and what are my responses to those triggers?
Exploring our values is a deep and revealing process that is essential for self-awareness. We need to understand what values are out there and begin to match them to who we’ve been, who we are, and who we want to be.
To get a feel for where to begin, Brené Brown has a wonderful list of values she offers to supplement her values exploration work, in her book and program Dare to Lead. Coaches, like the ones from Dare to Lead, are experts in partnering with us to better determine the values that we live by and the values that we are aspiring to live by.
- Coaches help us explore the values we have learned: Coaching conversations may begin here because we cannot know what we value today or how to pursue the values we strive for without at least a high-level examination of our past values. Our learned values infuse our decision-making, our emotions, and our behaviors. The only way to develop new values is through a deliberate understanding and replacement process.
- Coaches can identify the values we currently hold: They are helping us forward toward some vision or goal. In this pursuit, a coach partners with us to determine the values from which we are currently operating. These values may have been intentionally cultivated or absorbed completely unconsciously, over time. Regardless, they are vital for understanding the way our actions and responses have impacted our past and current ways of thinking.
- Coaches help us develop the values that will serve our goals: This is the hard part of coaching. Developing the values necessary to reach a stated vision or goal for ourselves requires practice, discomfort, and likely some failure. A coach is trained to let this process happen objectively and without judgment. They become a co-pilot in the ongoing self-awareness necessary to see the evolution of our values.
Working with my coach, I have come to appreciate that the values I hold today are very different from the values I had learned in my youth. More interesting to me is that these current values are still different than the ones I aspire to hold. Today, I value health and discipline — and the way I function, day-to-day, reflect these values.
As I chart my path towards becoming a more emotionally mature adult, I am practicing the necessary skills that reflect the values of understanding and integrity. This is my work.
“Living into our values means that we do more than profess our values, we practice them. We walk our talk — we are clear about what we believe and hold important, and we take care that our intentions, words, thoughts, and behaviors align with those beliefs.”
— Brené Brown
Questions that help us explore our values:
- What values have we learned from our parents? Our work? Our friends?
- What values do I live by today and how do they serve the goals I have?
- What values do I aspire to develop?
Learning about ourselves is a choice we make.
We have the choice to learn about who we are, passive to our experience. This is what happens when we follow “the script.” True self-awareness, however, happens when we choose to deliberately partake in experiential learning.
Sitting back and letting life come at us, hoping to simply grow along the way is not the most effective approach. Instead, the emotionally mature adult approaches learning with intention. This is where a coach comes in to hold us accountable for our learning process.
A coach partners with us in our learning by extending the time and energy to work alongside us to help us understand ourselves, our environments, and our responses to the experiences we encounter.
- Coaches force us to do the work: A key concept of coaching is to not give advice unless the coach is an expert on the subject at hand. A coach will also refrain from giving an unsolicited opinion. By not giving advice and reserving opinions, the coaching conversation empowers the client to answer their own questions. We are able to think deeply about the issues we are facing and the questions we have, leveraging a coach’s partnership to determine a path forward.
- Coaches suggest we give ourselves homework: The real learning happens between sessions and every session should have a takeaway for learning. Coaching sessions keep the learning cumulative over the course of the time coaches spend with their clients. A coach won’t assign homework, instead directing the client to determine what work would be most powerful in their learning time, outside of coaching.
- Coaches will point out our progress: The coach sees the big picture of the coaching engagement and can often recognize learning, even when their client doesn’t. Those of us on a learning journey often struggle with the self-compassion necessary to celebrate milestones along the way. So immersed in the process, we miss the big picture. Coaches make sure that the wins are highlighted.
As a coach, I have found that people are incredibly eager to learn. Learning, however, takes incredible effort and energy, which we are not always willing to give. In my coaching sessions, it is difficult to not give advice to those seeking it.
As a coach, I am trained to trust that my clients have the tools to teach themselves and know what work is necessary for them to learn. It is my job to partner with them to attain those tools and ensure I am pointing out when they are clearly working.
“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”
— Benjamin Franklin
Questions that help facilitate learning:
- As an experience or activity unfolds, how aware of my role am I?
- Do I mindfully participate in my experiences or am I more passive?
- Am I reflecting on the process and learning from it or focused on the result?
Bringing awareness to my feelings at any given moment in time allows me to understand myself and my environment better, both in the moment and after the moment has passed. Self-awareness is filling our learning capacity with information acquired from how a new event impacts us, in combination with stored information from past experiences.
In working with my coaching clients and being fortunate enough to work with master coaches as well, exploring myself has been a gift. As grateful as I am, I also recognize that it has been far from easy. The work is challenging and often uncomfortable. Yet in committing to that work, I have learned things about myself as a listener and as an explorer that I would have never have learned without coaching.
Coaching conversations offer us the space to ask ourselves powerful questions. We can dive into our experiences to illuminate our values. As we come to know more about ourselves, we seek to keep learning, as the world changes around us.
Through coaching, we can build the self-awareness necessary to know what we need to keep growing and become better as people.