Rehearsing Our Stories

“We were at the store and she began telling me that I couldn’t buy the lawn mower. But I wasn’t going to buy it; I was just asking the clerk to see if I could get a discount. She got moody and…”
Many of my new coaching clients are surprised when I tell them at this point we’re going to skip the rest of the story. If they’ve been in therapy, they may have been encouraged to tell these “war” stories. And while I can imagine times it might be helpful, most of the time I don’t want or need to hear them; and my clients don’t need to rehearse the sloppy thinking they represent or the burning resentment they inflame.

Coaching faces forward; we’re steering along a path that asks, “Where do you want to go from here?” with very little emphasis on “Where have you been?” Most of the importance of the stories of being wronged or slighted by their partner (whether the person is sitting in the coaching session or not, a life partner or a business colleague or boss) can be captured by addressing questions about what is the goal in this coaching session or in their life.

When I begin to hear a story that is full of the kind of righteousness and blame that underpins most disagreements with fight-partners (those we regularly tangle with), I cheerfully barge right in and call a stop. I’m interested in what could the speaker could have done differently to change a fight into an effective conversation about solutions, to reach a goal of theirs, to simply create a moment of alliance with their partner or to change their own behavior?

I’m personally and acutely aware that life can feel hard and conversations with partners are often very difficult and even unfair for one or both conversants. And even more importantly, I know that the chances of changing the outcome of these entanglements are slight, if you haven’t first changed yourself. So, I start reprising stories about failed encounters with an approach that promises the most leverage to change future stories; how can you change your behavior? This is the one area of life we all have some control over.

Stories just encourage us to rehearse our past mistakes and find evidence to support our old, tired way of viewing things. If we instead look for new ways to reshape our interactions, we get to practice new behaviors and new ways of seeing things.

All this effort to find new solutions may feel like it is ignoring the fact that you may have a suitcase full of feelings about how you’ve been treated or spoken to in the past and you may feel it’s important that someone agrees that you’ve been wronged. The problem with this approach is that in some way both sides feel wronged, and while the grievances are rarely exactly even, each person is likely to have legitimate issues. Those issues will need to be addresses at some point.

The emphasis on changing yourself first is an attempt at creating safety in the relationship so that the process of negotiating your travels together is quicker, more productive and builds empathy. Stories rehash past mistakes, focusing on the future builds new skills, collaboration and pleasure.

8 Tips For Controlling Temptations

Self-control is a predictor of success. Research shows that children who learn to control their impulses do better in school, college, work and relationships. But adults who never perfected their self-control can make significant and life-changing improvements with a few simple techniques and practice. Picture this:

You’re ready to head for bed, emotionally and physically wound down. Just a few simple routines to complete and you can drift into the mysterious state called sleep – check the doors, turn off the lights, brush, floss and settle into the embrace of your bed and sleep.

As you shuffle through the kitchen one last time, the image of a bowl of ice cream snaps into your mind. Wouldn’t the creamy, sweet, cold taste of a small bowl of chocolate be delightful? If you slow your steps, you’ll likely open the drawer for the ice cream scoop.

It is possible to learn to effectively resist. Try picturing something else. Focus on images of your bed or an experience you had of stepping on a scale whose numbers stopped short of where they were previously. Too hard? Picture a great play from the last game you watched or some other really good experience. Just know that if you stare at the freezer, you are more likely to indulge.

Have you had the experience of walking away from temptation and having the image weaken and lose its urgency? Try it as an experiment; walk away and see what happens over the next few minutes. Focus on paying attention to your reactions and the process of learning instead of the treat.

Controlling your impulses can be learned, whether it’s to stop putting junk food in your mouth or quieting your frustration with employees, colleagues or clients. Maybe you’ll never find it easy, always have to push to keep your focus, even fall off track sometimes when you’re tired, but you can develop improved strength and technique with desire and practice.

Eight Quick hints:

  • Use distractions to pull your attention away from temptations
  • Don’t re-evaluate previous decisions when you’re under the influence of temptations
  • Develop an unbending pattern of behavior until you’re past thinking about a temptation
  • Understand that developing will power (self-control) is a process of learning and practice
  • Dump the old notion that your abilities or attitudes are set – they aren’t, you can learn new ways
  • Notice, celebrate and savor small bits of progress
  • Have a support person or group who you feel accountable to – who bolsters your self-control
  • Live for the changes that you’re working on and practice them into being

Multiple past failures to grow your self-control simply mean you haven’t yet found the right approach. It’s discouraging, but learning is often a process of gaining knowledge from failures until you start getting a hint of which directions are successful. Try getting a new perspective (a coach’s point of view) and more emotional support. Remind yourself, “With practice I can learn this.”

Want a more complete primer on how to improve self-control and self-discipline? We help people develop new habits and behaviors; it’s what we’ve been doing for over 30 years. Change takes practice and support, but the actual process is simple. Contact us for a presentation on all the latest research and how to implement it in your office or life.

Testimonials From Our Clients

We like to let our client’s speak for themselves about their coaching experience:

Individual Couching

“Finally, concrete ideas that help me get things done on time.” – A Sales Professional

“I like the simple, but sophisticated ways I now manage my ADHD.” – A Physician

“My team pays attention and does what I ask, often before I ask, what a relief.” – Exec. Dir. of Small Non-profit


Workplace Couching

“Everyone on the team is more relaxed now that we handle tough issues the way you suggested.” – Owner of a Professional Health Practice

“I still find it hard to believe that we fired my two worst employees and neither one created a stink. This stuff works!”  – A Service Business Owner

“I didn’t want consultant talk; I wanted a more productive team. You did it. Complaints are
down, sales are up and I’m spending less time babysitting people.” – Business Owner


Couples Couching

“We talk about what to try next; we don’t just keep going over everything that’s wrong.” – A Wife of six years

“When we slow down, checkout our assumptions and discuss solutions, I really like talking with her.” – A Husband of 12 years

“You were right about D… (my husband), he does try to listen if I handle it right.” – A Wife of 12 years