When a client comes to get coached and wants to make changes & improvements in their life, the first session or two usually involve deep introspection and understanding some of the methods that they previously attempted, what about those methods worked and what didn’t. And more often than not, the client will say something like: “I just gave up after a while”, “I couldn’t keep it up”, “I couldn’t stay consistent with it” or “I have no idea.”
When a client (or even sometimes us coaches for that matter!) decides to make changes, whether significant or minute, the mindset with which change is approached is so optimistic, and more often than not, also quite delusional, that they think they can change everything all at once. One fine day they’re suddenly inspired – to get fitter, eat healthier or to let go of any undesirable habit – and they overwhelm themselves a little too much with becoming a “new me.” And when they don’t see results as quickly as they’d like or if people don’t notice the changes they’ve made or some unfortunate and unprecedented obstacle presents itself, they make peace with it and give up.
This discouragement by their ‘failure’ makes it hard for them to recover from and thus they shy away from committing to change again. And with our minds being our worst critics, we become experts at coming up with reasons and excuses to avoid change. And so, we quickly lose sight of becoming the person we want to be and give up on it before even really trying.
So, when a client comes in with no idea how to go about making these changes and improvements in their life, how can we, as coaches, help them get closer to their desired state?
The Wheel of Change is one model that you can incorporate in your coaching engagements when you see your clients confused with how to go about making lasting changes. As a life coach, you can use this model with the people you coach; as a team coach, you can use this with your cohorts, and even as a business coach, you can use this at a macro level in the organization.
Marshall Goldsmith’s publication, Triggers: Sparking Positive Change and Make it Last, outlines practical tools on how to become the person you want to be and these tools and techniques can easily be used as coaching tools with your clients as well. He has written extensively on concepts around leadership, self-improvement and dealing with behavioral changes.
One of these tools is called the Wheel of Change and it deals with two dimensions: one is called ‘Change to Keep’, and the other one is ‘Positive to Negative’. And with this in mind, we look at a total of four quadrants. It illustrates the interchange of two dimensions one needs to sort out before they can become the person they want to be: the ‘Positive to Negative’ axis tracks the elements that either help them or hold them back. And the ‘Change to Keep’ axis tracks the elements that they need to determine whether to change or keep in the future. Thus, while pursuing any behavioral change, they will always have four options: to either change the or keep the positive elements or to change or keep the negative. Let’s go further into what each of these quadrants signify:
Quadrant 1: ‘Creating’ – Positive Change
‘Creating’ represents the positive elements your client would like to create in their future. And while the process of self-invention sounds exciting, the real challenge is to do it consciously by choice and not have things simply ‘happen’. Ask your client this question: “Are you creating yourself or are being created by external forces instead?” Creating is usually something that doesn’t come automatically, even amongst the smartest. Even if they seem satisfied with their life, they might tend to become passive and continue doing what they’ve always done, without putting much thought into it. And if they seem dissatisfied, they may go to the other extreme falling for any and every idea, and never really pursuing one idea well enough for it to take shape into something substantial. In this case, you can encourage them to add one new behavior and follow through with it, instead of picking up too many they can’t handle. To enable this for your client, you can ask questions such as:
- Who is this new you that you want to create?
- Who is that person you want to become?
- How is that person in the future going to be different than the one who’s sitting here?
Quadrant 2: ‘Preserving’ – Positive Keep
‘Preserving’ refers to the positive elements your client would like to maintain in the future. When the question of creating and inventing new things arises, things get too exciting and people tend to look forward to those new things so much so that they start neglecting the existing critical aspects of their life, such as their health, family, or relationships. Although ‘preserving’ or ‘maintaining’ sounds dull & passive and may lead your client to think, “But I’m not even making any changes here,” let them know that they’re still making a real choice. Help your client look deep within themselves to figure out what is serving them well and create a discipline to refrain from abandoning those positive elements for something that is newer and shinier, but not necessarily better. Ask your client these questions:
- What is it about the old that you want to protect?
- What is working for you right now?
- If you were to carry something about you with you in the future, what would it be?
Quadrant 3: ‘Eliminating’ – Negative Change
Eliminating represents the negative elements your client would like to get rid of in the future. If the focus is only on creating & preserving and not on eliminating anything, it can lead an individual to become overly committed. While eliminating can be a rather liberating or therapeutic action, the tendency is to do it reluctantly, especially if those things have some sentimental value. But unless your client eradicates things in their life that don’t serve them anymore, it will be impossible to make space to create something new. To help your clients understand this aspect, you can ask them these important questions:
- What do you need to get rid of?
- What is not serving you anymore?
- How would you know that you’re liberated?
Quadrant 4: ‘Accepting’ – Negative Keep
‘Accepting’ represents the negative elements clients have to make peace with. Most people commit to the other three elements with greater enthusiasm, as creating is new and exciting, preserving helps not lose sight of the good things and eliminating is committing to stop doing things that no longer serve. But it’s the last step – accepting – which is a difficult pill to swallow. It’s almost like a bad spice you don’t generally enjoy and it almost feels like admitting defeat. But acceptance is incredibly powerful when your client is powerless to make a difference. It could be something as simple as not being good at playing the piano, or never being good at playing basketball. So, ask your client these questions, because this is truly what triggers their finest moments of unhelpful behavior:
- Where are you spending time on things that you don’t necessarily like and won’t change?
- What is it in life that you just need to make peace with?
- What is difficult to accept?
When you look at this simple model as you help your client wander through life and plan their future, you can challenge them by asking these four basic & broad questions that encompass Marshall Goldsmith’s Wheel of Change quite succinctly:
- Who is the new you that you want to create?
- What is the old you that you want to protect?
- What do you want to get rid of?
- What do you need to make peace with?