Look at The State of You

To anyone with Irish connections, this can be an emotive statement – reminiscent of a parent complaining when you come in from play covered in dirt, or getting home late from a night out somewhat the worse for wear.

“Would you look at the state of you?!”

But there’s another aspect of “the state of you” that’s worth a deeper look if you’ve an interest in developing a coaching mindset, whether as a coach or coaching client.

A while ago I worked with a coaching client, Laura*, who was feeling intimidated by a senior manager in their organization, and wanted to be more confident and assertive.

We spoke about the ‘current state’ that Laura was in when she was in this person’s presence. She said that she would babble nervously, be incoherent and feel a bit like a rabbit caught in the headlights. She felt that he came across with strong ‘dominant’ energy (using the DISC type model) so she felt like jelly in comparison.

I asked about how she wanted to feel when she was with the other person and what ‘state’ she would like to be in at their next meeting. She responded with “I want to meet him with similar ‘dominant’ energy”.

So during our virtual session, I got her to stand up and really feel in her body what it was like to experience matching her colleague’s dominant energy.

She tried it and felt that it would make it easier for her to “be brief, be bright and be gone!” so that she could communicate more clearly and directly with her colleague in their next meeting.

In fact, this approach resulted in Laura asking the senior manager to consider her for promotion. His reply… he’d seen a real step up in her performance, so he agreed to support it.

Current State and Desired State

If a client decides to work with a coach, at this point they are in their ‘current state’ and want to move to a ‘desired state’ or goal – a goal that may often not be particularly clear, especially at the start.

Their current state could be any situation that isn’t optimal for them:

  • a sense of dissatisfaction with their current role
  • a feeling of wanting to change some habits for healthier and more productive ones
  • a sense of stuckness, frustration, curiosity, confusion, resistance, lack of confidence or any of the myriad of other ‘states’ our clients come to us with

They may also have a very clear goal like completing a marathon, getting a new job, or improving their leadership prospects. But really what they’re looking for is the feeling associated with the desired state – the physical experience, and the joy and pleasure that comes with our own version of success, achievement, fulfilment, happiness, calmness, confidence etc.

And the stated goal is usually just one of the potential ways (but not necessarily the only way) for them to experience those desired feelings.

The challenge for clients and coaches is that sometimes the current state, and especially the desired state, may be quite vague and difficult to put a finger on – a nagging sense of doubt, an uncertainty or unease about where they are right now, and an even more vague idea of what ‘better’ might look like.

But when we’re being coached, the most powerful aspect of exploring both current and future, is about what we are feeling and experiencing physically.

Not just what we are thinking, our cognitive sense of the current list of problems, obstacles, challenges, task lists etc, but actually how all of this is making us feel – how it’s impacting on us – and how that impact itself may be getting in the way, hampering our ability to solve problems, think on our feet in a more creative way.

We might not know exactly what we want, but if we take the time, with support we can somehow describe how it is that we want to be feeling.

So, for example, I often work with clients who want to develop their confidence. They say they’ve lost confidence, they used to have it, but don’t have it now for whatever reasons.

It’s often useful to work with a client like this on the ‘feeling’ aspect of confidence with questions like:

  • What did that feel like when you last had confidence?
  • Where exactly in your body do you notice it?
  • How do you know when you are feeling confident? Ensuring they really pay attention to what it is like to feel confident, so they’ll recognise it again even when it might just be a tiny flame, so that maybe they can turn up the heat on it.

The bottom line here is that the current state or the goal itself are secondary to how they make us feel.

It is the feeling of current discomfort that we want to move away from and we want to move towards a feeling of fulfilment, satisfaction, happiness or desired state of being that we often don’t take the time to clearly define, or even know where to start.

If our clients can safely explore the ‘felt sense’ of their current situation and acknowledge what’s happening right now, that makes it easier for them to move past the current challenge with a better sense of what the desired future state feels like.

Instead of just trying to strategize and think our way forward, we can use the intelligence of our whole self to help us towards progress.

Our clients are absolutely the experts on themselves and their own lives as they navigate through the forests and mountains of their journey through life and work.

Our job as coaches is to help shine a light on the choices, offer different perspectives, illuminate the dark corners so that they can make their own decisions with self awareness and pay more attention to the state they are in, both in the here and now and where they want to get to.

*client name changed for confidentiality reasons

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