While coaching in a worksite wellness program I was caught by surprise during a second session when my client told me she was finding it hard to “quiet the voice in my mind”. She expressed worry over constantly worrying. Talking with Josie I began to see this worrying take the shape of a person that walked with Josie every day and sat with her at lunch, and reminded her of deadlines, etc. Worrying became a companion that Josie found “unbearable to think about”’ but also “something that I just do… I think I got it from my Mom…”
As a quieting practice during our session, Josie and I discussed options for monitoring her worry- is it a problem, does it distract her, is it a tool or coping strategy, and is it something she would like to set address in coaching? In our brainstorming Josie casually mentioned “I wish I could just take a vacation from my own head!” Hmmm… A vacation. A vacation free of worry. Together, we developed a plan.
Josie would journal her worries for two weeks to just get the lay of the land and literally put her worries down. And next to her worries she would write her joys- what she found made her happy or gave her joy. She called it her Joy & Pain Journal and in the session began to hum and exclaimed “Just like… you know… the old school song by Maze they all play at family reunions!” The lyrics include: Joy and Pain. Is Like Sunshine and Rain.
One of the most powerful and well-studied of all positive psychology interventions is also one of the simplest. The instructions are easy-peasy: every night, just before going to sleep, write down three things that went well during the day. This deceptively simple exercise has been shown to increase happiness and decrease depressive symptoms for people for at least 6 months (Seligman et al., 2005). This exercise may feel too simple to be useful, but it is important to remember that studies have clearly demonstrated the remarkable effectiveness of noting happiness and joy as one of the last things you do before bedtime.
Josie found the journal would serve as a vacation from worrying- a time where if something worried her she would note the date, time, and reason; and decide to “deal with it” the next day- a delay in worrying just for a little while. Josie then began defining the details- does this mean I have to tell people I am taking a vacation? and outlining the parameters of not dealing with the worrisome situation- what if it is urgent and needs my immediate attention? I assured Josie that her instincts are strong and to use her natural judgement as to what needs attention. For this week- rely on the faith that she will handle the concerns that need to be handled. For now, she had the power to file away the worries for later and enjoy her vacation.
I didn’t know if this Joy & Pain Journal would work for Josie and looked forward to hearing about her efforts in the next session. I affirmed how we co-created the plan and remarked how it brought energy and joy to Josie. What I offered to Josie in our planning was an inside peek into a behavior change strategy commonly used in coaching. Together, we partnered up as she demonstrated how to tailor the method to fit her unique needs. Instead of trying to diagnose Josie I tripled the effectiveness of our efforts by making information about behavior change tangible and personally collaborative.
A funny thing happens when we deliberately listen with no preconcieved intentions or plan. As a coach, when we set aside our traditional ways of thinking or doing and just listen we can free up space to hear the background pulse providing a strong, guiding beat for our next steps.