Updated: Feb 9, 2020
It is common in coaching for people to complain of going round and round in their thinking, especially at night when distractions are scarce. I can relate. The experience seems to fox us, as if our mind is misbehaving and simply will not listen to us.
A lot of what people bring to coaching is complex - or feels complex - and a few simple doodles can provide a nice antidote.
When we are stuck in circular thinking, for example, it looks like this:
And in that mess are questions – which we keep coming back to…
assumptions, which we can hardly see…
mixed up with feelings such as anger, sadness or - most often it seems - anxiety’s cold blue vortex…
To straighten out our thinking we need to spot the assumptions and turn them into questions instead.
For example, I know someone with beautiful long hair. It's her trademark but it's hard work. She's been wondering about getting it cut short, which would be almost like changing part of her identity. Her assumptions were that people wouldn't like it, that it wouldn't look good and that she'd regret it.
Turning these assumptions into questions created this list:
What would people think?
What would it look like?
Would I regret it?
Some of these could be answered through information gathering.
That could be turned into a task - action instead of thinking - which provided more clarity.
In the hair scenario, those questions have now been answered. Beneath that barnet, there's more peace of mind.
However, some questions can only be answered by a few low-risk experiments like ‘What happens if I…?’
Experiments are adaptive. From Experiment A, it’s easy to try Experiment B - or stick with A if you liked the results.
So a trip to the hairdresser is planned for a discussion and an experimental haircut might follow.
When our mind won’t listen to us, we must listen to it.
In the 4am darkness (or the 6pm commute), we must notice the questions and assumptions that are wrapped up in our thinking. And we should ask ourselves: What would be the opposite of this wondering or uncertainty or anger?
Then we can turn our questions into actions that get us moving forwards, the way we like it. A bit of action creates a sense of control and that can even make anxiety's cold blue vortex uncurl itself and let you sleep.