This question is often asked by my coaching clients. Sometimes they have just described how overwhelmed they are with everything on their list of goals. Maybe they are facing a difficult choice about a job or retirement, or a relationship, or some other decision. Sometimes they can’t even ask the question, they just swirl around not knowing their next step.
When I am mentoring someone, this might be an opportunity to share my thoughts and experiences to suggest a solution. If I am acting as a manager, I have no problem making a decision and providing direction.*
Coaching is different though. The client is the expert on his or her issues. My role is to help by asking the right questions, not inserting my own ideas. Here are some questions I have used successfully when faced with the “what should I do?” question.
What feels most important to you right now?
Where is your inner voice telling you to focus?
What will matter one year from now? Or conversely -- what won’t matter in a month?
Why do you feel you have to do anything right now?
Instead of telling me all the things you should do, what do you want to do?
What will feel good when it’s done?
What can you do right now and cross it off your list?
Answering a question with a question might seem annoying. It often is, but that is part of coaching. And it can be really hard not to try and solve a problem for someone who is obviously struggling. I have been surprised over and over though at how clients, when faced with one of these questions, start to focus. As I stay quiet but present, they will work through things and gain clarity. Staying quiet is very often the best thing I can do in a coaching session, though I still struggle with it.
One thing I have learned in these situations is to give the client space. This is not the time to pile on with additional questions unless they are really stuck. In that case, I might ask “What have you done in the past when faced with a challenge?” Even if the situation was very different, the act of remembering a time when obstacles were overcome often gets things moving.
I looked up the dictionary definition for overwhelm and this is what I found: bury or drown beneath a huge mass.: "the water flowed through to overwhelm the whole dam and the village beneath".
synonyms: swamp, submerge, engulf, bury, deluge, flood, inundate, clog, saturate, glut, overload, beset, overburden, snow under. None of those are used to describe things when you are feeling good. Just reading them creates a reaction.
I think overwhelmed is a feeling that happens a lot when we are dealing with the consequences of a decision or trying to keep up with all that we feel we are expected to do -- or even want to do. We see the highlight reel of people all over the Internet, seemingly having and doing it all. We might have unreasonable bosses, coworkers, or family members. Often though, I see people putting a lot of pressure on themselves.
I have used this quote before, but it seems applicable --
We would worry a lot less what others think about us if we realized how little they do.
Most people are just trying to do their best. They want to be happy. They may also want to achieve a lot and there is nothing wrong with that. Piling the pressure on without a way forward rarely works. Taking a moment to think -- and then do -- is often your best move.
We are now a few weeks past New Year’s and resolution time. Typically, this is when it gets hard to keep up with new habits and to feel overwhelmed. Try asking yourself one of those questions I posed and see if that helps a bit. And keep reading the blog, as in the next couple of entries I will share some guidelines to help you prioritize and systematize your goals and actions.
*Being a coach has changed my behavior. I find that even in mentoring and managing situations I will often follow up with a question instead of jumping right to a solution. Not only is that more empowering, it gets ideas I might not have considered into the mix.
If this resonates with you and you want to have a free coaching call to see how we might work together, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I am looking to pick up a couple new clients to work through an accountability program.