‘How much is enough?’ – The Power of Challenging Questions

It had been a bad day at the office. Three appointments in the diary and, for a variety of reasons, all cancelled at short notice. Normally, I would have shrugged this off as a typical aspect of the cut and thrust of business life but this day was different; the experience left me drained and depressed. Later that evening, I reached out to a close friend of mine. In the course of a heart-warming yet challenging conversation my friend brought me to my senses as only the best of friends can do.

‘How much is enough, John?’. This was the challenging question my friend asked me that cut to the chase of my predicament. I know I am an ambitious, immensely driven individual and that I am eager to pursue each and every opportunity that life presents to me. Most of the time this mind-set has served me well. It is the bedrock of the courageous goals philosophy of challenging coaching. Yet the systems thinking aspect of challenging coaching also reveals that we must cherish balance and we must recognise that all systems operate within sustainable limits. ‘How much is enough?’.

My friend is not a coach but he knew how to speak his truth and to ask a challenging question that was built on a foundation of trust thirty years deep. What is more, he then pointed me to a striking analogy from the award-winning TV series ‘Breaking Bad’. The short clip below features Walter White (the drugs dealer) and his wife, Skyler, who’s been laundering Walt’s ‘income’ through the family car washing business. Skyler has stashed the cash in a lock-up and is about to dramatically reveal the extent of their ill-gotten gains:-

As Ian highlighted in last week’s blog, awareness is the key to unlock change. In the subsequent discussion on our LinkedIn group, he also suggested the following formula:-

  • Awareness + Acceptance + Commitment = Action + Change

My friend’s question had raised my awareness. In response to that new awareness, I accepted the fact that I had been unusually stressed these past three months. Immediately, my commitment kicked in and, in the days following, I completed a simple yet effective coaching exercise I call ‘radiators and drains’.

I took a page of A4 and divided it into two columns with a single vertical line. I titled the two columns ‘radiators’ and ‘drains’. Under the heading ‘radiators’ I wrote down all the activities and people that lift my spirit. Under the title ‘drains’ I wrote down all the activities and people that lower my spirit. Once again, my awareness jumped up a notch and new commitments began to crystallise in my mind. Commitments that will lead to action and change; people I will spend more time with, activities I will do less often, goals that I will re-frame.

Such is the power of a simple, challenging question when asked by someone you trust and respect. The question I needed to hear that day was ‘How much is enough?’. Thankfully, I had a friend who had the compassion and the guts to ask me it. What is the question you need to hear right now? And who is the person you know who has the courage to ask  it?

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