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Awareness was the key to unlock this change. “What enabled the change?” I asked, “Awareness” he said.

I’ve held the belief for a long time that awareness is the key to unlock change. Without awareness there can be no commitment to act and so no change. I saw the power of awareness at a recent coaching session, demonstrating the psychological and physical changes accompanying increased awareness.

During the coaching session my coachee excitedly told me about three significant deals that he and his team had won. The negotiation of these had been all consuming in terms of time, energy and creativity. The challenge was now to deliver against the expectations of these new high profile global customers. This involved new processes and procedures, new software, and more people. Some of these were outside the direct control of the coachee.

As the coachee had entered the room, I had noticed that he placed what looked like a foil of tablets next to his cup of tea on the table. During the description of events, the coachee spoke very enthusiastically and excitedly. However, something was different about the coachee in this session as compared to our previous meetings. It was noticeable that eye contact was only occasional, and the pace of speaking was a lot faster.

After I asked how he was feeling about winning the new contracts, the coachee told me about the demands of delivery. He described the frustration he was feeling as he tried to make existing processes more flexible and responsive to suit the needs of the customer. This was a work related response, however, I was curious as to how he was really feeling.

I then asked “I noticed that you have some tablets on the table, and given that we’ve talked previously about looking after yourself, how are you feeling at the moment?” The coachee explained that these were nicotine replacement tablets. “I didn’t know you smoked,” I said, and he explained that cigarettes are the first thing he reached for when things get too much and are a stress relief. At this point I drew the Yerkes Dodson tension curve, asking the coachee where he thought he was at the moment. This was the catalyst for a lengthy and in-depth conversation around the level of tension the coachee was experiencing. He concluded that he was in the sub-optimal performance area; the level of tension he was experiencing was too high and his performance was suffering.

challenging coaching tension graph


What was equally interesting about this discussion was the physical changes I could see in the coachee. As we talked the amount of eye contact increased noticeably, the pace of talking decreased and his breathing seemed slower and deeper. “You seem very different to when you came into the room. What enabled the change?” I asked, “Awareness” he said instantly. Based on the feedback, he had a new level of awareness of his current state. This had enabled him to reflect and take stock. Creating space to talk about him rather than his work allowed time to break away from the intensity of these new work contracts.

As awareness was the key to unlock this change, during the coaching session the coachee developed a new approach to check awareness throughout the day. As he walked to meetings, as well as considering the work aspect, he planned to ask himself “How am I feeling, am I aware of my level of tension?” This awareness would reduce the need to reach for cigarettes or nicotine substitutes and maintain an optimal level of tension.

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