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Dealing Effectively with Change

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Experience and the literature inform us that transitions or changes in life are inevitable. Coaches need to convey that message to all clients who experience difficulties and clearly explain to them that people can fight changes, flee from them or preferably accept that they need to prepare for and adapt to the changes in some way.

It is certainly important to have confidence in being able to plan for and adapt to change, by having skills and knowledge that one knows will work, by building resilience and the emotional strength to problem solve and make decisions. Coaches work with clients to help them become proactive rather than reactive to change. It means that the clients are in charge, by creating and welcoming a change, not becoming a victim of transition.

Below are some tips how to help clients cope with change.

Anticipation of change – identifying factors leading to change and planning for change requires flexibility of mind, not rigidity. Davey (1992, cited in Dadds, Seinen, Roth & Harnett’s, 2000, 15) stated: “Outcome expectancy models of anxiety postulate that humans develop an expectation of outcome based on a variety of sources of information and existing beliefs…Hence, existing beliefs in highly anxious persons tend to lead to an overestimation of threat and an underestimation of coping resources.” Having a clearer informed knowledge of change and what it may really entail can help to prevent exaggeration of the nature and consequences of change or transition.

Maintenance of friendships and social networks – to maintain or develop new interests and activities will stop your clients from stagnating. They might accept new challenges armed with confidence, skills and knowledge.

Physical and emotional health care – The strength of body and mind is necessary to meet the challenges involved in change or transition. Regular exercise, a good balanced and nutritious diet, quality sleep and relaxation and limiting stimulates like alcohol, coffee and other substances will help a person to feel energised and able to cope with stress.

Use of relaxation techniques – since stress is a natural part of life and adapting to change is stressful, learning how to relax a body and mind can be helpful. Activities such as yoga, tai chi, qigong (Lin, 2000), listening to relaxing music or relaxation tapes (from local bookstores or libraries), going for a bush walk or a walk along the beach, meditation, developing breathing techniques for relaxation and so on are some ways in which to cope with stress and restore harmony and balance. Music therapy is a well-established form of counselling that may, like drama therapy also be useful at least for reducing stress and anxiety relating to change (Bright, 2002).

Keeping an open mind – It is about staying objective and avoid jumping to conclusions too quickly without understanding the nature of change and its consequences. Your client may well like the change when at first it didn’t look too inviting.

Gather information for learning – fear of the unknown can be a great source for cultivating a cycle of distress and ignorance. Change or transition can foster uncertainty for many people. By understanding how change works and what the change may entail builds clients’ confidence to adapt to change. You could advise your client to do some research on the internet or go to their local library and study what change may bring. Being prepared and having some knowledge can reduce the uncertainty and the fear of the unknown that drives anxiety and stress.

Gradually building the changes (or ‘limit the pace of change’) – trying to tackle big changes all at once is a recipe for failure – it is just too stressful and consuming of your clients’ time and energy. It is easier to tackle and adjust to smaller changes at a time so that the clients can have control over what they understand and how they deal with the change. Trying to tackle and adjust to big changes may become too overwhelming and they may end up becoming too stressed and develop depression or anxiety if they fail.

Talk to a coach/counsellor – Suggest to your clients to be specific about their worries or concerns with you because it gives them the best chance of being clear about what they are going through and how best to help them. Being mutually open and cooperative can help to solve lots of problems and issues, and gives them a sense of ‘well I’m not doing this all on my own’.

A support group – Experience can be a great teacher. Other people who have experienced transition or change may be able to share their story or stories with you. The purpose of a support group is to assist with understanding and to support one another as they try to cope with change.

Sense of humour – we know that life should not be all doom and gloom. We all have the capacity to laugh and find humour in the craziest of things. Change can be stressful so having a sense of humour can break down the seriousness a bit and make change look not so daunting or tough. Humour is good for body and mind as it releases pent up energy and reduces the build-up of cortisol that is released during stress, especially chronic levels of stress where high levels of cortisol can be damaging to the body and brain and to fighting off infections and wound healing.

Journaling and an exercise – either a daily or weekly diary or journal book can be useful for helping people to cope with change. What sort of things would a client write? Well for one thing change often causes self-doubts and stress as fear of the unknown or uncertainty is a normal part of being human. Uncomfortable feelings and emotions can often arise and this can affect a person’s activities, relationships with others and behaviour and thinking.

At the severe end of the scale one could become overwhelmed by a change or a transition such as having a baby, losing a job, being separated or divorced, experiencing a major illness or a change in one’s body and psychological state (e.g., puberty, menopause, middle age crisis). The idea of resilience is to ensure that clients have the resources and support systems that will prevent such a situation from eventuating.

A journal can be as simple as writing down thoughts and activities each day including how they feel about them. In CBT a journal or diary could outline positive and negative experiences, promoting where possible the positive experiences, feelings and emotions so that resilience is constantly being built up, and memory and effective habits can be formed rather than ineffective options. Reflection of experiences is an important part of interpreting the story or points in the journal.


  • Some questions that you might ask your clients could include the following:
  • Do you feel that you are able to deal with smaller aspects of a change that is confronting you?
  • If so what sort of resources and assistance do you need to do this?
  • How do you maintain some quality of life each day so that the change does not overwhelm your life and those of others around you?
  • How do you relax in the face of stress?
  • How is your relationship with friends and those you love affected by the change?
  • Are you able to communicate your feelings and concerns to them?
  • How could you improve communication in terms of content and relationship aspects?
  • Who can you go to for help and support? If you have sought support what was the outcome?
  • Do you think that a change or dealing with a change today has been beneficial or not? Perhaps rate the benefit or not on a scale of 1-5 where 0 = “No benefit”; 3 = “Moderate Benefit”; and 5 “High Benefit”.

By reflecting on these sorts of questions when writing daily experiences, transition and your client’s reaction to change can be mapped and progress of coping with change discussed at the coaching session.

New Year, New Habits

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Many people look forward to the New Year for a new start on old habits. While you are more likely to do something if you plan it in advance, research funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), shows that partnering up or planning with someone can really boost the likelihood of sticking to your resolutions.

This finding suggests that ‘buddy schemes’ could make a big difference to people following dieting plans, health programmes and could be integrated into government well-being initiatives.

“Specific plans regarding when, where and how a person will act have been termed ‘implementation intentions’,” explains Professor Mark Conner from the Institute of Psychological Science at the University of Leeds. “We already know that these kinds of plans can be really effective. You set up cues that prompt your planned behaviour – ‘if I walk to work on Monday, then I will jog home’, ‘if I feel hungry before lunch then I will eat an apple, not a chocolate bar.’ ”

But research by Professor Conner and his colleagues Dr Andrew Prestwich and Dr Rebecca Lawton from the University of Leeds has now demonstrated that this effect can be made even stronger if you get other people – friends, family, colleagues involved too.

The Leeds team worked with employees from 15 councils who volunteered to participate in two studies attempting to increase their levels of exercise or improve their diet. Some employees were just left to do it on their own; others were asked to recruit a partner. A third group were encouraged to develop ‘if…then…’ plans, and a fourth group was told to makes these ‘if…then’ plans with a partner.

“We followed up after one, three and six months to see how the employees were doing. And it was quite clear that working together and joint planning really helped employees stick to their new exercise regimes. Moreover, the involvement of a partner in planning   had a sustained effect that was still noticeable after six months.”

Professor Conner warns that roping in a buddy is not a guarantee for success. The real power is in matching your ‘ifs’ and ‘thens’ so you have powerful cues for your new behaviour. When all else is equal, forming exercise plans with a partner will increase your chances of actually sticking to them.

These findings could be applied to various government and NHS initiatives, such as smoking cessation programmes or the current drive to reduce obesity. Instead of putting all the onus on an individual, people should be encouraged to work with others and form clear ‘if… then…’ plans. “Individual change can of course happen,” notes Conner, “but it is even better to have a friend on your side!”

Click here for further information, contacts and links.

Source: Economic & Social Research Council

The Tough Track

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How—and why—an average guy became an ultramarathoner

By Jeff Wise

It’s a pitch-black winter night and Troy Espiritu is in the middle of a forest somewhere in western Georgia. Espiritu, a compact, wiry man with close-cropped hair, jogs along the wilderness trail with a steady, dogged pace, his face a mask of exhaustion. He’s been on the run since yesterday morning, nearly 20 hours ago, and he’s utterly spent. Shivering uncontrollably from the cold, he notices that the trees on the margins of his headlamp beam seem to be falling on him. I’m hallucinating, he realizes. He’s already run the equivalent of three consecutive marathons, and he’s got a fourth left to go. If he can keep pace, he’ll cross the 100-mile mark just as the sun rises.

Ultramarathons like this one are among the most grueling competitions ever devised, defying conventional notions of what the human body can do. But Espiritu is tough: He’s completed four 100-mile races. And what’s even more remarkable is that just five years ago, he was an ordinary guy who couldn’t jog more than two miles at a stretch.

At age 35, Espiritu, a podiatrist, was raising a family and managing a growing medical practice. “We had a 4-year-old, 2-year-old twins, and a newborn, with no family nearby to help,” he says in his genteel Southern accent. The thought of taking on another challenge, not to mention a superhuman one, would seem inadvisable at the least. But as Espiritu was to discover, pushing yourself in one area can have positive ripple effects in other domains.

Espiritu’s transformation started with a few words from a friend. At the time, Espiritu was jogging a mile and a half each weekend to keep fit. At church, a member of the congregation mentioned that he’d noticed Espiritu out running. “There’s a group of us that meets every Saturday morning,” the man told him. “You ought to come out.”

With his fellow runners’ encouragement, he achieved longer and longer distances. After a few months, he was able to make it to three miles—though, he says, “I was sore for about a week after.” What kept him coming back was the group bonhomie. “It’s like hanging out in the bar and having a beer,” he says. “It’s guy time.”

Within a few months, some of his running buddies started training for a marathon, and suggested he join them. Espiritu agreed. “I love putting a plan together, and working at that plan, and checking things off on the calendar,” he says. “I’m a very goal-oriented person.”

Espiritu’s wife, Mary Denise, wasn’t surprised at the turn her husband’s hobby was taking. “I knew that eventually he’d start running marathons,” she says. “That’s just the way he is. I don’t want to say he’s obsessive, but when he does something, he does it 120 percent.”

As Espiritu notched up marathon after marathon, he learned about races that were longer still—the so-called ultramarathons, which can range from 32 miles to more than 100. At first, such distances seemed absurd, but Espiritu kept thinking about it, and realized that if he could run 26.2, then 32 wouldn’t be that much harder. And once he’d done his first 32-miler, 40 didn’t seem out of reach.

To prepare his body, Espiritu gradually inured himself to the hardships of extreme distance. He would come home each Friday evening after working all day long, eat dinner with his family, put his kids to bed, and then start running at 10 p.m. He’d return at 6 a.m., shower, coach his kids’ soccer game, and keep going all day. “With practice, it definitely got easier to handle,” he says. “I can function now on less sleep than I did before.”

Early on in his all-night runs, Espiritu passes the time with mental games, such as spending 10 minutes thinking about each of his children. But by the later stages, he’s so exhausted that he’s frequently hallucinating or falling asleep on his feet. “The way I handle it is to break things up into very small, manageable pieces,” he says. “The idea of running 100 miles is incomprehensible, even for me, sometimes. My only goal is to get to the next aid station. That’s it.”

In an ironic twist, Espiritu is a podiatrist engaging in a hobby that nearly guarantees multiple foot ailments. Espiritu has had heel spurs and stress fractures—conditions he says make him a much better and more sympathetic doctor, especially to the running aficionados who now seek him out to get his first-hand expertise.

Espiritu understands that his pastime can be hard for others, including exercise buffs, to fathom. “Patients ask me all the time, ‘Why would you do that?’ The short response is, ‘Because I can.’ I’ve learned I can do it, so why not do it? If you knew that you could run 10 miles, why would you want to run just two?”

His wife teases him by saying, “Your heart is in great shape, but you should get your head checked.” She’s not the only one to suggest he might be a little bit crazy. “Let’s face it, running 100 miles is abnormal. Statistically, probably less than 1 percent of the population can do that,” says psychologist Jonathan Abramowitz, who specializes in the treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorders. But, he says, Espiritu’s behavior is very different from this illness—the struggle to contain or prevent thoughts about an outcome that a patient wants to avoid.

Rather, says Abramowitz, Espiritu is unusual in the degree to which he becomes attached to positive goals. “Some people have an all-or-none personality. They feel that they either have to do something perfectly or it’s 100 percent crap. When that mind-set causes distress, that’s a problem. But if it’s not getting in the way of your life, then I wouldn’t say you have a disorder.”

Beyond his love for long-term planning and execution, it’s likely that Espiritu is driven by the many mood boosters hidden in the training process: “Achievements give us a temporary feeling of elation,” says Sonja Lyubomirsky, a social psychologist at the University of California, Riverside, and author of The How of Happiness. “But it’s the pursuit of goals rather than the achievement that creates happiness. When people run long distance, they often get into an engaged state of concentration called flow. They are truly in the present moment, and the present is all we have.”

For her part, Mary Denise says that her husband’s extreme regimen has actually been a boon for their home life. “When our children were small, he took up golf for a little while, and that just wasn’t working. He’d leave at 9am on Sunday morning and come home at 2pm,” she says. “This is healthier for him, and we get to have him around more. He can run all night and still spend the next day with the kids.” Mary Denise has become an avid runner herself—the two sometimes hire a babysitter so they can train together. She even paced her husband for a full 25 miles during one of his ultramarathons—a bonding experience that they will always remember.

John Cobis, a high school teacher and fellow ultramarathoner who has trained with Espiritu, affirms that Espiritu is, in fact, as balanced as he appears to be. “Troy doesn’t miss a beat with his children. He runs a thriving medical practice and his patients love him,” Cobis says.

For all the pain, both mental and physical, that long-distance running has caused him, Espiritu considers it an irreplaceable part of who he is. It’s made him more even-keeled: “I’m an avid LSU football fan,” he says, “and before, when I would watch a game on TV that wasn’t going well, I would scream and yell. The dogs would be all nervous and running around, and Mary Denise would take the kids and say, ‘You know what? We’re going to leave the house for a little while.’ Now, when my team’s losing, my attitude is: ‘Ah, no big deal.’”

Right now Espiritu is in the process of buying property and hiring an architect and a contractor to build a new medical building. “I’ve been meeting with banks and architects, civic designers and engineers, real estate agents,” he says. “It’s an elaborate process. A couple of years ago, I would have said, ‘I just can’t do it all.’ And now it’s like, ‘If I can find time to run 90 miles a week and have four kids and run a practice, surely I can do this.’”

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Living Without Limits

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The starting point of great success and achievement has always been the same. It is to dream big dreams. There is nothing more important, and nothing that works faster to allow you to cast off your limitations, than to begin dreaming and fantasizing about the wonderful things you can become, have, and do.

When you begin to dream big dreams, your levels of self-esteem and self-confidence go up immediately. You feel more powerful about yourself and your ability to deal with what happens to you. The reason so many people accomplish so little is because they never let themselves lean back and imagine the kind of life that is possible for them.

A powerful principle that you can use to dream big dreams and live without limits is contained in what Elihu Goldratt calls the “Theory of Constraints.” This is one of the greatest breakthroughs in modern thinking. What Goldratt has found is that in every process, in accomplishing any goal, there is a bottleneck or choke cord that serves as a constraint on the process. This constraint then sets the speed at which you achieve any particular goal. But if you concentrate all of your creative energies and attention on alleviating the constraint, you can speed up the process faster than by doing any other single thing.

Let me give you an example. Let us say that you want to double your income. What is the critical constraint or the limiting factor that holds you back? Well, you know that your income is a direct reward for the quality and quantity of the services you render to your world. Whatever field you are in, if you want to double your income, you simply have to double the quality and quantity of what you do for that income. Or you have to change what you are doing to make it worth twice as much. But you must always ask yourself, “What is the critical constraint that holds me back or sets the speed on how fast I double my income?”

A friend of mine is one of the highest-paid commission professionals in the United States. One of his goals was to double his income over three to five years.

He applied the 80/20 rule to his client base. He found that 20% of his clients contributed 80% of his profits. And that the amount of time he spent on a high-profit client was pretty much the same as the amount of time he spent on a low-profit client.

This article continues…

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How to Achieve Anything

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Goal-setting research on fantasising, visualisation, goal commitment, procrastination, the dark side of goal-setting and more…
Author: Jeremy Dean
We’re all familiar with the nuts and bolts of goal-setting. We should set specific, challenging goals, use rewards, record progress and make public commitments (if you’re not familiar with these then check out this article on how to reach life goals).
So how come we still fail?
This psychological research suggests why and what mindsets should help us reach our goals.
1. Stop fantasising
The biggest enemy of any goal is excessive positive fantasising. Research on fantasising in goal-setting shows that positive fantasies are associated with failure to get a job, find a partner, pass an exam or get through surgery. Those whose fantasies were more negative did better. Don’t experience the future positively before you achieve it.
2. Start committing
The reason we don’t achieve our goals is lack of commitment.
One powerful psychological technique to increase commitment is mental contrasting. This involves entertaining a positive fantasy but then pouring a bucket of cold reality over it (follow this link for the details). It’s hard, but research shows people really respond to it.
3. Start starting
You can use the Zeigarnik effect to drag you on towards your goal. A Russian psychologist, Bluma Zeigarnik, noticed that waiters seemed only to remember orders which were in the process of being served. When completed, the orders evaporated from their memory.
What the Zeigarnik effect teaches is that one weapon for beating procrastination is starting somewhere… anywhere. Just taking that first step could be the difference between failure and success. Once you’ve started, the goal will get lodged in your mind.

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