The Training Wheels of Life

As I look back on my own journey of madness (!), growth and development, I often wish I had captured a lot more down on paper. I’ve just started (because I can’t get enough of coaching school) a new life coach training programme with a woman whose book – Finding Your Own North Star – I first read in my late teens. This woman – Martha Beck – has been calling to me for 16 years! I’ve read various books of hers over the years. And over the last five years or so, have toyed with the idea of doing her training.

One of the central concepts of Martha’s philosophy is that we each have a still place inside that directs us to our ‘right life’. Call it what you will – ‘inner wisdom’ resonates for me. It’s unique for everyone – yours will take you a different place than mine, because we each have a unique path in life. Coaching is never about some expert chiming in on how you should live your life – this would be to disregard that you already have your own answers within. Instead, its about helping you access and follow your own internal wisdom. For a whole host of reasons, this doesn’t come naturally to most of us. For starters, we in the Western world have been conditioned out of it – we’re primed instead to listen to our rational minds, favouring so-called logic above all else.

What I love about finally doing this training is that my own inner wisdom has always been directing me this way. There’s a real sense of magic when you find yourself immersed in something that just feels right. I feel exactly where I’m meant to be.

Something Martha said yesterday struck me – which is that as you find more joy in your own life, you will naturally want to share that with others. Now, that’s not to imply that I’m a great zen being meditating on a mountain, with a clear and quiet mind and no problems whatsoever (far from it) – but simply that I’ve had – and continue to have – my own suffering, my own challenges – and have spent many hours, days, weeks, months and years slowly unpicking and overcoming that which is holding me back. I’m slowly but surely becoming more peaceful, more steady, more able to withstand the inevitable storms that arise in life.

And I’m slowly but surely seeing that the way I show up has a great impact on my relationships, my work and my life – and I’m also seeing the impact of taking responsibility for small shifts in my own thoughts, actions and reactions.

I love what Martha Beck says. People don’t write self-help stuff because they’re perfect. They write it to help themselves.

Achieving the changes we desire in life involves our inner world, to a great extent. We can look to change our external circumstances – continuously pursuing or dreaming about the next promotion, getting married, travelling the world, or having a nicer house. But often we end up chasing our tails. Do you ever find that your problems follow you no matter which of your external circumstances you change?

Wherever you go, there you are.

Real change comes from working on our inner game. The way we view the world. The perspectives we hold. The stories we carry that influence our every perception, our every action, our every reaction.

So I can’t help but want to share the insights, tools, strategies and processes that have helped me with my own inner game – in the hope of helping others on their journey too. Looking back, since I really devoted myself to this whole self-development thing, I’ve certainly had highs and lows, and a hell of a lot of ‘a ha’ moments. But change has also come slowly, flowing like a little river. By no means has it been a linear journey. Given that I wish I’d documented a lot of it at the time, I’m seeking to rectify that now by starting where I am. And so, my commitment to share some insights as I journey through the wild world of Martha Beck’s coach training. It truly is wild – and far from what you’d expect at life coaching school. Which makes it a hell of a lot of fun!

This week’s big a-ha’s

Rest and play helps you do better in life

What do you mean, rest and play? I thought life was about getting as much done as humanly possible, burning yourself out in the process! Typically, if I am not being productive, I am a) beating myself up for wasting time and b) unable to put thoughts aside about my very long and numerous trello lists of what I need to do and when I’m going to find time to do it because I ONLY HAVE 24 HOURS PER DAY. Even reading books – a typically leisurely actively – can feel more like a productive pursuit. I have a list of hundreds I want to read, and just don’t feel I can rest until I’ve got through them all. Which really means won’t rest until I’m dead – because I’ll never get through them all. The world keeps churning out new books I want to read! Help!

Martha Beck’s life coach training emphasises rest and play as a fundamental ingredient of life. One reason why is that it helps us integrate our learning. I kid you not that the first training video included a 3 minute clip of baby otters being taught to swim (an analogy for learning to life coach…). It’s hilarious, and cute! So I keep going back to watch the video, and what do you know – the messages keep sinking in. Contrast this to the last lot of training I did, where I felt exhausted at the idea of sitting down at the end of a work day to tackle what felt like really heavy, intensive work.

They also encourage us to go at our own pace. It’s easy enough to say this once – but they say it all the time. They even tell us there’s no way to get behind. It’s not like real school – far from it – and we’re not being graded. Somehow, this is starting to have a bit of an impact on me, the recovering perfectionist. For the first time in a long time, I feel more than okay reading bits of the training material here, watching a video there, and leaving the materials part way through where I’d normally feel compelled to complete it all at once. It has the reverse effect on my willingness to ‘study’, and I find myself naturally drawn back to it at all sorts of times of day.

And with that, I’ve noticed how I’ve started to relax a wee bit – giving myself permission not to feel guilty about having a night off to sit on the coast eating fish and chips, watching the Interislander come in and the moon start rising.

Happy place all round. I’m starting to approach the earth-shattering realisation that life might actually be enhanced if I stop putting pressure on myself to DO all of the time.

If all else fails, breathe.

Breathing is a tool we can take anywhere. Yet sometimes, its the first thing we forget to do. Take a minute to check in with yourself right now – are you breathing (at all?). Are you breathing shallowly – into your chest? Or deeply – into your stomach? Notice what impact it has when you take a few seconds to consciously slow your breathing. Breathing deeply tells your body and mind that everything is okay. It calms your nervous system down.

I had a tricky situation at work this week where I knew I needed to take a break in order to get some clarity. Normally such a situation would be an opportunity to enter into all sorts of stories in my head about who did what wrong, how to fix it, and what others were thinking about me. Unhelpful mental stories, thoughts whirring around in my brain. I simply took myself outside and sat down for ten minutes, focusing on nothing other than my breathing. I refused to enter into a debate with my thoughts. And that was absolutely the most helpful thing I could have done for myself in that moment (probably in any moment).

I’ve also had one too many bumpy landings into Wellington lately, which has made me a lot more on edge whilst flying. Yesterday I found myself getting particularly anxious and uptight as we made our approach to the world’s windiest city. My whole body was tense, and in that situation, my thoughts are running a mile a minute. The only thing I can do in that moment is return to my breath. Consciously focus on breathing in and out — in and out — repeat. Scary thought rears its head. Breathe. Repeat. It certainly doesn’t instantaneously drape me in a blanket of zen, but it’s amazing how much more peaceful I can become in an environment that normally sets my adrenaline on fire.

So if all else fails (and even before it gets that bad), remember to breathe. Its a tool we can take anywhere.