Much of what we do as coaches involves helping clients make decisions and then take action. Typically, the decision is some form of “What should I do about ___?” The coaching relationship creates a powerful space in which a client can consider an issue, really focus on the core concern of the issue, and then discern how best to address core concern. Easy, right? No, it’s not easy. And one of the most difficult aspects of coaching is the annoying trait of humans (including your clients) to not make rational decisions.
Humans tend to think we are more rational than we are. As social psychologists such as Jonathan Haidt have shown, people tend to think they make decisions by first gathering facts and then conducting a logical consideration of those facts in order to reach a sound decision. But that’s not really the case. Instead, people make decisions emotionally (following their intuition or “gut feeling”) and then search for logical reasons to back up their decision. The worst part is that we ignore facts that don’t support our decision.
Mark came into the coaching relationship very excited about his goal of earning a promotion. He was a year into his role as a production supervisor in a manufacturing company and he had his sights set on becoming a plant manager and eventually a director of operations. Mark wanted the career advancement, but two months into the coaching relationship he was getting kind of bummed. Why? Because he hit a motivation wall.
Here’s a simple rule for getting what you want in life: find out the cost and pay it. As we coached, Mark came to realize what it would cost him to advance in his career: harder work, smarter work, learning some new skills, getting better (way better!) at managing and communicating, and seeing a bigger picture. He wanted his goal. He wanted to want to work to reach his goal. In other words, his motivations fizzled.
What do coaches do when our client’s motivation is low? Well, let’s start with what we don’t do. We do not throw up our hands in defeat (“After all, what can we do if a client isn’t motivated?!?”). One of the reasons a client works with a coach is to stir motivation, to increase and focus desire, and to truly want what the client just wishes he wanted. We need to own the fact that it’s perfectly reasonable to expect coaching to increase a client’s motivation.
Once we admit that it’s within the purview of the coaching relationship to increase motivation, we need some guidelines. One of the most helpful frameworks is the Motivation Equation. I don’t have a dry erase board in this blog post, so bear with me. Motivation = Expectancy * Value/Impulsivity * Delay. Let’s break down each of those four variables.
Karl hired me for coaching because he was struggling “to get everything done.” He’s a real estate professional who’s married, has young children, and is active in church and the local community. His list of “everything” is probably longer than the average person’s, but he’s not unreasonable with his to-do list expectations. We uncovered quickly that his days feel chaotic and out of control. He rushes from one thing to the next. His day happens to him.
Karl wanted to be more productive and still have time for his non-professional life. But the only answer seemed to be the impossible: more time. Instead of conjuring up the Time-Turner Necklace from the Harry Potter books or the Time Stone from the Marvel comics, I encouraged Karl to harness the power of a real-world resource: Keystone Habits.
Three phrases came to my mind to begin 2020.
1. Do the work
2. Be present
3. Don’t be the hero
Over the last few months, I wrote blog posts on the first two. Here is my final installment.
Don’t Be the Hero
The sweat on my body turned cold while I stood at the free throw line, spinning the basketball between my hands, bouncing it three times on the floor. It wasn’t a game. It was practice, which for us, was always twice as hard as a game. Coach had us running suicides – run from the baseline to the free throw line and back, then half court and back, then the opposite free throw line and back, and then the full court and back, all at a sprint, all while being covered in shame from a coach who loves to “motivate.” After each run, he gave us a chance to end the suffering by putting one of us at the free throw line to make two shots in a row.
Our best shooters had already taken their turn. They missed. We ran again. And again. Anxiety was setting in as we wondered if we could make this suffering stop, or were we doomed to walk off the court in pain and failure?
Coach asked who would shoot next. It was my turn. I boldly raised my hand. “Miller, take the shots,” Coach barked. I walked to the line, put my right toe on the center nail, bounced the ball three times, set my elbow straight in front of me, and followed through with my hand, as if I could push the ball down into the basket. The ball rattled the rim and then fell through the net.