Bite Your Tongue: How Coaching Can Change Bad Habits

Lucy came to  me for coaching last year with a concern.  She’s a mature private editor working with manuscripts of all kinds and does an excellent job for her clients. But on the phone or in front of occasional groups to whom she speaks she found herself “over talking,” as she called it.  She observed herself so eager, nah anxious, to interject her views, opinions or knowledge on a topic or in response that she was interrupting the very people she was serving.  Put simply, she was a not being a good listener, and it led to her losing clients. She was painfully aware of this but was unable to change it on her own.  She asked me if I though my coaching might help solve this problem.

I invited her to come for a free consultation with me so I could get to know her better and discuss the matter.

Lucy has a PhD in English and was a teacher for thirty years in the South at the high school and college level.  She is highly articulate and a very practiced communicator.  But the irony was sticking out like a sore thumb,  between “over talking” and Lucy’s great talent and passion for assisting others to be great communicators themselves.  I hated seeing her in this struggle when I knew she is a very knowledgeable and gracious teacher who is very eager to help people.  She’s a writer who wants to see other people enjoy their writing.  I identified with that.  But even in social situations, Lucy told me, she was so anxious to talk that she was failing to listen.  Her frustration had grown to be an issue in the forefront of her mind.  It was becoming a costly problem and a painful one.

Most of us recognise that the first step in solving a problem is acknowledging and facing it.  The next step is doing something about it, with support as necessary.  Such is life.  For example, my car’s “Check Radiator” light was flashing lately so I asked a mechanic about it and he flushed the cooling system.  Then my car was running great again and I was smiling because I had it repaired responsibly.

Poor analogy between Lucy’s situation and my car?  Not from a coach’s seat.

Coaching often means helping someone slow down and look at what their problem really is in order to create a solution that works.  In her own words that is what Lucy did in our first few coaching sessions together.  She simply told her story.   And I saw how Lucy’s great value as an editor and her friendship among her acquaintances was being marred by this over-talking.  She was really concerned about its effects.  It might be written off or excused by some who might say, “Well, that’s just me. It’s the way I am.”   Lucy had tried simply to clamp down on her tongue.  She’d tried “biting her tongue” by will power   That hadn’t worked despite her own best efforts.  The persistence of the problem only served to remind her of it and leave her feeling embarrassed and a bit angry with herself.

Coaching works on the idea you have your answers within you.  .  Coaching is a creative process often helping a person better understand themselves so that they can make other choices than the ones that are being made by habit.  Habits are often instructions that come from others or conditions in our past.  Sometimes they come from beliefs that served us once but no longer do now.  So we can change our choices if we see how they are being made “automatically” but not in the interests we have today for ourselves and others.  So sometimes it is a matter of what our purpose is, what our intent is, versus what it is we are actually doing.  Coaching is not therapy; coaching is about clarifying what my really choices are and then practicing new choices so a new “habit” is formed.  This can be transformative – when we realize we can change and do so by powers always inside us, not offoa shlef or someone’ else’s well-meaning advice. The creative answers just need coaxing to emerge and our beginning to act on them with a new clarity.  We put our own real intent or purpose in our control.

In this case coaching did several things for Lucy to solve her problem.   Coaching helped Lucy gain insight and the motivation to change based on a new ways of seeing what choices she had.  She chose to be more curious about others, less needing of validation of herself, which is what her “over talking” was about.  I simply gave Lucy the space and time and attention to ask the questions that led Lucy to discover her own answer to this perplexing habit.  The habit had the message inside it, “You are stuck with me.”  But Lucy saw her intent was positive, her need to be heard had other options to be fulfilled, and that she always could ask herself, “Who do I want  to be in this situation?”  So “biting her tongue” became “what is my purpose?” and “to what do I want to be responsible here?,” “to what am I truly committed here?”

Whether in social or professional situations Lucy now had a new Frame for her Picture or herself and her relationship to the people she was with.  Coaching gave her a new handle and one that was simple and effective.  It worked, with some practice.  In other coaching sessions Lucy decided where and when she could practice her new skill, and how she could acknowledge, affirm or reward herself for her new behavior.   A “Bad” habit is only one that denies me these positive feelings.  A “Good” habit is positive not just because it gives me positive feelings but produces results that are undeniable and pleasing to what I intend.  That is what coaching’s empowerment is all about.   We are genuinely responsible to what we choose is best for ourselves.  The thrill of the outcome is discovering that the answer lay within us all along.  We just needed “a little help form our friends” to change our course and turn a wish into a reality, a frustration into a victory.  Yes!

Congratulations Lucy!   I checked with her months later to ask how her “new” listening  ability was working.  To her credit, and the creative process of coaching, Lucy gladly told me she was happily practicing and enjoying listening to people like never before, for fun and profit!  It was becoming second nature to her.  She could celebrate her new listening skills with every new client and each satisified one.  And referrals to her business were up!  Hah!

Change takes effort, awareness, self compassion, deeper motivation, time, practice and reward!  And sometimes a Coach.


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