Patience is a byproduct of understanding how the mind works

Patience is a byproduct of understanding how the mind works.

The mind has an innate capacity for clarity and creativity. That’s our default state but for the moment to moment experience of personal thinking. When that thinking innocently creates an insoluble problem, the personal mind tends to ramp up, work harder, and increase pressure. This is like spinning your tires when you car is stuck. If you keep it up you shred the tires.

When we understand that mentally spinning our wheels (ruminating over frustration, anger, resentments, etc.) always results in shredded mental tires, we naturally discover the “patience” to allow our minds to settle down. It takes no more effort to choose to settle down than it takes to remove your hand from a hot stove.

[A minimally edited transcript follows]

I just finished a conversation with my ongoing Art of Living group. We were looking at patience. One of the folks in the group commented that it looks to her like one of the keys to living wisely and well, and working wisely and well, is to cultivate patience.

We had been talking about how each of us has a perfectly functional GPS, internal guidance system, that delivers information, inspiration, and guidance that is formulated specifically for each moment in our lives and work. We often innocently muck it up, because we have a head full of personal concepts about what we should be doing, where we should be going, how fast things should be moving, or in some cases that things shouldn’t be moving so fast. We muck up our capacity to respond wisely and well in the moment, because we’re innocently imposing a lot of assessments, opinions, worries, and analyses that aren’t actually contributing to the quality of the data and insight at hand.

In response to that, one of my clients said, “Well, that takes patience. So many times in our meetings, I’ve written down, ‘Patience, cultivate patience.'”

What I said to her is, “It looks like it’s patience, but patience is a side effect of understanding how life works, understanding how you work, understanding how you work optimally. When you understand how you work optimally, it’s natural to exercise restraint when you recognize that you’re not optimized.”

It’s natural to not pick up the phone and make the angry phone call when you have a deep recognition that that isn’t likely to work. You don’t really have to restrain yourself by an application of will if you know it won’t help. You may still want to, you’re just as angry, you’re just as wound up, and it just doesn’t make sense to make that phone call.

socks don't require patience, they require understandingPeople often tell me that they wish they could knit, but they just don’t have the patience. That’s always puzzled me. I don’t have patience either. It would drive me crazy to wait for a sock to get done. But I don’t wait for a sock to get done, I make socks. I don’t wait while I’m working on a sweater for it to be finished, I’m making the sweater. I’m engaged in it. There is no waiting, no patience required. No patience required, because I understand how the sock is created and I understand my role in that creation, and I’m good with it.

When it comes to taking action in life but being frustrated in the process, we are going to be more effective when we understand how the mind works. If we allow the mind to grind away, analyze, and ruminate, it’s like spinning our wheels when the car gets stuck. We can spin our wheels and shred the tires, or we can look for a way out of the stuckness. Spinning our wheels and shredding our tires just doesn’t make sense to most of us after we learn that spinning your wheels will shred your tires. Patience (the willingness to stop spinning the wheels and look for a better way) is a byproduct of understanding.

Understanding doesn’t necessarily prevent frustration, but it prevents amplifying the frustration. When we see that we can use our minds to ramp up our frustration levels or allow our minds to quiet, it just makes sense to us to choose the latter. We don’t have to work at it; we just see that it’s a better option.

New options and ways to move forward emerge when we tap into our intelligence, our understanding, and recognize what doesn’t help. This may not sound like a big deal, but recognizing what doesn’t help in a deep and profound way takes a lot off your mind. When you’ve taken that off your mind, so many things that we think of as skills (patience, acceptance, wonder, creative thought, making new connections, looking for a new way, being open-minded) emerge naturally out of the intelligence that we’re part of.

When we understand how life works, when we understand that there’s a certain state of mind in which we’re tire-spinning, and we recognize that trying harder from there will only shred our tires, when we understand that, even if we don’t know yet what to do instead, we can plug into the intelligence to stop spinning, in that space, every time, some new possibility will arise.

If you try to manage the emergence of  new possibilities, you’re doing a subtle kind of tire-spinning. It takes some insight and some appreciation of when you’ve had this going for you in your life to trust the process and allow fresh possibilities to emerge. You can cultivate a feel for spinning your tires and not spinning your tires mentally. You know of times when you’ve done tire-spinning and when you haven’t done tire-spinning. Let yourself notice and appreciate how natural it can be to recognize the difference and exercise your free will to choose the better option.

I’m saying that all you really need to know is that not spinning your tires reconnects you to new possibilities and new options. While you’re spinning your tires, you can’t see beyond your current thinking. As soon as you stop spinning them, you become available to new solutions. You’re not in charge of the timing. You’re not in charge of the nature of the solution. The more deeply you understand the difference between spinning your tires and opening your mind, the more quickly and simply you’ll notice that next steps emerge. They may or may not look like full-blown solutions, but you’ll always see a next immediate step. That’s always an improvement over shredding your tires.

I’d love to hear where this lands, what lands, what doesn’t. So email me or comment. Thanks for watching!

Why Coaches Should Avoid the Black Box of Stuckness

[I’m experimenting with having transcripts of my videos made. Let me know if you like it, are neutral, or hate it. ♥ MLG]

If you have been a regular video follower or watcher, thank you for your flexibility and patience in these last couple of months. For four years or so, I was consistent in producing or creating weekly videos. For the last couple of months, it’s just been really erratic. So there you are.

Part of what’s been going on behind the scenes is that I’ve gotten clearer that I really care—sue me ;-)—I really care about the coaching profession. It looks to me like coaching emerged in the last half of the 20th century in response to an evolving, awakening awareness about the nature of human beings when it comes to learning and potential. Like, coaching woke up in us and in various people and different disciplines as we began to appreciate that human beings are designed to learn, and that human beings are coded to adapt, to develop. And yet that there seemed to be things that got in the way of the full expression of that capacity to learn and develop.

So we got curious about what’s in the way of the flowering of human potential. It seems to me as I sit here right now, and I’m just thinking out loud, that there were two opposing forces from the beginning of coaching. One developmental or evolutionary direction was, “Holy crap, human beings learn and when we show up for each other with a certain kind of listening, a certain kind of presence, attention, open-ended curiosity, that learning is catalyzed, even accelerated!” (Cool, no?)

The opposing force was a preoccupation with what gets in the way of human learning. What is it that keeps us from fulfilling our potential? It seems to me that this is a really good question, and I think that there’s a trick embedded in it.

The trick is that if we get too impressed with what’s in the way, we become complicit with an obstacle created in the mind of the person who is stuck. Like, everyone who has ever been stuck is stuck within the limits of the way they perceive, concoct, and understand their situation and their circumstances. Stuckness cannot occur outside of the box that we’re stuck in.

Stuckness cannot occur outside of the box that we’re stuck in.

It’s innocent, and to the degree that coaching became preoccupied with unpacking what’s in that box, the black box of stuckness, we developed, (this happened in therapy, too) lots of way to unpack, reorder, repack, improve, tweak, manipulate, manage, optimize the contents of the black box of stuckness. But the thing is you don’t have to do that. You can look beyond, look through, look under, around the black box of stuckness.

You don’t have to unpack what’s in the way, if you understand that what’s in the way is always a product of thought in the moment. That may sound facile, but there is a depth and a richness underneath that very simple statement, that stuckness is always the product of thought in the moment, and that unstuckness is the result of insight, which redesigns, restructures, replaces the contents of the black box. Every time.

And so, there are coaching tools, coaching techniques, coaching interventions, lists of coaching questions, all of which appear to improve what’s in the black box such that clients get unstuck. I propose that what’s actually happening is that all of those interventions, one way or another, coincided with the emergence of an insight in the client such that the black box is no longer an issue.

There’s a famous quote attributed (apparently mistakenly) to Einstein to the effect that we cannot solve problems at the same level of consciousness at which they were created. He said something like that, but he didn’t say that. (Sorry, I can be geeky about attribution.)
Well, Einsteinian or not, it looks to me to be very useful. We cannot solve the problems that our clients have or help them solve them if we get preoccupied with what they created at the level of consciousness in which the problem emerged. We and our clients can absolutely re-engage situations, learn, adapt, develop, innovate, create, tweak, when we are no longer preoccupied by or limited to or enchanted or entranced by the problem of the black box in front of us.

One way I talked about this recently on LinkedIn is, “Are you coaching the signal or the noise?” When we coach the signal, we’re trying to help a client get over, past, beyond, free from the noise created by that black box of stuckness. When we coach the signal, when we coach the client to differentiate between signal and noise, we are supporting the client to learn, to have a fresh look, to engage with the potential for a new thought. And that is an insight-based process, not a performance-based process. It has immense implications for performance, but it doesn’t start by tweaking performance.

I don’t know if any of this made sense to you. I would love your pushback, your feedback, your questions. This is what I’m up to in 2018,  articulating the fundamental principles that are the key to client learning, to client transformation. Excuse me, it’s what we’re all up to as coaches, but we don’t all look in the same place for it, and I want us to look deeper at the source code of transformation, and not at the black box that is temporarily in the way of transformation.

So let her rip. I want to hear from you. Thank you.

Share your thoughts in the comments or email me. 

Effective coaching addresses the signal not the noise

I spent three days last week in San Francisco exploring and practicing ways to make coaching more effective in the third 7 Paths Forward workshop with David Goldsmith and David Peterson. This work made me more and more convinced that honing skills is helpful, but only to the extent that coaches also understand the human operating system.

Most efforts to explain how humans work and thus how to optimize or catalyze or unleash (choose your verb) human potential and performance add layers of complication and complexity. New theories and methodologies are developed to address inconsistencies and unintended consequence from earlier theories and methodologies.

The 3 Principles understanding is subtractive rather than additive. It clarifies the principles, or primary constituents, of human experience. This clarity is a game changer. It orients coaches and clients to the signal rather than the noise in life and work. Noise, in this instance, is the mental chatter and insecurity that impede learning, damage relationships, and cloud perception.

Most coaching addresses the noise: reduce it, filter it, change it, or replace it with better noise. That takes time, energy, attention, money, and other resources. It’s expensive, and it never alters the underlying reality that noise is a given in the human experience.

Principles-based coaching produces insights into the phantom nature of insecurity and mental noise. As clients appreciate that the noise is not definitive unless they choose to make it so, they are free to re-orient themselves around signal, around what they want to create, learn, or accomplish. Noise continues, and it matters less and less and less.

If you are a coach, a client, or responsible for coaching in your organization, check out the replay of the Wholeness Hangout in which I and my guest panelists explore coaching from a Three Principles perspective. Each of my guests have been trained in the International Coach Federation (ICF) tradition of coaching in a variety of programs. Each of us has encountered the Three Principles after this training and found that the Principles provide the robust basis or source code for what our coaching tradition has attempted to codify.

Click here for the replays and resources from A New/Old Story: Considering ICF Coaching from a 3P Perspective.


ICF and 3P: the time has come

Here’s my “impossible project” for Michael Neill’s Creating the Impossible 2018 program.

In the next 90 days I will make the Three Principles the explicit foundation for coaching in the International Coach Federation (ICF) tradition. It will be obvious that this has been accomplished when the Principles are incorporated into International Coach Federation (ICF) Core Coaching Competencies and standards for accredited coach training programs.


The International Coach Federation (ICF) is the most widely recognized and respected global professional organization for the coaching industry. The ethics, values, and knowledge encoded in ICF policies and standards have been invaluable in my own professional development. As a trainer and mentor of coaches, I’ve seen that coaches who can demonstrate the ICF Core Coaching Competencies are more effective by far than those who cannot.

Seven years ago I encountered the teachings of Sydney Banks, now popularly known as the Three Principles. Almost immediately I saw the Principles as the “source code” for coaching. Syd shared profound realizations about the nature of human experience and the truth of our connectedness and access to wisdom and insight moment to moment. These realizations are the principles that ground the values and standards ICF has developed.

Here’s one example of the impact that understanding the Principles has on coaching. The opening paragraph of the ICF definition of coaching states:

ICF defines coaching as partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential, which is particularly important in today’s uncertain and complex environment. Coaches honor the client as the expert in his or her life and work and believe every client is creative, resourceful and whole.

According to ICF, coaches “believe every client is creative, resourceful and whole.” According to the Three Principles, this is a truth of human nature, not a belief or framework.The shift from adhering to a belief about client creativity, resourcefulness, and wholeness to seeing it as an actuality has profound implications for how coaches work.

Dr. Judith Sedgeman points eloquently to how understanding the Three Principles transforms our understanding of human potential in this post, The Infinity of Possibility. Without a 3P understanding, professional coaching remains a game played on a finite board. Coaches already understand the notion of limiting beliefs, but too often miss the fact that those beliefs are made up. What is made up does not need to be deconstructed; it can be seen through.

If you are a coach and interested in knowing more about the Three Principles, or a Three Principles practitioner interested in learning from the rich base of skills encoded in the ICF Core Coaching Competencies, let’s talk!

Dancing with impossiblityy

chalkboard heart impossibleMy current definition of coaching is “meeting clients at the interface between formlessness and form for the sake of creating something marvelous.”  Michael Neill is especially skilled at pointing to and working at this interface, which is why he’ll be my guest next week for the Wholeness Hangout to talk about his latest book, Creating the Impossible. 

My own relationship with the idea of creating the impossible has been bumpy. As an artist and a coach–heck, as a human being–I have had myriad thrilling experiences and insights into the mystery and actuality of creating at and beyond the edge of possibility. I’ve also seen (and indulged in) a good deal of BS around the topic. I get prickly about magical thinking and the suggestion that we get to boss the Universe around.

What Michael is up to is grounded, deep, funny, and fun. I find his perspective on creating the impossible thrilling, challenging, and immensely worthwhile.

I hope you’ll join us with your questions, insights, and dreams via Zoom on Thursday, February 1, 2018, at 10 AM Pacific time. Wholeness Hangouts are always free, you don’t even have to sign up. Click here to join us. 

Michael Neill bestselling author of The Inside Out Revolution

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