Reality is a funny word. It’s very personal and it’s very impersonal. That means it’s relative and it’s universal. As a coach, counselor, or therapist, it’s your job to discriminate between the two and never assume you know your client’s perception of reality; nor assume that your perception of reality is better than, or more correct, than theirs.
These kinds of assumptions make you blind to (or at least forgetful of) the necessity of not only discovering your client’s view of reality, but also honoring it – in your language, in how you explore strategies or solutions, and in your overall approach to the issue at hand.
Deeply Understanding The Nature Of Personal Reality
Just grasping the nature of personal reality is often mind-boggling, much less waxing philosophic on the nature of absolute reality. So let’s just stick to the reality we personally create for ourselves.
NLP assumes personal reality has a structure that is not laid in stone. Rather its nature is flexibility. In this way it is impersonal. The content however is very personal, or relative to the individual experiencing it.
Yet, years of experience under your belt (or even when you’re just beginning), can cause you to feel that you know things for certain. And this can produce difficulties.
Why? Certainty closes the door to further exploration; and this can block your ability to recognize, accept, respect, and meet your client in the reality where they live.
Why Certainty Kills Off Creative Exploration
When an idea hardens into a certainty, it starts to FEEL like Truth. When you feel you know the truth about your client, you are at risk of missing your client’s truth (as well as your own). You are at risk of missing how their perception of the truth is holding their personal reality in place, imprisoning them and creating their pain and suffering.
When your personal reality loses its flexibility via certainty, it is hard to adapt to the flow of the creative personal realities streaming by from your clients. The bad news is that your professional expertise and experience can easily create this situation. The good news is that with a little bit of awareness and willingness, you can reclaim your perceptual flexibility and increase your capacity to work within your client’s personal reality instead of your own.
The Paradox: Challenging Your Certainty While Staying Confident & Sure
Years ago when I was living in an ashram in India, I remember the most empowering thing I learned while participating in a spiritual therapy training. The leader said that anytime I found myself saying ‘I want X for my client’, I had slipped into doing therapy for myself rather than my client. It was a disturbing thought. But it changed my notion of what helping another person actually meant.
In those days, I was certain I understood the mind and how it worked. I was certain that all I had to do was deliver this information to my clients and they could then change – if they wanted to badly enough.
Of course, I was totally wrong. But the reason I was wrong was because I was certain that I knew the truth, the way things actually were. I can chalk that up to youth and inexperience, of course. But I also know how easy it is, even today, to fall into this desire for the comfort and confidence that certainty and conviction offer.
The most powerful antidote for certainty is doubt. Just a little bit of questioning shakes up certainty enough to help you regain the professional balance required to truly help another person learn they can actually help themselves.
In the presence of certainty, doubt brings you back to the understanding that all personal realities are unique and therefore different. This requires you to 1) be present and 2) be willing to accept what you find. This reopens the door to your perceptual flexibility and inspired creativity.
The Man Who Wore His Past As A Blanket
Not long ago, I was working with a client whose life was still being dominated by his past. He understood that what he’d been taught as a child from a fundamentalist church and family was no longer what he believed. But, he couldn’t seem to get away from it. He knew it wasn’t true intellectually, but the teachings still felt like the TRUTH.
He had started to explore a specific aspect of his life when I had the thought to check out where he stored his past experiences. I asked him to point in the direction of his past. He said it didn’t have a direction. So I asked him to point in the direction of his future and he pointed straight ahead of him. So I asked him again to tell me where his past was and he then shared, “All around me – like a blanket.”
Now I’ve worked with enough clients to KNOW this was a major sticking point. Your past should be behind you, where it belongs. I KNEW that if I worked with exploring how to do something different with his experience of the past that I could get more of the change he was looking for. I got intrigued with the challenge of how I could change it.
Then I remembered that the client hadn’t asked me to change how he stored his past. He asked me to help him explore how to enjoy his retirement. This caused me to doubt my conviction that changing direction right then and exploring how he stored his past was the road to travel
So I put my certainty aside, despite the fact that working with time storage in the past had been really powerful. But I was determined to honor my commitment to following my client’s lead. So we went ahead and did the piece of work he’d just started.
At the end of it, when the client felt the change he’d been after that day had happened, I got curious and casually asked him where his past was now. Lo and behold, he said, “Oh, it’s behind me now.” That was it. He wasn’t surprised or amazed. It had just shifted on its own as a result of the work he’d been doing that day.
It reminded me once again how every person has everything they need to make the changes they want and to get to the outcomes they desire. My only job is to help them discover and utilize these amazing inner resources. And more often than not, they know exactly how to get it done much better than I do.
The Joys Of Honoring Your Client’s Reality
It had always a great feeling to think I’d helped someone make a change and get the outcome they wanted. But somewhere inside, I actually felt like they made the change because of me and my expertise. Well, of course, that was half the truth. The other half was that it’s always all the client’s doing.
It’s a paradox, of course. Both are needed. The guide and the person wanting direction. But when you guide your clients back to themselves as the source of the change, the inspiration, and the motivation to get it done, the joy inside multiples geometrically.
And, in my opinion, when you really know this to be a true – when you are certain – without a doubt – that it is the client doing all the hard work, that truly wonderful sense of being of service arises, pure and simple.
For me, it is the delight of all delights. Like the teacher who gets thrilled when the light suddenly shines in the student’s eyes as they get the point, or connect the dots, and finally understand. It is this mixture of grace and gratitude that is the real payoff of staying true to working within your client’s personal reality.
Best to you,
images from www.123rf.com