Thoughts become things – cognitive behavioural coaching and taking psychological responsibility

Men are disturbed not by things, but by the view which they take of themLast week I wrote about learning more about cognitive behavioural psychology as part of my ongoing professional development – often encountered in the form of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), but also increasingly employed in the coaching domain. This post also links to my previous post on freedom where I wrote about making active choices.

I think the quote above, from the Stoic philosopher Epictetus, sums up the core of CBT very pithily. The origins of modern psychotherapy can legitimately be traced to classical philosophical schools like Stoicism, which is, if you will, the original cognitive therapy (Albert Ellis, who founded the first form of CBT, Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT), has acknowledged the lineage from Stoic philosophy).

There is a great deal of synergy between the cognitive behavioural approach and coaching, particularly from a constructivist perspective. People can fall into the trap of being a passive participant in their own lives, and it’s very easy to tip over into becoming a victim of your circumstances. I often talk to clients about becoming actively involved in constructing their own realities (note: which is not the same as ignoring objective facts!) rather than playing a part in a story someone else has written for them. Learning and growing occurs when you are actively involved in a process of making meaning in your life, understanding the thoughts and beliefs that you hold and then taking conscious control of them.

The concept of mental control, heavily distilled, might look somewhat like this.

 

 

In a nutshell, there are things we can control, things we can influence, and things we can’t really do anything about. Although we might have legitimate concerns about what other people do and what’s happening in the world, very often we have little to no control over these things. What we do have control over are what we choose to think and feel, and how we choose to behave. And the kinds of thoughts and beliefs and feelings that we hold, and our subsequent behaviour, can make our realities happy or miserable. This is at the core of the cognitive behavioural approach. CBT and its coaching counterpart, CBC, teach that it is the meaning that we attach to events that causes our emotional reactions, not the events themselves, and that we can learn to choose different behaviours through retraining our thoughts and beliefs.

A key word here is ‘choice’. Everything that we do is a choice. Sometimes we may think that we have no choice but to respond or react in a certain manner – we say things like “she made me angry”, “I was forced into a corner”, “he is the reason I am in this predicament”. The trouble with this is that it opens up the door to everyone else being the cause of your problems, and us discounting or forgetting the part we have played in any given situation (often also the part that we continue to play, if we’ve fallen into the role of victim).

What’s the alternative? Accepting responsibility for our own thoughts, feelings and behaviours. Viktor E. Frankl said that “…everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” I very much like this quote because I think taking psychological responsibility – responsibility for our thoughts and feelings – is fundamental to our psychological wellbeing. This is a world away from a damaging  blame game – it moves us right across into the empowerment of realising that you do not have to rely on changing others, or your situation, before you can feel better or act differently.

Your thoughts don’t have to become your reality. They’re opinions, not facts. (Opinions welcome in comments below!)

– Written by Natalie Snodgrass Tan, Quiet Space Ltd

Your life, in a sentence

Be the author of your own life

I was delighted with this display from The Novel Encounter when I saw it at the National Gallery in Singapore a few weeks ago. A surprise novel in a beautifully minimalist wrapper, summarised in a single sentence. It made me think of three things.

1) Curating my mystery retreat boxes as part of my new transformational development programme for women (currently itself under development!)

2) What the summary of my own story would be. I’m still writing it, so I’ll get back to you on that one.

3) Those Penguin Books memes about the story of your life. Will yours be:

– Oh shit was that today: A memoir
– Well I was clearly into that more than you were: A love story
– Plan B
– If only: A tale of regrets
– Don’t actually press send: Advice from the grave
– How to accept anything: A story about giving up
– Well, that didn’t go as planned
– Finding that special someone: A guide to dying alone

Well? What’s yours going to be? You can pick, or if you don’t like any of those then write your own. Make it a good one, ok?

– Written by Natalie Snodgrass Tan, Quiet Space Ltd

Cognitive behavioural coaching

Continuing professional development is vital in order to ensure that you’re keeping your knowledge and skills up to date and fit for purpose. I’m studying coaching psychology at the moment and it’s been very interesting to discover how much my coaching practice already aligns with cognitive behavioural principles.

The essence of cognitive behavioural psychology is that you feel as you think. It is the meaning we attach to events that causes our emotional reactions, not the events themselves. I very much like this proposition because I think taking emotional responsibility is fundamental to our psychological wellbeing. I’ll be posting a longer article on this very soon – keep an eye out for it.

Looking forward to learning more so that I can work with clients even more effectively!

– Written by Natalie Snodgrass Tan, Quiet Space Ltd

Breaking barriers (and ceilings)

I’ve got a thing for ceilings. The more architecturally interesting, the better. When I posted this on my personal Facebook timeline a few days ago, a friend left a comment that made me stop and think.

Me: I’ve got a thing for ceilings.
Her: And trying to break them! Go Nat! 💪

I’ve never thought of myself as breaking ceilings. But then it occurred to me that this is what I work on with people all the time – breaking through their barriers. And the more architecturally-significant the ceiling, perhaps all the more its being fair play. Right?

Now stop reading and go break through some ceilings.

– Written by Natalie Snodgrass Tan, Quiet Space Ltd

Words to myself, at 10, 15, 18, 21, 32 and 35

IMG_8161I am really proud of how this little girl has turned out.

If I had the chance to say something to her at the age of 10, I’d say things get a lot better. The days won’t always be so dark. You won’t always be bullied and this is making you much, much stronger.

If I had the chance to say something to her at the age of 15, I’d say that you are incredibly beautiful, and strong, and perfectly enough. You have always been perfectly enough. Let those who love you support you.

To her at the age of 18, I’d say this relationship is not good for you. Know that others love you so much and the world isn’t going to end if you break up with him. You will learn to value and love yourself and how to stand up for yourself. You’ll learn how not to be emotionally blackmailed.

To her at 21, I’d say that others don’t love you because of your grades and your achievements. Truth be told, these things matter quite little in the larger scheme of things. People love you just because you are you. No matter what.

To her at 32, I would say that you don’t have to be a perfect mum, wife, daughter, employee. You don’t have to be perfect, full stop.

And to her at 35, I’d say you’ll hit rock bottom, but the only way is up. And what a fabulous journey it’s going to be. I promise. Things won’t always be easy, but you’ll finally have learnt to love yourself. And it’s then that you will truly be able to give, give, give. God had a plan for you after all. And you’ll be filled with gratitude.

Looking forward to whatever’s round the corner. This world is so big and so full of promise.

– Written by Natalie Snodgrass Tan, Quiet Space Ltd

On control

I’ve been thinking about control. Learning what we can and can’t control is important, because often we get stressed trying to control and change the things we would be better off letting go and letting be, yet don’t realise that we aren’t making the most of the choices and control that we actually do have.

We always have a choice. We are not victims of our circumstances; we can choose how to react and respond in any situation. We all need to take responsibility for our actions and not blame others for what we choose to do. Make every choice count.

“Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.”

– Invictus, William Ernest Henley

– Written by Natalie Snodgrass Tan, Quiet Space Ltd

On creativity

I love art. I never used to think I was a creative person – I wrote poetry and short stories, but always felt like I was imitating others badly. I told myself I was awful at drawing and painting. I was too shy to act. In short, I put myself in the ‘can’t hack it’ box because I was afraid of not being perfect.

Fast forward to now and all the things I have learnt over the past few years, and I have discovered so much, including that I am, and you are, and everybody is – an artist. We just need to learn how to let ourselves be creative. So many things stop us: perfectionism, our attitude towards risk, lack of self-esteem, and ultimately fear.

I’ll be writing more in coming weeks about creativity. For now, I’ll leave you with these snapshots of pieces I saw when on holiday in Singapore a couple of weeks ago.

1) Robert Jahns, “NYC balloons”, Lumas Gallery
2) Milenko and Delia Prvacki, part of “Interchange”, Dhoby Ghaut MRT station, Singapore
3) Nancy Lee, “Umbrellas Movements”, Lumas
4) Sun Yu-Li, part of “Universal Language”, Dhoby Ghaut MRT station, Singapore
5) Andy Warhol, “Cans”, Lumas

– Written by Natalie Snodgrass Tan, Quiet Space Ltd

Career: Capitalising on chaos?

expectation vs reality-3

We talked about the chaos (Pryor and Bright) and planned happenstance (Krumboltz) theories of career at Quiet Space’s inaugural career reinvention day last Saturday. Only briefly, because career development theories aren’t really the best thing for a post-lunch slump (unless you are a geek like me).

I quite like chaos as a conceptual backbone to careers theory. In a nutshell, the chaos view of careers says that you and I are complex systems who are subject to complex influences and chance events. It’s all about unpredictability and non-linear, continual change. Planned Happenstance similarly embraces the idea of serendipity and being open to uncertainty, maximising your ability to capitalise on unforeseen opportunities when they happen in your life.   

More traditional theories of career development typically invoke some sense that career can be logically planned and the plan then followed. In contrast, chaos and happenstance shift the perspective from prediction and control to saying that indecision and not knowing are in fact part and parcel of living well within our complex and changing reality.

This is not to say that life is random. Instead you might like to think of life, and career, as a fractal… starfish.

fractal-starfish

I like fractals. They’re infinitely complex systems created by the recursion of a simple process over in an ongoing feedback loop. As an analogy for life, I think the fractal starfish is pretty spot-on – daily life can be so simple, yet so complex and beautiful. Just like the emergence of a fractal, life isn’t predictable, but needs to be understood in the context of the multiple possible and interconnected outcomes of a dynamic process in a complex system.

Growing up, I wanted to be an archaeologist, psychologist, astronaut, teacher. Aspirations directed me into triple science before I funnelled myself into the arts and social sciences, via a college that I only went to because the other one I liked was too far away and I didn’t want to go to the same college as my overachieving elder sibling. A scholarship scheme that I discovered by chance gave me one of two coveted full overseas university scholarships throughout the duration of my degree, before the Asian financial crisis prompted me to stay in the UK for graduate study and my first job. I found myself in University administration after an initial research post, simply because I wanted a permanent fixed-term contract. They were recruiting for two possible jobs via the same interview process and I secured the one that would eventually prove to give me greater visibility and profile, because of a hunch from the hiring interviewer about best fit. Between 2004 and 2017 I found myself in four different jobs, all internal moves (none of which I was interviewed for), chiefly due to the right connections and being in the right place at the right time. In 2016 I had a mental health crisis that had been brewing for a while, which I can link directly to seizing hold of the day and taking the plunge to launch a new career in coaching in 2017. And I feel like I’m finally where I want to be. Will what I’m planning right now materialise the way I’m currently envisioning? Probably not. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I’m making the most of the journey, always focusing on continual learning and growing, and being comfortable with not knowing.

Both the chaos and happenstance theories of career talk about the kind of skills that we can develop to allow ourselves to best take advantage of those unexpected opportunities when they come our way. In brief, these are:

  • Curiosity – has an appetite for learning and for seeking out new knowledge and experiences
  • Persistence – tenacious; not easily discouraged or daunted by failure
  • Flexibility – adaptable and open to change; able to cope with the unfamiliar or unexpected
  • Optimism – has a positive mindset and is able to take the best out of situations
  • Risk – has a healthy and confident attitude towards the management of risk
  • Strategy – is able to plan ways to improve their ability to influence and capitalise on chance events
  • Efficacy – has confidence in their ability to take control of their own life and the belief that luck and circumstances need not determine their destiny
  • Luckiness – believes or expects to be lucky.

If you look back at your own career, how much of it would you say has occurred by planning and design? And how much by circumstance, accident or sheer luck? Did you find your way to where you are now having planned for it? Could you have predicted what factors would have underpinned your future career decisions? Do you have regrets about any decisions you’ve made, or do you take the view that each choice you’ve made, though you didn’t know it at the time, has led you inexorably to where you are?

– Written by Natalie Snodgrass Tan, Quiet Space Ltd

Career Reinvention Day – 15% discount!

Who’s coming to the workshop on 21st April?! It’s gonna be good. Here’s a sneak peek at delegate workbooks and the cards we’ll be using as tools for one of our exercises on finding out your values, strengths and skills! Plus a three-course lunch from the award-winning Warwick Conferences, at the University of Warwick in Coventry (and Warwickshire), and a valuable follow-up coaching session with me to consolidate your learning from the workshop.

Pssst – now running a 15% discount for the final 3 spaces! Message me for your code, and then get your place at www.quietspacecoaching.co.uk/events!

– Written by Natalie Snodgrass Tan, Quiet Space Ltd

A curated collection of books

IMG_6908

Someone asked me today what books I like. So here’s a (curated non-fiction) list. They’re thought-provoking, often funny, and are all worth a read.

In no particular order:
1) A Sense of Direction – Gideon Lewis-Kraus
2) The Pilgrimage – Paulo Coelho
3) The Examined Life – Stephen Grosz
4) Drive – Daniel Pink
5) Happiness – Will Ferguson
6) Quiet – Susan Cain
7) Stand Firm – Svend Brinkmann
8) Not Knowing – Steven D’Souza and Diana Renner
9) The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck – Mark Manson

Have you read any of them? If you didn’t like them as much as I do, tell me why!

– Written by Natalie Snodgrass Tan, Quiet Space Ltd