A self that goes on changing is a self that goes on living.
A year or two ago, I was hiring a life coach and I got on the phone with a prospective coach. After the usual hellos and how are you’s, she launched into a monologue about her coaching philosophy and what she’d want me to get out of our sessions. Then the questions began: “So what would you like to improve in your relationship?” “How would you be more successful if you showed up more fully in your work?” “When your mom calls you, what negative reactions do you have?”
I was shell-shocked.
Yes, I had things I wanted to improve, but the questions she was asking me had nothing to do with the challenges I was facing at the time. I wasn’t interested or ready to dive into those questions yet. It led me to some soul-searching about my own coaching: I knew that I didn’t want to be assuming problems where there weren’t any.
After some reflection, talking with clients about that topic, and analyzing my coaching conversations, I realized how I direct my conversations with clients in a way that doesn’t feel like I’m picking apart every fiber of their life.
Rather than looking for problems, I look for dissonance. I wanted to share this concept with you today because it’s not one that we hear about often, and you can use this tool in conversations with friends or even in your own journaling.
Using dissonance for self-improvement and change
The usual way of coaching, giving advice, or self-improvement is to see problems and say you want to change. You might have great goals like “I want to lose 10 pounds” or “I want to spend more time with my friend Jen.” But these goals aren’t connected to specific actions.
When you look for dissonance, you are specifically looking for where two actions, two thoughts, or an action and a thought are in conflict.
When you look for dissonance, you are specifically looking for where two actions, two thoughts, or an action and a thought are in conflict. For example “I always overeat at dinner, and I want to lose 10 pounds.” Or “I want to spend more time with my friend Jen, but she never answers text messages or is willing to make plans until the day of.”
These statements get you into the good stuff. There’s something to work with here (seriously, my little coaching spidey-senses are tingling).
Here’s how I would dive into clearing the dissonance and creating change:
For the first example about overeating: you can examine why losing the 10 pounds are so important to you and get really clear on the motivation there. Then, think about why and when you’re overeating, and create some strategies to help prevent it in the future. This is so much better than saying you want to lose 10 pounds but not know what to do about it.
Let’s do the same with the friend example. OK, you want to see your friend more. But she’s made it really hard to do so (and potentially clear she doesn’t value seeing you in the same way). There are options: if you REALLY want to preserve the friendship, you can try to pin down a date and then be willing to wait for the last minute plans to pull through. Or, you might decide it’s worth it to tell your friend that you really need to make plans before the day of, or say that it hurts when you don’t hear back from her. A third option it to decide that this person doesn’t really respect your time and it’s not worth spending energy on her any more. The best part? All three of those decisions are perfectly valid. All three of those decisions reduce the dissonance, and thereby reduce the stress that you feel.
So stop searching for problems. Instead search for dissonance. Those little points of friction, the paradoxes, and the “sticky spots” that lead to growth, freedom, and more space to be your best and brightest self.
(And…if you’re interested in exploring this dissonance with me, consider a free consultation. We’ll discuss where you’re feeling dissonance in your day-to-day and use the ancient power of Ayurveda combined with modern nutrition, yoga, and psychology practices to reduce that stuckness and rediscover balanced calm. Learn more here or contact me at sam[at]behappyhealthyhuman[dot]com.)
Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful day,
Samantha Attard, PhD, is the founder of Happy Healthy Human. Sam is a performance coach and yoga instructor who helps people eat, move, and live with intention. Learn more here.