During the current pandemic many of us have to make tough decisions in our business and private lives. This is even more difficult than usual because of the volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity of everyday life. We can’t wait to accumulate all the information we need in order to make rational decisions. We procrastinate and our stress levels increase.
I often find that my clients are experiencing a tug-of-war between their heads and their hearts. An example might be that a client knows in order for his business to survive during these turbulent times, he needs to retrench a third of his staff. However, he can’t bring himself to do that as he feels so sorry for the people who have been loyal to him for many years. He becomes more and more stressed and takes no action.
Although my approach may seem somewhat unusual from a coaching perspective, I find the following exercise has great outcomes for many clients. As a result they find it easier to make decisions and stop procrastinating.
Sometimes this entire exercise is completed in one coaching session. In other cases it may extend to an assignment which we craft together. I start by using coaching questions to assist the client to have more clarity on the issue they are facing. Then there are three steps in this exercise which helps them to convert a sea of implicit information into explicit action which they choose to take.
I make sure they have 3 pieces of paper roughly A4 size and a pen in front of them. I then invite them, regarding the identified issue, to write themselves a letter from their heads. In other words, if we were to call our client Ben, the letter would start:
This is your Head speaking. You know that turnover is down and that you have to reduce fixed costs in order to sustain your business. I believe you need to immediately initiate the retrenchment of one third of your staff.’
Head would then add rational reasons for having to do this and provide advice. The letter may conclude with an appeal for action similar to the first paragraph of the letter.
The ending would be:
I then ask the client to please put that letter aside and on the next piece of paper write another letter, this time from his Heart. In our current example, it would begin with:
I know this is a very difficult time for you as you are really battling to cope with the stress resulting from enormous changes in your business and private life. Right now you are feeling very vulnerable and responsible for your staff. However, you need to make decisions and take action. Here is what I suggest…’
And a few paragraphs may follow.
The letter would end with an appeal for action from an emotional perspective and may conclude:
‘I’m thinking of you and wish you strength as you take the next step.
The final step would be inviting the client to put the second letter aside and write the third letter. This time the letter would be from Ben’s gut. (Some clients prefer hands as a symbol for action, rather than gut). The letter would start:
This is your Gut speaking. You have heard the evidence from your Head. The facts are clear. Your Heart has appealed to your emotional side and based on these two views, it is now time to take action.
I suggest that you do the following …….’
By the time the client gets to this point, he usually knows exactly what he needs to do and how to go about taking action. Gut’s letter would end with:
‘Yours in action,
Exploring the conflict between head and heart through this approach can help you resolve the conflict and make the right decisions. Take action! Stop procrastinating. Turn your stumbling blocks into stepping stones.
Video link: How to stop procrastinating
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