I checked WhatsApp today, and found that one of my coaching clients, who has been working on a particular set of challenges that have hindered him for most of his life, had left me a message.
When I listened to the message, I hardly recognized his voice or his language. It was like he was a completely different person. There was a depth to the way he was speaking—a calm.
He was not claiming to have solved all his problems, or to be in any kind of state of mastery or transcendence. Instead, I heard humility in his voice—self-reflection and a willingness to take full responsibility for his experience.
I usually work with coaching clients steadily for roughly six months to a year. Every now and then, I get a call like this. It is as though that person has suddenly emotionally matured decades in a week.
This is what everybody says they want: to have a breakthrough, a big shift, to somehow be magically reborn. Many people go to high energy (and often overpriced) seminars to try and have a breakthrough like this. Other people seek out powerful and charismatic teachers, hoping that a breakthrough will come by osmosis or from transmission. But most of these people walk away disappointed.
When this particular flavor of dramatic change comes in a coaching relationship, I’ve noticed that it is almost always permanent. There is rarely any backpedaling, in the way that there can be after a weekend seminar or contact with a charismatic teacher. Once the shift happens, there is no going back, any more than you could go back from finding something you had lost. Once it is found, it is found—there’s no “un-finding” it.
What precipitated the shift in my coaching client is no big mystery. It all comes down to regular, steady, repeated, daily practice.
What do I mean by practice? I mean finding some kind of intervention, which changes your state of consciousness, which changes the way you see yourself and the world, and doing it—every single day. Meditation is a practice. Qigong is a practice. Consciously and deliberately expressing appreciation is a practice. Setting five goals in the morning and completing them by the evening—no matter what—is a practice. Apologizing for mistakes is a practice.
When people commit to a coaching relationship with me, I often begin with clarifying the misunderstanding that I am going to be able to do something for them, like I could if I were a dentist. I cannot magically fix someone else’s life, but even if I could, I would not want to, because it would rob them of the autonomy and creativity that makes life rich. The most important role I fulfill as a coach is to help someone find just the right set of practices which can shift them from where they are—where they feel stuck—to where they intuitively know they could be.
My client who left that message, the one who sounded so different, so steady, so mature, so humble, and yet authoritative, has been practicing, day after day, for months now. In the beginning it was hard: 10 minutes of sitting seemed like a lot. But we built it up. He has been practicing deep listening with his partner. He has been practicing honesty. He has been practicing staying in his body.
It has not been an easy journey at all. Instinctively, we do not want to practice. Some gremlin who lives in the basement of our psyche intuitively knows that regular daily practice will, sooner or later, dismantle the complex web of the personality, held in place only by lack of awareness.
Practice restores consciousness to habits that were otherwise unconscious. Once that accumulates, day after day after day, the whole edifice comes crumbling down.
I seriously doubt, after his message today, that my coaching client will go back to his old ways. It never happens that way. I also know that, as he moves forward with this confidence, he will realize that I played a very peripheral role in the process. I was no more than a cheerleader, standing on the sidelines, encouraging him onward.
It was his own diligence and practice that he should be most grateful for. Which means that it was him, and not me, who is responsible for his new life.