By the end of this session:
- You will be able to appreciate the importance of an individual’s story.
- You will be challenged to become narrators rather than authors.
We might think we live in a culture which is scientific and that we make informed objective decisions, but is this really the case? Can we really see anything with objectivity, or do we view the world with a lens? One of the core-principles of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) is the phrase:
The map is not the territory.
That is to say that the representations and ideas we use to navigate our life by and the decisions we make do not necessarily come from an accurate representation or self-understanding of our life or context. To put this another way:
“people do not in general have access to absolute knowledge of reality but in fact only have access to a set of beliefs they have built up over time, about reality.”
Failure can, therefore, often be seen to occur because we have the false notion of objectivity. We are in effect making decisions with flawed information which we consider true. So, in our role in working with people, we are to support them in developing self-awareness of what we might consider their take on their situation. Their story.
One of the critical principles of a coaching culture is encouraging people to become self-authoring in their approach to life and its challenges. An author gets to write the story rather than have the story written for them.
Often when we talk to people who need coaching, they talk in a passive manner in the sense that life is something that happens to them, rather than something they can authentically author. This is not to suggest that there are no limits to our power as our own life authors. We all have experiences where we have no control over what has happened, but critically, we can always author our own response. Taking a coaching approach engages the person in growing in their ability to self-author their responses.
So, what role does that place us in? In some ways it can be useful for us to consider ourselves a bit like the narrator of a story. One of the roles of the narrator is to highlight the bigger plot context when we are caught up in the detail of a particular scene. A good narrator can help identify the story’s point of view. This role of reminder and challenge to contextualization is an important role for anyone engaging in a coaching approach to practice. We need to make sure we are not becoming the author of the individual’s story but are instead helping them to challenge the limiting narratives and creating new horizons in the narratives they live through.
So, if we are working to nudge and focus self-authoring it is worth us knowing what a good story might look like to the individual with whom we are working. This idea of good lives and good stories leans heavily into positive psychology and taking a solution focused approach.
In the words of its founder, Martin Seligman, positive psychology can be defined as the:
‘scientific study of optimal human functioning [that] aims to discover and promote the factors that allow individuals and communities to thrive’.
In positive psychology there is a greater focus on what the features of thriving look like than there is on attributing blame for a situation. One of the most empowering aspects of a coaching approach is that we do not assume we know what is best for the person, indeed, we recognise that best for them is likely to mean something different to that which it means for us.
In the Good Lives Model, human dignity, human rights, and human agency are promoted through working with an individual to develop the primary goods which will help develop their good life story. Research by Ward, Brown, and Marshall has highlighted eleven classes of primary goods:
- life (including healthy living and functioning)
- knowledge (how well informed one feels about things that are important to them)
- excellence in play (hobbies and recreational pursuits)
- excellence in work (including mastery experiences)
- excellence in agency (autonomy, power, and self-directedness)
- inner peace (freedom from emotional turmoil and stress)
- relatedness (including intimate, romantic, and familial relationships)
- community (connection to wider social groups)
- spirituality (in the broad sense of finding meaning and purpose in life)
- pleasure (feeling good in the here and now)
- creativity (expressing oneself through alternative forms).
These classes each have a different level of importance to each individual and relevance to the situation in which you might be working with them.
 P.91, Megson in Foreman, Joyce & McMahon (2013)