We’ve all been there. Whether coaching a client or even in casual conversation with someone, we later reflect and ask ourselves: “how did I miss that cue that could have taken me to the real issue?” “How did I miss the inferences, the body language…how did I not hear what he or she was really saying?”
As with all things we can improve with experience, and there are specific activities you can engage in to assist in expanding your awareness. In NLP terms, expanded awareness is referred to as uptime – i.e. when we are predominantly paying attention to the external world – what is happening around us. Downtime is when we are focusing on our internal world – our thoughts, feelings etc. It’s very easy to go into downtime when coaching by focusing on our own internal dialogue. Have I chunked down far enough? What is the best coaching model to use? What would be a powerful question to ask now? We become so focused on our own thinking that we miss the cues the client is giving us. How can we expanding our awareness and remain in uptime when coaching? Here are 3 simple activities that can, over time, make a significant difference.
1. Apply a simple Expanded Awareness technique
Find a spot to focus on just above eye level. While keeping your eyes focused on that spot, become aware of what’s in your peripheral vision – to the left, to the right, above, below. What’s behind you, sounds, smells. Hold this for a few seconds, then blink. Your awareness will have expanded. I often do this just before commencing a coaching session to increase my awareness of what is happening outside of my world and in the world of my client. When a client has hit a boundary condition they are struggling to break through, I will sometimes lead them through this exercise and then re-state the question. Often this helps them break through the boundary of their conscious thought.
2. Train your brain to become consistently more aware
The above exercise works well for the present moment, but creating new neural pathways in your brain for consistently expanded awareness takes a bit more effort. Go to a coffee shop on your own, or sit in a public place. Instead of processing the events of the day or thinking about what you need to do, focus your attention on what is happening around you. Without staring, observe other people in your vicinity. What do they look like? What are they wearing? Who is on their own? Who is with others? Notice their body language. Do they look relaxed? Stressed? Thoughtful? What do you hear? Smells? Make a conscious effort to do this consistently and you will train your brain to become more aware, so that it happens unconsciously when you are coaching a client or engaging with a friend or acquaintance.
3. Expand your awareness by enhancing your focus
Breathing exercises are a great way to enhance your focus, which in turn expands your awareness. Neuroscientist Jeffrey Schwarz says that learning how to focus your breath is beneficial because it gives you an anchor to come back to when your mind starts to wander. Sit somewhere quietly where there are no distractions for at least 5 minutes. Simply notice your breath as it goes in and out of your body. If your attention begins to wander away from your breath – e.g. thinking about dinner or plans for the afternoon – note this by saying to yourself “thinking”, “planning” or “wandering” and then go back to your breath (Schwarz, You are not your Brain, 153). Initially you will be surprised by how difficult it is to stop your mind from wandering. By consistently practicing this your focus, and hence awareness will be enhanced.
I’d love to read your comments and feedback. Why not try one or more of these activities and post your reflections here, and we can dialogue some more.