The Stories of Our Lives

A new journey that I started in 2018 was to learn more about Narrative Coaching. Taking the 6-month live virtual Enhanced Narrative Coach Practicioner Program of Dr. David Drake helped me realize that the stories we have and tell about ourselves, and those that others tell about us, are very powerful influences in our lives.

When the stories are “problem saturated,” transforming them into positive stories can make a huge difference in who we become and how things turn out. The origins of Narrative Coaching, as well as Narrative Counseling, spring from Narrative Therapy. Lucky for us who are keenly interested in learning more about Narrative approaches, tools and techniques, so that we can use these in helping others discover and achieve more of their potential, there are many resources available. One is the Dulwich Centre, Australia, that offers a free introductory course on Narrative Therapy.

One resource in the Centre that can help us realize the power of stories is the TED talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie about “The Danger of a Single Story.” One key point is that there is never a single story about a place or a person, and to the extent that we blindly swallow and repeat single problem saturated stories, without ever questioning them, and without digging deeper and wider to learn about different perspectives and alternative realities, we perpetuate misunderstanding. Worse, we may be ignorantly and unfairly destroying others.

There are many stories we create about places, about ourselves, others, and just about anything. In the context of narrative practice, “stories consists of events, linked in sequence, across time, according to a plot” (Alice Morgan, 2000. What is narrative therapy?: An easy-to-read introduction (Gecko 2000) First Edition Edition.)

The power that we have over our stories is that we can re-story, that is, we can choose to create new stories that open new possibilities that can lead to a better future instead of staying stuck in destructive stories. As one colleague put it, “you are not your story.” A story is just a story, and we can break free from bad ones and pivot to new ones.

In the context of family, a lesson for parents is that you must carefully choose the stories you tell about your children, for the seeds of growth or destruction are nascent in such stories. Start with a negative plot line and highlight only negative events over and over, and the pattern will surely lead to a downward spiral. Instead, look for alternative positive plot lines, enrich these plots with positive events, and you have taken control over creating a brighter future.

This one TED Talk can make a difference for us and for others if we let the key messages sink in and stop mindlessly, or worse, maliciously repeating problem saturated stories that may just be based on mistaken assumptions to begin with.

We may have all been at the receiving end of single stories, as well as perpetrators of such stories. If we own that we are part of the problem, then we can begin to choose to take a different and constructive course of action.

Any change takes an open mind, an open heart, and an open will, to borrow from Otto Scharmer’s Theory U.

So, what are your stories about yourself and about others? What would be more positive stories instead?

Is Coaching and Counseling the Same?

No, they are not.  Some folks may, however, confuse coaching with counseling and this is not unusual. Both coaching and counseling focus on helping people deal with difficult challenges or issues. Both may also focus on helping an individual to change her behavior.  How are they different?

Counseling typically involves people who are experiencing some dysfunctional behavior or internal turmoil. Counseling is often focused on healing past wounds and looking for the cause or origin of the dysfunctional behavior. Going back to the past is intended to help the client get unstuck, to gain understanding on how the behavior may be causing problems in the present and the dynamics involved, and then to be able to move forward in making the change the client wants.

Coaching is for everyone. In the corporate world, coaching is often an investment made to help high potentials progress towards their full potential and prepare them for bigger challenges. In families and communities, it is for anyone who would like to have a “thinking partner” in pursuing her work, life, or other goals. Coaching has a future focus and aims to create a desired state, that is, the goals that the client wants to achieve. It focuses on helping the client clarify her goals, assess the present, and identify what steps or actions she will take to achieve her goals. It is more focused on the future.

The lines between coaching and counseling may not always be clear, especially for a client. What’s important is that the coach can ascertain whether his client needs coaching or counseling. And, unless the coach is also a trained counselor, the coach will refer his client to counseling.