As a coach, I am in the privileged position of being a witness to the deep thinking of my clients. Through my reflections there are often themes that come up across the broad range of people that I work with.
Now the first thing I need to say is that these themes are all viewed through my own lens and therefore may not be a true representation of what is going out there, BUT I am hopeful that my musings will be useful and insightful for some! The second thing to say is that if I ever use names they will NOT be real names as confidentiality is absolutely paramount in the coaching space.
So… what has been the loudest noise in the coaching room this month? I would say overwhelm…. Overwhelm and stress. This is not uncommon however I am seeing an increase in the work I do as well as the conversations I have outside of the coaching space. My curiosity is around what sits behind the feeling of overwhelm and very often this is down to a natural inclination to be busy. To push harder, to ‘hustle’, to achieve, to strive for more, higher, better, faster…. The inclination is fuelled by an economy that is measured on growth. Too often, WE are measured on our ability to create or support growth. This can lead to an influx of asks and tasks which, combined with our 24 hour access lifestyle can quickly escalate, and over a prolonged period of time, lead to burnout. Now of course in our work we can look at using great prioritising tools and excellent stress management exercises but the question for me goes deeper… where does this drive to achieve come from?
I need to be clear here – I am NOT a specialist in anthropology or evolutionary biology (that’s my dream parallel life) therefore please take my musings with the intention of prodding you to think as opposed to me having all the answers!!
The ancient aspect of our brain (in evolutionary terms) is still very often in the driving seat - (thank goodness otherwise we might forget to breath or try and make friends with the cute looking tiger) and it has certain processes that feel really good when they are activated. Imagine our hunter gatherer ancestors – our brains were wired to help us seek reward and steer clear of danger via neurochemicals. Now, the vast majority of us don’t have to hunt or gather to stay alive anymore but those processes are still the same in our brains.
Ticking boxes on a to do list, getting a new client, selling another product etc they all provide us with an aim for our days and because we get a hit of a ‘feel good’ hormone we want to do it again – no matter the impact on our lives. Marketeers and in some instances those in powerful positions know how to press our buttons and release those feel-good neurotransmitters too. Seeing a little icon on our phone can give us a hit of dopamine, being given a bonus for achieving targets – same response. Our work ethic is rewarded often throughout childhood which helps to cement the reward feedback loop.
Imagine how different life could be if our PLAY was rewarded in the same way!!
Simply acknowledging that our desire to work hard is a biological process upheld by habit just might be enough to make us pause before clicking on our phones to check our emails at 9pm or saying yes to yet another ask. Recognising that our ancestors were perfectly built for the job in hand (for more about this I would highly recommend reading Christopher McDougalls Born to Run and The Idiot Brain by Dean Burnett) and yet we haven’t adapted physically or mentally for our current more sedentary, indoor life with almost constant stimulation (TV, phones, games etc) is another way of thinking about this.
For me stripping back to the absolute basics of what is really driving our need to push on and take on more and more can help clients make sustainable changes not just quick fixes…. Spoiler alert… they don’t work in the long term!! I feel I could write a book on this subject but for now I will leave you with a few questions that might stimulate your thinking in this area: