Once upon a time… – these are the words that we heard from our early childhood, the beginning of stories that connected us with emotions, places and characters.
These stories come from the outset of human communication. It is the way we pass forward knowledge and values and how we preserve the experiences to be shared with others. Through this sharing of experiences, we use stories to pass on accumulated wisdom, beliefs, and values. Stories connect us with our humanity and link past, present, and future by teaching us to anticipate the possible consequences of our actions.
As coaches, we try to prevent our clients from telling us stories that keep them focused in the past, looking for excuses not to move forward and achieve their goals. Coaches want to help clients to go forward with their objectives. Stories from the past are only useful when they help to visualize successful moments that could be repeated in the future.
How can we, as coaches, use stories to motivate our clients to take action?
I use a storytelling exercise with clients who are not clear about their objectives or goals. Clients who are stuck seeing a tree and not the whole forest. Clients who think that by changing one thing, everything will be different (which is not always true).
Could you tell me the successful story of your future?
That is my request.
“In this story you will be 20 or 30 years older than now. You will be writing a letter (handwritten if possible) to a cherished and important person for you. You will make a description about your life at that moment. You are telling this person why you are happy and why your life has been successful over the last 20 or 30 years. You are telling them about your family life, professional life, friends, money, health, and social life. Everything that is important to you. A story with places, people, wishes, motivations and values. A story where the desires and objectives are accomplished. A story of personal success.”
This simple exercise can help your client visualize the future and trace the path to make the story real.
Let me share one of my client’s experiences with this exercise.
A 50 year-old woman, the owner of Public Relations and Communication agency with 5 employees, saw her business growing sharply in a short period of time. This resulted in a significant increase in her working hours to the detriment of time spent on her family and personal life. While she always wanted her business to prosper and to build it into a medium-sized agency, this sudden and rapid growth left her overwhelmed with the entire heavy burden on her shoulders. Suddenly she was stuck in a loop and was losing her way forward.
I asked permission to do this exercise. I explained how it worked and she accepted. The following week she came to our session with the letter, saying that she had a hard time doing the exercise and was ready to give up when finally she got it. The letter showed, among other things, a future successful and harmonious at the same time, with the desire for a balanced life between work and family. Nevertheless, she realized that there was a large gap between this harmonious future and the present situation.
We explored these gaps and she found some immediate solutions. For example, she looked for a business partner to share responsibilities and benefits. Other subjects took more time, but the most important thing was that she was motivated to have her successful future vision come true.
It is not an easy exercise. There can be big or small insights, but your client will have a different vision about the future and their objectives in life!