"I carry nothing into the drift, no memories, no fear, no rank."
- Marshal Stacker Pentecost, Pacific Rim. Warner Brothers Pictures
These words, delivered with a certain gravitas by Idris Elba in this Hollywood blockbuster of 2013 struck a cord in me then and have stuck with me ever since I first saw the movie, and I have watched it many times since. Why? Because at the time I was extremely busy managing my career, my team, my projects, my family, my life (probably in that order), and like many people I've since spoken with, I had a rather persistent inner voice, one that second guessed my decisions, spoke to me in the early hours of the morning reminding me of things I hadn't done or actions it thought I should be making a priority, it also had me strategising multiple outcomes to these actions. And in my need to operate quickly I often acted on them, assuming it was the voice of a wiser inner me, mostly, thankfully these had positive outcomes and so reinforcing my belief in its wisdom, but not always! I wondered how Marshall could be so grounded, centred, present, that he had no inner voice, doubts or insecurities. I discussed this issue with my coach at the time, my peers, and in leadership development programmes, as the constant strategising in particular was becoming exhausting and it seemed a common affliction for many people in similar corporates positions.
I have since learned how to quiet that inner voice, although not silence it completely, to stop strategising, to stop worrying and to take things as they present themselves and to try to not apply any judgment to them. No easy journey but I managed to grasp the basics of how to do it just as I started formally coaching senior leaders myself. One of the key tenets of a successful coaching session for me was to be present, focused and engaged with the client, to have no inner dialogue. It was at this point in time when it all seemed to come together and to make most sense to me and I found the best sessions are where "I carry nothing into the drift".
Difficult, because you are coaching someone who might want answers, who might be looking to you, who is anchoring themselves to, or at least references, your credentials as a reason for trusting you to work with them, and it is tempting to over-identify, that is to recognise the client's issues as ones you've also experienced and to want to advise as perhaps a friend, colleague or mentor might. But the inner voice needs to remember that you are not them and it is not the same and they know best themselves. It is helpful to quiet that part, but the value comes through still retaining all your senses, skills and experiences and the ability to use these in reflecting back what you notice in your client in the coaching dialogue and to help them find clarity and awareness for themselves as this is where the sustainable change can be found.
In his book, The Untethered Soul, Michael A. Singer spends a great deal of time discussing this inner voice and at one point likens it in a sense to an annoying housemate that wakes you up in the middle of the night offering their wisdom as to what you should be doing; his point being that you wouldn't necessarily listen to that person and in the same way don't necessarily give credence to what your head is telling you all the time. It's you, but at the same time it isn't you. Worth a read as I can't do it justice here.
So what was my journey? It was long and challenging, I won't sugarcoat it, but everything worth doing often is. I was committed to understanding and changing so I started at the beginning and followed my interests and advice from people and experts I met along the way. It began quite peculiarly with reading The Longevity Book by Cameron Diaz, just out of sheer curiosity. I had tried many forms of meditation before but like many people had just got fed up of trying to sit quietly hearing my head telling me all the things I could be doing instead. In her book she speaks eloquently and powerfully of the benefits she and many other A-list movie stars had found from transcendental meditation, including Hugh Jackman and Clint Eastwood, that was enough for me to want to learn more, but check out the internet, chances are that you'll find your role model, hero or heroine on the list of practitioners too. As providence had it I found an incredible teacher who had trained with Maharishi himself and I learned, practiced, and routinely followed the regime of 20 minutes twice a day and it had a profound impact. I then wanted to explore more about mindfulness and so followed my curiosity into experiencing the 8-week Mindfulness MBSR programme. Both these techniques have been demonstrated to reduce stress, anxiety and depression and many other ailments associated widely with our modern world and provide helpful tools that can be used as additional resources when times get pressurised.
Yoga was next (I went Hatha but pick your flavour), and pilates, and I gave acupuncture, kinesiology, biodynamic craniosacral therapy, and osteopathy a go which all had clear benefits for me, but I then explored grounding and centring techniques from the world of counselling and psychotherapy which led me to somatic awareness workshops, pioneered by Richard Strozzi, and to understand more about the concept of Focusing from Eugene Gendlin through which I experienced some of the most powerful techniques so far for being present, centred and grounded; the best place to be when working with coaching clients, not to mention family, friends, colleagues, and quite honestly anyone else or any situation we might interact with.
I have reflected a great deal on this journey and have tried to remember the last time my irritating inner housemate wanted to offer me an opinion, a direction, or a multipoint strategic plan and found it difficult to recall any significant time recently. I cannot say for certain that any technique has helped more than another, they have each come at particular milestones on my journey and have assimilated themselves into my day to day life so that I now hardly notice them. That's not to say the inner dialogue isn't there sometimes, but I'm now focused on other things and when he does make a brief appearance I acknowledge him but ask him to wait until a more appropriate time, or at least whilst I finish my coffee! Not quite at the level of Marshal Pentecost but its a journey I'm still traveling!