Interview with Psychotherapist and Coach John Perry
Updated: Apr 11, 2021
John was my teacher at Barefoot Coaching and he is one of the main inspirations behind the work that I do. He is unique in his approach to Stress and Self-Worth. What I love about John is that he is a Therapist as well as a Coach, a Jack of all trades as he describes himself. He is also a teacher, speaker, and hypnotherapist. He has a true gift for teaching the concepts that are dear to him, and I wanted to share them with you. Hopefully, you will enjoy this interview as well as learn from it.
In the interview we spoke about:
The main differences between Therapy and Coaching (03:00)
How sometimes Coaching is more ethical than therapy in the contracting vs the never ending introspection that we are sometimes trapped in when we start therapy (09:00)
Why we keep chasing for the extraordinary moments in the future rather than just enjoying the present, and how focus should be on self-worth rather than on chasing impossible goals. Would you pass the shower test? How can you be more like a Zebra? (13:20)
Whether the past matters, and whether we can redefine it or give it another meaning. And what the term ‘HID’ means (history, identity, destiny) (17:00)
What it means to search for meaning as an individual and how we tend to define ourselves by what we do. Is it OK to be envious? We use Frankl and his teachings (24:30)
The difference between pleasure and happiness (30:00)
The work on Values and how coaches forget to sometimes spend time on defining them properly because they are too goal focused (32:07)
John’s view on Confidence (38:20)
Audio Version Only:
I would love to hear about your own journey and experience. Have you been coached before? Have you been in therapy? Have you done both? What was your experience?
Connect with John Perry on Linkedn
Transcript: Interview with Psychotherapist and Coach John Perry
T: Hi, John, thank you for spending this time with me today.
J: Hi Tania, my pleasure, good to see you.
T: Good to see you. So, here's something funny, right? We usually do these interviews on Instagram, but you're not on Instagram and even though you're not an Instagram, I'm sure that this video and this interview, well, the voice interview is going to be one of the most interesting ones I would have done. So, I was telling you today before we started, I feel a little bit of positive stress chatting with you today. I'm a confidence and courage coach. But I have to say that I prepared for this interview a lot. So it doesn't mean that even if you prepare you know the stress goes away as you know. And when I when I recall the first time that you came teaching at Barefoot Coaching (https://www.barefootcoaching.co.uk) because that's how I got to know you as my teacher at Barefoot coaching school. Do you remember the first exercise icebreaker you made us do?
J: I believe it was Claim to Fame.
T: Yes – So what is your Claim to Fame John?
J: So, I think one of the interesting claims is: I once had a mixed martial arts fight dedicated to me, which I feel slightly in two minds about. It was somebody that I worked with, through a charity that I do some work with, PTSD resolution. And he was a soldier who struggled a lot with combat stress and various other problems. But in the end decided to - because the one thing he was really good at was fighting - decided to see if he could make a career out of being mixed martial artist. So cage fighter effectively. And I was on a train to London. And I got a text. And it said, I just knocked my opponent out in my first fight. And I've dedicated it to you. So I kind of texted back saying, well, thanks. But how is he? And he said it's fine. We're having a drink at the bar. So, that's an interesting one. Because obviously, I was kind of in two minds about it.
J: Concerned that his opponent was okay. But it seems that they were, and so how is that for a claim to fame?
T: Yes, it has many streams to it indeed! So here we are today, and the main theme today is the differences between therapy and coaching. But not only this, I wanted this interview to kind of gather a few of the ideas that you've taught us in school. So, the way I wanted to start was by asking you, as we know that you're both a psychotherapist and a coach, as well as a hypnotherapist, and I have used both coaching and therapy. And I find it at times difficult to define the difference between the two and, and there's this grey area, that we might use therapy in coaching and we might use coaching in therapy, etc. They're very intertwined and complimentary.
I do see a lot of results, better results with my clients who are in therapy somehow because they're doing this introspection work. So, I'd like to get your take on this grey area on it. And as you're both a Coach and a therapist, get your insight.
J: Thank you, so I think the distinction between the two has become increasingly blurred. And I think initially when coaching was seeking to establish itself as a new profession, which was really around the turn of the century, coaches and the professional coaching was very focused on saying we're not therapy, we're very different to therapy. And in part, that was, I think, for all sorts of professionalisation reasons that they wanted you to establish themselves as separate as new and also it to do with being able to charge typically much more than therapists charge. So, I think the distinction initially, was very artificial, and was for all sorts of professionalisation reasons, but increasingly, it's been recognised that if you were to watch a lot of professionals, whether therapists or coaches working, you wouldn't necessarily know what they were doing, whether what they would do was therapy or coaching, particularly because in the therapy world, a lot of therapy has become solution focused. And it's recognised that although it's important that people with a story to tell are allowed to tell it, the therapy doesn't end with the telling the story, the therapy continues into actually having heard this now what, what next?
And you've probably heard me talk before about the metaphor of the windscreen and the rear-view mirror. And I think it's quite a useful one. And that a lot of coaching traditionally focuses on a view to the windscreen. So where are you heading to? What's the destination that you've typed into your metaphorical Sat Nav? Or where are you heading? And how can I help you get there? And a lot of therapy traditionally is focused on the rear-view mirror, which is how did you get to where you are. But increasingly, therapists and coaches recognise the value of both perspectives. I think if coaches don't allow any rear-view mirror perspective, then there is a very real risk that people keep repeating the same old, wrong turns and dead ends and roadblocks and they haven't necessarily learned from the journey that they've taken so far. But equally, if a lot of therapists obsess about the views of the rear-view mirror, then actually they can keep people trapped and unable to move forwards. Because before we can move forwards, we do have to re orientate our view to the views of the windscreen. So, for me, that's quite a useful way of thinking about it. And I think most coaches will accept that now and will allow some rear view mirror gazing. So people with a story to tell are allowed to tell it. And increasingly therapists are recognising the importance of re orientating people to the future.
T: And that car analogy, you mentioned it as well in the podcast that you were a guest of Kim Morgan, Dancing in the Moment. I loved how you explained it there as well, it's very useful to just very simply say, because coaching is a is a way of transportation in some way, right?
T: As a coach, how from the car, you know, you can decide to just look forward. But it might not just be useful to look forward, you might stumble across some obstacles that you hadn't seen, and you've got to look everywhere, to get ready to take the next turn or direction.
J: Absolutely. And I do really like the driving metaphor, and I think it’s a common metaphor for life - life is a journey. And then if you work with that metaphor, whether you call what you're doing, coahcing, teaching or therapy, you can actually have really helpful conversations just sticking within the metaphor of Do you sometimes feel that you're low on petrol? Do you sometimes feel that you are driving without a map? With no direction of travel? Do you feel that you're going round and round a roundabout with no idea where to get off? And actually, every single exit looks a bit scary, so you're staying on the roundabout? Do you sometimes feel that you're struggling uphill, bringing a heavy weight, and you're not sure you're gonna be able to make it to the top of the hill? Are you sometimes free wheeling or heading for a crash? So, there's lots of stuff you can do with that metaphor. And I think that's very helpful.
T: And we’re going to talk more about that, because I think this metaphor is so powerful. There is something that bothers me though, having used both therapy and coaching over the years, but most commonly I’ve used a therapist throughout my childhood, and then as a teenager, and then as an adult, it did feel a time that I would remain kind of stuck in an introspection loop. And, it was very difficult to have conversations with my therapist on where is this actually going? And when do you think that I might not need you anymore? And, and it might be weakness on my side, but it did, the relationship became almost addictive. And it's not just with one therapist, it is with other therapies that it's kind of, I'm not sure if it's necessarily addiction. And I'd like to hear your thoughts around that, rather than saying it.
J: Yeah, I do have some quite strong, quite firm views on this, actually, I think in many ways, coaching is more ethical in the way that it establishes contracts and clear endings. And one of the things that I always say, whether I'm working in coaching or therapy is, you know, my intention is to get quite close to you, and to get to understand you, but my intention is to make myself redundant as quickly as possible. And that's my honest intention. And if I do a really good job, if we work together really well, you'll never need to see me again. And that's fantastic. So it's not friendships, and in friendship, you know, you get very close to people. And if you get really close, there's a view that this could go on forever, and wouldn’t that be excellent. But in coaching and therapy, it's really important. The therapist or the coach has the explicit intention of making themselves redundant as soon as possible.
And there's a few things I'd say about that as well, I think what you described is quite unethical. And unfortunately, a lot of therapists do either implicitly or explicitly give some profoundly unhelpful messages very early on in their relationship with a client along the lines of “change is difficult”. And it actually typically doesn't have to be. “Change takes a long time”, again, typically doesn't have to, and “change is very painful”. Again, typically, it doesn't have to be. Those are profoundly unhelpful messages that many therapists actually set out in their first engagement with a client, this is going to be a long engagement, “it's going to be painful, it's going to be difficult. It could take years”. And by the way, my fees are £150 an hour. Well, for me, that's really quite an unethical way of working and you wouldn't employ anybody else on that basis. You know, you wouldn't, if you were employing a decorator to come out, you wouldn't have them sort of look around your house and say, “Oh, this could take years.” And actually, it's a curious way of employing people.
I think, one of the issues and it's particularly true of more psychodynamic approaches, you know, those informed by psychoanalysis, particularly the view that you have to endlessly introspect, and the evidence is very clear, actually, that endless introspection without an end in sight deepens depression, because if you keep revisiting old hurts you are keeping them alive, you're adding energy to those painful memories. And the body then starts responding as if those hurts are real, contemporary and happening right now. So a certain amount of introspection is very helpful so that we can learn from the past. But endless introspection without an end in site, the evidence is very, very clear, that it actually deepens depression, and really needs to be avoided.
Again, if we think back to the driving analogy, there is a lot of evidence that people who are prone to generating a lot of low mood, tend to spend a lot of time in the past, looking at the rear-view mirror and revisiting old grievances revisiting old wounds, old hurts, which, if you keep doing that, you're going to of course, lock yourself into a low mood, because that's bad stuff that you keep revisiting.
People who are more prone to generating anxiety and a lot of fear, tend to spend too much time worrying about a future, which isn't actually happening right now.
But because they're worrying about a future what might happen next week, next month, next year, their body starts responding as if they act as if those things are actually happening right now. And so the antidote to both of those is to keep bringing yourself back to the present moment. And to remind yourself, it's called the present for a reason, because it's a gift. And actually, we need to recognise that obsessing about the past and obsessively worrying about the future, both of those generate a lot of negative mood states.
T: I would say it’s the disease of the 21st Century… What is it about us that we keep chasing for, you know, the extraordinary moments and the incredible outcomes, and we don't know how to actually stop and enjoy the moments and finding joy and we need training, to understand and pose and find joy? As a mother, I need training to be able to actually last the whole day and enjoy motherhood. By understanding that, you know, you have to accept that it's in the moment and not, you know, in the globality, how come we need more of that now?
J: A couple of things I'd say: One is a lot of coaches I think, are very guilty of perpetuating the myth that they have the skills and talents to help their clients become the best possible version of themselves. And it's a profoundly unhelpful thing to be saying, because it implies that there's something wrong with them as they are, which is a profoundly unhelpful message to give someone “You're not okay, now. But in some mythical point in the future you will be.” But also, this whole notion that a coach could help someone to complete the process of self actualization is a mythology. It's just not true. None of us are totally self actualized.
You know, however much you achieve in your life, however happy or contented or satisfied you become, there's always more, you know, it might be that you achieve every goal you set out to but actually there was still talents, of course that you had that you never actualized. So I think coaches need to be a lot more modest and talk about having the skills to perhaps help people to progress further along the road towards a constructive accomplishment of their innate potential, but recognise, you're never going to get there. And actually, if you do, what would you do next? Imagine if you reached all of your potential in your early 30s or so what would you do next? It would be tragic. So actually, we need to stop talking about this optimised self as if it was something that was real and coaches can help create, because actually, that would be some kind of Frankenstein's monster. And you know, it wouldn't end well.
The other part of my answer is there's a great book on this, and it's called ‘Why zebras don't get ulcers’. And the idea of the book is actually zebras don't get ulcers, even though they're preyed upon by big cats and lions and hyenas, particularly; the idea is if you're a zebra in a field, and you're enjoying the taste of fresh, juicy grass, maybe last week, your best mate was eaten alive by a lion, and you saw it. But, there's no lions around right now. So I'm going to just enjoy this fresh, juicy grass. And maybe next week, you're going to be eaten alive by a lion. Who knows? None of us know for sure what the future holds. But right now, there are no lions around, I'm just going to enjoy this fresh, juicy grass. So the zebras don't get ulcers, even though they face very real threats from predators like we used to as a species. And it's because they live in a present moment.
So often mindfulness, psychologists refer to this as a shower test. You know, when you're in the shower in the morning, are you just in the shower, enjoying the sensation of the soap plus the wonderful smells and fragrances, the warm water on your skin? Or are you in the shower, still going over all that bad stuff that happened yesterday, and how you're going to get even, or worrying about the stuff you're going to have to do as soon as you get out of the shower. And if so, that shower isn't going to revitalise you at all. So what you need to do is to give ourselves permission to pass the shower test, to be in a shower and just be enjoying that moment. And to do that throughout the day.
T: And that takes practice, for everybody…
J: I think it takes practice but it also takes a commitment, that actually involves giving yourself permission, I think that's a big thing. Give yourself permission to just be in the shower, and then give yourself permission to just read that book because you want to read it. Not because it's related to your job or your course or anything else. And give yourself permission to go out for a walk not because it's good for your health or any other reason. But just because you feel like doing it, you don't need to come up with a reason.
T: Yeah, and there's so much resources now that we can use. For instance, there is this journal that I bought, it’s a monk journal or something and it has every day, you add things on the journal, for instance, things that you've been grateful about during the day and where you're going to improve the next day. So you have some tracking record of how you're going to improve in being more present. If it's with the children or going out for a walk without like you were talking about AWE walks in the podcast as well. Where you don't need just focus on being present in the moment of watching the sunset and not listening to music or podcasts just taking in the beautiful sounds of London, or the countryside, but just taking it and being in the moment. And so yes, you started by talking a lot on the difference of how maybe coaching focuses on developing the self esteem side of things that you spoke about in the past as well. Versus maybe they should focus on working on self worth and just acceptance, and accepting ourselves the way we are. And yes, we can want to improve things and, and just, you know, just accepting ourselves and being present.
And there's one sentence from one of the author that you refer to William Glasser, that reminds me of also one of the founders of psychology, Alfred Adler, School of Psychology, Adler, that “the past is never the problem.” And very often it's how much we focus on the past that is the problem, how much we focus on the negative events that is the problem. But the solution is that actually, and I don't know if you agree with that, the solution is actually what are you doing with your past? Because, depending on what you do with your past, then you can redefine it. And so I wanted to hear your take on that.
J: Yes, absolutely. And it's really important that one of the big shifts in therapy is away from the idea of post traumatic stress, and towards the idea of post traumatic growth. Which, as a result of these challenges I faced in the past, as a result of these experiences that were profoundly frightening, traumatic, scary, challenging: How have I become a better person? Not how have I survived, but how have I actually improved? How have I grown? How have I become more? And what resources have I developed because I went through that.
It's rather like, it's quite similar, if you like, to some of the arguments that have been made by the supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement, which is going from a notion of victimhood to survivor, which is a big step. So, to be a victim of Racism actually defines you as a victim. But to be a survivor of Racism defines you as a survivor, but better still to be a Victor, to be someone who has triumphed over the fact that they received prejudice. So the first step is a very important step, is from victim to survivor. But the next step, which is just as important is from survivor to victor. And I have to say, I can't remember the guy’s name, but there was a great black civil rights advocate who wrote an autobiography, and he simply called his autobiography, the ‘N’ word, but he spelt it out in full. And when he was challenged about why would you call an autobiography, this abusive term? He says, “Well, from now on, every time a racist uses that word, they're helping sell my book.” And that's a Victor position, which is saying, actually, I'm going to try and vote with this. And every time someone tries to put me down by using that word, it's free publicity for my book. And I really, really admire that.
T: Agree, agree. And it's not knowing necessarily what destinations it's going to take, like, it doesn't have to be a concrete destination, when we talk about anti-racism as well. But it's, going somewhere and taking the steps as well. It doesn't have to look in a certain way. It just has to proceed. And, and we have to take action. I don’t know if that’s what you were saying?
J: Yeah, I mean, I think two things really, one is, one of the phrases I quote from Carl Rogers, I really like is that “when I accept myself as I am, then I can change”. So, focusing on acceptance and self worth doesn't mean that you become smug and self-satisfied, and you just sit around in your pants watching Netflix all day. It's when you recognise that you already have innate worth and value, then, of course, you want to set off on this journey of self-improvement. But it starts with accepting yourself where you are. And I sometimes refer to the rather corny old joke about a guy who asks a drunk for directions. And the drunk says, Well, I wouldn't start from here. Well, actually, of course, ‘here’ was the only place you can ever start from - you can only start from where you are.
J: And we can obsess about how we got to where we are. And I think some therapists are very guilty about that. Let's just obsess about the journey you've taken so far. Or, we can think about where we want to get to. Now, again, that's another way of thinking about it. I think some coaches say, well, let's just focus on where you want to get to, but they kind of ignore the journey. And the journey is a big, important part of that person.
And it's rather like, I think I spoke to Kim about the acronym HID here, which is we carry a H history which informs our I identity, which informs our D destiny. And it's worth having those three aspects, the history is the road with travel, the identities, how we now see ourselves, but the destiny is actually the direction of travel that we're going to choose.
T: And there's another author I wanted to mention that you taught us about, during the course, and also with the reading, and that is Frankl. And there's one sentence in Doctor and the Soul that I wanted to read, because I find, so, to give a little bit of background on Frankl, his school of therapy is logotherapy. And it's the meaning that humans are in this world, and they do what they do, and they have a meaning. And there's this sentence that he writes in Doctor and the Soul which says, “instead of possibilities, I have realities in my past, not only the reality of work done, and of love loved, but of suffering suffered, these are the things of which I am most proud, though these are the things which cannot inspire envy”.
And I find this sentence so, so powerful because we as individuals tend to want to define ourselves, by our profession or by the fact that we are, you know, parents, that we forget why we do what we're doing and what is it that really truly gives us meaning. And just to talk about having become a coach without knowing about the sentence and it's kind of this idea that you may have envy of others, etc. But as long as you're true to your meaning and your purpose, you need less evidence of your success, first of all. And second of all, you are less afraid to grow old, because whatever you're doing is in conformity with the meaning of life. So, when a client comes to me and says, “I feel guilty, because I want more, or “I feel guilty, because I'm not happy”. There's always so much guilt. And I sometimes find that this guilt, comes from the fact that they're not in line with their true purpose in life, and that's an author you were talking about from day one that we had you as a teacher at Barefoot.
J: There is so much I'd say in response to that really, one is, I've never been happy with the commandment in the 10 commandments about covetousness, that you shouldn't covet or envy what your neighbour has. And I think it's because it just it strikes me that it's profoundly unhelpful to think that if someone's desperately poor or homeless, that they shouldn't be envious of people who've got a mansion and a swimming pool. Because actually, maybe they should, or maybe they should think that's unfair. And maybe actually, it is unfair. And I think you can kind of see why people in power, might want to say, ‘but that's a sin’ for very poor people, very disadvantaged or discriminated against people to want what more affluent people have. I'm not sure that is a sin. I think that's quite ordinary. And also, I don't think there's anything wrong with that at all. I think a fairer society is something which, which we should all be actually aiming for. And to say that actually, people who want what they haven't got are somehow guilty of a sin. I just think that well maybe they are just kind of victims of a very unfair society.
So that's one thing I'd say. I mean, the other thing about Frankl, I mean, Frankl was very clear that people become depressed and or suicidal, not because they're suffering, but because they're suffering and have no reason to bear their suffering. So it's not suffering that creates misery and despair, it's suffering without a clear reason for bearing it. And that's why he focuses so much on helping people find their reason, which is so important, not so much when things are going well, but when they're not, that's when we need to find out a reason for bearing our suffering. And it was traditionally faith which will provide that, but as we become a more secular society, it's much more of a challenge to find that reason.
Frankl fortunately gives us three particular potential routes. One is by actualizing, what equals 1 - creative values, doing worthwhile work, another by actualizing 2- experiential values. So opening up to the wonders of nature, and the beauty of a sunset and the sunrise and all of that stuff, being fully present in the moment. But then when even those two are not available to us, we can actualize 3- attitudinal values by choosing our attitude to the situation we're in. And in his more famous work, Man's Search for Meaning, he talked a lot when he was in Auschwitz, about setting himself the challenge of proving himself worthy of his suffering, which is an incredible statement, if you think about it actually. He saw his suffering, and he's very near starvation as a test, as a challenge. And he had to measure himself by how well he stood up to that challenge. So, it's sometimes referred to his approach as a ‘summoning approach’, you are summoned by the challenges life throws at you, to see them as a challenge. And if you are a person of faith to see your God as a taskmaster, and your task master sets your challenges, and they are for you to measure yourself up against in terms of how you rise to those challenges. So, it's not an easy approach. It's a hugely demanding and summoning approach, but one that I think's got a lot to recommend it.
T: Yes, and that was his task, and everyone's task is different, right? And that's what you've been telling us by the mosaic analogy, that we are all different, we have all have our uniqueness, but together we make sense in some way.
And I want to finish the topics on our needs on human needs, we are a species and we all have different needs. And sometimes, you know, we're very quick into saying and to comparing ourselves to others, and thinking that we might have the same need as that other person, and that cannot distract us from what we really, really, truly want. And I see that with clients, because someone is doing that they want to do the same thing. And then they are happy when they get to the goal. Like you were saying, they want more and more and more and not enjoying the moment. So, I just want to pause here a little bit on the three words: meaning, value, and joy. And I know it's not a small topic, but I remember I asked you ‘So, does running a marathon give you joy?’ And I remember you said, ‘No, it gave me value, or something, or gave your son value. Was it your son running the marathon? Is that what you said?
J: If I remember correctly, but you may remember better than me… for me, it's a distinction between pleasure and happiness. So pleasure: pleasure is very short term. So people can get a short burst of pleasure, a pleasure by buying something even though they don't need it, buying that new electrical device, that new pair of shoes, or that new shirt, or that new CD, whatever it is, you're going to get a short endorphin release, because you just bought something, triggers your hunter/gatherer kind of programmes, and you think, yep, I've just captured this new shirt. But it's extremely short lived. And the problem is, a lot of people seek that pleasure.
Happiness is for a long term. So my guess is there's not too much pleasure involved in running a marathon. It's not something I've ever done, to be honest. And I'm sure it's quite painful. And people talk about hitting the wall and having to go through it. And so, but I think in the longer term, it promotes happiness. And I think that's true of a lot of challenges in life, I think it's an error to pursue pleasure in kind of short-term fixes. Which is essentially what the problem drinker does, what the drug taker does, what the person who finds it impossible to commit to any one relationship does. It’s they are earnestly seeking for that next burst of pleasure, but end up thoroughly unhappy very often. And those things, whether it's kind of compulsive, new sexual relationships, or drinking or drug taking action. Over time, they take a lot more than they give. They don't give happiness, happiness is for the long term. And it is about actually doing stuff that's purposeful and meaningful, and in line with your values.
T: And to go back to coaching: coaching helps you define those values and understanding the different choices that you have in your life.
J: I think it does, if it's done well. A lot of coaching, I think isn't done so well. Because by being goal focused, sometimes coaches are guilty of overlooking values altogether. And for me, I think it's really important to explore values before you even get into the whole idea of goals. Because what if the goals are actually not in line with a person’s values? What if they achieve them, they won't be happy. And so actually, I think values exploration should come first, ideally, and then goals are selected, which are actually in line with that person. Otherwise, it's a missing piece of the jigsaw, which is quite a fundamental piece.
T: Yeah. I so relate to that. And it is difficult at times to kind of explain to the client that, you know, there might be more than a session, because goal setting is not just done over a session, because there's all these values and vision, also understanding the vision of where you want to be even in a fixed amount of time, 5-10 years time, and then working from there, and filling that gap of where you are today and where you want to be in the future.
J: And there are some really quite straightforward ways of doing values exploration. I mean you can just provide a list of values and ask them to put them in rank order, then that's a big time efficient way of doing it. And there are a number of those lists are available in a public domain. There's also a great exercise called the ‘values sought cards exercise’, which is again, in the public domain, if you just Google it, you can download the resource as a PDF. And there are three headings cards, which are ‘very important to me’, ‘important to me’, and ‘not important to me’. So you print out your headings cards, and then you print out all the values and you cut them up and you align them in those three columns, values that are not important, values that are important, and those that are very important. And the suggestion is you then just throw away all the important and not important ones. And you just focus on the very important ones, because these are the ones that going to promote happiness actually. And then you make sure that whatever goals you set are in line with the values you have identified as very important ones, it’s really good. It's a really good exercise to do, and it's very time efficient.
In fact, people can do it between sessions, I often set it as a between sessions exercise, that again, for me, it's quite unethical to think that change only takes place in the therapy room or the coaching room. And actually it should be taking place outside. You know, you should be making yourself self-redundant as soon as you can. And that means maximise the opportunities for change. So set those kind of exercises in between sessions.
There's also a really nice question I like to ask people, which is simply ‘If someone was to observe you for 24 hours/a week/a month, what would they assume your values were?
Because it’s not enough just to claim a value, you have to put it into practice, you have to operate, you know, operationalize it. And if the answer isn't what they would hold to be very important, then they're not actually living in line with their values. But of course, it's this that indicates that actually some change might be required, which is kind of the point.
T: So asking people around them, close to them, that question?
J: No, just as a thought experiment, if someone were to observe you, for a week or a month, what would they assume your key values were? Because values aren't just things you claim, they are actually things you live. It's a little bit like that exercise, you know the one where you kind of, again as a thought experiment, you imagine you're sitting on top of a double decker bus and you're just minding your own business looking out the window, and you suddenly become aware that you notice all the cars parked in the carpark of a place of worship, and it could be a church, a mosque, a synagogue, a chapel, a temple, and you're curious, you recognise these as belonging to your friends, family colleagues. And so you skip down the steps of the bus very quickly, you go into this place of worship, but now you're really a bit freaked out because you realise that you just walked into your own memorial service. And indeed, that place is full of your friends, colleagues, family, and then people stand up to talk about you. And your boss stands up to talk. And each time you ask yourself the question, so what do I hope they'll say? What do I fear they might say? And how important is it to me what they say? And then your close colleagues, your friends stand up and again, same question, what do you hope they'll say, what do you fear they might say? How important is it to you what they say? And then your partner, if you have one, your children, if you have them, same question, what do you hope they'll say? What do you fear they might say? How important is it to you what they might say?
And if you do that question, it's so it really brings people up short in terms of values very often, because what they often find is the bus that they've been working flat out 18 hour days to try and impress and please, when they stand up, they're not even bothered about them being there. They don't give two hoots what they say. But when the children stand up and say, “Well, I don't feel ever really got to know him”. That cuts into the core. And of course, then you're able to say, “Well, we've fortunately got between now and your memorial service to make sure your children say something completely different”.
T: It’s easier even than thinking “ok, what do you want in 10 or 20 years time?”, this truly makes you think in this extreme way.
J: I do like those kinds of exercises, because they just tend to get people to reflect and particularly if people are just prioritising stuff that isn't making them happy. You know, sometimes, you know, where people are just prioritising earning money over actually living a life that they enjoy or get happiness from, you know, it's worth just reminding them, you don't see too many hearses with luggage racks. Yeah, ultimately, you leave it all behind.
T: I love that very much, and I love any visualisation exercise, I find them so powerful with clients that are ready to play along and just going with it. I wanted to ask you about confidence. We've never spoken about that before. But I'm a confidence coach, more because you know, niching down is kind of a need in coaching with this very crowded profession out there. But, I graduated as executive coach, and I just found that the challenges that starting entrepreneurs are facing are mostly around taking the next step, courage, and facing fears and doing things anyway. Do you have anything to say around the concept of confidence?
J: A couple of things I'd say really, one is I think confidence comes largely from establishing a secure sense of self-worth and giving, giving up, that quest for more and more self-esteem, which I know we talked about before. And I've talked about it with other people, that if you absolutely embrace the philosophy that you are fine, absolutely fine when you wake up in the morning, and you're absolutely fine when you go to bed at night. And nothing that happens between those two points can possibly touch that, then it means that actually you don't ever put your self-worth on the line. And that gives you a huge amount of confidence.
So simple example right now: You and I are talking and of course I want to say stuff that people might be interested in hearing. I want to be competent, if you like or come across as competent. But even if I don't, even if people think I've had enough of this, I'm going to turn it off, and you decide not to broadcast it. That's fine, because I will be okay when I go to bed tonight.
So it kind of gives me the confidence to think actually this is a low stakes event, because my self-worth is not touched by anything that can possibly happen.
It allows me as a quiet person to talk at conferences in front of 100s of people, because if they all get up and leave, well that’s ok because I will still be ok when I go to bed.
The other thing I would say though is that, and it links a little bit to courage - Courage is not the absence of fear, courage is doing the right thing even with the presence of fear. And that again comes from values. So, if I give you an example, I was asked some years ago to give a talk at a conference, and it was a fundraiser for people with motor neurone disease, and many of the people in the audience had this Terminal disease, and I was told in advance that many of them were going to be in their latest stages. Their future was hugely compromised… I was asked to talk about positive psychology, and how it might be helpful for this audience… And my first thought was; WOW, what a challenging thing I was asked to do… I am not sure I can do that, how can I - someone who is fortunately fit and healthy - how can I address these people and say “come on, chin up, be positive” given what they were facing, the challenges they were facing. And so my first thought was, maybe I will just make an excuse up and pretend I am busy, but then I thought no, because that is not in line with my values. And actually, if people think that this might be helpful then I will do it.
I felt that apprehension, but I had the courage to do it, because that was the right thing to do. So, to be confident and to have courage doesn’t mean that you don’t have apprehension but you do the right thing even in the face of that.
T: Exactly, bearing in mind that you have those values, values of doing the right thing, and doing the things you love, that you know will be the right thing, this passion or love for the job that you do, so you need less evidence and it gives you more courage.
J: Absolutely, and it’s interesting because when I talk, and I’ve done a lot of work for this charity I mentioned, PTSD resolution – soldiers of combat stress - they were given the same definition of courage in the battle field when they were facing fire, they were of course scared, but they would do the right thing even though they’re scared. And actually to not be scared in those conditions that would be crazy, that would be madness.
T: Yeah, that’s another topic that you mentioned, that the zebras don’t get ulcers, but that also that we need fear, as much as we need anger, again this topic of accepting ourselves, who do we want in the scene, another topic that you taught us in school right, the cast of characters.
J: Yes, the cast of characters - you never want to push Mr Anxious off the stage, because actually, they are there for a reason and that reason is to let you know when you are threatened. But you want to encourage them away from the spotlight but you certainly never want to be driven in a car by someone with no anxiety. That would be terrifying!
T: Yes, another car analogy, and it’s a great way to end this conversation, because we can talk for so long – but I want to ask you a question: are you thinking of writing a book or starting a podcast?
J: I’m going to say no for now, but who knows! And it is no for now, not ‘no’. One of the things I have a habit of doing is if someone asks me if I do something, I tend to reply with no. So, if someone says ‘do you play the piano?’ I say ‘not yet’, cos I don’t, I can’t, but who knows – in the future, maybe. So in terms of writing a book, doing my own podcasts – not yet, but maybe.
T: Ok, when I get a no, I try to rephrase it and not yet as well, but it’s not always easy right?
Thank you so much for your time today.
J: Goodbye, and thank you so much, it’s been a real pleasure.
T: Thank you!