Does 'Walking The Walk' Mean Perfection?

21 November, 2012

I had an experience in the workplace the other day of someone saying to me - "but you're a coach, I thought you'd know that?" which caused me to ponder this. Are coaches - assisters of others - supposed to know it all and be perfect?

I have been learning a lot about Buddhism and Dharma teachings over the last year, from a couple of sources, but mainly from Tara Brach who I have found an exceptional and generous teacher. What helps me understand what she is teaching is her clinical expertise as a psychologist and someone professionally interested in the neuroscience of the brain and nervous system. She often explains the 'why' of what she's teaching with some solid brain research; she talks my language.

One clash I personally observe between common perceptions of the NLP model and Buddhism however, is the change-culture of NLP that has been created around something very human - suffering. The Four Noble Truths of Buddhism are all about the acceptance of suffering; life means suffering, the origin of suffering is attachment and therefore the path to the cessation of suffering is non-attachment (put simply). NLP has become about changing the experience of suffering into a better state, because we understand that we have a choice about how we feel.

The NLP tools and techniques, when used ethically and wisely by experienced practitioners, are incredibly dynamic and powerful for changing those patterns within us that cause unnecessary suffering; trauma and phobic responses, anxiety, the negative-explanatory style of thinking that contributes to depressive states, critical internal dialogue that talks us out of our talents and excellence, the positive influence of intentional communication and so on. I have been an NLP purist for nearly seven years now, and built an entire business out of the presuppositions and tools of NLP - I am still a customer for what it offers me, my clients, and the world.

And, what can happen for those of us that have this great brain technology and self-awareness at the forefront of our everyday lives, is a tendency towards having extra high standards for ourselves that are difficult to measure up to.

In other words, because we have aspirations for ourselves and others to operate at our best and the technology to make this happen, we can develop a set of perfectionist ideals about what we should be thinking, feeling, doing, achieving, knowing. It can become kind of like it's not OK to not be OK. If we notice ourselves suffering in some way, a sense of personal deficiency pops up - there might be a subtle beat-up pattern when we notice ourselves doing something very un-NLP like, for example: getting burned out, feeling anxious before a public speaking engagement, or beating ourselves up (and yes, this means beating yourself up for beating yourself up!).

If you are an NLP practitioner yourself, then you've had subtle experiences of this externally, as well as internally. Have you ever sat at a table of NLPers, and casually in conversation admitted to some kind of problem or limitation that you might have? Something like "I'm not very musical…" can be greeted with a round-table of "that sounds like a limiting belief, I know someone that can help you with that!'. Always with the best intentions of course, and I've been just as guilty of it. You get a sense of the assumptions being made here though, don't you? That it's a problem for the person, it needs to be changed, they'd be better off it it changed etc. And I challenge those assumptions - how do we know it's a problem?

And - how do we know it's a problem when we are personally suffering in some way? Who makes it a problem? How do we measure the problematic-ness of it? Do we always need to jump in a fix discomfort? How do we know it's not a totally appropriate experience that we are having this moment? We need to be extra careful as self-aware people that our meta-responses to ourselves and others are useful and helpful ones. And remembering of course always to 'get hired' when it comes to helping others.

In my role as a coach I believe the biggest and most useful thing I can be modelling to other people is the exact opposite of perfectionist ideals and trying to measure up to them. I absolutely want people to know that I have caused myself a huge amount of unnecessary suffering in the past, and that I have worked on myself diligently, had breakthroughs, and have enabled a sense of happiness and peace in my own life. I also, importantly, want people to know that this doesn't mean I am always happy, perfect, know everything, and don't ever suffer.

As Martin Seligman has clearly shown, life goes up and life goes down. Human suffering is part of all our lives. We can never avoid pain, loss, grief, fight-flight responses, un-helpful thoughts, or tragedies. They are a given, for all of us. It is in trying to avoid these things, rejecting them when they arrive, and beating ourselves up for experiencing them that causes the unncessary suffering. This is something we can be mindful of, and change.

Seligman has rightly taught us that it's our response to the events in our lives that make the difference, and this includes times when we suffer. We can learn to respond to ourselves in such a way that empowers us to keep bouncing back, learning, growing and accepting ourselves, unconditionally and generously, for as long as we live. Times of struggle and suffering means we are learning - and what on earth would we do with ourselves if we weren't learning, I ask you?

Listen here for Tara Brach's simple 4-step strategy in response to stress. Self-compassionate, self-accepting, and it really works!

Always love to hear what you think, do chat below, I will always chat back. Charlotte.

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