I checked my WhatsApp today, and found that somebody had left me an audio message. It was from one of my coaching clients, who has been working on a particular set of challenges that have hindered him for most of his life. When I listened to the message, I hardly recognized his voice or his language. It was like a completely different person. There was a depth to the way he was speaking: a sobriety, a calm. He was not claiming in his message to have solved all his problems, or to be in any kind of state of mastery or transcendence. Instead, I heard humility in his voice… self-reflection and a willingness to take full responsibility for his experience.
I usually work with coaching clients steadily for anything from six months to a year. Every now and then I get a call like this. It is as though that person has suddenly emotionally matured decades in a week.
This is what everybody says they want: to have a breakthrough, a big shift, to somehow be magically reborn. Many people go to high energy (and often very expensive) seminars to try and have a breakthrough like this. Many people seek out powerful and charismatic teachers, hoping that a breakthrough will come by osmosis or from transmission; but also many people walk away disappointed.
When this particular flavor of dramatic change comes in a coaching relationship, I have noticed that it is almost always permanent. There is rarely any backpedaling, in the way that there can be after a weekend seminar or contact with a charismatic teacher. Once the shift happens, there is no going back, any more than you could not go back from finding something that you had lost. Once it is found, it is found. You cannot un-find it again.
What precipitated the shift in my coaching client is no big mystery. It all comes down to regular, steady, repeated, daily practice. What do I mean by practice? It means regularly repeating some kind of intervention, which changes your state of consciousness, which changes the way you see yourself and the world. Meditation is a practice. Qigong is a practice. Consciously and deliberately expressing appreciation is a practice. Setting five goals in the morning and completing them by the evening — no matter what — is a practice. Apologizing for mistakes is a practice.
When people commit to a coaching relationship with me, I often begin with clarifying the misunderstanding that I am going to be able to do something for them, like going to a hypnotist or going to a dentist. I cannot magically fix someone else’s life, but even if I could, I would not want to, because it would rob them of the autonomy and creativity that makes life rich. The most important role I fulfill as a coach is to help someone find just the right set of practices, which can shift them from where they are — where they feel stuck — to where they intuitively know they could be.
My client who left a WhatsApp message today, the one who who sounded so different, so steady, so mature, so humble and yet authoritative, has been practicing, day after day, for months now. In the beginning it was hard: ten minutes of sitting seemed a lot. But we built it up. He has been practicing deep listening with his partner. He has been practicing honesty. He has been practicing staying in his body. It has not been an easy journey at all. Instinctively, we do not want to practice. Some gremlin who lives in the basement of the psyche intuitively knows that regular daily practice will sooner or later dismantle the complex web of the personality, held in place only by lack of awareness. Practice restores consciousness to habits that were otherwise unconscious. Once that accumulates, day after day after day, sooner or later the whole edifice comes crumbling down.
I seriously doubt, after his message today that my coaching client will go back to his old ways. It never happens that way. I also know that, as he moves forward with this confidence and sobriety, he will realize that Arjuna Ardagh played a very peripheral role in the process. I was no more than a cheerleader, standing on the sidelines, encouraging him onward. It was his own diligence and practice that he has to be grateful for. Which means that it was him, and not me, who is responsible for a new life.