Coaches Q&A - What Do I Do With a Client Who is Fixated on Why?

signYOURQuestionsCoach's Question:

Hi Emma-Louise, I have a client who is fixated on "Why?". They get really trapped in one line of thinking and it's stopping them from moving forwards. I'm wondering if you have a relevant tool that you've created that would help them work through it?

They can be really focused which is great, but focusing on this "Why?" is hurting them and keeping them stuck. If you have anything that they can work on, that would be great.

Emma-Louise ElseyEmma-Louise's Response:

Hey - great to hear from you! So, this is a toughie. It's so easy to get caught up (and stuck in) trying to understand WHY - our brains just love to solve problems.

Of course asking, "Why?" CAN lead us to fruitful inquiry - a NON-judgemental analysis can help us learn from our mistakes and move forwards. But when we get stuck, when the reasons "Why?" are out of our reach, we need to let go and move on.

Why people get stuck asking, "Why?":

Asking, "Why?" is a great tool for us to avoid feeling our pain. Instead of acknowledging our painful thoughts and feeling our difficult emotions (rejection, I am a failure, worthless, unlovable) - we can instead jump into analysis or "fix it" mode. Why did they cheat on me/end our relationship? Why didn't I get that job? Why aren't people signing up for my  program? Why did that happen? Why didn't it go the way I expected?

And as long as we keep analysing and searching for answers,
we get to avoid experiencing the 'unpleasant' thoughts and feelings.

You asked for exercises and tools - which I will share in a moment. But before getting into exercises, I would do some gentle exploring around what they're feeling, what they're saying to themselves. And help them acknowledge what's really going on for them. What do they get to avoid looking at or feeling by asking, "Why?"

Two Great Questions for your Clients to Ask Themselves Instead:

It can be great to give the client something to do when they notice they are headed down the why spiral. So, when a client gets caught up and stuck in "Why", I give my clients two great questions to ask themselves instead:

  1. "How is this helping me move forwards?"
  2. "What do I need to do to take care of myself right now?"

7 Coaching Exercises - and Angles - to Move Forward from "Why?":

So, you asked about exercises and tools. As a next step in coaching it's great to get your clients doing something, anything, rather than being stuck in the brain loop of why? why now? why me? etc. Here are some suggestions:

  1. Boost Their Strengths: Use our coaching tool, or simply ask, "What are their Top 3 Strengths?", "How could they use these strengths to move themselves FORWARDS from this situation?" Then, identify 5 ideas for each strength and coach them to pick the best action/s to move forwards with.
  2. Build a Bridge. First, identify a goal – to run a workshop with 25 attendees, get more cashflow, work through the painful feelings - whatever it is. And now there's a bridge to cross. Your client can't see the other side YET, but what are the next 3 steps they could take to move forwards? Then from those 3 steps they will have more knowledge to move forwards from (and pick the next 3 actions).
  3. Letting Go. Identify 10 things you're holding onto that are slowing you down, draining your energy etc. THEN, CRUCIALLY, Ask: "What do you GAIN by holding onto each of these things?" (the secondary benefit!). In fact you could simply ask this question and ask them to list 5 or even 10 things they gain by holding onto this issue.
  4. Imagining a Mentor. Ask, "If you had a mentor, what would they suggest you do?"
  5. Let Go of What is Outside Your Control: I LOVE this tool. 3 circles. In the middle, what is IN your control, next – what you can influence. Finally outside the two circles – everything else. Of course the trick is to FOCUS on what is in our control. The second priority is to focus on what we can influence. And then to LET GO of the rest. After all, if we can't influence or control the issue then we really are wasting time…
  6. 5 simple Questions – What could they do less of, more of, stop doing, start doing – and stay the same?
  7. Change direction completely. Help them discover What Makes Their Heart Sing?  Help them identify what they LOVE – what makes their heart sing. In life. Get them out of the current thinking fog – and break the 'state' they are in.

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Emma-Louise Elsey Headshot

Contributing Author:

Emma-Louise Elsey has been coaching since 2003 and is the Founder of The Coaching Tools Company and Fierce She's passionate about coaching and personal development. Originally a project and relationship manager for Fortune 500 companies she combined her love of coaching, creativity and systems to create over 100 brandable coaching tools, forms and exercises including 30+ completely free coaching tools. She now serves coaches and the coaching world through her exclusive newsletter for coaches, Coaches Helping Coaches Facebook Group and many other great tools for coaches, plus resources and ideas for your coaching toolbox. The Coaching Tools Company is an official ICF Business Solutions Partner.

Learn more about Emma-Louise & see all their articles here >>

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