A part of my job as a psychologist is to teach people to coach themselves. In order to teach something, I need to figure out how to do it myself—so I can give advice that is reasonably helpful. While I try to take a less-is-more approach when it comes to advice, there are still times when clients have questions for which they want answers—or at least sincere attempts. It is generally not enough to only be a nice person in a professional relationship. People are usually seeking more than niceness. In my work, people are often interested in learning how to be nice to themselves.
I once who had a colleague who concluded, “If you need help remembering how you were treated as a child then just look at how you’re treating yourself.” There might be an element of truth to his conclusion, but it is not the whole truth. There are people who are hard on themselves who did not have parents who were hard on them. We are not simply the product of our upbringing. We come into the world with a certain temperament just as dogs do. There are dog that are naturally more shy and they can still be great pets—just as shy people can be great friends or great anything.
Whether you are shy or outgoing isn’t the critical variable in whether you have a meaningful life. It is more your attitude about yourself and your particular set of challenges. When it comes to self-coaching, you have the freedom to be any kind of coach that you want. You don’t have to repeat the mistakes of uninspiring coaches from years past. You can be patient. You can be encouraging. You can go through hard times without being hard on yourself.
Needless to say, this pandemic involves enough adversity that none of us need to add to it. We need to find ways to lighten our own loads and forgive ourselves for any load-bearing strains we might be experiencing. This is not a time to be rigid or unforgiving. If you make a mistake, do your best to learn from it, let go, and move on. If you hurt someone’s feelings as a result of your mistake, apologize sincerely and be mindful not to make the same mistake again.
I once had a coach who continuously encouraged our team to be mindful of what we were doing well and also what we were not doing so well. He seemed equally interested in both subjects. He liked winning, but he was not afraid of losing and helped me to be less afraid. He helped me learn to process disappointment without being disappointed in myself. He would often say, “Sports breaks your heart, but the good news is that heart heals.”
From my personal and professional experience, the heart heals under healing conditions, but it does not heal under intolerant conditions. There are people carrying around very old wounds that time did not heal. This is not necessarily time’s fault—nor is it the fault of the people who might be wounded. We all give our best effort under the circumstances—both inner and outer—and yet our best effort doesn’t always yield the desired result.
I wouldn’t blame yourself for struggling during this pandemic. The last thing you ever want be is a coach who gets down on yourself for being down. It takes great compassion to be by your own side during scary times—so you can then be by the side of others. We have been traveling for many months in a long, dark, tunnel, but there is light at the end of it. There is light in you. Peace, love, and strength are different words for this light. In my work as a psychologist, I often help people find in themselves what has been there all along.