What You Don’t Know…

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From a recent article in Neuroscience News:

“The most stressful scenario is when you really don’t know. It’s the uncertainty that makes us anxious. The same is likely to apply in many familiar situations, whether it’s waiting for medical results or information on train delays.”

The article focuses on a study where subjects who were uncertain (had a 50/50 chance) of receiving a mild shock experienced more stress than those who knew they were going to be shocked (and, of course, those who knew they weren’t!) However, the experiment also showed that, at peak stress levels, subjects were better at guessing whether or not they would receive a shock.

When coaches work with clients to set goals and make plans for new behaviors, there are often many uncertainties at play.

First, we want to acknowledge the uncertainty with empathy. Noticing and naming the feelings that can arise when looking into the unknown can help tame the frenzy caused by any negative feelings. Allow the client to acknowledge their presence, rather than ignoring, or stepping over, them.  They are often indicators of important information that can contribute to safety.

Next, create the circumstances for certainty. Build plans that are deeply rooted in the clients strengths, motivations and past successes. Don’t stop at setting goals – build the scaffolding around the goals that will contribute to success. Ask about what habits, structures, and supports systems they need to achieve the plan.

And, lastly, honor the contribution of the client’s instincts and sense of confidence. The study tells us that, in times of uncertainty, we are built to sense danger. Honoring the client’s autonomy, let them be the guide in deciding which path to take on their own journey to behavior change.

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