Big Power Small Tweaks

November 2018 Coaching Report

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November 2018 Coaching Report
Big Power Small Tweaks

The Big Power of Small Tweaks in Coaching

When life isn’t living up to our own or our client’s expectations, it’s often tempting to think in terms of dramatic changes. People fantasize about quitting their jobs and heading off to a mountain ashram. They are embarrassed by their junk food diet and muse about going vegan. They consider what it might be like to rebuild their identities in New York, Paris, or Tahiti. 

Usually these massive changes appear so daunting that our clients may do nothing, and remaining stuck and dissatisfied. In the instances where they do follow the impulse to turn their world on its head, they often find the reality of their new situation doesn’t live up to its imaginings. All the problems of life are not all instantly solved.

The truth is that nature favors evolution, not revolution. Single-celled organisms slowly morph and adapt, finally creating complex plants and animals. Continents plod across oceans, giving shape to our world. So it is with our own and our clients’ lives. Change is a process, not an event. Rather than break from our past with a single decision, it is often more effective to make small, subtle changes that steer us in the direction of our values. 

This insight is the basis of what I call the tiny tweaks principle. It can be helpful in the frustration of the change process to remind our clients that small deliberate tweaks, infused with values, can make a huge difference in their lives.

Thinking small has real advantages. The cost of failure is comparatively low. When clients realize that they’ve got little to lose, they feel less pressure and more confidence. And the focus on modest, achievable goals provides tangible markers on the road to success. But what does this look like when applied to their everyday habits? Here are four different tactics you can use with your client to make tiny tweaks that add up to big change:

  1. The No-Brainer: Clients can switch up their environment so that when they’re hungry, tired, stressed, or rushed, the choice most aligned with their values is also the easiest. If they’re trying to shave off a few pounds, they can set themselves up for success by stocking their shelves with fresh fruit rather than cookies. Now their only choice for a midnight snack is one they won’t regret in the morning.
  2. The Piggyback: Add a new behavior onto an existing habit. To continue with the health example, this might mean turning their routine walk with their dog into a routine jog, or doing some jumping jacks when they tune into the nightly news.
  3. The Precommitment: Help clients to anticipate and prepare for obstacles with “if-then” strategies. “If my boss makes a doughnut run, then I’ll treat myself to the juicy pear I’ve already got stored in the break room fridge”. “If I’m tempted to sleep through my morning spin class, then I’ll remind myself how much better I’ll feel for having gone.”
  4. The Obstacle Course: While much is made of positive visualizations, it is most effective to offset a positive vision with thoughts of potential challenges. Optimism is important, but is most effective when paired with realism. See Gabriele Oettingen’s research on this process – called mental contrasting in our Research You Want to Know. 

These evidence-based tactics can be applied to any type of change, not only health and wellness. 

Any sea captain will tell you that if you steer a ship just a few degrees this way or that, you can completely alter its trajectory. Over the course of a long journey, it may end up hundreds of miles from where it would have been without that slight adjustment. Helping your clients to think of change in the same way can be extremely meaningful. Turn too sharply and you might capsize, but a slow, gentle, values-connected change will get you where you want to be.

Wishing you well,

Susan David
IOC Co-Founder and Co-Director

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