Over on the YouTube channel, I’ve been exploring various coaching myths and misconceptions. You can check out the playlist via this link and you can watch the latest video in our coaching myths series below this post.
One of the most pervasive misconceptions, and one that’s difficult to shift, is the belief that coaching is all about making people happy. Or, in other words, the belief that “Coaching will make me happy.”
At the core of this is a fundamental misunderstanding about happiness, what it is and how we experience it. Beautifully described in ‘The Happiness Trap’ by Russ Harris, our pursuit of happiness as a goal to be achieved lies at the heart of many of life’s problems.
“So here is the happiness trap in a nutshell: to find happiness, we try to avoid or get rid of bad feelings, but the harder we try, the more bad feelings we create.”
‘The Happiness Trap’, Russ Harris
What is happiness?
Happiness is a transient experience. It comes and goes. So, attempting to hold on to it as a permanent state is bound to result in disappointment. And to know happiness, we need to understand the absence of happiness – or unhappiness. The avoidance of all situations, tasks and contexts that involve even passing unhappiness or a lack of happiness can lead us down a troubling path.
This avoidance means we don’t experience lots of things that contribute to our knowledge, our skills, our relationships with others and all the other things that bring a sense of purpose and meaning to our lives. Does sitting an exam make you happy? Waiting in line for a train? Delivering difficult feedback to a colleague? Putting yourself forward for a more senior position?
“…when your primary motivation is the avoidance of unpleasant thoughts and feelings, this drains the joy and vitality from what you are doing.”
Russ Harris, The Happiness Trap
Most of these activities will involve some discomfort, but by pursuing them, we can contribute to our sense of meaning and purpose. And this hangs around a lot longer than happiness.
Doing more of what matters
And so it is with coaching. Not every coaching conversation, reflection or activity is going to make a coachee happy. Some may be challenging and uncomfortable for a time. But they contribute to raising self-awareness, clarifying purpose and giving a sense of meaning and achievement to their life. If we only focused on happiness, we would spend our time firmly within the coachee’s ‘comfort zone’. No challenging questions, no discussion of avoidance, no stretching targets to work towards.
“When we take action on the things that truly matter deep in our hearts, move in directions that we consider valuable and worthy, clarify what we stand for in life and act accordingly, then our lives become rich and full and meaningful, and we experience a powerful sense of vitality.”
‘The Happiness Trap’, Russ Harris
You can see from this excerpt that the vitality Russ talks about comes from some hard work – figuring out what matters and then doing more of that – even if it’s uncomfortable from time to time.
The benefits of coaching may well include some happiness. It can be a very welcome by-product of the hard work you put in. It’s just that it’s not our primary aim or motivator. Understanding this can make all the difference when it comes to engaging with coaching and getting the most from the experience.
If you have questions about coaching, or your own examples of coaching misconceptions, get in touch and let us know!