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Are you and your client stuck in their Fish Bowl life? Here′s what to do to break the glass.

13 June 2019 Anthony Eldridge-Rogers

So what′s the dilemma?

Well let′s keep it simple. We human beings are paradoxes. We want things and when we get them we don’t want them so much anymore. We live our lives constantly in a push me pull you space of desire that pulls in all directions.

I see it in clients all the time. They want to change (that is often what they come to coaching for!) and then resist the hell out of it. They want excitement and to feel alive but then will refuse or resist acceptance risk taking and being in the unknown. They want predictability but get bored with sameness seeking the new which they then get afraid of. It can be exhausting!

15 years ago I invested in setting up a restaurant in South Africa. I had always fancied having one and was intrigued with the idea of it. I had several celebrity chef friends and I was drawn to their lives. Except it turned out to be a life lesson of note. I spent many months with my partner doing all the creative and development work. We designed and created, we shopped up a storm for lovely things and by opening night it was looking stunning. Then we opened the doors and for a couple weeks I revelled in it . Then one evening I walked in to it and was suddenly struck by one single realisation. That I would soon hate this business. Why? Because I am someone who loves to create and set things up but I am not good with predictability. I like the unknown more than the known. I want to see around a new corner every day. I do not want to stop on a corner for ever, never knowing what is around the next.

Of course that is just me and many of you reading this will take a different view because you are different to me. But I am amazed just how many people I meet who, in one way or another, are experiencing the dilemma of wanting two things that are in opposition to each other.

I have discovered that one way that people compensate for this is to create a psychological fish bowl around themselves. They furnish it with justifications and limiting behaviours. They seek information that reinforces their decisions not information that challenges them. They declare to themselves, and when challenged, that ‘This is the way the world is’ as if there is some fixed structure to life to which they have found the key. In extremes it shows up in dogma. The underlying emotion is fear. And we humans will do almost anything out of fear and anxiety which advertisers know so well!

So people create these fish bowls and then, as they begin to feel the limiting life sapping effects of the loss of renewal, they struggle to live lives of meaning and purpose for something is missing.

Another quick story. My first spiritual mentor was a Sufi Teacher called Irene Tweedie. For some years I went to her house in London where her doors were open 9 to 5 to anyone who wished to meditate with her. She offered one to one chats to anyone who sought her advice. I arranged one and asked her about addiction. At the time I was going through a difficult period with my sisters heroin addiction which was tearing our family apart. She told me many things but the one that stuck and which I have carried with me since that day which I have applied consistently was this; if I identified a habit in my life (and any habit, not so called bad ones) I was to break it. Think about that for moment. See habitual behaviour and so break it apart.

This advice flies pretty much in the face of most conventional thinking about how to organise your life. I will clarify here a little more. Maintaining a behaviour for a limited predetermined period of time is fine. Let’s say writing a book. Well I might establish a habit around that until the book is done (though in my case, I don’t work like that) and that is ok. What we are talking about here is those habits we can’t let go of easily, if at all.

And the most tricky of those are thinking habits, mostly arising out of our unconscious.

This is the fish bowl. It could be that you are a person of great habits. You get up at the same time, eat the same breakfast, leave the house at the same time, take the same route to work etc etc. Maybe your day goes like that all the time until you roll into bed? At about the same time?

If that is you then as I have just written, you are most likely resisting, at some level, as it interferes with your fish bowl structure.

So that goes the other way of course. I might also resist the promotion of healthy habituation but I don’t. I have and can be in habit behaviours but I can break them if I so decide. It is like travelling down a road and being able to use the whole width of it.

As a coach, then you have a challenge. How do you explore your clients fish bowl without triggering them into firing you?

First, determine if they really want to change. In almost all circumstances people will come to coaches for help and say they want things to be different but guess what, when push comes to shove, they want something unattainable. They want the perceived benefits of change without the discomfort of the unknown. They want guarantees. Good coaches cannot and should not give them for there are none. There is no cake and eat it.

Second, be willing to coach them in the fish bowl, up to a point. To gain trust (important) you have to get into your clients world with them and see it from their perspective at all levels. That means starting out softly. However at some point you have to call it out. If they want that fulfilled life, to find out what potential they have in this life, then they will need to be willing to give up their addictions to their beliefs and attached behaviours. They need to let go to reach another shore. They will need to think about what they don’t want to think, read what they don’t want to read, listen to what they don’t want to hear.

Only then can freedom of some kind begin to be possible.

So it is coaching D Day. Your client is needing to make a leap and they don’t really want to. What do you do? Well there is nothing you can do but wait. One of two things will happen. They will step back from the edge or they will jump. Your role is to stand at the edge and jump with them.

If they step back be ready to shoulder the blame. People usually make up that the coach is not good enough or the right one. And that may be true! You may not be the one for them to make the leap. Most likely, if you are a good coach who has taken this journey themselves then you are not the issue. It is just that people find it easier to blame someone else than take the responsibility themselves.

What can you do about all this? Well I use a simple method called. The ‘Am I right for you’ Checklist. It is a simple one page document with a list of things on the left hand side of the page and three boxes on the right hand side. The box options are YES, NO, MAYBE. I give it to the client and ask them to fill it in.

Here are a few of the statements:

“I recognise that I might fire you as my coach when I cannot take responsibility for myself and I can’t face that fact”.

“I understand the difference between expressing the wish to change my life or something in it and actually changing my life and something in it”.

”I like my habits (good and bad) and have no plans or desire to change any of them”.

“I am willing to change some of my habits and behaviours with the support of my coach”.


There are more. The idea here is to get your client to realise the ground they are on with you as their coach. Some people will find these questions so challenging that they will balk at them and do a runner. Others will be intrigued and a little daunted. Others will get a little excited.

The list and the questions that they answer "yes", "no", "maybe" to is a brilliant resource for you. First, it weeds out the people who do not yet have a high hunger for freedom and change. Second, it signals to them what change is actually going to be about and how you are holding it. Third, it gives you an additional set of information to create your coaching relationship around. Fourth, it gives you some immediate coaching direction. You can jump right in with curiosity about the answers, the "yes, no’s and maybe’s".

I have no idea what kind of coach you are, want to be or are becoming. All I know is that life and time is short, that if we are to serve others we need serve ourselves first. Then we need to know where we stand, in warrior or warrioress energy to fight for our fellow humans and their deepest best selves? Or are we just coaching them in a fish bowl? It is up to us to constantly revisit this question. In pursuit of our own truth and fulfilment and theirs.