Tools for Coaching Mastery

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Paradigm Shift: From Fear to Freedom
by Deborah Williamson

Fear. It comes up as a client roadblock in almost every coaching call. Fear of what people will think. Fear of failure, or even fear of success! Whether your client is held back by fear generated from past experience, or fear of what's to come, there's a powerful shift to be made that can change inertia into forward motion and anxiety into endless energy.

Fritz Perls, founder of Gestalt therapy, said this: "Fear is excitement without breath."

If this is true, and I believe it is, then we as human beings have amazing opportunities available to us in moments of fear.

After all, what is fear? How does it manifest in the body?

Think about it.

When we are afraid, we might sweat, shake, have cold palms or get stomach butterflies. The sensations that we call fear are really just adrenaline—energy coursing through the body that catalyzes a physical response.

Now, what is excitement and how does it show up in the body?

When we are excited, we might sweat, shake, have cold palms or get stomach butterflies.

The physical response between fear and excitement is often the same—almost exactly the same. How can we communicate this truth to our coaching clients in a way that allows them to use it in their lives? Here are three questions that might apply:

1. What's happening now?

When clients freeze due to fear, it's often because they're looking to the past or future, or trying to use the past to predict the future, which is impossible. Because we cannot tell the future and because we have the freedom of choice to choose and choose again, past and future are not relevant to our success right now.

The beauty of body sensations is that they pull us right into the present moment. And the present moment is the only moment from which we can move forward. Let your clients know that these sensations are normal and helpful.

2. What meaning are you giving to what you are feeling?

Step two is to help your clients reframe the scary body sensations, as Fritz Perls suggested, as excitement. No matter what we choose to call them, these sensations are just energy. The meaning, fear or excitement comes from us. Clients can choose to be stalled by it, or to ride it like a tidal wave, gaining momentum and energy to create more powerfully day by day. If our clients learn to look forward to these body sensations, they can be harnessed to create amazing and happy lives.

Here's an example:

As a very shy person I struggle with being in the spotlight, but I know that I have to overcome that if I want to reach and help more people. To this day, before I teach a yoga class, have a coaching call or lead a retreat, I invariably feel what I formerly labeled as "fear" sensations.

Now, however, I actually welcome them as a sign that I am about to do something that matters for someone else. And that does make me excited. While I'm still nervous, I've given positive meaning to what I'm feeling and why I'm feeling it, which allows me to use it to reach out to more people.

As you are coaching your clients, help them to reframe by listening for examples like mine. How will stepping into these fear sensations allow them to contribute to the people around them?

3. Is this fear real?

If fear still persists, help your clients to face it head on and to focus on what's real versus what they are imagining might happen in the future.

Let me use a real coaching example to help illustrate:

I took a group of 25 people on retreat to Bali in 2010 and 2011. On the first day, one of my staff noticed that a participant was avoiding the pool, despite the heat. We discovered that this participant was deathly afraid of drowning.

What happened next amazed and delighted me.

Instead of teaching this participant how to swim (which would have been the equivalent to giving advice), my coach encouraged her to try and drown herself, which was essentially like presenting the question, "is this fear real?"

As it turns out, the answer was no.

As hard as our participant tried, she couldn't keep her body underwater.

She kept popping back up to the surface and discovered it was next to impossible to drown herself. Her fear was not real.

What's more, once she dispensed with her fear of water, she did other things she thought she'd never do. Within the span of minutes, she was dog paddling for the first time ever, and by the end of the week, she was jumping off the high dive!

What's the lesson in this powerful metaphor?

Quite literally, it's harder to sink than it is to swim—and more difficult to drown than it is to float.

Now that's inspiring. Try it with your clients!

Deborah Williamson  

Yoga Life Coach™ and Master Teacher Deborah Williamson travels the world to teach, speak and coach with humor and deep humanity. Debbie's signature brand of Yoga Life Coaching™ evolved from over 20 years of coaching and wellness industry experience. Visit for upcoming Yoga Life Coach™ Certification Programs and more.

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