Jumping Into Solutions: A Coaching Case
How the Preferred Future can become the Preferred Present in an instant
by Susanne Burgstaller
In Solution Focus we are constantly searching for ever briefer paths to help customers get to where they want to be - in their lives or their organisations. To do that we help clients focus on what they want for themselves – which is usually thought to be in the future.
To be as brief and effective as possible, we are trying to shorten that imaginary timeline between what is considered the “Preferred Future” – the client´s hopes, dreams and wishes – and their (often problematic) past. The NOW – the present moment of interaction – is not usually addressed (as in “how do you feel about this now?”, for example). However, the NOW is where it is all happening: in the present moment of interaction.
Sometimes – when circumstances conspire – that imaginary timeline between past and future dissolves and the jump into a “Preferred Present” can happen in an instant. I would like to describe to you a coaching situation where such an instant switch into the “Preferred Present” took place.
This coaching happened many years ago and I have no recording of it, only my notes. But the situation is as fresh in my mind as if I had recorded a video of it, because it brought the following realization into sharp focus for me:
When we realize that our “Preferred Future” can actually be our “Preferred Present”, the jump into solutions is immediate.
I was asked for a coaching by an apparently highly competent and successful executive. At the beginning of our conversation, he told me that his best hope was to be able to get on better with his mother. (I must admit this is not my average topic for a business coaching, so I was a little surprised.) In answer to my question what difference this would make for him and for others, he explained that if he got on better with his mother, he would be less stressed and therefore more productive in his job, as well as have more time and energy for his wife and daughter.
I asked him: “If a miracle happened and your best hopes were realized: How would you notice?”
After a short problem-narrative, which I did not go into, he described his Preferred Future in realistic and vivid detail: He would feel confident that he could trust his mother to either not drink, or to only drink responsibly. As a consequence, he would behave in a more positive and trusting way towards her when he went to see her. He felt he might also be able to talk
to her about her granddaughter, whom she loved, and even bring his wife and daughter to see her again. That would lead to his mother being happy and relaxed, and most likely drinking less.
After this part of the conversation, I asked him: “When are you going to see your mother next?”
He replied that he was going to see her directly after our coaching session. So quite obviously there was no time for a miracle to happen in the future – It had to have happened already!
Therefore, I said: „Aha. So, let´s imagine that a miracle happened last night which meant that your best hopes have been fulfilled and you have exactly the relationship with your mother that you just described to me: You can trust her not to drink or to only drink responsibly, you can be happy and relaxed with her, and you feel totally fine about bringing your wife and daughter to see her.”
I paused and he nodded, giving me a little wry smile.
I continued: “Now, as you were coming to our coaching session this morning: What might have told you that a miracle must have occurred?”
He paused to think for a moment. Then he went on to describe a feeling of light-heartedness driving in his car towards Vienna, singing along with the songs on the radio, a spring in his step that passers-by could notice while he was walking in the street towards the building where our coaching took place, and a feeling of hope and confidence coming up the stairs.
I asked: “As we are sitting here together now: What is telling you NOW that you have exactly the kind of relationship with your mother that you wish for? Trusting, happy and relaxed with her, feeling able to bring your wife and daughter?”
He was moving in his chair, and suddenly sat up very straight. He was shifting his body and started to glance around him a little. He was silent for quite a long time – easily for three or four minutes. I was holding myself still also and sat there patiently and attentively.
He was looking upwards and quite obviously something intense was going on in his mind. Gradually a smile began to spread over his face and his eyes started to grow in brightness. Finally, he breathed out heavily, gave me a huge smile and said: “Yes, of course.” He nodded a few times – I nodded as well. We sat like that for a while, savouring the moment.
He then said: “I think I will go to see her now. She will be pleased that I am a little early.”
I replied: “Yes, of course.” And then we said our goodbyes.
This coaching session lasted for less than the scheduled hour and I never saw this executive again. A few weeks later I received an e-mail from him, thanking me and telling me that he was very well and did not require any more coaching. In parallel, a note came from the company´s HR representative asking me to submit my fee and telling me that the executive had highly recommended me.
That experience brought a lot of insights for me. Briefly summed up, it made me realize the following:
The imaginary timeline between past and future can be dissolved.
The human mind is able to imagine anything, even that a miracle happened yesterday that has changed the present moment and will affect the immediate future. The present moment contains everything: our ideas about our past, present, and future, and the potential of our preferred self.
When clients enact their Preferred Future in the NOW it becomes their Preferred Present.
They are sensing, feeling and experiencing their hopes and dreams. At that moment it is as if they can suddenly and immediately access their Preferred Self – the best version of themselves that makes the realisation of their Preferred Future possible.
The enacted experience of a Preferred Present creates a powerful memory.
This memory can be recalled without effort and thus shapes behaviour accordingly.
Sometimes the enactment is accompanied by words, sometimes it is not.
Words are not always required.
In fact, the client´s physical and emotional reactions – whether they are intense or soft - should not be disturbed. Silently savouring the Preferred Present unfolding can be enough.
Susanne Burgstaller has worked in organisational development and change for nearly 35 years. She writes about Solution-Focus, organisational development, leadership and change, and mentors agile and change coaches.