Focus of attention

The power of the focus of your attention has been illustrated by the well-known psychologist Paul Watzlawick in a short anecdote. A man wants to hang a picture. He has the nail, but not the hammer. The neighbour has one. So, our man decides to go over and borrow the hammer, but there comes a doubt: What if the neighbour does not want to lend me the hammer? Yesterday he just greeted me so fleetingly. Maybe he was in a hurry. Maybe he’s only hurriedly pleading, and he’s got something against me. And what? I did not harm him; he imagines something. If someone wanted to borrow a tool from me, I would give it to him immediately. And why not? How can you refuse such a simple favour to a fellow human being? People like this guy are poisoning your life. And then he thinks: I’m dependent on him. Just because he has a hammer. Now that’s really enough for me. – And so, he storms over rings at the neighbour’s door. The neighbour opens, but before he can say “Hello”, our man yells at him: “You can keep your stupid hammer”.

The above story has just like that, so in this extreme form, probably never happened. However, each of us has experienced similar situations in which we have thought ourselves properly in rage and at the end of such a “radicalization” have come to very one-sided views on the world. We have known for a long time that caution should be exercised over one’s own perception and memory. After all, the testimony of witnesses is considered one of the most unreliable pieces of evidence in court. Through the imaging of recent brain research, we have learned much more about the full extent of our perception of reality. So, what we perceive is not the objective reality, but for the most part, something put together by our brains. So to speak, produced independently of the actual factual situation. For the most part, our mental processes work very well (otherwise we would hardly be able to drive over 200 km/h accident-free on a motorway) but occasionally this kind of construction of perception leads us in the wrong direction. The focus of attention almost always plays an important role in the development of interpersonal problems.

Related situation

We are not always the same. We are not the same in the morning as in the evening. We are not sober the same as after a few glasses of wine. Depending on the interests, depending on the mood, depending on who we are dealing with, different parts of our personality come to light. This also applies to all other participants in an interaction. Therefore, a situation can in principle lead in many different directions. So, what happens, in the end, is always just one of many possibilities. The outcome could have been totally different if there would have been some minor changes in the beginning. This insight is the basis for what I mean by “systemic” work. I try to understand in which situations (“in which system”) certain patterns of behaviour are stronger than in others. This makes it easier to locate an unfavourable problem. Considering the context of the situation also gives a first idea of what might have triggered a particular behaviour.

Scope of influence

For most clients, it is immediately plausible that they feel different and behave differently depending on the context of the situation. That means that the “system” in which they are acting has a direct impact on their own person and their experience. However, the contrary is also true, although most clients are not immediately intuitively familiar with that: if we behave differently, this behaviour changes “the system” and the events are very likely to take a different course. It’s not one hundred percent sure (because in interpersonal matters there is little security) but it still is very likely. Many clients come to me and have a subjective impression to have done everything right. Only the opposite side (the spouse, the ex-boyfriend, the employee, the colleague, the boss) should have every reason to correct their bad behaviour. The order brought to the coach is then that he must find the right words, so that the other side finally sees its guilt and corrects itself in the desired direction. This view is not only very common – it is also humanly understandable. As a rule, we do not have much to blame on ourselves, at least not in our perception. Unfortunately, it is not very likely that one can convince the other side by appeals that it is presumably the source, but in any case the greater part of the problem. After all, this “attempted solution” has often been tried out by the clients without the desired solution has occurred. On the contrary, the persistent repetition of this “attempt to solve” soon leads to a hardening of the fronts and to a radicalization on both sides.

Strengthen your strengths

Focusing one’s attention too much on what is currently not working, on what is “weak”, “sick” and/or “bad” usually does not very much strengthen the client. However, a weakened client should not be the result of the joint work of coach and client. Conversely, it makes also no sense, of course, to put on pink glasses and just try to talk things nice. After all, many clients live with real limitations that they have not “imagined”, but in some of which they have been massively suffering for some time already. In my experience it has turned out that initially it is better to concentrate on the situation contexts in which the desired experience (even if only occasionally) already shows, in order to get hints on what would be the most likely paths the client can find back to old strength again. These paths are first discussed with the client and then practically tested in the following.

The client decides

It is important to me that client and coach meet at eye level. Certainly, as a coach, I know my tools better than the client and I also have more coaching experience. However, the client knows much more about himself than any other person could. Only the client can decide whether a proposal suits him, whether he wants to go for a proposed solution and whether he feels the effect achieved as an improvement to the initial situation or not. If the client perceives a solution to his problem or at least a significant improvement in his situation, then the coach has done a good job. If there is no improvement, then not. Fortunately, the latter is only very, very rarely the case. I see my job as a coach, so that I can best support my clients with my knowledge, my experience and my full commitment, and give them concrete suggestions on how to go forward. However, the decision as to what you like, what you want to try and how you evaluate the impact, lies entirely with the client. He has full control over our collaboration right from the start. We only do what the client wants and what is good for him.

Unconscious processes

Each of us is aware that smoking has a bad impact on one’s health. However, anyone who has ever tried to quit smoking has probably firsthand experience that this intellectual insight is of little use. It was and is very difficult to quit smoking. That’s because you’re not dealing with mental processes of consciousness here, but with unconscious processes. Unconscious processes are like computer programs that run in the background and control our behaviour without our waking consciousness having access to it. Many of these unconscious or automatic processes perform vital tasks. It is certainly good when we breathe “automatically” and also that our hearts beat “automatically”, and that we do not have to remember to let our heart beat or breathe with our consciousness. It becomes difficult, however, when we experience that these subconscious programs in certain areas do some unfavourable programming for us. The work on unconscious processes has a very strong effect because it ensures that new patterns of behaviour can be permanently anchored. A constant fight against one’s own unconscious processes is hard to win in my experience, even with great willpower. Rather, it is about entering into a cooperative exchange with these unconscious processes and gently modelling them in a new direction. For those who are here for the first time hearing of the influence of unconscious processes, these reflections may sound somewhat esoteric at first. In fact, the techniques used here are based on insights that have only been discovered in recent years within the framework of modern brain research, and that today allow us a much broader understanding of the mechanisms of how our brain actually works.