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5 Coaching Questions to Get Unstuck
As a coach, one of the most common challenges you will see your clients grappling with is “feeling stuck.” While the specific issues may sound different from one person to the next, the experience of being stuck - along with the strategies for moving through it productively - is fairly universal.
Whether your client is bogged down in contemplating their next career move, or feels like they will never attract the love they’re looking for, we’ve got you!
What keeps people stuck?
For most of us, it boils down to a few very simple things:
- The fear of not having enough
- The fear of not being enough
- Doubting you can really ever get what you desire
These fears are real, and they are also slippery buggers!
No matter what we achieve, our underlying fears have a funny way of persisting. Fear is driving the voice in our head that says things like: “The work I most want to will never pay enough,” or “I want XYZ, but it’s just not something I can realistically achieve.”
These thoughts can be dressed up in all sorts of rational sounding logic. And if you’re not careful as a coach, your client’s fear stories might just convince you that what they want isn’t possible either. Don’t get sucked in!
Let's start by simply noting the fallacy of these thoughts. We know from Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and the Theory of Adaptation (otherwise known as “survival of the fittest”) that our core needs as human beings are:
- Food, Shelter, and Physical Safety
- Psychological Safety
- Love and Belonging
- Esteem: Respect & Recognition
We absolutely need to reach a point where our basic needs are met. That’s a prerequisite for getting beyond a reactive, fight-or-flight state of existence. And it’s important to understand what "basic" entails - there’s a tipping point for each person. And it's not often where they think it is.
So how does meeting our basic needs relate to the fears that keep most people stuck? Let’s take a look!
Reframing Wants vs Needs
The reality is that most coaching clients are not in the rough and tumble of Level 1: Meeting Basic Needs. Your clients have most likely hired you because they are aspiring to higher-level longings, such as Love & Belonging, or Self-Actualization.
When we look at what our clients are often the most hung-up on, there are a couple culprits that usually rise to the top of the list:
- Finances (There isn’t enough money!)
- Self-care (I don’t have the time!)
These two fears keep people on the scarcity hamster wheel, which naturally leads to feeling “stuck”.
Now let’s look at the truth.
Once an individual gets to a point of relative comfort and stability - one where their basic needs are met - MORE isn’t necessarily BETTER.
The research on this is clear: material gain can help you feel more comfortable initially, but is unlikely to increase your happiness or how you feel about yourself in the long run.
“This study shows that there’s a strong link between income, life satisfaction, and emotional wellbeing. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to make a lot of money to be happy. (emphasis ours) Understanding what you want to achieve in life—whether that’s a successful career, a happy family, charitable work that betters the lives of others, or anything else—and pursuing it with a sense of purpose can help cultivate joy.” - Verywell Mind
When a person accepts that their basic needs are met, that’s where coaching magic begins. It’s from this place that your client can begin to flip the script from scarcity (fear mindset) to possibility (growth mindset).
Coaching Question: How would your life change if you truly believed that you have enough and that you are enough?
Let’s be clear: the mindset shift may not happen all in one session. In fact, if they are "stuck" it probably won't.
For many people, moving from fear to growth happens over time. Even if it feels slow-going, remember that with each micro-shift in perspective, you are helping them get unstuck.
As a coach, part of what you're doing here is helping your client shift their focus away from what they want to avoid and toward what they’d like to create.
Another place our clients get stuck is in defining what they want with enough clarity that they can map out their next steps toward achieving it.
The reason this can become a sticking point is that the human mind often wants to find the answer all at once. And as coaches, we know that’s not how change and transformation usually works!
To help your client move beyond stuckness so they can expand and grow, remember that there’s a science behind this process. Locke’s Goal Setting Theory of Motivation tells us that we need to be clear and specific about our goals.
We also need to think big.
When we take a look at the behavior of individuals who are considered “prime movers” - people who do things that change society or the way we think - they have something very interesting in common. These people embrace goals that most other people say are “impossible”.
When we set a goal, it should live just beyond the scope of our imagination.
Put another way, if your client is going to do something new then they can’t know exactly what things will be like when they get there. Their mind can't figure out all the exact steps to take because they haven’t experienced it yet!
Part of your role as a coach is to help your client get comfortable with “not knowing”.
We help them do this by thinking about what they want to achieve, without fixating on the details. This can look like:
- Defining the broad strokes of what they want
- Stating how they would like to feel
- Noting what will change for them once the goal has been achieved
One way to approach this is by encouraging your client to think in timeframes. We often recommend starting with a 3-5 year vision. It’s far enough away that you don’t need all the details, while still being reasonable and actionable.
Coaching Question: What will life look like 5 years from now, if everything unfolds the way you’d like it to?
Invite your client to imagine they are waking up one morning 5 years from now. Ask: "What do you actually see?" Have them walk through the day in their imagination and notice what their mind comes up with.
Our imaginations are limitless. When we let that muscle work, that’s where we come up with the ideas that can change our lives… and maybe even change the world.
Wrestling with Incongruence
Sometimes there’s a wide gap between what we’d like to do or become, and how we’re living today. Getting unstuck involves facing the fact that you have one precious life, and the clock is ticking. Coming to terms with this may require a big reckoning.
For clients who are feeling so stuck that they don't know where to find their joy anymore, it can be helpful to look for clues in their own past.
Coaching Question: What passions and pie-in-the-sky ideas did you have when you were a kid?
- What aspects of your childhood self felt most free and authentically you?
- What parts of yourself have you locked away?
- Which parts of that essential self would you like to reunite with?
And for those who are getting hung up on the logistical details of their dream or vision, you can ask:
Coaching Question: What would you do (or try) if you knew you could not fail?
- How can you redefine “failure”?
- What have you learned from the experiments you’ve tried that didn’t work?
- How can you apply that information to your next experiment or action step?
- What would it be like if you gave yourself a new experience and it DID work?
Moving into Action
Sometimes a client will work through these initial levels, and still not take action on their insights. They’re having some a-ha’s, but it isn’t adding up to change. Or maybe they commit to action, but don’t do anything between sessions.
They’re stuck in how things are, rather than moving proactively toward what life could be. If that's the case, try asking the Big One...
Coaching Question: What excuse will you give yourself at the end of your life if you never try?
We don’t pose this last one to be dramatic. It’s a motivator. If your client can square up with this question and answer it honestly, it may be the final nudge they need to get unstuck.
Want to Become a Coach?
One of our things we teach at Lumia Coaching is how to ask powerful questions. If you’d like to learn more, and are ready to step into your power as a coach, come check out Lumia Life Coach Training. Grounded in science, our ICF accredited program features authentic instructors, a robust curriculum, and business instruction to prepare you for liftoff.