Pretending at Positivity? 3 Brain-Based Coaching Exercises to Test

blog 1A colleague recently brought up an interesting question. She wrote: “I am finding [my new brain-based client] to be very optimistic…perhaps unrealistically positive. What’s a coach to do when she senses the client may not be telling herself the truth?”

Here are three suggestions for coaching exercises:

What’s New?

Ask the client to identify 3 COMPLETELY NEW things that are showing up each day in her life (3 x 7 days = 21 new things in a week). This is Barbara Fredrickson’s “broaden-and-build” model at work. If the client can’t name these, she’s likely just talking a good talk, and not deepening her positivity.

The reason for this exercise is that when a client is getting extra doses of dopamine, serotonin, GABA, etc., she is going to be noticing completely new things. The “dopamine dump” widens the aperture of our perception. Here are some examples of what a client might notice:

  • “My coworker’s annoying habit of chewing his nails didn’t bother me; for the first time in my life, I could see that his stress level is what is prompting this and I actually had compassion for him.” Or,
  • “I said ‘no’ to taking on a new project, when I normally would have just said ‘yes’ without any consideration and ended up overloading myself yet again.” Or,
  • “Out of the blue, I had a prospective client call who wanted this huge project done, and was willing to pay double for a rush job!”

Online / Offline:

Another exercise is to ask the client to name (over the course of one week) 10 new ways of thinking that are coming online for her, and 10 old ways of thinking that are dropping off for her. For example,

Going Offline Coming Online
“I used to think that I needed to preface every one of my ideas with ‘I may not be right and you guys can certainly say no to this, but here’s an idea.’” “I am learning to think that people can reject my ideas and I can be confident that it’s not a rejection of me.”

This exercise helps identify that new structures of reasoning are being formed. The client should be able to describe DIFFERENT things if she’s really growing in positivity.

blog 2I.D.ing Strengths:

Strengths are a safety net and a springboard for life’s challenges and opportunities. Positive people know their strengths and intentionally use them. Ask your client to do an end-of-day exercise where she itemizes three challenging situations in her day, then identifies which strength(s) she purposefully chose to use to make the challenge easier than it might have been in the past

These are all methods to explore whether someone is pretending at positivity. I say this with compassion, because at some point all of us can think that we are being positive, and yet there is ALWAYS  a deeper level that Life can take us to!

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