Friday 7 September 2018

A Walk in the Lakes

Yesterday, a coaching client (let's call him Pete, as that's not his name...)  and I went for a walk. We started at the bottom of Haweswater, walked up the Riggindale Ridge onto High Street summit, with wonderful views of the Hellvelyn range, and Scafell and Crinkle Crags beyond; and then over Ill Bell, down to Nan Bield Pass, over Harter fell to Gatescarth Pass, and then back down to Haweswater: about 9 miles, and with over 2000 feet of height gain. It took most of the day and we then retired to the Haweswater Hotel for a coffee.
And Pete talked, and I listened, and we enjoyed the silence and the views. I started the conversation by reminding Pete of the pre-work he had done for the day, and that today was an opportunity for him to think out loud about the issues he wished to consider; and then I asked him where he wanted to start…

 The conversation was often very discursive: going off at tangents; but I trusted that Pete was talking about what was important to him.  I made some interventions: questions to clarify, reminders of where we were up to after we had distracted ourselves by commenting on the view or the wildlife, a couple of challenges; but relatively few.

And at the end of the day, Pete sat down and wrote some notes: an action plan and some reflections.  From all the discursive conversation, he had made substantial progress in his thinking about, and planning for, some complex and difficult issues and decisions that he faces. I asked whether he had got everything from the day that he had hoped to, and he raised one issue on which  he had hoped to make more progress.  I reflected that I thought we had discussed it in passing, and made a few observations on what I thought he had said. He agreed: we had indeed discussed it – and although we had not quite drawn that part of the conversation to its conclusion, we were quickly able to do so.

All of which made me reflect on the power of walking and coaching at the same time – which has always, in my experience, delivered great outcomes for the client.  Where does that power come from?  My hunch is that it is a combination of a number of factors: 

Thinking in advance - because he knew he was coming to discuss these issues for a whole day (and because I send him a series of questions) Pete had done a lot of thinking prior to the walk, and came full of questions and also half-formed (at least) insights; 

Time – to be silent and reflect, to allow for digression, for the brain to do its almost miraculous background processing;

Silence - merits a mention of its own. When you are walking together, long silences are fine, in a way that would be most uncomfortable in a normal coaching session.  I mean silences of 5 minutes or more.  And that allows for a lot of reflection and processing.

Walking side by side - in most coaching, eye contact plays an important role; but in walking coaching, eye contact is minimised; instead you look out at the world together, and that feels a very different dynamic (especially, I suspect, for introverts, as Pete is);

Perspective - it is a truism that one of the aims of coaching is to generate fresh perspectives; and there is something about the outdoors - particularly in the mountains, with the vast landscapes that we walked through, that really enables that;

Exercise and oxygenation - I think that these have a stimulating effect on the whole system, brain as well as body;

The different location - we had a very different conversation than we would have had in an office; indeed, it is hard to imagine having a day long 1-1 meeting indoors that would not be entirely dreadful!

The stimulus of the natural environment - the beauty of the fells, and also the danger (more apparent than real, perhaps) of the ridge walk all added to the experience.

And inevitably, the journey as a metaphor - there was one point when we were most of the way up the ridge (which has some sharp falls to either side, and Pete has vertigo...) when that was particularly acute…

Of course, this is not the first time I have done this: if you are interested in a previous client's reflections on the process, you can read them here; and there is a brief clip on YouTube of me being interviewed about walking coaching here.

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