Tag Archives: inquiry

Get a coach? Or write a journal?

The last thing you want to do when you’ve hired an expensive coach is waste lots of valuable coaching time trying to identify what you want to be coached on. I’ve experienced hundreds of coaching conversations (some of which as a client rather than as the coach) where the whole thirty minute session has gone by and the closest we’ve got to articulating a particular goal has been “I think that’s what I want to do.”

It’s not because the client doesn’t want to be coached. Nor is it because the coaching is ineffective. It’s much more because the client hasn’t really done much reflecting of their own beforehand. They haven’t really got themselves COACHING-READY.

As a Certified Professional Coactive Coach I have worked with business owners, entrepreneurs, executives, educationalists, public sector workers and private individuals. I have also been coached myself, and I have found that across the professions and occupations people generally share similar progress blocks.

Often we say “I can’t do that” or “I don’t know where to start” or “What would people say if I did that”?

No matter what our circumstances or our personality, the things that hold us back are largely:

  • our confused view of ourselves, our experience and our potential
  • an inflated sense of the task ahead
  • our own ability to self-sabotage.

I’ve also noticed our reluctance to respond to questions like “What do you want?”, “What does success look like?”, “How will you know when you’ve made it?”, “What is your unique talent or skill?”

Coaches are very well-trained to coax out answers  to these questions. They are remarkably patient and compassionate human beings who want so much for us to succeed: they talk about championing and challenging us to get us to the next level, the place we wish to be. But the onus is still on us to make things happen, and if they aren’t the right things for us, they ain’t going to happen.

So before you think about hiring that coach and making all that investment…


And no, not just writing about what you did in your day, who nicked your milk from the office fridge, or how many times you changed your toddler’s nappy.

Journaling is much more about being able to reflect on your experience, your purpose, what’s important to you, what you want from life and work, and what’s the best way you’re going to go about getting it. The best way for YOU, that is.

Writing a journal is a fantastic way to get to know ourselves and to begin allowing ourselves to admit to our dreams and aspirations. It’s also an amazing way to build up our inner resilience, and to trust that deep down inside we do actually have all our own answers.

By spending a few pounds on an inviting notebook and a smooth-writing pen, and then by investing some time working through kick-off phrases, inquiries and journal writing exercises, you’ll be able to hit the ground running with your coach.  If you’re clear on WHO you are and WHAT you want to achieve, your coach can help you with HOW you’re going to get there, and you’ll get a lot more bang from your coaching buck.



Filed under Journal Writing

How journaling can reconnect us with our community

Walk into any good quality stationers and browse their journal shelf and you will doubtless find a notebook designated as a Travel Journal. This is for recording thoughts and reflections in places we visit, on holiday, or as part of a conscious effort to be ‘away from it all’, in places that aren’t part of our usual itinerary.

But what about journaling in places that are already familiar to us? That form part of the landscape we already call home? What can that do – to us? And to the place?

Yesterday I had the privilege of leading a group of journal writers through a short workshop in response to our surroundings. These were Old Town Gardens in Swindon, Wiltshire, UK. We used the Bowls Clubhouse as our base – whose members could not have been more accommodating or welcoming – and enjoyed an hour and a half of companionable journaling and reflective discussion.

First, everyone was invited to choose an inquiry from our specially created washing line:

Washing line of inquiry

Then we all embarked on a meditative stroll around the park, allowing our bodies and our minds to slow down and notice what we notice – using our senses, paying attention to whatever caught our eye, picking up “objets trouves” along the way, seeing how our perceptions were affected by the inquiry we had selected – or not! Sometimes called psycho-geography, this is a way of seeing how our environment affects us, how we interact with it and what we take away from it physically, emotionally and psychologically.

Upon our return we enjoyed a few minutes writing about our experience – what we noticed, what memories were evoked, what was important to us about the place, what connects us to it, what feelings and emotions arose, what insights occured.

And then we shared something of our reflections in a respectful and open discussion.

Everyone went away feeling completely relaxed and connected – to each other, and with renewed fondness for the place. We all experienced something of the power of community journaling, and glimpsed the potential of how this type of shared mindfulness, through the medium of reflective writing,  might help us re-shape our relationship with the environment, and with the places we each call home.


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Happy beads

What can emerge for us in our journals if we take a few moments to ask ourselves “What is the most important thing that happened yesterday?”

According to Marion Milner, 20th century British psychoanalyst, artist and author of A life of one’s own, An experiment in Leisure and Eternity’s Sunrise, we can tell something is important when it shifts us somehow, when we feel a physical response to something, or when a memory or object brings with it a particular warmth.

She describes her ‘important things’ as beads, each of which she describes in exquisite detail in her journals, and these beads she believes give her clues about what makes her happy.

The challenge in this practice is first and foremost to notice when you are moved by an important thing. It requires a particular level of self-awareness to distinguish between an authentic response and a more standard, conventional, only-to-be-expected reaction.

So perhaps the inquiry ought to be made more specific: “What is the most important thing that happened TO YOU yesterday?”

Happy bead threading!


Filed under Self-Awareness

Get to the inquiry

Last night I joined in with Dawn Herring’s Journal Chat live on Twitter, on the topic of how we talk to ourselves in our journals. Dawn had very kindly selected my Journaling Insights blog post as Pick of the Week, so the chat was about how we access other voices in our journals and what it gives us to do so.

In previous posts I’ve talked about how ranting in our journals can lead us to our inner wisdom – our still small voice of calm and reason – and this is certainly possible in my experience. However last night’s Journal Chat really helped me get clear on what needs to be in place in our own minds in order for that wise voice to come through.


We need to know when and how to interrupt our circular, ranting thought patterns with a simple, genuine question.

Effective inquiry has the feel of surrender, but not of giving up; it has a note of vulnerability, but not helplessness; and it has a curious and trusting intention, rather than a tired and cynical energy. Inquiry is the chink of light at the end of a very dark tunnel; it’s the ticklish soft underbelly of our resistant shell; it’s where the heart beats.

Looking back over my own personal experience of the past few weeks there have been many sign-posts popping up in my life about the act of asking. Here are some of them:

  • A few days ago I was reading about how we can achieve a calm state of mind simply by making a reflective inquiry. This is exactly what journaling can lead us towards. The most successful and productive journal entries arise out of inquiry.
  • Recently I’ve met a fellow author in my village who has been having the most incredible results with Cosmic Ordering, including receiving £15 000 into her bank account exactly on the day she’d ‘ordered’ it. Her name is Ellen Watts and she is now leading workshops to help others tune in to what she calls universal abundance. For her making requests is guaranteed to produce results when it’s done clearly and specifically and for the good of all concerned.
  • The other day I was filled with admiration for a vibrant and creative woman I know in my town who has taken on the mammoth task of home-schooling her seven kids and who, despite her awareness of her own dyslexia, has carved out a niche writing articles for the local paper and leading writing groups for other mums. All this whirlwind activity is impressive enough, but the thing that most touched me, because it was such a simple, honest and trusting act, was that she appealed amongst her friends on Facebook for help with baby sitting her brood while she attended to something for herself. She just asked.
  • And this morning, in my latest bid to find help with plotting a novel I have in mind, I subscribed to Cathy Yardley’s fabulous newsletter, which entitled me to  a free mini-course in pitching called Get to the Request. Quite.

Inquiring in it’s simplest form is purely about asking a question. And we know in life that the more specific a question, the clearer it’s request, the more successful its outcome. Asking is powerful. We need to do more of it. It can lead us to our clearest answers and our most straightforward solutions. And our journals are a great place to practice.

What requests do you need to make today?

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Meditating on independence

At my daughter’s school they often have a theme for the term – such as courage or friendship or understanding. Theoretically this gives some sort of framework or something to think about during the weekly assemblies and in ‘golden time’. It’s a neat idea – and in a reflective environment I think it would work extremely well. (Just not sure about how reflective a school environment is.)

So I decided to pinch this idea. However, instead of choosing my theme at the beginning of the week, the theme chose me. It crept up on me and presented itself to me rather stealthily.

I was preparing for an up-coming Journal Talk Podcast with US journaling coach Nathan Ohren when I suddenly found myself writing about my role models as a young person. (Nathan’s prep questions are SO good.) And just as suddenly I found myself with a powerful inner conviction that my greatest influences were women who best modeled independence.

The whole concept of independence fascinates me. For me it has moral, ethical and political resonances as well as material ones, and it occured to me that this is a theme worth investigating further.

Interestingly my thought process on this during the past few days has indeed been completely independent of any journaling – as I have done none. At the moment I am happy to hold the inquiry “what does it mean to be independent?” as a form of meditation, a ball that my sub-conscious mind keeps tossing while I get on with my day.

I’m not yet ready to journal on where the meditation is leading me – but I have a sense that it is leading me somewhere quite significant. It’ll be great to see what shows up on the page when I finally enter the reflective classroom of my journal.

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Filed under Reflective Writing Practice

‘Dear Journal’ – journaling insights #2

I like to practice what I preach.

So having set my workshop group some homework before our next session in a few days’ time, I thought I’d get on with some homework of my own.

One of the exercises which generated the most excitement at last week’s workshop was the ‘Dear Journal’ piece. The idea of it is to address yourself to your journal, explaining what kind of a week you’ve had, and to ask your journal for any advice. In the second part of the exercise you write back to yourself as your journal, and see what advice emerges.

I did a similar version of this exercise a couple of years ago, addressing a letter in my journal ‘Dear Creative Self’. I got some awesome results that time too, and really learned a lot about how far I can rely on my own creativity.

So this weekend, having got some great feedback when I posted the Dear Journal exercise on The Journal Writer’s Handbook Facebook status, I decided to give it another go myself.

There was a lot of rambling to start with. Just going through my week and what’s been happening. (It was a great week by the way.) But then I got into some more juicy stuff about where I was feeling stuck, and how I was wanting to make progress but somehow felt resistant.

All the time I was writing I was aware that my journal was ‘listening’. And in this I found the courage to begin outlining some stuff that has been floating around in my head but which I hadn’t up til this point been able to articulate. The words really started to flow and in the end I found that I’d written a straight 14 sides, and come up with three brand new ideas!

The question I then posed to my journal was “How far am I kidding myself?” And the answer came that none of the stuff I’d written down was new. It was all stuff that I’d shared with my journal in the past, but without as much clarity and concrete purpose. I could see that everything I’d written was absolutely based in the knowledge, expertise and wisdom I already have, but hadn’t yet figured out how to present.


The particular notebook I’m using right now has an anchor on the front. So in keeping with that my journal reminded me to focus, and to stop drifting from one idea to another. And then she thanked me for talking to her, and reminded me that that’s what she’s here for.

It’s a strange exercise, but its effect is really powerful. I have this sense that I am not alone, that I have an inner reservoir of wisdom that is always accessible to me. This I believe is a truth for every human being, but we frequently forget how to use it. For me, I choose to access it in my journal.


Filed under Journal Writing, Reflective Writing Practice

Take a snapshot of 2012 in your journal

Before midnight strikes tonight I urge you to make time to take up your journal and cast your mind over the year just gone. What are your highlights? What are the things you’re most grateful for? What lessons have you learned? What are the things you’d rather not repeat?

This snapshot of your year will serve you well as you move forward. It’s less about making a new year’s resolution, and more about resolving the old year. It’s simultaneously grounding and inspiring, a reminder of what’s important to you, and what you want more of.

Paradoxically looking back enables us to plan better for the future. Have you ever embarked on a shopping trip without figuring out what you’ve already got in the store cupboard? Without doing a quick review you’ll often end up buying too much or not enough of what you need.

Making resolutions for the new year is just the same. Without appreciating where you’ve got to already you may end up giving up too soon or carrying on too long.

Earlier today I received a note from a reader who declared their new year’s resolution is to ask what will make them shrink or grow. I love this inquiry – it’s double-edged, though I would interpret it metaphorically, and would recommend this as a key question to ask ourselves as we make choices for the next 12 months. And of course we can only know whether we’re “shrinking” or “growing” in 2013 if we’re sure about how “big” we got last year!

So go now – do your review. Take a snapshot of your year. And this New Year’s Eve raise a glass to the graceful resolution of 2012.


Filed under Journal Writing, Reflective Writing Practice