Maximum effect: change behavior, thought, or feeling.

Sometimes I work with clients who are caught in a pattern they want to break.  It may be a behavior that doesn’t serve them (for instance, not completing time sheets until the morning they’re due and losing the details that would yield more billable time), a thought that produces an action that doesn’t serve them (such as, I don’t have time to deal with timesheets right now), or a feeling that generates such a thought (the panic of too much to do in too little time).  It’s easy to say, just change the behavior!  And sometimes that works, and on we go.  But sometimes it doesn’t work, because the thoughts and/or feelings that produced the behavior are still present.

That’s when I introduce something I learned at the Georgetown Leadership Coaching program.  Alexander Caillet has created The Thinking Path, which holds that thoughts (including assumptions and beliefs) produce feelings, which produce actions, which produce results.  One interesting facet of applying The Thinking Path is that it’s possible to jump in at any point, so changing actions can result in changed feelings and thoughts; changed feelings can produce changed thoughts and actions; and changed thoughts can bring up changed feelings and actions.  But it isn’t magic; effort is required.

Here’s an example, drawn from one person’s experience:

Bob was having a great deal of trouble communicating with a particular partner who intimidated him.  He’d lose his train of thought and his presentation in describing a case and the controlling law just didn’t hang together well.  He tried making notes before going to talk with the partner, he rehearsed what he wanted to say, he anticipated the questions the partner might ask… But none of this really helped.  Through our conversation, Bob realized that his intimidation was self-reinforcing.  Because he felt intimidated, he didn’t present well, so he felt even more intimidated, as well as embarrassed and angry and incompetent.  I asked Bob to notice his thoughts as he was preparing to talk with the partner, and he discovered that his thoughts were negative and predicting poor performance: here you go again, you’re going to screw up just like you always do, why can’t you just do it right with this guy, you’re such a failure, you’re probably going to get fired.

Ouch!  Those thoughts, not surprisingly, made Bob feel embarrassed, angry at himself, and shamed.  So, Bob devised alternative thoughts that would be more geared toward success.  When he caught these negatives going through his mind, he substituted instead, I present the facts and laws well to all of the partners, including XYZ; I’ve done the research and I’m prepared to answer the questions; I have prepared well for this conversation and it’s going to be fine.  And, of course, he did prepare well, he was ready for questions, and he knew fully what was going on with his case, how it related to the caselaw he’d researched, and what the likely outcome would be.  Finally, he examined the belief that he was going to get fired because of his presentations and concluded that although poor performance certainly wasn’t advancing him, his performance was sufficiently good that his job wasn’t really on the line.  This isn’t magic; it’s doing the work and putting all the pieces in place to lead to a positive outcome.

Bob had projected that his substitute thoughts would make him feel more confident, more calm and less jittery.  And sure enough, that’s how he felt when he approached the partner for the first time after this exercise.  I’d love to write that the conversation was perfect and Bob didn’t stumble once, but this is real life and not magic.  He stumbled, but his performance was much better than it had been, particularly because when he stumbled he stopped the failure thoughts and substituted thoughts that encouraged him.  And now, after plenty of practice, he interacts beautifully with this partner.  Is he intimidated?  Yes, a little, but he’s confident in his own abilities and doesn’t dwell in that intimidation.

How might you apply The Thinking Path?  What thoughts, feelings, or actions can you identify and change as your entry point to creating a different result?

2 replies
  1. Julie Fleming-Brown
    Julie Fleming-Brown says:

    Lisa, thanks for your comment. Caillet doesn’t use the term Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, though I do see some overlaps between the two. Of course, coaching (the context for the Thinking Path) is not therapy, and that’s a critical distinction. Another distinction that I see (though I’m not trained in CBT so I may not understand it sufficiently) is that the Thinking Path allows an entry at any point.

    For instance, suppose a lawyer is dealing with a significant professional disappointment that makes her uncomfortable interacting with others involved — perhaps she was scolded by a judge and doesn’t want to encounter opposing counsel again because she’ embarrassed. My understanding is that CBT would start by addressing the feelings of embarrassment and the beliefs underlying, in an effort to reframe the thoughts and feelings. The Thinking Path could take the same approach, or it could just as easily begin by asking how she would like to be able to interact with opposing counsel, then how she’d need to feel to be able to act that way, then what beliefs would support those feelings. Alternatively, she might consider how she’d like to feel when dealing with opposing counsel, how those feelings would cause her to act, and what thoughts would underlie those feelings. So, while it’s reframing, the approach can come from a lot of different beginning points.

    Your point, though, is well-taken. There are certainly similarities here, though the two approaches are applied in quite different contexts.

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply