Provision #614: Vital Rhythms

Laser Provision

Today we conclude our series on life-giving needs. I don’t know about you, but I’ve learned a lot over the past 10  weeks. When we started, I was not exactly sure how to understand or describe needs. I certainly didn’t appreciate the dynamic and, at times, dichotomous ways in which needs are related to each other. Seeing them now, laid out as they are on the Wheel of Needs, I’ve come to grasp that meeting needs is more a matter of rhythm than balance. Fortunately, that’s a whole lot easier and fun. Read on to see if you agree.

LifeTrek Provision


There’s a standing joke that my business and coaching clients always end up buying multiple domain names on their way to establishing a successful brand identity and business model. That’s because I, myself, am an URL junkie. I currently own 45 URLs, although some are scheduled to expire this year. Many of those URLs are active, either as separate websites or as pointing to our main website, www.lifetrekcoaching.com. Others are being held in reserve, with plans to roll them out as we develop new initiatives and program areas.

Of the 12 URLs that are active, pointing to our main website, two have relevance to today’s Provision: www.vitalbalances.com and www.vitalrhythms.com. No matter which one you click on they go to the same place, but the implications of the two concepts are quite different. Think seesaw or teeter-totter. Have you ever stood on top of a seesaw, right in the middle at the pivot point, and tried to maintain your balance? Most of us probably have, so most of us probably know the difficulty. At first it may go alright, but then one side dips down, so we compensate to the other, and then back again until we tire out and give up.

That’s what makes tightrope walkers so spellbinding. Everyone knows how challenging it is to maintain one’s balance under such conditions. Doing that on a high wire without a net is truly death-defying. Such acts are a staple of circuses and acrobats precisely because no ordinary person has the skill or temerity to attempt them. They strike a vital balance because the risk is great.

Falling off a high wire can easily lead to injury or even death. It is vital that acrobats maintain their balance. At least three factors contribute to that ability: strength, equipment, and practice. Acrobats are some of the strongest athletes around precisely because so much is at stake in their performances. The right equipment is equally essential, especially since it can sometimes make the balancing act easier than it looks.

But no quantity of strength and no quality of gear will mean much of anything without practice. So they start on a low wire and work the routine, over and over again, until they become confident enough to raise the wire. More practice leads to an even higher wire. Eventually, with enough practice, they’re ready for the big show. It’s thrilling, albeit exceptional, to see such balancing acts up close and personal. That’s certainly part of what draws people, for example, to the Cirque du Soleil: there’s just enough danger to astonish and amaze.

There is, fortunately, an easier and less dangerous way to achieve vitality. Stand on top of that seesaw again, right in the middle at the pivot point, and imagine producing the following rhythm: touch down on one side, clap your hands two times, then touch down on the other side, and clap your hands two times again. How difficult does that sound? Most us will probably admit that rhythms are easier to maintain, and a lot more fun, than balance. They still take strength and the right equipment, but the human body is much better suited for repetitive movements than stationary balance.

Especially when we involve other people. Put two people on the ends of that seesaw and the rhythms become a whole lot more effortless, varied, and fun. We can keep them going a lot longer, do more with them, and laugh out loud as we go up and down together. Just writing about it makes me want to seesaw again soon.

I bring all this up because we are at the end of our series on life-giving needs. Over the past 10 weeks we have explored 10 universal needs that form the basis of human vitality. I arranged those needs on a circular diagram called the Wheel of Needs, paying attention to the relationship of both adjacent and opposite needs on the wheel. When all those needs are being met, we feel vitalized, happy, invigorated, animated, spirited, and good. When one or more of those needs are not being met, we feel disquieted, angry, lethargic, dull, apathetic, and bad.

That’s why vitality lies at the center of the wheel. These needs are all important, all the time. So how do we get them met? To read the self-help literature, one would think it’s a matter of balance. How often have you heard or read about:

  • achieving work / life balance
  • eating a balanced diet
  • living a well-balanced life
  • feeling out of balance
  • bringing things back into balance
  • balancing family, work, and service
  • balancing life’s priorities
  • striking the right balance at work

I’m sure we could add many more aspirations to the list when it comes to balance. I know, because the quest for balance is one of the things that keeps the coaching profession alive, even during a recession. People are being told that they should be thankful just because they have a job, regardless of how difficult, impossible, or abusive that job may be. That rationale may work for a while, perhaps because the job is meeting our needs for security, but then, inevitably, the needs that are not being met command our attention. Perhaps we need more assistance, more connection, more honesty, more skill, or more challenge. Whatever may be the dynamics, we cannot go for long without an adjustment.

That’s when people call for coaching, and they often frame their goal as one of getting into balance. When that happens, LifeTrek coaches assist people to reframe their goal as one of getting into a rhythm. Although all needs are important all the time, that does mean we can evenly balance the meeting of all needs all the time. Like standing still on the pivot point of a seesaw, that approach is tiring and unsustainable. It fails to recognize the divergent energy of needs. We need both safety and challenge, for example, but we don’t get to have both of them in equal balance at the same time. Instead, we take turns, like going up and down on a seesaw, generating a rhythm that is ultimately satisfying, productive, and fun.

Clients often experience a huge relief and a surge of energy when they let go of the notion of balance. Developing rhythms that generate vitality is so much easier and more sustainable. There are times, for example, when we work so hard that we fail to fully meet our needs for rest or community. If our goal was balance, such times might occasion a lot of guilt and shame. We are, after all, sacrificing some of our needs.

But if our goal is rhythm we can have a very different conversation with ourselves, with our coaches, and with those we love. If we are over delivering on our need for work, then when will the pendulum swing back in the other direction, so that we over deliver on our needs for rest and community? Vitality lies in getting all our needs fully met often enough to qualify as a rhythm. And that can be a very stimulating conversation indeed.

All sorts of people over work, promising themselves and their loved ones that they’ll soon be able take some time off, to recover, and to connect emotionally. “There’s a light at the end of the tunnel,” is an all-too-familiar refrain. “Just wait until I get this project off my plate! Then I’ll get to your football game. Then we’ll take some vacation. Then I’ll go see the doctor.” But the light at the end of the tunnel turns out to be just another bend, and the end never comes, and the needs never get met.

That is not a vital rhythm! A vital rhythm goes up and down, around and around, with sufficient regularity and pacing as to be life-sustaining and life-giving. When asked, we can describe these rhythms. We can say what we do, and when we do it, to meet our needs for subsistence and transcendence, for safety and challenge, for work and rest, for honesty and empathy, for autonomy and community on a regular basis. We know when to say “Yes” and when to say “No.” We don’t promise to get around to it and then fail to keep our promise. We maintain our rhythms without fail, not as obligations but as opportunities to live and to live fully.

Such is my hope for each of us in these challenging times. Let us not be deterred or derailed from our vital rhythms. Let us rather push off and drop down like we were on a seesaw with friends, laughing, having fun, and taking care of the things that give us life.

Coaching Inquiries: What things give you life? When you look at the 10 needs on the Wheel of Needs, which ones are you meeting more regularly? Which ones are you meeting less regularly? How you could you develop new, life-giving rhythms? Who could you talk with about what this might look like? Where are the life-giving coaches in your life?

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form to arrange a complimentary conversation. To learn more about LifeTrek Coaching programs, Click Here.

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob..


I often do not get the daily Provision • please ensure they come. (Ed. Note: Although I appreciate your desire for more, Provisions is published on a weekly, not a daily, basis. Look for them to show up in your Inbox every Sunday morning, Eastern USA time).   



May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching Internationalwww.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformationwww.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coachingwww.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

Address: 121 Will Scarlet Lane, Williamsburg, VA 23185-5043
Phone: (757) 345-3452 • Fax: (772) 382-3258
Skype: LifeTrek • Twitter: @LifeTrekBob
Mobile: www.LifeTrekMobile.com
Subscribe/Unsubscribe: Subscriber Services

Provision #613: Transcendence 101

Laser Provision

Transcendence gets left out from many taxonomies of human needs. Perhaps that’s because of the common association between transcendence and religion. Transcendence is much bigger than religion, however. The map (religion) is not the territory (transcendence). The territory is bigger than life itself as the dynamic dance of human needs plays itself out on the canvass of space and time. Human beings need to participate in that dance, as challenging as that may be at times, and this Provision offers some suggestions on how to make it so.

LifeTrek Provision


Hierarchy was perhaps the biggest mistake made by Abraham Maslow with his understanding of human needs. Needs are not arranged in a hierarchy. All people, at all times, in all places, in every culture need the same things to be happy, healthy, and whole. How those needs get satisfied can take very different forms. What works for an infant does not always work for an adult, and vice-versa. What works in Africa does not always work in Australia. But that does not mean the needs are different; it just means people are going about meeting those needs in different ways.

For the past nine weeks, we have explored nine different families of human needs: subsistence, safety, work, community, empathy, honest, autonomy, challenge, and rest. Others have used different words to describe the range of human needs. Manfred Max-Neef, for example, a Chilean economist, uses the following terms: subsistence, protection, affection, understanding, participation, leisure, creation, identity, and freedom. Maslow worked with five categories: physiological, safety, love / belonging, esteem, and self-actualization.

Whatever words we use, these systems all subscribe to the idea that being human means we have needs that are few, finite, classifiable, essential, and universal. Other animals also have definable needs, which scientists love to study and categorize; those needs might be different from those of human beings but they are still viewed as being few, finite, classifiable, essential, and universal. The current concern regarding climate change is a direct result of such understandings. Many animals can no longer meet their needs in traditional habitats. As a result, they are migrating to new environments or, when that doesn’t work, they are dying off entirely.

That’s the difference between needs and strategies. Needs must be satisfied or life is threatened. We’re not just unhappy if needs go unmet; we are miserable to the point of death. It happens most quickly when we cannot meet our subsistence needs • just try going without air for a few minutes • but all of the needs identified in my Wheel of Needs are just as critical to our health and well-being. That’s why vitality is found at the center of the wheel. When all our needs are being adequately met, we are filled • to borrow a line from my email signature • with goodness, peace, and joy. We are fully and wonderfully alive.

That’s what we all hope for in life. Indeed, that’s what we all need in life. It doesn’t work to satisfy some needs and to ignore other needs. Energy expenditure without energy renewal is a formula for disaster (as our planet is now reminding us in strident terms). Autonomy without community is just as precarious a position. Indeed, all of the needs around the perimeter of my Wheel of Needshave to be met in a dynamic dance for life for life to be at its best. That’s when we experience transcendence, the tenth need on my Wheel of Needs, or what we might call transcendance.

Consider the following description of the dynamic dance by Barbara J. King, in her book by the same name:

Imagine a first-rate dance performance unfolding before your eyes. You sit in a darkened theater, watching pairs of dancers execute intricate movements on the stage, accompanied by lively music. Perfect coordination marks the movements within each pair; every turn, dip, and lift reflects full attentiveness by one partner to where the other is in space, what movements the other has just made and might be about to make, and so on.

This coordination appears to be automatic and effortless, seemingly reflective of a flawless synchrony achieved only after countless hours of practice. Yet dancers say that the coordination results not from mere practiced matching of movements from dancer to dancer. Rather, each partner must participate, moment by moment, in creating the coordination. Writing about ballroom dancing, the instructor Jennifer Mizenko captures this quality of attentive participation:

“Sight is used by the follower to look for subtle differences or changes in the leader’s dance. These differences may include a tilt of the head, a change of the level of hand hold, a general weight shift as reflected by the torso of the body, or even a change of expression in the face of the leader. However, a good follower is not zeroing in on one particular visual signal, but is seeing with a broad vision and trying to ‘take it all in,’ as it were; seeing the leader and these changes as a whole….”

“Touch is extremely important in the lead/follow relationship…The actual physical contact between the dancers gives off so much information that it is possible for the follower to dance with eyes closed… All of these elements of good partnering combine to create a Gestalt effect, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.”

The unfolding dance can be described by using a term coined by the psychologist Alan Fogel. It is co-regulated, the result of unpredictable and contingent mutual adjustments between the partners. So many variables interact as the dance unfolds that the results will never be precisely the same twice, even when the dancers follow a well-rehearsed choreography.

King goes on to note that human beings do the same dance when it comes to creating or making meaning. “Meaning is constructed,” she notes, “through action between social partners rather than through transmission of ideas from one mind to another.” It’s in the dance that we make sense of our experience and, in the process, that we determine what that experience will be. It’s never a straightforward to process to get all our needs met. It always involves “unpredictable andcontingent mutual adjustments” between people. But it is not beyond our grasp, and when we get it right it is a wonderful thing indeed.

That’s the piece that any schema of human needs misses if it fails to recognize the human need for transcendence. We are constantly dancing with ourselves and with others to experience that which lies beyond the realm of any one need. There’s a reason we end up with expressions such as:

  • “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”
  • “Man does not live by bread alone.”
  • “No man is an island.”
  • “Being too cautious is the greatest risk of all.”
  • “Compassion is no substitute for justice.”
  • “Opposites attract.”

So many of our most quotable quotes recognize that vitality comes from a dance between partners with different energies, interests, and moves. When those partners respect and pay attention to each other, we experience the synchrony of transcendence. When they disrespect and ignore each other, we experience the cacophony of arrogance. When one partner takes or demands too much attention, the resulting dance is anything but coordinated, beautiful, and flowing. It fails to inspire. When the partners share the limelight, giving and taking from each other at just the right moments, in just the right ways, and with just the right anticipation, then they create a meaningful and memorable presence that transcends space and time.

We all know the presence I’m writing about. It’s easy to get so engrossed in a performance or an experience that we find ourselves transported to another world. I’ve had that happen while running alongside a flowing river. I’ve had that happen while watching a movie. I’ve had that happen while reciting poetry. And millions of people had that happen this past week when Susan Boyle opened her mouth to sing on Britain’s Got Talent 2009. When the stars align, when a flawless synchrony is achieved, we recognize that life is more than ashes and dust.

Religions, of course, are built around different understandings and interpretations of transcendence. Religions would not be such a universal part of human experience if transcendence itself was not a need. Something there is that doesn’t love a flat universe. We need things to be bigger than ourselves if we hope to be ourselves in the face of all that contradicts and denies life. That is what keeps us going, regardless of whether or not we take a metaphysical view of transcendence.

Don’t be afraid to look for that in life, and don’t be discouraged when it plays hard to get. The vitality is in the dance! Just when we think we have things figured, something else will surface and a different need will get stimulated. That’s when it’s time to pay attention and to move in new directions; that’s when it’s time to look up, give thanks, and sing.

Coaching Inquiries: How do you experience the dynamic dance? What brings you alive? What needs are being stimulated in you right now? How could you attend to them without neglecting or denying other needs? How can you find the rhythm of the dance? Who could be your partner on the journey?

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form to arrange a complimentary conversation. To learn more about LifeTrek Coaching programs, Click Here.

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob..


I want to thank you for sending Provisions each week. I forward them to all my best friends, some of whom are going through a lot right now. They are insightful and helpful. Thanks!


Wonderful Provision on rest and I loved the video. Playing for change • I love it!!! Hope all is well with you.


Great song from around the world performers. We all need someone or many people to stand by us as we go through life. 


Your last Provision was great; just in case you had any doubt, you are the best carbon-based coach in the world!


Your Provisions are very important for my learning and understanding myself. I’m grateful to God. The situation is that 3 years ago I had a very hard car accident; and it has been a large, hard and miraculous recovery, from coma and then blindness after waking up, and immobility. I been recovering day to day, even if I do not notice I trust on Him, give thanks for being alive, and continue making effort to continue. I speak in Spanish and this is one of the first little letters I do In English, (I am recovering the language), just to say that I find very instructive your Provisions.


I understand what you were trying to do in tying the Easter message into our need for energy-restoring rest, but in all candor, you completely missed the point, and in doing so, did a tremendous disservice to our Lord and Creator. Easter is all about God’s willing sacrifice of His own dear Son, Jesus Christ, to pay the penalty for our sins, so that we could be restored to Him. It has nothing to do with •energy• or •rest.• A human body that is dead is still dead after a 3-day respite, or a 30-day respite. This was God acting as only God can in bringing Jesus• human body back to life. It is all about God operating at a level of holiness and selfless love that you or I can’t possibly understand.  



May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching Internationalwww.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformationwww.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coachingwww.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

Address: 121 Will Scarlet Lane, Williamsburg, VA 23185-5043
Phone: (757) 345-3452 • Fax: (772) 382-3258
Skype: LifeTrek • Twitter: @LifeTrekBob
Mobile: www.LifeTrekMobile.com
Subscribe/Unsubscribe: Subscriber Services

Provision #612: Get Your Rest

Laser Provision

For Christians, Easter Sunday is all about the renewal of energy. What was exhausted, depleted, and dead, comes back to life after a 3-day respite in the tomb. Whether or not that story works for you, it speaks to both the possibility of new life and to the importance of downtime when it comes to energy renewal. Other religions share that message, and I hope you will receive this Provision as an invitation to regenerate yourself through rest and renewal. Downtime is not wasted time; it is productive time.

LifeTrek Provision


Many of you have perhaps been waiting for this Provision since I began my series on life-giving needs. That’s because rest, for all its intrinsic value, is one of the more elusive facets of modern life. It seems a day does not go by without some new documentation as to the trouble people are having getting their rest. One of the consequences of the economic downturn is that people are worrying more and relaxing less. Although understandable, that’s not without its cost since an absence of rest and ease takes a tremendous toll on the body, mind, and spirit.

In an effort to balance out the work-rest equation, people are turning to sleeping pills in record numbers. According a new poll by the National Sleep Foundation, 27% of Americans say that anxieties about personal finances, the economy, or a job loss kept them awake in the previous month. At the same time, prescriptions in the USA for sleeping medications topped 56 million in 2008 • an all-time record, up 54 percent from 2004.

Unfortunately, sleeping pills treat the symptom rather than the cause of sleeplessness. They may knock you out for a few hours, with or without side effects and complications, but they do not resolve the underlying issues, both internal and external. If you don’t have a job before you go to sleep with a sleeping pill, chances are you won’t have one after you wake up. If you don’t feel good before you go to sleep with a sleeping pill, chances are you won’t feel good after you wake up. And if you don’t take any time to relax and recover from your daily stresses before you go to sleep with a sleeping pill, chances are you won’t take such time after you wake up.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t take the pill, it’s rather to say that you shouldn’t expect the pill to meet your needs for rest. A sleeping pill gives you a temporary respite, at best, it does not give you the wherewithal to successfully recover from the challenges of life and work. And it does risk chemical dependency as well as bizarre behaviors, especially for those who get started with sleeping pills in their late teens and early twenties (a growing trend). As with all medications, it’s far better to meet our needs through lifestyle management whenever possible.

So what changes do people recommend when it comes to meeting our needs for rest? They aren’t far off from the recommendations I put forward in my 2006-2007 Provision series on Optimal Wellness. For those who missed it, here’s a quick review of the most relevant points:

  1. Drink Well. Minimize or eliminate caffeine. Avoid drinks with calories, including sodas, sports drinks, juices, and alcohol. Stay with clean, filtered water and drink plenty of it. The older we get the more water we need; as a rule, the more water we drink the better we feel.
  2. Eat Well. This one surprises many people as an antidote to stress, but it is exactly that. What and how we eat impacts our ability to rest, both at night and throughout the day. Sometimes, that is very apparent — as in the case of heartburn. Most of the time, however, our eating patterns are taking their toll below the threshold of awareness. They may be contributing to overweight and obesity, leading to problems like sleep apnea, but otherwise we do not connect the dots between eating well and sleeping well. Research suggests otherwise. Those who slowly eat modest quantities of healthy foods at regular times throughout the day, starting with breakfast, sleep and rest better than those who rapidly eat large quantities of unhealthy foods at irregular times throughout the day, skipping breakfast. If you want my take on healthy foods, visit www.CelebrateWellness.com.
  3. Exercise Well. Our sedentary lifestyles are chronic sources of the underlying problems that lead to sleeplessness, depression, anxiety, and irritability. The human body was not designed to sit around all day every day in front of a computer. If that’s our job, and you can put me into that category, then we have to find ways to break the pattern. The current recommendation is for people to get at least an hour of exercise and to engage in other forms of physical activity on a daily basis. Those 60 minutes of exercise can be taken in one block or in as many as six blocks. The key is to take them and to take them seriously. If you don’t know what you do for exercise on a regular basis, then it’s time to find a pattern and, perhaps, a partner.
  4. Condition Well. Although exercise is sometimes referred to as conditioning, there are many aspects of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual fitness that go into the optimal wellness equation. The three best things you can do for yourself, when it comes to self-care, include washing your hands, cleaning your teeth, and not smoking. These are life-extending activities precisely because they meet our needs for rest and recovery from various environmental toxins.
  5. Relax Well. Once we take care of the first four, this last one becomes easier. What many people fail to recognize is that relaxation is not a lack of activity, just as darkness is not a lack of light. Relaxation can be arranged. When we’re drinking, eating, exercising, and conditioning well, we are more likely to do that. Most of us, unfortunately, cut corners when it comes to all five of these recovery strategies. We don’t have time, or so we think, to wash our hands, to floss, to exercise, and to eat and drink the way we should, so we don’t do them as well or as much as recommended. So, too, with relaxation. Who can afford to relax when the world is so unpredictable, dangerous, and demanding! Who can afford not to relax. Developing and maintaining relaxation rituals, in good times and bad, is an essential part of sleeping well and meeting our needs for rest.

Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz have written clearly and persuasively about the need for and nature of these rituals in their book The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal. Here is how they start the book:

“We live in digital time. Our rhythms are rushed, rapid fire and relentless, our days carved up into bits and bytes. We celebrate breadth rather than depth, quick reaction more than considered reflection. We skim across the surface, alighting for brief moments at dozens of destinations but rarely remaining for long at any one. We race through our lives without pausing to consider who we really want to be or where we really want to go. We’re wired up but we’re melting down.”

“Most of us are just trying to do the best that we can. When demand exceeds our capacity, we begin to make expedient choices that get us through our days and nights, but take a toll over time. We survive on too little sleep, wolf down fast foods on the run, fuel up with coffee and cool down with alcohol and sleeping pills. Faced with relentless demands at work, we become short-tempered and easily distracted. We return home from long days at work feeling exhausted and often experience our families not as a source of joy and renewal, but as one more demand in an already overburdened life.”

“We walk around with day planners and to-do lists, Palm Pilots and Blackberries, instant pagers and pop-up reminders on our computers • all designed to help us manage our time better. We take pride in our ability to multitask, and we wear our willingness to put in long hours as a badge of honor. The term 24/7 describes a world in which work never ends. We use words like obsessed, craze and overwhelmed not describe insanity, but instead to characterize our everyday lives.”

Sound familiar? The economic recession has not made life easier. In the effort to do more with less, both the employed and the unemployed are pushing even harder than ever before. No wonder demonstrations are breaking out around the globe! Either people are pushing themselves to the breaking point, and they are clamoring for relief, or they have given up altogether, and they are clamoring for support. As I have written before, it is difficult and challenging for human beings, a carbon-based life-form requiring frequent and extended periods of downtime, to interface with computers, a silicon-based life-form requiring infrequent and brief periods of downtime (usually to get a part replaced before returning to the 24/7 grid).

Loehr and Schwartz recognize this situation when they observe that most human dysfunction can be viewed, in athletic terms, as a function of either overtraining or undertraining. Either people are pushing themselves too hard or not hard enough. The secret, they write, is to balance energy expenditure with intermittent energy renewal. For carbon-based life forms, downtime is not wasted time; it is productive time. If we fail to rest and recover our energy on a daily basis, we end up either angry, fearful, anxious, defensive, and resentful or depressed, exhausted, burned out, hopeless, and defeated. Neither scenario is desirable or sustainable.

Both scenarios can be avoided by developing and maintaining relaxation rituals, in good times and bad. Although it may seem hard or self-indulgent to stay with such rituals when times are tough, that’s when they become even more important. When the going gets tough, the tough sleep their way to the top. Really! Ask anyone who’s been through combat and they will tell you the importance of learning how to sleep under any conditions. If we don’t do the things that restore and renew our energy, we will soon become no use to anyone.

So what rituals am I talking about? There’s literally no end to the things people do to rest and recover their energy. The key is to figure out what works for you and then to do them consistently. Here are 26 examples that I have practiced at different points in time: Gardening, Bird Watching, Massage, Journal Writing, Reading, Meditation, Poetry Writing, Rocking, Swinging, Balancing, Stretching, Sleeping, Napping, Making Love, Fishing, Breathwork, Biofeedback, Doodling, Snorkeling, Canoeing, Camping, Guitar Playing, Recorder Playing, Singing, Watching Shows, and Daydreaming. Why don’t you make your own list and then determine your pattern or rhythm as to when you actually do these things.

That is the key to meeting our needs for rest. Instead of viewing these needs as nuisances or inconveniences, we can recognize them for what they are: needs! We need to care for ourselves in these ways or we will suffer and die. Then, how productive will we be? Between now and when I die, I hope to optimize my energy by striking the balance that Loehr and Schwartz write about. I hope you will do the same.

Coaching Inquiries: What do you do to rest and recover your energy? How often do you do those things? What is your pattern or rhythm between energy expenditure and energy renewal? Do you strike a healthy balance or do you err on one side or the other? How could you get into a more positive groove? Who could help you to explore and develop your options?

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form to arrange a complimentary conversation. To learn more about LifeTrek Coaching programs, Click Here.

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob..


In your last Provision, you asked: “What games are you playing?” For me, it’s the “compete at the next level of the Toastmasters Table Topics speech contest” game. I will be speaking for 1 to 2 minutes, off the cuff, on a topic I can’t prepare for ahead of time. The object of the game: to grow as a speaker! 



May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching Internationalwww.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformationwww.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coachingwww.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

Address: 121 Will Scarlet Lane, Williamsburg, VA 23185-5043
Phone: (757) 345-3452 • Fax: (772) 382-3258
Skype: LifeTrek • Twitter: @LifeTrekBob
Mobile: www.LifeTrekMobile.com
Subscribe/Unsubscribe: Subscriber Services

Provision #611: Challenge Yourself

Laser Provision

Do you know the story of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears”? Goldilocks tried one bowl of porridge and it was too hot. She tried another and it was too cold. The third bowl, however, was just right and she ate it all up. Those are the kinds of challenges we want in life and work. We don’t want them to be too hard; we also don’t want them to be too easy. We want them to be just right. It takes intentionality and planning to design such challenges, but that’s not beyond us. Indeed, we humans have a knack for creating such games. This Provision will encourage you to make it so.

LifeTrek Provision


Recently I was in New Jersey to facilitate a client off-site meeting along with my LifeTrek colleague, Erika Jackson. At the end of the first day, we went out to dinner with the management team. It’s a good thing Erika was along, since we got into a conversation about television shows that was definitely out of my league. I confess to not being much of a television watcher, other than the occasional newscast, sporting event, or movie. I’m way out of my league when the conversation turns to primetime shows, but Erika was able to help me get through with a minimum of embarrassment.

It became clear that two kinds of shows were quite popular: dramatic serials and reality shows. Both were popular topics over dinner, although the former definitely had more fans. The reality shows that were mentioned had, as their common theme, an element of competition. In one way or another, people were challenging themselves and being judged as to the quality of their performance. From dancing to losing weight to feats of stamina, strength, synergy, or skill, ordinary people are putting it all on the line to be deemed the winner.

Why do we do that to ourselves? Why do we push ourselves to be the best we can possibly be, to step into something new, to reach beyond our perceived limits, and to play a bigger game? Simply put: because it’s fun and rewarding. Challenge is a universal human need. We may need to feel safe, but we also need to feel stretched. It’s neither satisfying nor fulfilling to always do what we have always done, no matter how well we do it. Such ruts lead to boredom, lethargy, listlessness, and ennui. The human mind is nothing if it’s not a stimulation factory. We challenge ourselves because we can.

Regular readers of Provisions know that I am a long-distance runner. That means I run 25-55 miles a week, every week of every month of every year. That’s about 4-9 hours a week of running, not counting the time I spend warming up, cooling down, and doing other forms of exercise such as cycling and strength training. In the course of a year, that adds up to about 22 continuous days of running and working out.

Now I mention that routine not to show off or to impress you with my athleticism. Indeed, I am not very competitive when it comes to my finish times. But I do put in the hours and I manage to enjoy myself along the way, much to the surprise of those who do not share my passion for long-distance running. “What do you think about along the way?” is a common refrain. Although every runner is different, the answer in most cases is how to make the run both interesting and enjoyable.

For an elite few, that has to do with running winning times. For many, that has to do with running faster and stronger than last week, last month, or last year. I went through that phase when I first got it into running. I was playing the game of how fast can I run. Now, however, I challenge myself with other games. Every year I run the Baltimore Marathon, for example, as the 4:45 pace team leader. In the months leading up to the race, I play the game of how steady can I run (and I have a reputation for finishing in perfect or near-perfect times). It makes the training and the race both interesting and enjoyable.

Two of my favorite games are the discover new routes and the predict the distance games. I particularly enjoy discovering new routes, which is made all the more challenging when I start and finish at the same spot. One would think there is not much to discover just outside your front door, but au contraire! There is always another way to go, especially when you combine the two games with the assistance of a GPS-enabled training watch. What new route will turn out to be exactly 5 miles? Or exactly 30 kilometers? Or exactly anything? The combinations are literally infinite, which makes for a perfect mental / physical challenge. The stimulation factory can run wild.

And then there’s that pesky computer I was telling you about in my Provision on Autonomy Needs. Having bought myself and set up a new computer which is working just fine, thank you, I now had the luxury of experimenting on the old computer with reckless abandon since I was no longer depending on it for my day-to-day functioning. Talk about a computer aficionado’s delight! I could now play the game of what’s wrong with this computer without any time constraints or performance anxiety.

It took a couple of weeks and numerous dead ends, but my new-found freedom led eventually to the discovery of a problem with the CPU’s configuration and heat sink. The reason the computer was dying was because the CPU was overheating relative to its core settings. Using a CPU temperature monitor, a free software utility, I saw how the CPU was steadily rising in temperature until • boom! • the computer shut down as though someone had pulled the plug out of the wall socket. Solving that problem solved the computer problem, or so it appears, which means I now have a nice backup computer and an even nicer new computer. 🙂

The point, again, is not to boast of my abilities (a smarter guy than me would have figured this out before he bought a new computer!); the point is to illustrate the human need for challenges. In a sense, all of life is a game. That’s not to say life is silly or unimportant. It’s rather to say that we frame our life projects as interesting and enjoyable challenges.

What games are you playing in life right now? Thankfully, I’m done with the what’s wrong with this computer game (at least for now). But in the past week my wife and I have had our book on coaching in schools accepted for publication by Jossey-Bass, so now we’re playing the write a great book before the end of August game. Between then and now we’ll be playing many other games, both personal and professional. Some of those include the go to conferences game, the get new clients game, the connect with friends game, and the plan vacations game.

It’s all a game because they all represent interesting and enjoyable challenges. Defining, playing, and winning the games of life are what bring people to coaching. People want to talk about the games they are playing, or not playing, in order to clarify their intentions, understand their feelings, and master their moves. Here are some of the games my clients are playing right now:

  • The lose weight and get in shape game.
  • The find a new job game.
  • The get along with my co-workers game.
  • The make my marriage work game.
  • The care for an ailing family member game.
  • The organize my office game.
  • The sleep better at night game.
  • The manage my medical condition game.
  • The connect with respect game.
  • The find a new partner game.
  • The take time for myself game.

As in the discovery of new routes to run, there is no limit to the games people play. We challenge ourselves because we can; doing so makes life both interesting and enjoyable. Unfortunately, it can also make life both distracting and stressful. That’s what happens when we try to play too many games or too challenging of games. The trick is to find the sweet spot where we are neither over stimulated nor under stimulated by the number and nature of the games we are playing.

Hitting that sweet spot is what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls “flow”. Athletes call it “being in the zone”. It means we are totally engaged in a desired pursuit that pushes us to, but not beyond, the limit of our abilities. When we find ourselves in that condition, we forget about time and do whatever it takes to be successful. We find such activities interesting and enjoyable, but not necessarily pleasurable in the moment. That’s because flow activities are often very difficult and challenging. They require our full attention. We cannot do a good job with them if we are distracted by other pressures or commitments.

The pleasure often comes after the fact, as many athletes will attest. Ask endurance athletes what’s the best part of their workouts and they will often reply, “Finishing.” That’s when you experience the relief and satisfaction of a job well done. The challenge has been met and the work has been completed. That’s when the endorphins really take hold.

There’s no way to get to that point, however, apart from playing the game. As the saying goes, “Those who do not play, cannot win”. The key is to design a winnable game. That’s what I’ve done with my running. I’ve designed winnable games that I find both doable and enjoyable. I regularly experience flow at these games, which keeps me coming back for more. Mastery experiences build on themselves.

So, too, do frustrating experiences build on themselves. Once we conclude that we cannot be successful at something, we stop enjoying the challenge and we seldom go back for more. A big part of coaching is assisting clients to design winnable games. We have to scale and frame the challenges appropriately. But it doesn’t take a coach to figure this out. We can do it for ourselves once we understand what we are doing. There’s no way I can win the run a 3-hour marathon game. Taking on that challenge would neither be interesting nor enjoyable. It would be frustrating, counterproductive, and unnecessary.

That’s what I hope to assist my clients to discover. There’s no point in banging away at an unwinnable game. If someone asks you to play such a game, then it’s time to set your boundaries and speak your truth. If you ask yourself to play an unwinnable game, then it’s time to rescale and reframe the challenges appropriately. Doing so is the secret to success and to being fully alive. It is what makes the difference between those who greet the day with zest and enthusiasm and those who find it hard to get going.

Coaching Inquiries: What games are you playing? Do they challenge you enough, not enough, or too much? Do you find yourself bored or anxious? How could you change the games you are playing in order to experience flow more often? Who could be your partner in designing and playing better games?

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form to arrange a complimentary conversation. To learn more about LifeTrek Coaching programs, Click Here.

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob..


I enjoy reading your Provisions each week. I look forward to them, first thing on Sunday morning. Thanks for all you do!


Thanks so much for your ministry of health and healing! I am part of a fairly new Health and Wellness Committee and my vision is that all UM committees, institutions, events, and members would recognize that all of Christ’s ministry was health ministry, that discipleship means stewardship of our bodies and the earth, and that the scriptures need to be incorporated at the cellular level. With that comes the hope, faith, and energy for tapping into the most pure form of what is right with us!


I was wanting to know what would be the first steps that I would need to take in becoming a Life Coach? Are there legitimate schools to get a degree or a certificate in Life Coaching? What qualifies someone as a Life Coach? I feel and I have been told that I give good solid advice and that this field may be something that I should look into. (Ed. Note: For information on coach training, visit www.coachfederation.org or www.certifiedcoach.org.) 



May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching Internationalwww.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformationwww.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coachingwww.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

Address: 121 Will Scarlet Lane, Williamsburg, VA 23185-5043
Phone: (757) 345-3452 • Fax: (772) 382-3258
Skype: LifeTrek • Twitter: @LifeTrekBob
Mobile: www.LifeTrekMobile.com
Subscribe/Unsubscribe: Subscriber Services

Provision #610: Autonomy Needs

Laser Provision

Autonomy needs probably have a lot of emotional resonance for you. That’s because autonomy, when it gets compromised, can drive us crazy. Understanding that makes two things clear: one, it’s important to not tolerate those compromises for very long, and two, it’s important to respect the autonomy needs of others. Most bad behavior can be traced back to problems with autonomy. This Provision makes those dynamics clear and calls us to act accordingly.

LifeTrek Provision


Since the dawn of time, animals have had to cope with and express our needs for autonomy. With significantly higher degrees of mobility and sentience than plants, animals have sought to exercise control over our environments and destinies. We seek to assert ourselves when we perceive that it would be in our best interest, both individual and collective. Humans, of course, have proven to be the most controlling and assertive of all animals, such that we are now having to cope with the global effects of how we have chosen to express our needs for autonomy.

Early on, there was not much concern about understanding autonomy in terms of domination. You are, perhaps, familiar with the ancient command from God to the first humans in the Jewish scriptures: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” (Genesis 1:28). In a precarious world, domination was often better than the alternative: annihilation. Domination met many needs, including safety, subsistence, challenge, work, and rest.

Yet undergirding all of the above is a more fundamental need: the need for control. Human beings do not like the feelings associated with being out of control. Those feelings range from anxiety to anger, from depression to despair, from confusion to contempt. We may eschew the politics of domination, but we all have a tolerance level below which we cannot abide when it comes to our needs for control. Your level may be different than mine, but the needs for autonomy, including independence, freedom, choice, control, individuality, self-efficacy, and power, are universal.

These needs come into play at virtually every moment. Whether we experience a perceived lack of internal or external control, we end up with many of the same feelings. We suffer many unhappy feelings, for example, when we are sick and unable to control our physical well-being. We suffer the same feelings when our relationships with other people or the environment are unpredictable, troublesome, and toxic.

I know, because I’ve just gone through a significant computer problem (all you Mac people can start laughing right now • although my Mac friends tell me their experience is not exactly 100% trouble free). Now I pride myself on having excellent PC skills. When it comes to both software and hardware problems, I can usually troubleshoot the situation in fairly short order. But for the past several months, my primary PC has been increasingly unstable. It would just die, at random moments, as though someone had pulled the plug out of the machine. There wasn’t even the dreaded blue screen of death.

This was definitely a hardware problem, and my needs for autonomy and control were definitely not being met here. So I would muscle my way through another repair scenario, on occasion buying a new piece of hardware, only to have it happen again an hour, a day, or a week later. Just when I would think I had the problem solved, giving me the greatest of satisfactions, it would return with a vengeance. In the end, rather than tolerating the situation any longer, I bought myself a new computer and have met my needs for control by getting it all set up just the way I prefer. Had I taken that action several months earlier, I would have saved money (by not buying the unnecessary parts) and prevented a lot of frustration.

That, of course, is a coaching lesson. I work with my clients all the time on eliminating tolerations. I, like many others, put up with them far longer than I should. There were redeeming aspects to my 3-month-long ordeal, including no loss of data (thanks to multiple redundancy systems), new technical understandings (thanks to some great technical support resources), and the satisfaction of ending up with a great new computer (with a deep discount thanks to the economy and shrewd bargaining). But if I knew then what I know now, I would have bought a new computer three months ago.

When I think about the redeeming aspects versus the frustrating dynamics of my experience, they all have to do with issues related to autonomy. I frequently and vocally celebrated the systems that I had set up to protect my data. The systems worked great; the fact that I was the one who had set them up and that they actually performed as intended was even greater. The new technical understandings were also great, since I now have a greater sense autonomy than ever before. When it comes to some things, I won’t be calling Microsoft for advice. And the deep discount? I certainly lucked into some things, but my approach got me a greater discount than I would have otherwise received apart from speaking up.

The frustrating dynamics were not only my lack of success with the repairs; they were also the erratic nature of the environment in which I was working. I had become habituated to saving my work every few seconds, since I never knew when the computer was likely to die. If autonomy is about “the quality or state of being self-governing,” then this was clearly a case of a sick computer eroding that quality. It was obviously my choice to keep the repair project going for as long as I did, but it was not my choice as to if and when my work and productivity would be interrupted by a fatal error.

Has something like that ever happened to you? Has your quality of life ever suffered from a loss of autonomy? I’m sure it has. Two factors enter into the equation: control and choice. When either or both are compromised, our autonomy and our quality of life suffer.

That’s why we push back so vigorously when we perceive that one or the other is being threatened. When we lose control, we can do all sorts of strange things to get that control back. Hence the growth of much that goes on in the world of alternative therapies. When people are desperate, they will try just about anything to get their control back. Now I’m not saying that alternative therapies are a sham. I take as many vitamins and supplements as anyone I know! But I am saying that the demand for alternative therapies is related to our needs for autonomy.

Especially when our doctor, our boss, or some other professional gives us an ultimatum: do this or else; change or die. Oh, how we squirm when our autonomy is denied! “You insist, I resist” is a basic truism. In any field of human endeavor, the surest way to provoke resistance is to deny autonomy. When people lose control, choice, or both, they become self-protective and tend to act in tragic ways.

I use the word tragic not as a moral judgment but in practical terms. When our autonomy is disrupted or denied, we often act in ways that make it less rather than more likely that our needs for autonomy will be met. We pursue therapies, for example, often at great expense, that have no hope of working. We dig in our heels, for example, often at great expense, that make matters worse rather than better. All conflicts, in the end, involve matters of autonomy. And some have gone on for centuries or even millennia as people fight over their needs for autonomy.

Understanding that autonomy is a universal human need is the mark of true leadership. Leaders know how to invite cooperation rather than to force participation. Force may work in the short run, if success is understood as compliance. But it often doesn’t work in the short run and it never works in the long run. People can suspend their needs for autonomy • or any of the other universal needs • for only so long. In the end, because we’re talking about needs rather than wants, they demand attention and require satisfaction.

Would that we could all approach life with such emotional intelligence! It would make our conversations so much more productive and satisfying. We could have open and thoughtful conversations about those alternative therapies rather than defensive and protective ones. We could have rational and reasonable conversations about those computer problems rather than stubborn and toleration-justifying ones. We could have respectful and understanding conversations about those long-standing conflicts rather than explosive and violent ones.

That is my hope for this Provision and for our world. The more we appreciate autonomy as a universal human need, the more willing we become to make sure that need is being met in all our deliberations and interactions. Whether it comes to internal or external dynamics, the needs for autonomy are the same. We live in a life-giving world of possibility when we recognize and respect those needs; we live in a life-alienating world of inevitability when we deny and disrespect those needs. The more I understand about the contrast, the more I seek to choose life0

Coaching Inquiries: What about you? Where are the places in your life where you could do a better job at respecting both your own and other people’s needs for autonomy? How could you communicate that respect? What light can be shed on situations once they are viewed through the lens of autonomy? Who could you talk with about these dynamics?

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form to arrange a complimentary conversation. To learn more about LifeTrek Coaching programs, Click Here.

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob..


Your series on needs continues to open my eyes to new ways of understanding and responding to others. Thanks for all that you do to make them so clear! 



May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching Internationalwww.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformationwww.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coachingwww.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

Address: 121 Will Scarlet Lane, Williamsburg, VA 23185-5043
Phone: (757) 345-3452 • Fax: (772) 382-3258
Skype: LifeTrek • Twitter: @LifeTrekBob
Mobile: www.LifeTrekMobile.com
Subscribe/Unsubscribe: Subscriber Services

Provision #609: Honesty Needs

Laser Provision

What do you think of when you think of honest self-expression? Do you think of telling people exactly what you think? Do you think of telling people what you want them to do? These forms of communication may sound honest, but they often skirt and confuse the real issues. Our needs for honesty take us to another level altogether. They have less to do with what we think and want and more to do with what we feel and need. Being honest at that level holds great potential for making life more wonderful, and I hope this Provision will show you a way to make it so.

LifeTrek Provision


As the weeks go by in this series, I continue to learn much about how best to express our universal needs. One way to keep an eye on how that is emerging is to visit one of our companion websites,www.CelebrateEmpathy.com, on a regular basis. The now 4-page handout, Understanding Needs & Feelings, includes my own constantly-evolving Wheel of Needs as well as a condensed summary of Manfred Max-Neef’s model of Human Scale Development. Instead of evaluating wealth solely in financial terms, Max-Neef, who hails from Chile, is one of those economists who asks larger questions about how well a society is meeting the needs of its people.

Max-Neef understands needs in the same, broad scope as we have been exploring in this series of Provisions. They are certainly far broader than money, which is actually a strategy for meeting needs rather than a need itself. Money is an invention of human society, and not that old of an invention at that (only a few thousand years). For the vast majority of human history and pre-history, needs were met without the use of money through bartering and sharing. At times like these, during economic recessions and depressions, people are rediscovering these ancient practices as we search for new strategies to meet our needs.

That’s what needs do: they motivate human behavior. When needs are being met, they generate positive emotions and motivate appreciative behaviors. When needs are not being met, they generate negative emotions and motivate acquisitive behaviors. Something there is that doesn’t love an unmet need.

Over the past five weeks, I have reviewed the first half of my Wheel of Needs diagram. We have considered our subsistence needs, as well as our needs for safety, community, empathy, and work. Those are pretty basic, when you think about it. If we don’t feel safe, either personally or in society, then it circumscribes the realm of the possible. If we don’t have others upon whom we can depend and trust to share power with, then we come up short more often than not. If those others blame, judge, evaluate, and criticize our efforts and our way of being in the world, then it’s hard to develop a happy and life-giving relationship with either ourselves or others. And if we do no work, then our bodies, minds, and spirits will suffer.

Now we come around the horn and begin to review those needs that are on the opposite sides of the wheel from the needs we have already covered. That is no accident. The needs are arranged on the wheel in ways the illuminate a variety of relationships. The needs that are next to each other on the wheel share the same energies and support the same ends. It’s hard to meet our subsistence needs, for example, without meeting our needs for work and safety. Life takes work whether it comes to putting food on the table or securing our environment against possible threats.

That’s the way all the needs work as you move around the wheel. Pick any one need and look at the two needs on either side. A little reflection will begin to tease out new insights as to how the needs are related and how best to meet your needs when one or another is lacking.

Needs on opposite sides of the wheel represent opposite ends of a spectrum. Their energies are different and they challenge us to come from different perspectives and positions. It’s not that they are opposed to the needs on the other side of the wheel, it’s rather that they pull us in opposite directions. Understanding, appreciating, and navigating that pull is the secret of life.

How’s that for a nice gift! The secret of life, revealed, and you didn’t even have to hike to the top of a mountain to consult with a guru. Getting our needs met, not just some of our needs but all of our needs, is the secret of life. The fact that that secret eludes so many people does not change the secret. When one or more needs are not being fully met, there is a hole that won’t leave us alone. We cannot be whole with holes.

The pull on the other end of the spectrum from empathy is honesty. Simply put, empathy is receiving respectfully what’s alive with someone else. Honesty is expressing respectfully what’s alive with us. Talk about opposite ends of the spectrum! Both are needed, both are essential, but they are very different movements on the trek of life.

From moment to moment, it’s always a judgment call as to which movement we take. And it’s not always clear as to which movement will be the most in any given situation. Do I seek to understand where someone else is coming from (empathy)? Or do I seek to express where I am coming from (honesty)? The movement represents a dance and it takes mindfulness as well as practice to get the steps right.

Most of the time, in my experience, it’s better to lead with empathy. I say in my experience because most of the time, when I impulsively lead with honesty, I end up in trouble. I get my motor caught in deep weeds and its hard, if not impossible, to get out. So I have learned, the hard way, that it’s better to lead with empathy.

Echoing St. Francis’ prayer, Stephen Covey pegs this as the fifth habit in his bestselling book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People:  “Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood.” Covey writes, “‘Seek first to understand’ involves a very deep shift in paradigm. We typically seek first to be understood. Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply. They’re either speaking or preparing to speak. They’re filtering everything through their own paradigms, reading their autobiography into other people’s lives” (p. 239).

After we express empathy, after we connect with respect, after we understand the feelings and needs of others, then we can express what’s alive with us • and, at that point, it often comes out in totally different ways than if we had gone first. Once we hear where someone else is coming from, we can reframe where we are coming from and express it with clarity, courage, and compassion.  That’s the connection between empathy and honesty. The better we are at one, the better we will become at the other.

Honesty is not about giving someone a piece of our mind. Honesty is not about being rude, opinionated, and judgmental. Honesty is about walking the talk, sharing our needs, and making requests. When we can do those three things with clarity, courage, and compassion, we really are making life more wonderful both for ourselves and for others.

Walking the Talk. Honesty starts with integrity. If we are not honest with ourselves, then we cannot be honest with others. If we are out of step and out of sync with our values, then others will not want to hear what we have to say. How many leaders have fallen out of favor in just this way! It has happened so often that people are no longer surprised when another prominent person bites the dust in this way. We just roll our eyes as if to say, “You can’t trust anyone anymore.” But honesty requires trust and trust requires integrity.

Sharing our Needs. This is probably the most overlooked part of honest self-expression. We go right to what we think would make us feel better • “I want you to stop talking that way.” • rather than to what needs are being stimulated when someone talks that way • “I need respect, consideration, and affirmation”. Remember the Wheel of Needs. By sharing our needs without immediately sharing our ideas as to what people should do to meet those needs, we give people the chance to understand us better and to express empathy. 

People are more likely to do that if, after we honestly express our needs using the language on the Wheel of Needs chart, we stop talking and allow those needs to sink in. If we rush to put forward whatever we think the other should start or stop doing to make the situation better, the other will often take issue with the strategy without appreciating and connecting with needs. When it comes to arguing about strategies there is no end! When it comes to understanding needs, however, there is a common bond of experience and humanity.

Making Requests. One way to allow the needs to sink in before you start figuring out solutions is to state the needs that are alive for you and then to ask, “Would you be willing to tell me what you heard me say?” That’s what Nonviolent Communication refers to as a connection request. It’s a way of pausing the conversation and of checking in with how your honest self-expression is being received before moving on to action requests. Action requests will come, but they will go better and you will have more courage if you take time to first connect at the level of feelings and needs.

Action requests can involve all sorts of things. One of the beauties about getting clear and connected around the needs is that all kinds of new ideas emerge as to how those needs could be better met. This isn’t about comprising your ideas or sacrificing your boundaries, this is about generating better ideas through facilitating understanding, openness, and respect. Once people hear that you are not demanding “my way or the highway”, once your honest self-expression is about meeting needs rather than throwing your weight around, then they become partners in the search solutions. That is the key to making things work.

We all need honesty, both from ourselves and from others. Unfortunately, it gets compromised in countless situations and ways. If we take this Provision to heart, however, we may find an approach that can increase the incidence of honesty in our lives and in our world. It’s not about being rude and pushy to get our own ways. It’s rather about being integral and whole, sharing our needs and making requests, until those proverbial win-win solutions rise to the top.

Coaching Inquiries: How would you rate the honesty quotient in your life? What would assist you to express your needs more fully? How can you avoid coming across as self-centered and demanding? What opportunities exist for you to express honesty in new ways and places in the week ahead? How will you make it so?

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form to arrange a complimentary conversation. To learn more about LifeTrek Coaching programs, Click Here.

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob..


I am so enjoying your weekly Provisions. This week’s horse whisperer story is no exception. You have a gift of tapping into ideas, resources and information from very varied, rich and sometimes unexpected sources. Thank you. 

Often an issue is one I like to keep in my computer files so I will do a cut and paste in Word. It’s a bit cumbersome. So I have one request: can you set it up so we can hit a “print” button” to get a printable version? And perhaps a “send” button to make it easy to forward? Similar to other newsletters and magazines out there. (Ed. Note: We don’t have that capacity right now, but the most printer-friendly edition can be found at our AvantGo site. Hope that helps.)



May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching Internationalwww.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformationwww.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coachingwww.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

Address: 121 Will Scarlet Lane, Williamsburg, VA 23185-5043
Phone: (757) 345-3452 • Fax: (772) 382-3258
Skype: LifeTrek • Twitter: @LifeTrekBob
Mobile: www.LifeTrekMobile.com
Subscribe/Unsubscribe: Subscriber Services

Provision #608: Empathy Needs

Laser Provision

Our first experience of community, mother and child, is given not chosen. As time goes on, however, we have many opportunities to associate with others and to meet our needs for interdependence. No one goes it alone, even those who think of themselves as “self-made”. That’s always a misnomer. We depend upon others from the cradle to the grave. There are many different strategies for meeting community needs, but no one can deny those needs exist. If you’re looking for new strategies, this Provision might just give you a few new ideas. Enjoy!

LifeTrek Provision


This past week I had the opportunity to read the story of a real-life horse whisperer, Monty Roberts. His autobiography, The Man Who Listens to Horses, has sold more than five million copies, has been translated into fourteen languages, and was on The New York Times bestseller list for fifty-eight weeks after it was first published in 1997. I can understand why. The book has a marvelous, whimsical quality that engages the reader with its honest and, at times, unbelievable stories of triumph and tragedy. I particularly enjoyed his colorful descriptions as well as his appreciative tone. He draws deeply from the well of life.

My reason for reading the book was to learn more about the presence and work of whisperers, who are known for their ability to connect in transformational ways with animals, humans, and spirits. On the surface it seems as though these people are just born with a special gift. “I see dead people” was how Cole, the child star in the 1999 movie, The Sixth Sense, described his predicament. He couldn’t explain how that happened. He certainly didn’t ask for or strive to cultivate that ability. It just came upon him and, as it turned out, caused him no end of trouble and grief.

It’s tempting to think of whisperers in much the same way. Some people are just born that way. But it becomes fast apparent that Monty Roberts, with a mix of Cherokee and European backgrounds, developed his whispering skills through a combination of mindfulness, empathy, and dogged determination. He was around horses from birth, and he knew all too well the suffering they endured while they were being “broken” by cowboys and other trainers to accept their first saddle and rider. It was a process that could take six weeks, as the spirit of the horse was slowly extinguished at the hands of their more powerful and often cruel masters.

Being abused himself as a child, Monty decided that he wanted no part of that, either for humans or horses. So he set about the task of learning how horses communicated and behaved in the wild. Through many seasons of careful observations and experimentation, Roberts ultimately became able to understand and connect with horses in their own silent language. As a result, he is typically able to “start” horses • note the difference in metaphor • in 30 minutes or less. In this way, and over the course of his lifetime, he has therefore been able to start some 15,000 horses and he has shifted the way the entire world goes about the process.

That’s the power of empathy. It is a universal need, transcending human beings to include virtually all species. Unless one has an understanding and appreciation of the other, then life will suffer just as surely as if it were being “broken” by a cowboy. With understanding and appreciation, however, life is more fun and wonderful for one and all. Listen to some of Roberts’ reflections on the things he has learned about connecting with horses. See if you don’t notice some wisdom here when it comes to connecting with humans!

“I wanted to stop and simply observe the (wild) horses. There was something compelling about seeing them as a family…. It made me want to melt into the background and see what could be seen, without subjecting them to our interference. It was almost as if I wanted to be a horse myself, so thoroughly had I taken their side. These horses were (my) brothers and sisters…. I wanted to understand them, and I was more than ever certain that I knew less than I thought I did.” (p. 9)

“(Later) it occurred to me that I could (perhaps) use the same silent system of communication myself. If I understood how to do it, I could effectively cross over the boundary between human (the ultimate fight animal) and horse (the flight animal). Using their language, their system of communication, I could create a strong bond of trust. I would achieve cross-species communication.” (p. 24)

“Once flight is no longer a clear option, the horse’s best defense if not to run but to turn into the onslaught and kick…. This explains a phenomenon recognized by all good trainers: poke a forefinger into a horse’s side and he will move against the pressure rather than away from it. It is perhaps the single most important thing to remember in training horses. Horses are into pressure animals.” (p. 25)

My goal is not to make the horse submit. “I want to gain his confidence and make him happy to follow the bit and bridle • as he’ll be doing for the rest of his working life. I want to make it a happy experience for him.” (p. 33)

I don’t want horses to work out of fear, but out of willingness. “To destroy the willingness in a horse is a crazy, unforgiveable act. Inherent generosity is among the dominant characteristics of the horse, and if nurtured can grow into the most rewarding aspect of their working lives. Of the horses I have been close to in my life, I have marveled most at their willingness to try for me, over and over again.” (p. 40)

“By observing the horse’s action and reactions, I developed an inner ear. I believed the horses were telling me something and, most important, I learned, with rare exceptions, never to believe the people connected with the horse. The rider was not lying, simply not listening. Over the years this came to be the cornerstone of my thinking, so much so that it became like a mantra, and one proven by experience to be true: A good trainer can hear a horse speak to him. A great trainer can hear him whisper.” (p. 46)

“I learned a great deal that day. My way of thinking about horses was enriched by this critical idea: a rider or trainer should never say to a horse, “You must.” Instead, the horse should be invited to perform because, “I would like to.” Taking that a step further • to ask a horse to perform is not as clever as causing him to want to perform. Horses naturally want to run, and if they are trained correctly we can harness their willingness to do just that, to race to their potential.”… There is no need for whips “if training procedures take advantage of a well-bred horse’s overpowering desire to run.” (p. 65)

Because we travelled on the horse circuit when I was a child, I had a tutor who travelled with us in our railroad car. “She understood me better than my parents did and sympathized with my problems. She gave me lessons I value now: she taught me how to communicate with people; she encouraged me to relax; and she made me understand that if I was to pursue a career as a horseman with such single-minded dedication and from such a young age, I would have to pace myself • or burn out.” (pp. 72-73)

When I did show up at school, “it consisted mostly of turning up on examination days to prove that I was up to standard.”… I will always remember a statement made by my most influential teacher, namely, “that there is no such thing as teaching • only learning. She believed that no teacher could ever teach anyone anything. Her task as a teacher was to create an environment in which the student can learn. Knowledge, she told us,…needs to be pulled into the brain by the student, not pushed into it by the teacher. Knowledge is not to be forced on anyone. The brain has to be receptive, malleable, and most important, hungry for that knowledge. I apply that same philosophy to training horses.” (pp. 87-88)

(When) “I registered for the military draft…their medical examination confirmed that I was completely color-blind…. Many years later, when I was sixty-one, I went to a specialist in Britain who gave me contract lenses that offered a taste of what it is like to see color. The vibration of energy that resulted cause me enormous agitation. If this is what normally sighted people have to put up with, I thought to myself, small wonder they are so distracted and nervous. It was a revelation that left me certain: I could not have done what I have in my life had I seen in color.” (p. 105)

“During the many hours I rode Fancy Heels, that old adage: You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” took on new life for me. In fact, you can teach an old dog new tricks, but all in due time. I had been so keen to get to work on Fancy Heels that I thought I could force rapid changes on him. I pressed for a standard of excellence without taking the horse’s feelings into account. It did not work. Given the chance to work with Fancy Heels again, I would not set a time frame for making changes and demand that he stick to it. That horse taught me to respect horses and not to demand immediate perfection.” (pp. 146-147)

When young people come to our farm and ride for us, we say to the riders, “Leave the horse alone. Let him go on, let him explore a little and then correct him. He’ll be all right. Let him go in the direction he wants for a few steps, and then bend him more toward what you want. Don’t hammer him.” (p. 151)

The understanding between me and one of my favorite horses “is mature and well-founded. I have not so much trained him as created an environment in which he has wanted to learn. I have never pulled at his mouth, ever; in fact, I could use cotton thread instead of leather reins.” To get to this point has taken a lot of “patience and hard work from both of us. However, … I have taken care not to dull his appetite for work by repetition or excess; it has been essential to our progress together that he remain fresh and keen.” (p. 158)

“The ‘crazy horse’ is almost never born, but made. And it pains me to hear the term. If we could somehow see for ourselves all the events in a horse’s life that together account for his malicious behavior, we would be astonished. Some horses will take so much, than finally take no more. Few people still think humans are born crazy; but in the world of horses the ‘bad seed’ myth endures. ‘His sire was that way, too,’ trainers will say of a troubled horse, and they have been saying that for 6,000 years. They are wrong: maybe two percent of horses are born bad; the rest are put on that path by (how) people (handle them).” (p. 158)

(What I call) “join-up is always the most thrilling part of the process. Not because I ever doubt it will happen, but simply because it proves the possibility of communication between human and horse. A flight animal giving her trust to a fight animal, human and horse spanning the gap between them, always strikes me as miraculous. The moment it occurs is always fresh, always satisfying.” (p. 169)

I started working with deer to learn more about working with horses. “The flight mechanism of a deer is many times more sensitive than that of a horse. When I made a mistake in one of my movements, I would pay, sometimes for weeks or even months.” “With Grandma, as I called her, I worked every day using the concepts of Advance and Retreat. Whenever she acted as though she preferred to be with me, I would deliberately push her away and walk behind her for up to three miles. When I saw her circle and show me her flanks, thinking about renegotiating with me, I would turn and walk in the opposite direction.” (It took several years before) “I realized my dream of join-up with a deer. She trusted me. The warm sun seemed to bless that moment: the deer chewing her cud, the man with the grin, the eagle overhead catch the updrafts from the valley floor.” (p. 181)

Grandma taught me the fine points of horse language. “In the round pen (with horses, I started)…experimenting with the speed with which I moved my eyes. I also tried different ways of reading the image of the horse out of the corner of my eye without actually looking at the horse. By moving my eyes more slowly, I found I could temper the flight impulse. As soon as I understood that, Grandma was much easier to work with.” (p. 182)

(When joining up with a mustang in the wild, with no pen and no ropes), “it was necessary for all of us to keep uppermost in our minds a sense of calmness, an utter lack of urgency. These horses need patience. If you act like you’ve only got fifteen minutes, it’ll take all day. If you act like you’ve got all day, it’ll take fifteen minutes.” (p. 240).

“The absence of communication between human and horse has led to a disastrous history of cruelty and abuse. As a result, we did not gain the willing cooperation of the horse nearly as much as we might have done. Our loss has been considerable • the emotional connection with the horse has been diminished, but so has the performance and work we might have gained. It is a balance I have tried to redress during a lifetime’s work with horses. Happily, that work continues.” (p. 229)

Although he never uses the word, Monty Roberts is, in my estimation, an empathy master. It is his intention: to connect with and understand horses rather than to correct and control horses. It is his presence: to be a compassionate and fun-loving friend rather than a fearsome and hard-driving master. It is his orientation: to give every horse the benefit of the doubt and the opportunity to realize his or her full potential. And it is his technique: to communicate in their language, on their terms, at their pace, with their sensitivities, and in their environment so as to foster learning and growth.

Would that we might approach human beings with such intentions, presence, orientation, and techniques! It would make a huge difference in meeting our needs for empathy and in realizing the full potential of us all.

Coaching Inquiries: How would you describe your intentions, presence, orientation, and techniques? Do they facilitate or interfere with learning and growth? How could you become more sensitive to the needs and feelings of others? How could you approach others with the desire to connect more than to correct?

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form to arrange a complimentary conversation. To learn more about LifeTrek Coaching programs, Click Here.

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob..


It was real interesting to read your thoughts on the various types of community. Especially interesting was your mentions of your time in Chicago. My wife and I shared some of that time with you and we continue to find that experience so unique and special. Hardly anyone we encounter has ever experienced anything so life-changing as those experiences. Our connections to people from Covenant Community continue to shape our lives and response to life and God. 

I also laughed when you mentioned ‘virtual community.’ My wife talks about that often as she describes the students she encounters here at the university. And the funny thing, the students more or less agree. The really troubling thing about it is that they see nothing wrong with it. Thanks for continuing to send me your e-mail letters. And continued blessings on your work. 



May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching Internationalwww.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformationwww.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coachingwww.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

Address: 121 Will Scarlet Lane, Williamsburg, VA 23185-5043
Phone: (757) 345-3452 • Fax: (772) 382-3258
Skype: LifeTrek • Twitter: @LifeTrekBob
Mobile: www.LifeTrekMobile.com
Subscribe/Unsubscribe: Subscriber Services

Provision #607: Community Needs

Laser Provision

Our first experience of community, mother and child, is given not chosen. As time goes on, however, we have many opportunities to associate with others and to meet our needs for interdependence. No one goes it alone, even those who think of themselves as “self-made”. That’s always a misnomer. We depend upon others from the cradle to the grave. There are many different strategies for meeting community needs, but no one can deny those needs exist. If you’re looking for new strategies, this Provision might just give you a few new ideas. Enjoy!

LifeTrek Provision


Seven years before he died, at the age of 59, the English poet and priest John Donne wrote a meditation in 1624 that lives on to this day as a poignant reflection on mortality and community. Although I no longer appreciate the use of male imagery to represent all of humankind, I do appreciate the import of Donne’s sentiments. Perhaps you will recognize this tiny excerpt thanks to Ernest Hemingway’s use of the title, “For Whom The Bell Tolls”:

“All mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated. …As therefore the bell that rings to a sermon, calls not upon the preacher only, but upon the congregation to come: so this bell calls us all: but how much more me, who am brought so near the door by this sickness….No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. …Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

We are, indeed, tied together by numerous common denominators, of which birth and death are only two. The whole concept of universal human needs works with the idea that people have much in common by virtue of nothing more than our being human and being alive. If we grant that recognition, then it becomes much easier to accept our needs for community. Donne was right: No one is an island, entire of itself.

At the outset of life, of course, we have little sense of or need for autonomy. Our egos have not yet developed and we are happy when others comfort and care for us. I wrote about that two weeks ago in my Provision on Comfort Needs. Our first experience of community comes from the primordial, biological bond with our mother and significant others. When that experience is positive, whole, and life-giving, then we have a good base for experiencing community throughout our lives. When that bond is compromised, then we may have to work harder to find, accept, enjoy community as adults.

Either way, adults make choices regarding how best to meet our community needs. I recently watched a video biography of Thomas Merton, a renowned Trappist monk who was particularly outspoken as a poet, social activist, and ecumenist during the 1960s. He spent the last few years of his life living in a hermitage at the Abbey of Gethsemane in Kentucky. He chose isolation not to abandon the world but to connect with it more deeply. Living alone was, for Merton, a way to meet his community needs.

We all have stories to tell as to how our own needs for community have been met. At different points in time, we may have chosen, like Merton, radically different approaches. I know I have. That’s OK because strategies are always expendable. They are never the needs themselves; they are rather experiments designed to meet the needs themselves. We inevitably move from one strategy to the next, as our feelings and circumstances change. But the needs themselves don’t change, and we can see how they express themselves on many fronts.

Nominal Communities. We probably all have some in-name-only associations which provide different levels of comfort and identification. We sign a petition or add our name to a list, for example, but we may do nothing else to help the cause or organization to which we are subscribed. They may even be such passing fancies that we forget all about our involvement. They connect with our values and intentions, or we would have never subscribed to them in the first place, but they fail to evolve into something more meaningful and supportive. Nominal communities come and go throughout our lives; there’s nothing wrong with them but they do not satisfy our deep needs for community. They are stepping stones at best.

Geographic Communities. I currently live in Williamsburg, Virginia, USA for example. Throughout my life I’ve lived in six other places. I’ve also visited a great many communities and countries around the globe. I clearly feel more connected to the places where I have lived than to the places I have visited, but each has provided me a sense of geographic community. The more we travel, the more we extend our sense of geographic community from the local to the global. I find that valuable. It’s great to meet someone I know at the grocery store; it’s just as great to know someone I could meet in Hong Kong. “Think global, act local” is not just a slogan; it’s a good way to express our sense of geographic community.

Interest Communities. To the discovery and proliferation of special interest communities there is no end. Recently, for example, I received an email from my high school alma mater. The alumni association wanted to update its records. That email has unleashed a torrent of communication between people who grew up together in Brecksville, Ohio before 1972. The outpouring of sentiment and memories has been surprising to one and all. It’s even led to a new Facebook group. Who knew there were so many untapped emotions! That’s the way special interest groups work; they meet our community needs in special ways. People often feel very passionate about their special interest communities, because they give people a sense of “power with”. As long as such communities do not become hate groups, they represent an important part of what makes life worth living.

Professional Communities. All other communities are, in some sense, special interest communities. Apart from biological and, for most people on the planet, geographic communities, all other communities are chosen. Will I join this group or that group? Will I major in this subject or that subject? Will I pursue this career or that career? In my own case, I have had two primary careers: pastor and coach. Each has connected me with countless others and community circles. When I made the transition from one to the other, my professional communities • and the letters after my name • changed. But the dynamic of having professional communities did not change. I sought them out, and they sought me out. I have always found professional communities to be important ways for meeting my community needs.

Residential Communities. Many geographic communities are residential communities (we are where we live) but there are far more intimate expressions of residential communities. I’ve already mentioned Thomas Merton’s participation in a Trappist monastery. That was a residential community, even when he lived alone on the grounds. Today, with growing economic pressures, many are choosing to co-locate their housing with others. My wife and I did this for more than seven years when we were first married. Our incomes were small and our challenges were great in the inner-city of Chicago. By living with and sharing our resources with another couple, we could make ends meet, provide important emotional support for the work, and share the load of child raising.

Spiritual Communities. The residential community we had in Chicago was also a spiritual community. My guess is that most residential communities touch the soul more deeply than nonresidential communities. But spiritual communities are neither necessarily nor typically residential. People seek out those places and groups that will uplift, encourage, and nurture a sense of connection both to other people and to common values. Spiritual communities are not necessarily religious or even called spiritual. A case in point would be the monthly gathering that my wife and I facilitate of those interested in Nonviolent Communication. Whenever people gather to enhance their quality of life they are forming a spiritual community.

Virtual Communities. I’ve already mentioned the Facebook group that has formed around my high school graduating class. A growing expression and strategy for meeting community needs does not take place through face-to-face encounters. It takes place in the virtual world, with social networking sites exploding across every generation and special interest. If it hasn’t touched you yet, it will. Wherever people hang out, and whatever people do, they form communities to support and challenge them along the way. Want to run your first marathon? Want to go green? Want to learn Arabic? Whatever your interest, there are abundant virtual communities to choose from.

All of these communities • nominal, geographic, special interest, professional, residential, spiritual, and virtual • form and reform as people seek to meet their needs for interdependence, cooperation, inclusion, trust, mutuality, and power with. No one is an island, and if we think otherwise we are fooling ourselves. All of life is a web of communities, from the cradle to the grave, because all of life is forged in communities. There really is no other way to go. Community is a universal human need and I encourage you to find ways to more fully meet that need in life and work.

Coaching Inquiries: What communities enrich your life and make it better? What communities stress your life and make it worse? How could you more fully meet your community needs? What communities are you curious about? Who could join you in the quest to find out more?

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form to arrange a complimentary conversation. To learn more about LifeTrek Coaching programs, Click Here.

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob..


I’m sitting here in India and I feel really inspired by your Provision on Activity Needs. I feel like I failed in my life due to mistakes and laziness. I can feel your Provision. Everything is correct. Keep in touch with me. I want to do something very clear and big in my life, but I’m failing to take the first step. What’s the reason? How can I change myself? (Ed. Note: Accept yourself, clarify your vision, develop a plan, and muster the support of others. In community you will find ways to move forward.)


I feel compelled to write in response to your Provision this week. Your article about understanding that sometimes life is work is something my mother taught me. I have just spent the last week at her bedside in hospice care. I spent time thinking about all she has done for me. The greatest gift was her gift of faith and second that life is not easy and you might as well get up and get on with it. Many times you will have to do things you do not like to do in order to reach your goal. That means the way is not always going to be easy, but the rewards are great. When students have to learn their multiplication tables, for example, there is no easy way, they just have to learn and memorize them if they are ever going to be successful in math. I would suggest that is why it is called “work”. Sometimes work is fun and sometimes not, but it still has to be done.


I just signed up for LifeTrek Coaching with one of your coaches and I have already gotten 1/2 my money’s worth just from getting the articles you’ve written 1/2 read. Thanks!


The weekly Provisions on human needs are both inspiring and thought provoking. Thanks!   



May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching Internationalwww.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformationwww.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coachingwww.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

Address: 121 Will Scarlet Lane, Williamsburg, VA 23185-5043
Phone: (757) 345-3452 • Fax: (772) 382-3258
Skype: LifeTrek • Twitter: @LifeTrekBob
Mobile: www.LifeTrekMobile.com
Subscribe/Unsubscribe: Subscriber Services

Provision #606: Work Needs

Laser Provision

I’m not sure who said it first, but we’ve all probably heard the saying, “Find a job that you love to do and you’ll never work another day in your life.” Although I would quibble with that definition of work, the point is well taken. Life takes work, so we may as well get used to it. We might also find ways to fall in love with what we do. That has certainly been my approach to life, and it has enabled me to approach each day with zest. Being active is not a curse, it’s a blessing. It’s a need we all share in common.

LifeTrek Provision


I have been enjoying the opportunity to collect my thoughts regarding those life-giving needs that we all share as human beings. Even though I have been aware of the concept of universal human needs for many decades, it has not been until relatively recently that I have gone beyond the hierarchy of needs identified by Abraham Maslow in the early 1940s. I have “gone beyond” in three senses:

  1. I no longer understand needs as being arranged hierarchically. All human beings have the same universal needs at all times. What we choose to emphasize is not based upon other needs being met, in serial and sequential fashion. That choice has more to do with the focus of our attention and the stimulation of our feelings. If we think that meeting a need will make life more wonderful, then we turn in that direction. The meeting of needs is a dynamic dance.
  2. I no longer think of universal human needs as the subject of psychology courses (promptly to be forgotten upon their conclusion). Thanks to Marshall Rosenberg and Nonviolent Communication, I now understand how the language of universal human needs can be incorporated in everyday conversations and speech. I also understand how powerful such communications can be when it comes to establishing connection and generating possibility. The use of such language is a healing tonic.
  3. I no longer think of universal human needs in five large categories (Physiological, Safety, Love/Belonging, Esteem, Self-Actualization). Since Maslow’s time, many others have developed schemas of human needs which are much broader and more complex. The Chilean economist Manfred Max-Neef, for example, has developed a matrix of nine fundamental human needs each with four dimensions (Being, Having, Doing, Relating). That generates 36 possibilities for a pretty robust understanding of human needs.

My own work in this arena has been inspired by Jim & Jori Manske, since I first saw their circular diagram of ten different need categories. I have taken to calling this the Wheel of Needs, and I have developed a version which arranges needs across spectrums and in family groups. Every time I work on this, it evolves a bit more. To keep an eye on my progress, click on the link for theWheel of Needs at www.CelebrateEmpathy.com.

Today we swing to the other side of our existence needs. Last week I wrote about our need for comfort, including such things as security, safety, protection, justice, respect, consideration, and conservation. The classic image here is of little children running to their mother’s side when they are startled, troubled, or otherwise upset. That need never goes away and, in the age of global warming, it is becoming increasingly difficult to run to the side of Mother Earth for comfort. That’s why I appreciate all efforts to save the planet. They meet my need for comfort.

They also meet the activity needs of those who are expending the effort to save the planet. Comfort and activity are two sides of the same coin. Even little children need to receive comfort from others, so do those others need to extend comfort to others. It’s not exactly a quid pro quo, but it’s close. And that’s because life takes work.

I return to it frequently, but the first sentence of M. Scott Peck’s first book, The Road Less Travelled, reminds us of a fundamental truth: “Life is difficult”. In these challenging times, just about everyone is feeling that truth more painfully than before. Accepting that truth makes all the difference in the world. As long as we expect life to be easy, we chafe under and rail against the effort it takes to get where we want to go. Once we understand that life is difficult, we are freed to enjoy the effort it takes to navigate our way through.

People often come to coaching to develop strategies for meeting their activity needs. The process never starts there, however. As long as getting on the treadmill or working hard every day is viewed as an unpleasant, unfortunate, and unmerited chore, then no talk of strategies will do much good. The problem is not one of inadequate strategies; the problem is one of inadequate understanding.

“Life is difficult!” That may sound like the opposite of what you would expect to hear from a life coach • aren’t we all about making like effortless? • but it is actually the secret of our success. The only way to make life effortless is to make less effort about life. Once we accept that life takes effort, the strategies to get things done become opportunities to be enjoyed rather than burdens to be avoided.

I think about that every time I work out or go for a run. I know people who think it’s crazy to exercise for an hour or more a day. What I call fun they call misery. What’s the difference? It’s certainly not the expenditure of energy. I burn calories just as surely as the next person. It’s rather the appreciation of that expenditure. I enjoy both the experience and the ancillary benefits. Once you accept the fact that our bodies were made to move and that activities of all sorts are part of the equation, then you become much more sanguine about the prospects of finding ones that will bring you joy.

I also think about that every time I work to make life better for others. These Provisions don’t just write themselves, for example. They take effort, many hours a week, as do my coaching conversations with clients (some of which happen on a pro bono basis). I love those expenditures of my energy and time. They work my mind and spirit more than my body, and here, too, I appreciate both the experience and the outcomes. Once you accept the fact that it takes work to get things done and to make a contribution, the whole enterprise becomes much more meaningful and enjoyable.

It can even take work to relax. To get a massage, for example, I have to make the appointment, arrange my calendar, get in my car, drive to the office, take off my clothes, lie on the table, and release both my mind and muscles. Then I have to do it all over again, in reverse, an hour later. During that hour, my need for comfort connects with my therapist’s need for activity in the dynamic dance that characterizes all true needs. They complement more than they compete with each other. They work together for good.

So get over the fact that life is difficult. Of course it takes energy. Look around right now and you can probably see something worth doing, even if it’s just cleaning the sink, sweeping the floor, or weeding the garden. Life is like that. Stuff breaks, gets dirty, and needs tending. In the past week I’ve been dealing with a wicked computer problem; at times it’s been variously frustrating, vexing, and confusing. So does that make this a terrible, no-good week? Absolutely not. Working on computers is like everything else: it’s an activity worth doing.

Everything hinges, of course, on the “worth doing” part of that equation. When there is a good-enough why, most people are happy to expend the energy (at least in theory). But that’s a topic for another day, since it relates to other sectors in the Wheel of Needs. And it is also a great topic for coaching, since activity without purpose or pleasure cannot be sustained. We encourage you to give us a call.

Coaching Inquiries: What activities do you enjoy? How could you meet your activity needs more fully? What things fill you with purpose and pleasure? How can you become more conscious of the connection between what you do and who you are? Who could you talk with to bring these dynamics into focus?

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form to arrange a complimentary conversation. To learn more about LifeTrek Coaching programs, Click Here.

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob..


There were no replies last week • so I guess everyone was feeling comfortable with their Comfort Needs! ☺ Enjoy the week.  



May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching Internationalwww.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformationwww.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coachingwww.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

Address: 121 Will Scarlet Lane, Williamsburg, VA 23185-5043
Phone: (757) 345-3452 • Fax: (772) 382-3258
Skype: LifeTrek • Twitter: @LifeTrekBob
Mobile: www.LifeTrekMobile.com
Subscribe/Unsubscribe: Subscriber Services

Provision #605: Safety Needs

Laser Provision

Ever hear of “comfort food”? Of course you have! In fact, most readers know exactly which foods do it for them. What about “comfort beads” and “comfort companions”? Here, too, most people know their favorite practices and partners when they’re looking for reassurance, protection, and support. What about “comfort conditions”? We may take it for granted, but the rule of law does much to secure the liberties and lifestyles we enjoy. All these fall into the category of safety needs, the focus of today’s Provision.

LifeTrek Provision


Last week I wrote about the needs that arise by virtue of our coming to life. I called them “existential needs” since they come to be as soon as we come to be. We all know the ones I am talking about. They are that universal: nourishment, health, sensory stimulation, hygiene, and nurturing. I also acknowledged the role of opportunity and timing when it comes to existence. Whether you believe in God, fate, evolution, or luck, the fact that we are consciously aware of being here at all is rather amazing. Consciousness is the capstone of creation.

Once we take care of those basic human needs, others immediately come into play and I put comfort at the head of the list. My earliest childhood memory is a trauma • one my mother has no recollection of, as is often the case. I was a very small child, watching television in my underwear while my mother went next door to visit with a neighbor. That’s when a test of the emergency broadcast system took place on the television. At the same time as the television was screeching, the phone rang and a timer went off in the kitchen. I was spooked to say the least.

So I ran outside, in my underwear, to find my mother next door. What did I want? You guessed it: comfort! I jumped in her lap and remember being held as my mother and Mrs. Street tried to figure out what was wrong.

Every child goes through multiple such moments. We even have words to describe such conditions and phases of early childhood development. Separation anxiety, for example, comes along predictably at about the eight-month mark. From one moment to the next, an infant who knows no strangers suddenly becomes terrified at the prospect of being handed off to anyone other than the primary caregivers. They can be inconsolable until the one they know best returns.

The need for comfort does not end with infancy. It is a lifelong quest which, in part, explains the pair-bonding of human relationships. It is extremely comforting to think that someone will be there for you no matter what: “to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; from this day forward until death do us part.”

The need for comfort also explains, in part, many other human associations. When my wife and I moved to Williamsburg, Virginia in 2002, we looked around for religious congregations, service clubs, athletic associations, and other special interest groups. Although we had certain ideas as to what we were looking for, there was certainly an emotional component to the search. We wanted to affiliate where we felt comfortable.

Such affiliations are, of course, two-edged swords. One person’s affiliation is another person’s exclusion. My safety and protection can be your vulnerability and threat. Warring factions, from families to tribes to terrorist organizations to nation states, all frame their interests in similar terms: they want to secure justice and comfort for their people, often at the expense of the other side.

It doesn’t have to be that way, however, and the movement to peace starts with the recognition that comfort is a universal human need. It doesn’t matter what language people speak. It doesn’t matter where they stand in terms of economic development. It doesn’t matter what their other values might be. Everyone needs places where they feel safe, secure, and respected. That’s true throughout the human lifespan. The sooner we understand and appreciate the reality of that need the sooner we may learn to accept the affiliations of others when they are different from our own.

The need for comfort is a strong generator of human feelings and driver of human behaviors. We see that in ourselves whenever we feel uncomfortable. That’s when we pull out the chocolate or whatever may be our favorite comfort food. That’s when we get out our prayer beads as a tool for meditation. That’s when we call a friend or family member for consolation. Everyone has their own strategies for meeting this need, and some work better than others.

The classic response, evidenced more by males than females, is fight, flight, or freeze. Since I feel uncomfortable, there must be enemies to either attack (if we think we have the upper hand) or hide from (if we think they have the upper hand). It’s the proverbial law of the jungle which continues to this day in every aspect of human relations. Unfortunately, viewing people as enemies makes for temporary solutions at best. We may win the battle, but we never win the war. By failing to recognize the universal need for comfort, we fail to search for win-win solutions.

Researchers have also identified a different response, evidenced more by females than males, known as tend and befriend. Since I feel uncomfortable, there must be allies who I can give comfort to and receive comfort from. In the evolution of traditional, male-dominated societies, women have often found themselves in uncomfortable positions with no good options. They have therefore learned the importance of empathy and consideration in the management of human affairs. They understand that all people need comfort and that it takes caring to make it so.

Self-caring is an important part of the equation. There is no one, universal strategy for self-caring. Everyone has different preferences and patterns when it comes to the things that make them feel good. Some people eat chocolate while others go for a run. Some people breathe deep while others clean their sink. Some people talk with friends while others get a massage. Whatever it takes to feel comfortable, do it! Our ability to make others comfortable depends upon our ability to make ourselves comfortable.

That said, caring for others is often a wonderful way to care for ourselves. It’s not called “tend and befriend” for nothing. There is reciprocity when it comes to comfort. The more we extend comfort the more we receive comfort. Affinity groups are not hate groups unless hate is the basis for the affinity. I seek to avoid those kinds of groups at all costs. They do not make me comfortable and they are not dedicated to making others comfortable. I prefer groups based upon universal love, however incompletely that love may be expressed.

Justice is part of the equation when it comes to comfort. Comfort is not entirely possible when one does not feel safe in society. That is the message of universal human rights. No one is safe until all are safe. That is also the message of global conservation. No one is safe until the planet is safe. It’s not enough to have our needs for comfort met if and when it comes at the expense of others or the planet itself. We live in interdependent systems, all the way down to the tiniest seed.

So all this talk about comfort as a universal human need goes far beyond what we might, at first, have thought. It is not a solipsistic or selfish pursuit. It is rather the basis for life itself: for us, for others, and for all.

Coaching Inquiries: What gives you comfort? How can you feel even more comfortable without taking advantage of others? How is the need for comfort expressing itself in your affiliations? Do they draw the circle wide or do they pit one interest against another? What other affiliations might meet your need as well as the global need for comfort more fully?

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form to arrange a complimentary conversation. To learn more about LifeTrek Coaching programs, Click Here.

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob..


Have to admit amidst our heroic work to get people to see one another as miracles rather than deficits, and in our effort to replace the social worker model with Asset Based Community Development, it is hard to resonate with your need-based approach. We “need” to accept God’s forgiveness, gifts and call • all of which is realization of who we truly are. But I’m trying to be open to your line of reasoning.


I am one of the “impassioned readers” that you spoke of last week, the second one. I really appreciate you responding to my previous comments, but I wanted to clarify one thing: I was not upset about the John 1:1-2 reinterpretation, but rather I was questioning the Genesis 1 stuff. I still don’t think God has needs, so when you talk about Him creating the world because he needed stuff, I would disagree, and I am fine with disagreeing.

I actually think the John 1:1-2 stuff is good. Logos is not really a thing or word or thought, but my favorite definition would be “that thing which comes before a thought,” the thing that causes us to have a thought. In that case, I would say that “Need” is a fine translation, and I think the Gospel writer, John, would agree that Jesus was that “need” even before we knew that we had a need. 🙂 Blessings to you, and thanks for the work you do. 



May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching Internationalwww.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformationwww.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coachingwww.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

Address: 121 Will Scarlet Lane, Williamsburg, VA 23185-5043
Phone: (757) 345-3452 • Fax: (772) 382-3258
Skype: LifeTrek • Twitter: @LifeTrekBob
Mobile: www.LifeTrekMobile.com
Subscribe/Unsubscribe: Subscriber Services