Provision #464: Spring Cleaning Moments

Laser Provision

Can you identify with how good it feels to clean up a mess that has been hanging around for far too long? Boundless energy and creativity often result. Unfortunately, messes have a way of coming back. That’s why coaches work with clients to develop systems for success. We want people to get cleaned up and to stay cleaned up. Working with the environment is one way to do that. But cleaning up clutter on all levels, both internal and external, must be attended to if we hope to optimize performance and reach our potential. If you have problems with clutter, read on. This Provision may make you smile.

LifeTrek Provision


Bob: People come to coaching for many reasons. Some people, mistakenly, confuse coaching with therapy. They want their coach to unravel, untangle, and undo many years of self-destructive and/or other-destructive behavior. Most coaches are neither trained for nor interested in handling such requests. We therefore refer such requests to competent analysts, therapists, and counselors.

Coaching works best when a talented and capable person has a vision of who they are and where they want to go. To use sports as an analogy: athletes who are talented and capable retain coaches in order to perform at the top of their game. They want to reach their full potential and they work with coaches who can assist them to do that. It is all about performance, which includes mastering both the inner game (mind, heart, body) and the outer game (rules, environment, relationships).

So, too, when it comes to business and life coaching. People retain coaches in order to perform better in their various fields of interest. Those fields may be absolutely anything: from sales to leadership, from the operating room to the board room, from wellness to parenting, from new business ventures to existing career development. If people have an ambition, they can benefit greatly from working with a coach.

A common thread through all types of coaching is getting organized for success. When someone wants to run their first marathon or their best marathon ever, we develop a training schedule and then a strategy for staying devoted to that schedule. To borrow a phrase, we “make a plan and work the plan.” So too with coaching in any area of interest.

The creation of a schedule or plan that is tailor made for your ambition and personal style will minimize distractions and keep you moving forward. It eliminates clutter from both the inner and outer game boards in order to help people stay motivated, focused, and receptive to feedback. By making and working a plan, it’s as though we engage in spring cleaning with our clients in order to get them up and going at their very best.

The elimination of clutter, whether it’s called that or not, is actually a huge piece of what we do as coaches. If you have problems with clutter, then retaining a coach might be a good investment. With a coach, it’s more likely that you will be able to clean the decks and to express the fresh exhilaration that comes from having a clear line of sight, whether it’s to your desk or to your destination. Consider the good it would do you to eliminate six kinds of clutter:

1) Cluttered Minds. For most people, action is preceded by thought. We think about a course of action before proceeding. That works great if we have the time and ability to focus our thoughts. Often, however, our attention-deficit lifestyles keep us from thinking deeply or clearly. Our minds end up cluttered with indecision, conflicting information, and distracting thoughts. As a result, we either fail to take action or we compromise the effectiveness of our actions.

Masterful coaches are great thinking partners, who assist people to sort out their thoughts, to measure their value, and to move forward. The coaching conversation is, itself, a form of thinking out loud. It interrupts our busy-busy schedules with the chance to step back and to ponder our course of action in the presence of a wise, caring, and capable listener. No wonder so many people choose to work with coaches as a matter of course. They make life more interesting and productive.

For clients who are rationally oriented, a decisional balance sheet of pros and cons can be quite helpful in sorting out their thoughts. Many people come to coaching with a balance sheet already constructed. In the absence of a second opinion, however, they may still be stymied as to their best course of action. Coaches ask questions and reflect back what we hear in ways that assist clients to get over the hump. Our questions and reflections may, of course, create consternation before they generate clarity; but in the end, clear thinking is what we seek because clear thinking generates results.

The opposite of clear thinking is what the Buddhists call the “monkey mind.” It is as though we go from tree to tree, like a monkey, tasting a piece of fruit from each before dropping it and moving on to the next tree. We are constantly distracted, unable to focus or to follow through on things from start to finish. Instead of being in the present moment, we are always in the next moment of whatever happens to get our attention. Clear thinking keeps us centered on the here and now.

2) Cluttered Hearts. Without going into the biomechanics of feeling, creativity, energy, and purpose (e.g., left-brain and right-brain theory), I prefer to think of these things as coming from the heart. Thought clarification is the province of the mind; the work of the heart, however, determines the import of thoughts. Whereas the mind is responsible for the what, the heart is responsible for the so what. It is with the heart that we clarify the significance of our thoughts.

Masterful coaches play with heart energy all the time. We not only want our clients to think clearly; we want them to by empowered by their thoughts. That is why we so often go beyond the decisional balance sheet to notice the tone, pace, gaps, and energy of our clients. We listen not only for what is being is said, but also for what is not being said, what wants to be said, and what is being said differently. These are the subtleties that constitute listening with the heart.

I remember one client who could not decide between two courses of action. There were good arguments on both sides, and she had been ambivalent for many weeks. “You don’t sound as excited by the second option as you do by the first,” I told her, reflecting back the energy of her thoughts. “I don’t?” she asked with surprise. “No, when you talk about the second option, your energy is definitely more flat and disconnected.” That affective reflection was all she needed to hear. By our next coaching session, her heart was no longer cluttered with “what if” consternation. She was ready to go.

3) Cluttered Bodies. We clutter our bodies with all sorts of things that make effective action difficult. Excess weight, inactivity, and stress are not just bad for our health, they also impact our judgment of what is possible. I was not a runner for the first 43 years of my life; after I became a runner, everything changed. What used to appear far away, now appears close. As I write this, my father is in town and awaiting surgery in our local hospital to remove gall stones. This morning I ran over to the hospital, which is less than five miles from our house. There was only one problem: five miles was just too close. So I took a circuitous route in order to run the miles I wanted for the day.

That would never have happened when my body was cluttered with excess weight, inactivity, and stress. I would have been hard pressed to imagine riding my bike to the hospital, let alone getting there on foot. Now, everything looks different. By clearing my body of clutter, horizons and opportunities have been expanded. Understanding this dynamic, coaches work with almost every client, in one way or another, to optimize their health and wellness. That’s also why I write a Wellness Pathway almost every week Click. There’s just no way to be great in life and work with a cluttered body.

4) Cluttered Ground Rules. Have you ever tried to play a game without knowing all the rules? Even worse, have you ever tried to play a game without agreement on the rules? Chaos, arguments, and premature discontinuation result. It’s just not fun to play games when there is confusion or conflict about the rules.

Unfortunately, that describes many situations in life and work. Office politics and family dynamics are what they are because people have different assumptions and understandings about procedures and norms. If you and I think we can handle our affairs or treat each other according to different standards, then sooner or later that difference will cause problems.

Coaches often work with people to recognize these differences and to take action to resolve them. It can be daunting to clean up cluttered ground rules, but it is absolutely essential. Bill worked in an office where the CEO talked the talk but failed to walk the walk. He disavowed micromanagement, for example, but he was one of the worst offenders. He would totally screw up the work plans of individuals and teams by coming over and asking a rank and file worker to look into this or that, causing a cascade of commotion and concern.

As a Vice-President, Bill saw this behavior and felt responsible for confronting the CEO as to his behavior. But how could he do that without losing his job? The concept of cleaning up cluttered ground rules offered an avenue for productive conversation. Standard operating procedures were identified, agreed to, and promulgated in such a way that the team was better able to hold everyone, including the CEO, accountable.

5) Cluttered Environments. This is the area you probably thought of first when it comes to clutter. Cluttered offices, kitchens, bedrooms, cars, and email inboxes rank at the top of the list when it comes to performance inhibitors. The problem is so widespread and intolerable that many coaches specialize in assisting people to eliminate clutter and get organized. Nothing is more frustrating than not being able to find things when you need them; nothing is more discouraging than walking into a mess everywhere you look and every time you turn a corner.

The problem is exacerbated by a consumer society in the information age. We acquire things more rapidly than any previous generation. They come at us from every direction, whether we ask for them or not. Free samples, catalogues, magazines, and spam solicitations, by both surface mail and email, can overwhelm even the best of filters and systems. It’s hard to get away from environmental clutter.

I remember a client, George, who was a sales professional in the insurance industry. George inherited a large list of customers and prospects from a retiring agent, but it was up to him to work the list. He had to call them in order to establish a relationship and get the business. Day after day and week after week, however, the calls were not being made even though a large sales bonus was on the line.

At one point during a coaching conversation, I asked George to describe for me what his desk looked like. “What do you see?” I asked. “I see piles of paper everywhere, stacks of file folders, a coffee mug, and a bunch of post-it notes. It’s a mess,” he admitted.

“Is there anywhere in the building where you could find an empty box?” I asked. “Well, I guess there’d be one in the copy room.” “Then put down the phone and go get the box. I want you to box up everything on your desk except your list of names, a pad of paper, your computer, and your telephone.” “I can’t do that!” he protested. “Everyone will think I’m getting fired.” We laughed together before he set to work on this seemingly crazy experiment. 

A week later, when we got back together for our next coaching call, George excitedly shared the progress he’d made. “Guess what?” he began proudly, “I made more than a 100 calls this week which have generated enough new business to make my bonus! It’s incredible! Everyone wants to know what happened to me, and I blamed you. ‘My coach told me to do it,’ I said.” 

That’s what happens when our environments get cleaned up. It fills us with energy and excitement to meet the day. Several years ago I had my own experience of this, thanks to my sister-in-law, Maura. For years I had filed my bills, invoices, and check stubs by vendor name. With that system, whenever a new vendor or customer would appear I had to create a new file. Since I wouldn’t always do that right away, the piles grew.

When Maura shared her system with me, the light bulb went off immediately. “I file everything by month,” she said. “At the start of every year, I make 12 new folders, and that’s all I need. I keep them for a couple years, just in case, and then throw them away.” That’s what I’ve been doing ever since. 12 folders for LifeTrek and 12 folders for my personal finances handle just about everything I want to file, leaving little room for piles to grow.

What could be simpler than that! It contains the two marks of a great system: it enabled me to get caught up and then it enabled me to stay caught up. Most spring cleaning fails on the second count. We may get caught for a time, but then we quickly fall behind again because we have not instituted any different systems. Masterful coaching enables clients to figure out both dimensions. We not only clean up the messes, we devise strategies that keep them from coming back.

6) Cluttered Relationships. Just as we can muck up our performance with physical toxins such as obesity, inactivity, and stress, we can have similar negative impacts with relational toxins. Piles of paper are not the only things that clutter up the environment; people can also get in the way of our success.

One clue as to whether or not we are in a cluttered relationship is to look at the level of trust and respect. When those are high, the relationship is clean. When those are low, the relationship is often time consuming and destructive.

Coaches work with clients to sort out and to strategize how to proceed in these situations. There are only two ways to clean up the relationship: either trust and respect have to be restored, or the relationship has to be ended. To restore trust and respect, people need to work directly and honestly with each other in order to admit their  mistakes, to apologize, and to make agreements for avoiding such confusion in the future. That is not easy, but it is possible, especially with the help of a trained facilitator or mediator.

Leaving a cluttered relationship can be just as difficult and scary, especially if you depend upon that relationship for your income. But most people who make the break eventually come to see the value of moving on, a value they may have first glimpsed through a conversation with their coach.

These six kinds of clutter • cluttered minds, hearts, bodies, rules, environments, and relationships • need to be cleaned up if we hope to optimize our performance and reach our potential. Whether we do it on our own, with everyday friends, or with a professional coach, there is no way to ignore clutter and to be the best we can possibly be.

Erika: I often work with clients to clean up clutter through designing new environments. One way to do that is to change our perspective regarding what “is.” Although Ron had a life-long dream to travel the country in a Recreational Vehicle, he struggled with the societal expectations to live a “normal” life. To him, a life of transience meant being disconnected and unsettled. Through conversation, Ron changed perspectives about living the “gypsy life.” It became clear that traveling across the country and visiting family would connect them to each other in ways that would not be possible otherwise. He would become the heart of the family, without a permanent address.

Designing a new environment can also require setting up systems of reward and recognition. Lisa bought a charm bracelet at the beginning of a life-changing journey. With each milestone, she rewarded herself with a new, symbolic charm. The bracelet became a reminder, an incentive, and a reward.

Lastly, designing a new environment can be about setting up structures to ensure success. Elie wanted to feel comfortable and to express confidence during a conference call. So, together, we identified both material objects and thoughts that would remind her of her strength during the call. She connected with a favorite pair of pants, a radiant color, and a positive affirmation. These markers supported her success with the call.

Coaching Inquiries: What things do you need to clean up in order to be successful? Have you cleaned them up in the past only to have the clutter creep back into your life and work? What systems could assist you to stay on top of the messes? Who could assist you to develop those systems and to make them work with effortless regularity?

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 on the Web for a complimentary coaching session.

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 continue to enjoy your weekly Provisions on coaching moments. They really speak to me, especially to my situation at work. 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

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