Show me your messy closet and it’ll be Marie Kondo-ed and Home Edit-ed before you can say, “does it spark joy?” I love decluttering, but I’ll admit, the “messy middle” is my least favorite part. You know what I mean. The part where you have to take everything out and make big sloppy piles all over the room before you can sort, clean, and reorganize.
That one junk drawer in your kitchen? Before you make it neat and organized, you have to pull out every spatula, dead battery, random elastic, and kitchen tool of unknown origin. You need to vacuum out the crumbs and scrub that weird sticky spot. You have to interrogate yourself with deep questions like, “is this thirty-year old potato masher really serving me?”
Sorting out the junk drawer is a great metaphor for coaching. Before we start to create whatever it is that the client wants in their life, we usually have to interrogate a few potato mashers. In other words, we have to figure out what’s junk, what’s no longer useful, and what tools we want to bring forward.
Decluttering the mental toolbox
Even though coaching tends to be forward-looking and goal-oriented, I’ve found that we can’t start building something new without a little excavation. Say for example a client has the goal of creating a new daily routine that allows for more writing and includes time for a swim. Before we pull out the day planner, we need to understand more about what’s working and not working in the current schedule.
As a coach, I might ask questions like:
- Did you have a routine in the past that you felt worked really well?
- What have you already tried to change?
- What’s stopping you from making it to the pool as often as you’d like?
- When it comes time to write, what goes through your mind?
- How do you want to feel at the end of the day?
- What does a successful routine look like to you?
Clients’ responses will help me learn more about both the habits and practices that they use or want to use, as well as the stories they tell themselves about why certain things aren’t working or about what they feel they should be doing. Pulling these bits and pieces out of the drawer and looking at them in turn is an essential part of the process.
The messy middle
This is the messy middle. We might not get to the part where a new routine is developed in one session. However, the insights that come out of this conversation can be priceless. Maybe the client is holding on to the standard advice that one should write in the morning. They do this, but their mind is sluggish and they avoid going to the pool at lunchtime because it’s too busy. In reality, swimming first helps them focus their mental energy for writing, and as a bonus the pool is pretty empty.
It’s not rocket science, is it? But until you take a minute to look closely at the stories behind the habits, you don’t fully understand what’s not working. This is one of the benefits of working with a coach (excuse the plug). The coach, without judgment, helps you look at your unique mix of junk and history and habit and figure out what you want to keep and what you want to let go of.
It’s a system
As Clea and Joanna from The Home Edit love to declare about their rainbow-coloured reorganized spaces, “it’s a system!” Through their process, they not only declutter messy spots but they create custom systems that work for their clients. They figure out how their clients live and then help them imagine spaces that will make their lives better.
In coaching, I don’t create the change that the client wants. The client does that. But I nudge the process along by asking useful questions about all the stuff in the junk drawer so they can imagine the drawer they really want. Maybe the “drawer” is a better daily routine; maybe it’s a new job or a successful research project. Coaching takes the client through the decluttering, and that messy middle makes room for something different to emerge.