Last week I spent a couple of days helping a good friend in LA with her newborn and 15 month old. I found myself in awe about how much there is to learn from being witness to kids and how the mechanisms for teaching and raising kids mirror so much of what coaches hold for their clients. In a sense, hiring a coach is a mechanism for taking a journey back to embrace some of what flowed so freely as a child.

Kids are curiosity ninjas

On my whiteboard in my office, I have a saying that I inherited from a coaching colleague.

“Be childlike, but not childish.”

It is my reminder to stay curious and is one of the core skills of any great coach. Kids have an inherently curious nature. The awe of a newborn discovering its own body - the way he moved his fingers and toes - can be seen in the gaze of amazement on their face. The disbelief that they can control their body’s movements is visible. They instinctively know when something isn’t right - from the position of their body while being held to knowing when they need sleep or food AND know at birth how to signal when one of those needs is present and not being met. Older baby’s hold that same curiosity in almost everything they do. The last time I visited, I was witness to a tiny girl learning how to walk. She could see everyone else putting one foot in front of the other to create forward motion and she wanted the same. She tried and failed and tried some more because she was determined to understand. She was curious about how it works and what it takes. On this visit, I was exposed to glimpses of what happens when assumption gets into the way of flexing that same curiosity. Now that she knows how to walk, she assumes it is the same to walk anywhere, including down stairs. Except it is not. Her trying and failing and trying more still exists but it sits alongside frustration. Once we think we know how something should go, it is hard to remove that filter and to choose curiosity.

Stop assuming and stay curious. Where can you invite curiosity into your life today?

We can learn alongside kids

I was blown away by the large percentage of content designed to facilitate kids’ learning that is also relevant to adults. I’ve noticed this parallel in many things marketed to kids, like animated movies where adults and kids both benefit from enjoying the films, but these epiphany’s always centered on humor where often the dialog between characters had some hidden meaning only understood and appreciated by adults. This Sesame Street parody of Les Miserables highlighted that there is actually a lot of benefit in remembering what we teach our children. It was an invitation to remember basic principles of humanity. In the short video, cookie monster is miserable because he does not have cookies. Upon discovering cookies, various friends in his village are introduced and cookie monster is prompted to see what these friends think of his discovery and his hesitancy to share his cookies. While entertaining on several levels, the core message of this video is remarkable for its short 5 minute length: not everyone will feel the same way as you do, there are ways to understand how people feel, and there is power in your ability to know those differences.

This lesson can be turned inward. Most clients find it difficult to identify how they feel. In fact, most of us find this difficult because we don’t practice frequently. Gloria Wilcox developed a feeling wheel widely used in both therapy and coaching as a framework for this exact purpose - understanding how we feel about our circumstances. Sesame Street’s narrator guides Cookie Monster to look at his friends bodies as an indicator of how they feel. Most clients, when prompted to notice “what is happening in your body as you say that” become immediately skeptical. Our default response is “What our bodies have to do with any of this,” but our bodies are windows into our emotions. Understanding how we feel is crucial for two reasons.

  1. Emotions are the result of how we we think about things. If we think we should have cookies, we might be sad when we do not have them. If we think we should have an answer and we do not, we might feel angry at ourselves for our lack of knowing or towards another party for not helping us find an answer. When we can identify our emotions, the thought driving that emotion emerges and in doing so, allows us to chose a different thought which will in turn lead to a different emotion.
  2. Emotions drive our actions. If we feel sad or angry, we will act very differently that if we are joyful or peaceful. Understanding how we feel is the first step in our opportunity to take a different action that better aligns with the outcomes we are looking to achieve. Raising our awareness about our bodies clues us into our feelings. Anything that helps us identify our feelings faster is a pathway to taking the actions and achieving the outcomes that we want now rather than later. When practiced, we can begin to identify our emotions as soon as our body sends us signals and before we can recognize them cognitively with our minds.

This same lesson can be turned outward to how we interact with others. Good leaders ask themselves about the impact they intend to have on those around them, but most people leave it at that. Great leaders evaluate if the impact they intended to have mirrors the impact that resulted from their actions. The follow through can be difficult. We can pose this question to people directly - “what impact did my my helping you have on you,” but using this as our only evaluation relies too heavily on people’s safety in telling the truth. If we follow the advice from the Sesame Street parody, noticing someone’s facial expression, body language, and actions is a good indication of how someone is feeling. And because less than 10% of our communication is through our words, widening our view to include these signals is crucial to understanding our impact. Spend a few minutes today noticing what your body tells you about how you are feeling. Then spend a few minutes seeking these clues from those around you - what do you notice about how they are feeling based on the signals beyond their words.