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Coaching: Paul's Conundrum Explained

Posted: August 28, 2014 by Rob Voyle

In his letter to the Romans Paul vividly describes his dilemma that the harder he tries not do the thing he doesn't want to do the more he actually does it. (Romans 7:18-20)

Passing laws against doing bad things doesn't stop people doing them, and it certainly doesn't ensure people do good things. As Paul vividly point's out the law is powerless to stop us doing bad things and it is powerless to get us to do good.

Why is that?

Last week I mentioned that goals need to be imaginable. Things that are not imaginable are intellectual abstractions and abstractions will not change people's behavior.

You have probably used the illustration "don't think of a purple cow," in fact you could take a moment and try really hard not to think of a purple cow...

The result is that you are holding in conscious the very thing you don't want. This little exercise demonstrates a profound point:

"It is impossible to image in consciousness a negation."

Trying to imagine a negation will result in a person "seeing" the very thing they don't want or they be conscious of an abstraction, or a very blurred pictures that is not compelling.

This is why negatively stated goals are rarely achieved. It is impossible to create in consciousness a picture of what you don't want. Negative goals are unimaginable and are therefore unachievable.

While that seems simple to understand we live in a society and participate in churches that are awash in negative goals. We put incredible effort into them and barely achieve a sustainable outcome.

Here are some classic negative goals.

Eliminating poverty
Child abuse prevention
Crime prevention
Conflict management
Deficit reduction
You shall not commit adultery
Non-violent communication
Non-anxious presence
War on terror
Fighting for peace
No child left behind

We can also list any goal that uses the word "less" as in "I want to be less depressed."

Notice how each statements causes us to hold in consciousness what we don't want, but does not evoke in consciousness what we want in its place.

All of these statements will either inspire continued action in what we don't want because that is what we see in our minds or will be perceived as an abstraction and not motivate any behavior.

The first step when dealing with something we don't want is to define the problem from the perspective of what we want more of in place of the problem.

The shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson has lead some to call for more anti-racism training. Here I am not only sad for Michael, his family, and the people of Ferguson, but also a total pessimist. Anti-racism training will not help and it may actually hurt because it will hold in consciousness racism the very thing we don't want. The problem isn't racism, the problem is the lack of respecting the dignity of all and cross-cultural collaboration for the benefit of all humanity.

Take a moment and create a picture of anti-racism training in your mind...

Now take a moment and create a picture of training that helps you respect the dignity of all and collaborate with people of other races and cultures...

Which creates the more compelling and motivated response for good.

Notice Dr. King didn't say. "I have a dream of a place where there is no racism..." instead he created a picture of a place where children of different races could eat together.

Likewise, we don't need another cease-fire in the Middle East we need a radical outbreak of peace and justice.

And at your local level, as a coach or as a leader the first step is:

"Get a goal"

and the second step is:

"Make sure the goal is positively stated."

And if you are in a conflict or problem situation reframe the problem by asking:

"What is it that we want more of?..."

And make what you want more of your goal

In next weeks newsletter I will explore how to clarify values with respect to the goal to increase motivation.

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About the Author

Rob Voyle

Rob Voyle

The Rev. Dr. Rob Voyle is a leader in the development and use of appreciative inquiry in church and coaching settings.

Rob's Approach to Training

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