Janine Adams is a professional organizer—and because she's also a good friend of mine, I can vouch that she's able to bring order from chaos, suggest creative solutions, and laugh with you, no hint of judgment. So when she tells me her next workshop is about helping people follow through with all those New Year’s resolutions they’ve either already broken or never had the courage to even make (that would be me), because they were so sick of disappointing themselves…it strikes me as a great idea.
Then she says she’s team-teaching it with a life coach who specializes in NLP.
I look at her funny.
Life coaches are like any other kind—they can inspire you to great feats or leave you bruised on the sidelines. But neuro-linguistic programming has always sounded, to my uninformed ear, like Noam Chomsky learning Linux. Granted, my familiarity starts and stops with what I assume to be a parlor trick—that if you look up and to the left you’re remembering something, up and to the right you’re inventing it. And even the adherents forget to mention that the formula only works that way if you’re right-handed. But we’ll leave that be for now. I’m more worried about Janine’s sanity.
Notebook in hand, I phone the NLP life coach, Shannon Wilkinson, who’s based in Portland but flying in for the workshop. She tells me that NLP helps people change the way they perceive the world around them, so they have the resources they need when they meet challenging situations. That NLP studies how we experience the world and act in it; how (and why) we succeed, and how we acquire bad habits or destructive emotional patterns.
This all sounds fairly rational. She says she asks questions, notices patterns in the language people use, and suggests different language that might shift them to a new way of thinking.
Language is an arena in which I’m fairly comfortable. I shall test her. “When I’m frazzled,” I say—quite honestly, and I am frazzled often—“I feel like people keep tugging at my sleeve, wanting something from me. That’s always the image that comes to me, people tugging at my sleeve.”
Calmly, she asks a few questions. But instead of commiserating about my workload (as I always secretly hope someone will do), she asks how I’d rather be responding to these people tugging at my sleeve. What would that look like?
“Well, I’d rather be relaxed and gracious,” I say, a little grudgingly, because what I really want at those moments is for them all to leave the planet.
“Imagine that you have space around you,” she suggests. “All the space you need to respond in a way that feels good to you.”
I hate to admit this, but her phrasing makes a difference. The very word "space," overused though it is, instantly lets me breathe a little easier. Now I really am curious. “What was it about ‘sleeve’ that got you to ‘space’?”
“It’s not the sleeve that’s important,” she says. “It’s that you are close enough that they can pull on you. They are in your space. So you need more space around you, to give you the ability to respond in a relaxed, calm way. If we were working on this together, we’d talk about phrases you could have in your back pocket, like, ‘That’s interesting—let me get back to you next week.’ Different phrases so you’d always be ready to create the space you need to respond in the way you want to respond.”
Almost satisfied, I bring up the looking-up-and-to-the-left thing. “You look up when you are thinking visually,” she says, “and you look in one direction if you’re remembering and another if you’re creating new thoughts.” She has neatly avoided the left-right mistake.
“I listen a lot to people’s language—the words they are using, the words they are not using,” Wilkinson says. “Say somebody tells me she feels buried under her to-do list. You think about that visually—her list is bigger than she is. It’s covering her up. So I’m not going to say, ‘Well, let’s dig into that.’ Instead I might say, ‘What would it take for you to be on top of it?’” The client just hears it as a normal, casual conversation, but I’m using very specific language and timing. There are ways to ask questions to make things more specific and precise, for clarity, or more abstract, so you can see the pattern.”
She’s currently teaching a course for other life coaches, helping them use NLP to deepen their coaching. “One of the biggest problems is when your client says they’re going to do something, but they don’t do it. A lot of that is, when they’re saying yes, they don’t really mean it. You can tell a clear, aligned, committed yes. And coaches can learn how to ask questions that don’t put their clients on the defensive, to let them explore why they not be committed to that action.”
She makes it sound so simple—nothing like the gimmicky, off-putting effect NLP’s name had on my tin ears. Power of language, indeed.
In the Get Back on Track workshop, Janine Adams will focus on organizing—your closet, your office, your life—and how to build habits and routines that will keep you organized. Wilkinson will teach basic skills for succeeding, then field questions and coach for that particular challenge. Which usually helps everybody else, she says.
The Get Back on Track workshop is March 14 from 10 until 11:30 a.m. in the meeting space above F.LO.A.T, 3027 Locust. Participants must register in advance; the fee is $34.