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I hope that you are managing to resist those now ever-present cabin fever urges and are keeping safe and well as Covid-19 stretches its presence amongst us.

A couple of weeks ago, we discussed whether our perceptions are real or whether it is only our experience of those perceptions that are real (and only to us). Coincidentally, over the last few weeks an (almost follow-up) question has emerged in several of my coaching sessions, namely whether we are dealing with the real issue. Over the years I have realised that many of our dilemmas arise because we don’t look deep enough – we often go with the first reasonable explanation of the issue or challenge we are experiencing; that is, we tell ourselves a story about what is happening.

There are at least two consequences to this approach. One is that we hit it lucky and the story is accurate. However, all too often we think we have the right story but it is not the right one because, for example, the problem persists. Moreover, the problem persists because we are not dealing with the real issue. We may be dealing with a symptom of the real issue and so each time we treat the symptom, it comes up somewhere else in the same or different form. For whatever reason, we don’t go deep enough into the issue.

Contrary to Einstein’s warning that we can’t solve a problem with the same thinking that caused it, we use the same thinking that caused the problem in the first place! Again and again! And we keep bumping our heads – and wondering why!

So, I guess lesson number one is, if your problem persists, or if you go around in circles trying to resolve it, broaden your perspective, come at it from different angles.

Lesson number two, for me, is to be brutally honest with ourselves. I believe it is far easier for me to be honest with others than it is for me to be honest with myself. For example, how many hours have I spent in my lifetime rationalising myself in or out of ideas or thoughts I had? Most of my clients report the same challenge.

Leading on from that is that, in addition to self-honesty, we need to raise our self-awareness especially around patterns of behaviour or thinking that we have, but perhaps avoid or are blind to, and things we resist. The real issue often lurks here (Lesson number three).

A fourth lesson has at its route a comment made by Reg Reynolds, a well-known and experienced South African coach, way back in 2001. I hope Reg won’t mind me quoting him but his message has served me really well in my coaching over the years. Reg said:

“It’s never about time management!”

In saying so, he was using time management as a metaphor for any issue that comes up. It is seldom about the story we give. There is something under the noise (in this case, the noise we make is about time management) that blocks us from finding a proper and sustainable solution. Often it’s avoidance of going deeper – “just give me a few time management skills and that will do the trick!”. Of course, if we don’t consider what it is that stops us from managing our time (or whatever our surface issue is), what is below the surface, no amount of skills will help.

This reminds me of an illustrative Zen tale I quoted in my first book, Management by Coaching – 7 Basic Keys: A woman noticed a disturbing bump under a rug. She tried to smooth out the rug by hitting the bump with a broom, but every time she did so, the bump reappeared. In utter frustration, she finally lifted the rug and, to her great surprise, out slid an angry snake.

Okay, lesson number five, always check under the rug!

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