Before you self-diagnose with depression…

… have a look around and see if you are not actually surrounded by a****les.

When we are feeling down, angry, sad, irritated, anxious, etc. or when someone else is feeling in a way that is undesirable to them, the most common reaction in our culture is to start to look at what is happening “inside” the person. Somehow seems logical: “The problem” (the undesired emotion) seems to be happening inside, therefore “the solution” (a more desirable emotion) also needs to come from “inside”.

This only works if we assume that a person is somewhat separated from their environment and the “inside” of the person is somewhat independent from the “outside”. And is this really the case? And why is this important for coaching, leadership and personal happiness? Bear with me for a bit.

On one of our cycling trips, my husband and I were following the Rhine-Rhone canal from the Rhine to the Rhone. The first day on the canal, we both were feeling exhausted, not fit, everything was a bit harder than usual. We were finding lots of interesting explanations: “It is day 3 of the trip, we are probably just hitting the tough spot.” “Maybe we didn’t have enough to eat yesterday” etc. etc. All the explanations had to do with our personal individual constitution. What we found out after 30 km was that we had been going steadily, slowly uphill without noticing. The explanation was not to be found “inside” but in the interplay between our environment and ourselves.

So what if emotions did not happen “inside”, what if they weren’t produced by us as individuals? Maybe “feeling an emotion” is more like “seeing”, “hearing”, “smelling” rather than this unexplainable “inside” occurrence. Before you self-diagnose with depression…

So why is this important for coaches, leaders and people who would like to lead a good life? If you find your clients, your direct reports, yourself experiencing an “undesirable” emotion – try treating it as a perception, a “sensation” rather than something irritating. Look at the situation and the emotion.

In coaching, we use the move of “perspective change”:

  • “How would you notice that things were a bit better?”
  • “Who else would notice?”
  • “What would tell them that things are a bit better for you?”
  • “How would they respond?”
  • “How would you respond?”

By imagining the interaction between your client, your direct report or yourself and the environment, the emotion stays in its “home” and isn’t artificially isolated from the world it lives in.

To borrow the words of John Donne (excuse the non-inclusive language, I am sure Mr. Donne meant to include women, non-binary, other):
No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.
John Donne

For more philosophical musings and their practical application, please come and join one of our regular free coaching meetup and exchanges:


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