13 June 2022
This is the second in a series of four blog posts by Charly Cox and Sarah Flynn on the role of coaching in addressing climate change. The series accompanies the release of their new book, Climate Change Coaching: the power of connection to create climate action.
Often when I talk to people about climate change coaching, they assume that I must coach a lot on eco-anxiety and climate grief. This is certainly a subject that can generate these kinds of feelings, and which get a lot of media attention, often alongside doom-laden facts and fear-inducing predictions to galvanise people into action.
Yet we would argue that very few of us can remain engaged, in the long term, when we are just running from a nightmare. To motivate the level of systemic change that is needed, we need to change the narrative and better define the dream that we are running towards.
In reflecting on my own coaching practice recently, I have realised that it’s been a long time since a client explicitly wanted to use a session to talk about their sense of existential dread when it comes to climate change. Rather, my clients now have a fire in their bellies, and a sense that their climate work is the most meaningful of their careers.
They span various industries and age groups, and are turning skills learnt in unrelated sectors towards the climate challenge. What unites them is that while they still experience those crippling emotions, their strong connection to their sense of purpose allows them to be with those feelings and get out there on the pitch, rather than be a paralysing force that keeps them on the side lines.
In our forthcoming book, Climate Change Coaching: the power of connection to create climate action, we argue that when we tap into the resonance that comes from being deeply rooted in values and purpose, we can better connect to both our own potency and with each other. That tangible feeling of purpose scaffolds our resilience and helps us to manage setbacks, and when faced with bigger systems challenges like this, it also enables us to connect more meaningfully to others to bring them with us. Time and again, we hear that ignited people, doing meaningful work, inspire others and are better able to enrol them in their cause, even when that work, or its context, is challenging.
Yet too often instead of explaining why we are motivated to act, we talk about what we are doing. Maybe we want to be practically instructive to others (‘I do this, you can too’), or maybe, as Tom Crompton from Common Cause Foundation writes in our book, it is because while we are intrinsically motivated, we assume, wrongly, that others are not. Perhaps, too, we don’t want to appear boastful or gullible. For many, however, the problem may simply be that they have never articulated their sense of purpose, and in not doing so are missing a vital tool to engage others to join them.
The trouble with focusing on the practicalities of what we do is that this territory is ripe for disagreements, criticism and even shaming that can widen rather than close the gap between those we seek to influence.
When we are able to clearly communicate a strong guiding sense of purpose and share our bigger ‘why’, we invite others to explore theirs too, from which many kinds of action can spring. On the other hand, when we share the terrifying statistics about the crisis without a sense of why it personally matters to us, we can understand why someone might turn away, unengaged in our cause. To be clear, this does not mean hiding the truth, but making sure that we also share the connection we feel to the planet, and the care from which our worst fears spring. Climate grief is, after all, an expression of our love.
As coaches, we know that dialling up someone’s sense of purpose can just as powerfully support them to take action as dialling down doubts. In the face of big systemic issues, we have the ability as coaches to transport people from an understandable sense of powerlessness to a sense of capability, motivation, and even innovation. Just as powerfully, when we help those who are already active in openly articulating their purpose to others, they do their work even better.
What if instead of feeling threatened by our changing climate, we could help people find a deep sense of meaning in playing their part in changing the story? What fresh ideas would we all have if rather than being gripped by scarcity or overcome by overwhelm, we could feel enlivened with meaning? How would our destination change if we followed a map towards a dream instead of running from a nightmare?
Read all the blog posts in the series:
What does coaching have to do with climate change?
How can coaches help define a climate dream to run towards, rather than a nightmare to run from?
What role can coaches play in changing organisations and systems for the benefit of our climate?
How can coaches cultivate a solid inner ground to withstand outer world shocks?
For more information visit Climate Change Coaches
Buy the book: Climate Change Coaching