Shadow Stories and Financial Well-being

Money makes the world go round as the song goes, but is it true in life?  According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau it is. According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, well-being is defined as having financial security and financial freedom of choice, in the present and in the future. If clients believe their financial well-being is at risk, it has the power to not only usurp every other goal, but also disrupt overall well-being. I emphasize belief because a clients’ experiences influence their perception of threat and solution formation. The unique viewpoint of each client means that financial well-being is layered with spoken, unspoken and subconscious layers. Shadow Stories are the subconscious way we explain our experiences to ourselves, and they are just as compelling a factor in coaching as what clients verbalize.

Clients’ financial well-being, due to the place of finances in our society, nearly always comes with important Shadow Stories hindering performance and goal achievement. Recognizing these factors as influencing clients’ patterns of behavior, thinking and emotion is tricky. As this blog post will show, Mentor Agility’s unique approach to this difficult subject, turns the greatest challenges into the most exciting.

Tricksters and Money Talk Taboo

Money is a powerful messenger of status quo. There is a price to pay to discuss the inequities of income, debt management, health care, freedom of choice, access to resources, stability, taxes, the ability to absorb financial shock, or the cost of bankruptcy and retirement. Indeed, breaching the money talk-taboo in nearly any scenario risks an immediate expungement from the group. Discussing money is so tied up with complex emotions like shame, success, fear of failure, status, power, control, and self-worth, it is easier to go along with the crowd than it is to stand up and question the rules governing money.

The unique Mentor Agility approach to overcoming money talk-taboo is to employ the power of a trickster. Tricksters like Tyrion Lannister fromGame of Thrones” and Loki, God of Mischief, from “Thor” disrupt the status quo. They challenge out-of-date thinking as a way to evoke awareness and insight because it works! Mentor Agility teaches coaches to use storytelling methods to introduce clients to the challenging topic of financial well-being first through a story’s context, allowing the client to examine from a distance. When clients view the situation with less attachment, the coach can draw upon powerful questions to expose antiquated beliefs and faulty reasoning without arousing the complex emotions around money that interfere with performance and goal achievement. In this way, the coach creates a safe environment for clients to face the tricksters around them. Tricksters challenge clients to extend beyond their current thinking to explore fresh perspectives, unearth new opportunities and discover novel insights that improve the flexibility of their thinking.

Threshold Guardians and Resistance

Clients are on a quest, pursuing a goal; but change is arduous and effortful. At some point, clients will have to grapple threshold guardians. External threshold guardians are problems and people who question a client’s desire to change. Internal threshold guardians are tough choices and difficult feelings related to making sacrifices for growth. Keeping up performance to achieve a goal involves problem solving, being resilient and persevering through adversity.

In a storytelling approach to coaching, clients recognize the sacrifices that come with change and appreciate stories about Heroes overcoming their reluctance and resistance. The archetypal energy of reluctance and resistance is represented in Threshold Guardians who show up to challenge protagonists’ commitment to their goal. In story these guardians might be faceless henchmen like the stormtroopers in “Star Wars,” or they may be close friends like when Neville Longbottom stands up to Harry in “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.”

In coaching, Threshold Guardians may be a coworker, supervisor, partner, or a friend. Sometimes internal Threshold Guardians show up in thoughts as self-doubt and resentment or they may be emotions like anxiety, aggression and shame. Clients aren’t resisting the coach or the coaching process, their brain is resisting confusion. As clients claim their agency, they will have to make tough choices, even sacrifice in the metamorphic process. Threshold Guardians provides resistance to slow down the process so clients may set the pace of learning and gain clarity before making tough choices and sacrifices necessary for transformation.

If a protagonist is pursuing compensation, an external reward will not be enough to overcome threshold guardians. Intrinsic motivation sustains Heroes through reluctance, resistance and adversity to build resolve and insight.  As such, Mentor Agility trains coaches not only how to help clients identify threshold guardians, but also how clients can keep their focus on the elixir.

Elixirs and Financial Well-Being

Human beings are complex, with conflicting motivations at play. Curiosity and interest evoke intrinsic motivation, whereas outside rewards and avoiding threats stimulate external motivation. Joseph Campbell suggests that the conflict of these different energies inside the individual constitute the psyche.

In my last blog, the Hero’s Journey® Change Model, I discuss Elixirs and Goals. Heroes are on a quest for a reward, just like clients pursue a goal. Typically, the rewards are a treasure, cure, crown, or the love of a prince or princess. However, rewards have a deeper Shadow Story driving the protagonist. For example, a treasure solves more than deficits in money—it provides safety, sustenance and prestige. A crown resolves powerlessness and deficiencies in agency, and a cure restores health. The challenge is to uncover the unseen or unspoken influences that are usually something more abstract such as the fear of disruption to clients’ sense of belonging, safety, security or freedom. Motivation tied to foundational needs has more power than the extrinsic motivation of rewards, but identifying it, and therefore addressing it, is more challenging.

Working with clients to identify and reconfirm what they want to accomplish in the coaching engagement and individual sessions gets to the complexity of clients conflicting motivations. The unspoken and the unknown aspects of clients’ motivation stored in Shadow Stories requires sensitivity to clients’ identity and their experiences, beliefs and values.

Storytelling and Finding Your Authentic Coaching Voice

Stories are the engines behind human thinking. To be a fully engaged, focused, observant and empathic partner in the storytelling process, Mentor Agility trains Raconteur Coaches to find their authentic coaching voice. Even though storytelling is a more playful and effusive approach to coaching, its power to create psychological safety for clients to go deep when they need to and grapple with emotions and rigid thinking is compelling in the coaching process.

In the new year, we’ll continue unfolding the power of storytelling in coaching – stay tuned for more!

© Mentor Agility 2021

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