A Fabulous Tool for AA Sponsors and Life Coaches

Change can be daunting for anyone.  Many of us immediately feel anxious just at the mention of the word.  This may be what Frederica Mathewes-Green had in mind with the quote:  “Everybody wants to be transformed, but nobody wants to change.”

Addicts can relate because one reason we drank was that alcohol transformed us—without us having to do any work.   Tragically, this transformation is temporary and becomes increasingly elusive.   Instead, we must do the hard work change requires to experience the transformation—the miracle—the Big Book talks about.

And championing lasting change is a huge part of what we do as sponsors and coaches for the still suffering alcoholic and addict.

One of the most effective tools I have used in my life coaching practice and in sponsoring is motivational interviewing (MI).  This technique acknowledges that all people experience ambivalence to change.  They want to make a change. Yet, at the same time, they don’t want to make a change.

The power of MI is that the techniques empower sponsees/clients to arrive at their own reasons for making beneficial changes.  In a sense, they motivate themselves to change.   This is crucial because addicts frequently come to us harangued by the well-meaning spouse, family member, or friend to “get it together.”  From our own experiences as addicts, we know this only creates resentments, not the desire to change.

But there’s good news.  The fundamental tenet of MI is that we all possess the capacity for positive change. It’s only a matter of activating it.

Although I cannot do MI justice in a short blog, I want to acquaint you will some of it concepts.  These are taken directly from “Chapter 3—Motivational Interviewing as a Counseling Style.” To find the article, Google that title.   It’s published by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US).

Motivational interviewing is a counseling style based on the following concepts:

  • “Ambivalence about substance use (and change) is normal and constitutes an important motivational obstacle in recovery.”
  • “Ambivalence can be resolved by working with your client’s intrinsic motivations and values.”
  • “The alliance between you and your client is a collaborative partnership to which you each bring important expertise.”
  • “An empathetic, supportive, yet directive, counseling style provides conditions under which change can occur. (Direct argument and aggressive confrontation may tend to increase client defensiveness and reduce the likelihood of behavioral change.)”

The primary task for those of you who want to use the MI approach is to help the sponsee/client to recognize how life might be better and then for him or her to choose the ways to make that happen.

When using the MI approach, keep these five general principles from the chapter in mind:

  • “Express empathy through reflective listening.” Because we have survived the same shipwreck of addiction, we have the capacity to be empathetic.
  • “Develop discrepancy between clients’ goals or values and their current behavior.” Your role is to help focus your sponsee’s attention on how current behavior differs from his or her own ideal or desired behavior.
  • “Avoid argument and direct confrontation.  The goal is to ‘walk’ with clients (accompany clients through treatment), not ‘drag’ them along (direct clients’ treatment).”
  • “Adjust to client resistance rather than opposing it directly.  Resistance is a signal that the client views the situation differently. This requires you to understand your client’s perspective and proceed from there.”
  • “Support self-efficacy and optimism. Clients must ultimately come to believe that change is their responsibility and that long-term success begins with a single step forward. The AA motto, “one day at a time,” may help clients focus and embark on the immediate and small changes that they believe are feasible.”

This blog is meant only to be an introduction to the Motivational Interviewing approach.  By seeing some of its key concepts, my hope is that you may become interested in reading more about MI.  By doing so, you will significantly increase your effectiveness as a sponsor/coach when addressing the often sensitive issue of change for the still suffering of this world.  May God bless your work!

The Way to Better Living

I was first formally introduced to the concept of Self-mastery when I began my coursework to become a certified spiritual life coach.  There was nothing that I wanted more than to become Self-mastered.   Ah, to be like Jesus or Buddha. Ah, to have such command of myself.  How fabulous to…

Then the dream collapsed with a thud under the weight of these insane expectations of myself.   I nearly gave up before even starting.  Then I learned that Self-mastery is actually attainable in this life.  Yay! Re-start the music!

In his book, Self-mastery: A Journey Home to Your Inner Self, Hu Dalconzo states that those of us who live just 51 percent of our days from the spirit rather than from the ego can consider themselves Self-mastered.  This gave me great hope.

Quick Psych Tidbits

The term ego-mind or just ego refers to that part of our selves that is devoted to creating a sense of safety, security, and control.   The term spirit is that part of our selves that is divine or eternal.  Some call it the soul.

The Issue

The ego is an exquisite instrument.  It developed in response to a prehistoric environment that was fraught with threats from predators and warring tribes.  And it worked.  We evolved into the world’s dominant species.  But the ego is a fear-based operating system.  In our desire to feel safe, secure, and in control 24/7, we have empowered it to steer and command our lives.

Spiritual psychologists say that the ego makes a wonderful servant but a terrible master.  That’s because it puts our consciousness into hyper-arousal, relentlessly scanning for perceived threats and often misreading situations that really pose no threat at all.

This is why consciousness is so often focused on disturbance rather than on what is pleasant.  As a result, the ego engages the mind to “endlessly reprocess the past and endlessly worry about the future,” according to Michael Singer, author of The Untethered Soul.

Spirit, on the other hand, is a love-based operating system.  Where the ego is about separation, the spirit is about unity.  These are diametrically opposed operating systems.  And psychologists are recognizing that humans operate out of just two modes:  love or fear.  When we are experiencing fear, we are in the grips of ego.  When we are experiencing love, we are in the domain of Spirit.  We can’t feel fear and feel love at the same time and vice versa.

So the task of Self-mastery is to force the ego to the back seat and place the spirit at the wheel.  My job as a spiritual life coach is to help people through this process.   It involves training the mind to anchor in the present moment rather than forever drifting between past and present.  No small task.  But Self-mastery is about progress, not perfection.

When I teach my clients about Self-mastery, I don’t require them to continually monitor their thinking, being vigilant to replace every negative thought with a positive one.  I don’t even ask them to devote long hours to meditation.  Instead, I teach them two Zen-like concepts: the narrative mind and the experiencing mind.

The narrative mind is the one that is committed to maintaining and contributing to the storyline that we have created from past experiences. What doesn’t comply with that story, it dismisses.  The narrative mind is the fortress of the ego and is fixated on either the past or the future.  Little wonder our thoughts are so often negative, producing feelings of regret and anxiety.

The experiencing mind, on the other hand, is committed to experiencing the present moment.  This is where life happens.  This is the domain of spirit.  And if we pay attention to the here and now, we are often rewarded with positive thoughts and frequently a sense of joy.

Self-mastery, then, is really a practice of living life through the experiencing mind.   By intentionally training our minds to focus on what is happening in the here and now, we can experience the true art of living.

Trappist monk Thomas Merton said, “Life is this simple:  We are living in a world that is absolutely transparent and the divine is shining through it all the time.  This is not just a nice story or a fable; it is true.”

When we make it our goal to see the divine in all things and to feel it within ourselves, we are really experiencing what Self-mastery is all about.  It takes some practice, but the results will transform your life. Join me in pursing this goal of Self-mastery and experience a state of intimate awareness of life that opens us up to all its splendor.  It’s a great ride.