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How Questioning Associations Can Change the Way We Think

During the first few months participating in the Metanoia Catholic Academy, I witnessed the transformations taking place in the group coaching calls, which occurred as we all learned how to challenge our thoughts. This made me ponder the question, “Could praying and asking a person questions really change the way they think?” With that in the back of my mind, I signed up for the Purgative Way coach training program taught by Matt and Erin. I was not exactly sure if I was up to learning this new way of approaching my own thoughts given the years I have lived thinking it’s all about my circumstances and not what I think about those circumstances.  But I quickly learned that coaching is not consulting, mentoring, or counseling. Instead a mindset coach assists a client in recognizing, questioning, and revising their thinking as they choose.

Built into the Purgative Way training was the huge umbrella of Catholic anthropology that provided a new foundation for understanding the human person, and incorporating prayer into each and every session was an incredible testament. Being the oldest in my cohort, I noticed many different styles of coaching and was wondering how I would fit in. I learned each client will also seek out a coaching style that fits them best as well. So with that knowledge, I embraced my gentle way of coaching and saw the talents God gave me as my unique assets. The training also focused on bringing God into each session and for me to just be the conduit for His work.

Now, a few months after graduation, what I hear most from clients is affirmation of my own coaching approach. My clients have shared sentiments like, “Oh that was so gentle while so transformative to my life,” or, “I didn’t know my thoughts were controlling me and the gentle tweaking has lifted a huge burden.”

So how does asking clients questions lead to such transformation? The simple answer is the Holy Spirit’s guidance and prompting dispose both the coach and the client to such grace during each session. With the Holy Spirit doing the heavy work, I can use simple pulleys and rope,so to speak, to move a big heavy thought out of the way so the light of Christ can shine into their mind and bring curiosity, light, hope, and a new point of view.

A recent client who was not aware that she associated the word “tired” with a dark period in her life.  As she was speaking and just saying the word “tired”, I saw through her body language that it troubled her thoughts. Since she is newly pregnant, her body is showing the natural signs of fatigue and tiredness. No amount of sleep will make her body feel fully refreshed, yet her thought when she says “tired” triggers heaviness and difficult memories. So instead of feeling excited about being pregnant, the conflict in her thoughts, mixed with the reality of the physical symptoms of fatigue, were taking her mind to memories of a dark period.  

In the Purgative Way training, I learned that thoughts are sentences in our minds that are optional. The sentences are just made up of words put together in a certain order. So examining some of the words that are the heaviest in the sentence is helpful to unpacking what is going on in the client’s mind.  In reality “tired” is just a 5 letter word, which could be used in the popular game Wordle. Using a technique from my training to have the client define a word and what it means was helpful to pinpoint why “tired” was a very negative word to her.  And asking, “What are you making this mean about you?,” opened the floodgates to the difficult period of life.

To find a healthier path, I read synonyms for “tired” and I asked her to pick ones that fit pregnancy better, were more neutral, or even made her laugh. The words “drowsy” and “knackered” brought both lightness and laughter to the conversation. These two new words also brought recollections to her mind of happiness around being so fatigued. With the session shifting from heavy burdensome thoughts, she was able to notice the shift, be curious, and also attentive to her body as her baby grows inside of her.

With a new thought around her pregnancy symptoms, my client is letting herself be transformed by the renewing of her mind and noticing the beautiful gift of life from God is good, acceptable, and perfect!