The Time Traveler’s Wife is a novel by Audrey Niffenegger, where the main character interacts with his past self and future self. It was recently made into a limited TV series, and within the first few moments of watching, I was hooked.
It got me thinking: maybe we time travel as coaches.
New coaches, my heart goes out to you. First, we insist that you should never give advice. Then, when we see you’re ready, we teach you how to give advice—sometimes. Next, we tell you to always stay in the present moment, and here I am about to give you permission to time travel.
The truth is that we may start out in the present (“So, what would you like to talk about today?”), but we don’t necessarily stay there. We may jump to the past by asking, “When has something like this happened to you in the past? What did you do?”
Some new coaches think they can’t coach in the past because then they’d be doing therapy. But there’s no reason we can’t talk about the past, and it can be extremely helpful. A client may realize, “Oh! This is not a problem; I know how to deal with this!” They see that they’ve successfully managed to cope with a similar situation, if not in their professional life, then in their personal one.
How does making that link help the client? It’s a way to go deeper, and get at the root of the issue. There is something to learn, even if their previous experience was negative. “If you don’t want that to happen again, what’s different today? How are you different from when you dealt with this before?”
Future work seems more natural in the realm of coaching. We always want to be moving forward. Jumping to the future might look like asking, “What’s the vision for how you’ve handled this event? What do things look like in the future? What will your future self have learned that would be useful to know now? How could that help you today?”
Have your client think through different possible courses of action, asking about each one, “How would doing that impact your future?” Often, if we can picture this imagined future, it leads us to a clear set of steps that will get us there.
Another struggle for new coaches is changing time zones. Ideally, we want to be fluid, not spending too much time in the past or future, and always coming back to the present. Step in, step out, come back to the present—after all, it’s the only time we really have, and we don’t want to miss it.