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  • Writer's pictureJoanna Harding-Duggan


I am fascinated by optical illusions, particularly the “old lady/young woman” illusion. I always see the young woman first, and in fact, it took me years to even see the old lady. Even now I have trouble switching perspective. I stare and stare at the young lady, prompting myself to see the old lady, but it is not until I close my eyes, take a breath and a step back that I am able to switch perspective, and there she is, where she’s been all along, right in front of my eyes.

Over the last several months I’ve been working towards my next level of coaching accreditation, and trying hard, oh so hard, to adopt an approach to my work that is in alignment with the specifications of this accreditation. Much like my experience with the optical illusion, the harder I try, the more elusive it feels. I find myself waking up in the middle of the night re-living coaching conversations and thinking about questions I could have, should have, wished I asked. How easy it feels to think about those missed opportunities in retrospect.

It was my wise mentor coach who suggested that I may need to walk away for a bit, like trying to find that puzzle piece that does not seem to exist, or the old woman when all I see is the young lady. Hmm...walk away, how has this strategy been useful in my life before? Why did this not occur to me?

Much like anyone, when I am stuck, stymied, and frustrated, I can have difficulty shifting perspective. When I think of executive functioning skills I think of flexibility - how easy or hard it might be to shift cognitively from one idea to the next or one activity to another. When we feel stuck in our more rigid thinking and problem solving patterns what can we do? What resources do we have? When are the times that we’ve solved a similar problem? How can we take a step back - look at ourselves from the outside, like peering through a window to observe ourselves - to gain a fresh perspective?

It turns out that in true coaching fashion, and with the help of a skillful coach, I had the answer all along. As I start to unwind for a much needed break at the end of the year, I feel my perspective starting to shift from one that was stuck and frustrated to one that feels expansive and open. Most importantly it best serves my journey as a coach and allows me to stay focused on the learning and the growth rather than my artificially created destination. All it took was some time to close my eyes, take a breath and a big step back.

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