Alastair with Dr Debbie Street
For many of today’s stress-related conditions, there are wider, more imaginative solutions than medication. Parents with their own work-related anxieties, along with concerns about their children’s careers (or lack of), are particularly prone to feelings of being overwhelmed, sleeplessness, 24/7 worries and imposter syndrome (not least as parents) which all lead to a draining of confidence. Cue – go to the doctor!
Debbie and I have been in discussion about Eyes Wide Opened (EWO) for 5 years. Patients, friends and family have either attended weekend courses or had one-to-one coaching. I remember Debbie once mentioning the phrase – “the talking cure” – when describing EWO. I asked her about what she meant.
The constant presence of worry, stress and anxiety is so pervasive that, for some of us, it’s claustrophobic. There is no avoiding it. So, the process of talking about your concerns or experience is powerful. You have to tell your story from the beginning to make it understandable to the listener. Your brain listens too. It can be cathartic.
Every time we speak it’s an improvisation. We don’t speak from scripts. The words we use are slightly different, the order changes, the accentuation and energy we put into a story is nuanced depending on the context. We’re often searching for words, phrases and metaphors to explain what something feels like to us. In that moment we understand ourselves a little better to move forward. To work out who we are and where we want to go. To the trained ear, like the coaches at EWO and many of us in the health service, there are trigger words, pauses, rushed sentences, a change in volume that tells you as much about what’s going on as the story itself. However, what you have in EWO, which I don’t have with my patients, is time. It takes time to unravel or formulate a thought that hasn’t yet been expressed.
We talk to our children about their careers and opportunities. There is a lot of emphasis on results. Very little is about their future. It is similar in the work place. People jog along a path unhappy without direction: “How do I see myself doing this?” “What am I good at?” “Am I enjoying this?” “What is sustainable for my means and energy?” What EWO does is give people a framework for talking and then give them practical tools for helping them through the labyrinth of options to find their own path forward. It’s the talking and the tools.
We always start by saying we don’t have the answers.
“Each person has the answers within them. We’re just good at drawing them out.”
The longer we run courses and coaching the more I feel we’re about two ideas. On the one hand we encourage people to get interested in themselves, see themselves differently, listen to themselves, build their self-awareness. On the other, we help them get interested in the world around them, to see that a bit differently. EWO is a bridge that connects these two pieces of thinking in order that they can see themselves in the world, differently.
You literally empower them to take responsibility for their next course of action. You work with them to build their self-awareness. And it’s in the talking about themselves – articulating what they’re good at, the learning from all types of experiences, understanding what they stand for and care about – that then enables them to narrow down their range of choices. This sounds restrictive but actually people are overwhelmed by choice. With fewer choices it’s easier for them to make better decisions.