Using the Past in Coaching: Memory and Recollection Are Not The Same Thing

We all know that words are important and these two have been occupying my thoughts for the last few days. Prompted by a conversation with Mark McKergow I was pondering on the difference between conducting an NLP “anchor” to help someone build their confidence in undertaking a presentation, with following a Solution Focused “exception” line of inquiry..”tell me about a time when you did feel comfortable talking to a group of people..”. The similarities are obvious. We are asking the client to draw on a time when they have done well and they’ve been happy with their performance.

I’ve heard Eileen Craig say that, while we want people to look forward in in coaching, it’s OK to look back but we don’t necessarily want people to stare. I wonder if there are some qualitative issues too in terms of what we notice in the past when we look. I would suggest that we have the past we tell ourselves about.

Here’s the contrast between memory and recollection. Memory, seems to me fairly immutable whilst recollection can be used to “graze” the past to find examples of resourcefulness, resilience, coping, thriving, heroism etc. Helping people to notice signs of success, exceptions to their programmes seems really useful, even when (especially when) there are no clear future goals or a general sense of hopelessness. In addition remembering seems more of a passive response to thoughts, sights and sounds which arise in one’s head whilst recall more of an active exploration.



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