Don’t think of a purple elephant

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Don’t think of a purple elephant

I often get asked how the strategies I use in my coaching actually work. My answer usually consists of a ‘brief’ explanation of growth mindset versus fixed mindset, the way mindfulness releases us from worries and negative thoughts, the power of positive psychology, and (if the person who has asked the question is still actively listening without a glazed expression and thought bubbles appearing above their heads saying “I really wish I hadn’t asked Caroline this question”) the barest basics of NLP and CBT.

Sometimes this enthusiastic and rather extensive explanation is enough, the enquirer feels satisfied and (hopefully?) a little bit more enlightened.

However, occasionally a further question is asked (you now need to imagine the scenario)

Enquirer:             Thank you for that explanation Caroline, that was really helpful.

Me:                       No problem, I love explaining how these strategies work.

Enquirer:              Well, I’m not sure that you did actually.

Me:                       Oh. Really? Could help me to understand what you are looking for?

Enquirer:              Yes of course. You explained the different types of coaching strategies you use and the ways in which they can help people feel better (which was truly fascinating btw). What you didn’t explain was the reasons WHY they work.  What goes on in our brains when we apply these practices and why is it making a difference to how we feel?

Me:                       Right, I get it now. Have you ever seen a purple elephant?

Admittedly I wouldn’t blame anyone for deciding the conversation had taken a sharp swerve into some weird, slightly worrying territory, which required them to depart swiftly from my presence. I very nearly did the same, some years ago, when being presented with a very similar question by a new CBT therapist (although she used another animal rather than a purple elephant. I’m keeping her animal as a happy breakthrough memory so have replaced it with a purple elephant for the purposes of this activity).

Let’s try this together. Set up a timer (on your phone, watch or portable device) for 30 seconds. Sit down (if you aren’t already), take a few breaths in and out. Wriggle around a bit to get seriously comfy. Okay…..

As soon as you have read the next sentence, press ‘start’ on your timer and close your eyes.

I want you to think for 30 seconds about anything you like WITHOUT SEEING A PURPLE ELEPHANT!


(no peeking or cheating please. If you do just reset your timer and try again).

Woo! Time’s up! Open your eyes.

Now, how many times did you see that purple elephant? Twice? Five time? Maybe you saw it there all of the time?

Your purple elephant will be different from mine.  It is unique to you. (Mine tends to be about five feet tall and has a penchant for hiding up trees).

How did I know the purple elephant would pop up?  I just did.  I trusted the scientists and psychologists who have studied this under much more stringent conditions, thousands of times before.  I also trust what I have learnt through my own experiences of therapy, research and practice. Do I know why it pops up every time? No, but I am happy to accept that it does.

I know, but I don’t know why.

It doesn’t matter that I don’t know why.

I just know that it does.

This is how I explain how life coaching strategies work. They just do. Some of them work straight away! Others take faith, practice and a little bit more time. All of them work best when you have a Life Coach cheering you on and holding you to account.

For me the purple elephant was enough to make the blocks in my mind, which had been stopping me from benefitting from therapy, almost vanish. I began to have faith that this mindfulness and CBT ‘lark’ might just help me to escape the negative patterns which were restricting my enjoyment of life.

I not only escaped, I flourished, began flying to reach my dreams and transformed my life, one step at a time (even though I had the type of life I thought I was supposed to have).

I’m excited to think about where your purple elephant will lead you.  Be kind to yourself, take a deep breath and find out.

By |2019-05-08T16:31:23+00:00February 11th, 2019|examparent|0 Comments

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