The purpose of third stage of the process, enriching the plot, is to ensure that the new helpful story is strong enough to survive. The old unhelpful story may fight back at any moment, to re-establish its dominance. Inevitably, some things will go wrong, or someone will revert to old habits of behaviour that were typical of the time before the change. At these moments, there is the risk that the old story will re-emerge; ‘That’s typical of Not Very Assertive Julia’. So it is important to make the new helpful story as strong as possible. There are several ways to help the individual to do this.
One way is to identify more exceptions, and invite the individual to explore these fully in all aspects. This helps to bring them to the foreground of her attention, to continue to undermine the unhelpful story, and to enrich the new one.
It is also important that the individual believes that the new story gives a better account of her reality than the old story. So it is valuable to get the individual to re-consider all the significant evidence that supported the old unhelpful story, and consider how she can make sense of them in the light of the new, more helpful story. Sometimes that can lead to significant new understandings.
This re-examination of the past in the light of the new story often has the effect of de-toxifying the past. The individual may discover that interactions which she had thought were malicious can in fact be seen to have had good intentions. When an individual finds that she was not as hated as she had previously thought, that can be a huge relief!
As well as re-examining the past, it is important to plan to create future evidence, to make sure that the new story comes true; and is seen to do so.
Another useful area to explore is who would not be surprised to learn about a particular exception, or about the new story. That can help the individual to recognise that others see her as already having strengths and qualities required by the new, helpful story, and outside those predicted by his old unhelpful one.
It is also essential to find ways for the individual to document her progress and learning, as she lives the new helpful story. One of the ways in which coaches can do this is ask the individual to complete a Success Report prior to each coaching session. That is simply a pro forma that asks her to reflect and record her reflections. Typically, it covers what she has done since (and as a result of) the last coaching conversation, what successes she has had, what she has learned, and so on. That helps to reinforce the new story, and provides a useful starting point for the next coaching conversation, which will also be used to strengthen the story.
Another important idea is that of celebration. Throughout this process we are seeking to make the new helpful story stronger than the old unhelpful story. Celebrations lend weight and meaning to successes, and make the individual more likely to remember them and to notice further examples: all of which help her to strengthen her belief in the new helpful story. For more detail on this phase, read the book…
For an exercise to help you experience this, see here.