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Ecological Outcomes—The Hidden Catalyst for Client Success within the Planning Process

AUTHOR: Matthew Frazier
DATE: 19 January 2024

Individuals around the world recently celebrated the new year commencing and most assuredly millions of those individuals will go through the Sisyphean exercise of making resolutions, abandoning them, and eventually lamenting the fact they could not commit to their plans.  As evidenced by the familiar unsuccessful new year resolution attempts, failures in the planning process sabotage individuals’ ability to achieve what they want.  Solution-focused coaching offers a remedy to this problem when coach and coachee co-curate clear and robust plans that will increase the probability of plan commitment, action-taking, and outcome achievement. Yet, the hidden catalyst for breaking the cycle of deferred dreams lies within coaches using a specific tool in the planning process.  That tool is ensuring the desired outcome is ecological.  

The simple definition of an ecological outcome is that it fits with all other goals of the individual.  In a more expanded definition, an ecological outcome passes an examination where the consequences of the achieved outcome are not only good for the individual but good for other people in their life and fit into both short-term and long-term overall plans. Beyond the other elements of the outcome frame where goals are stated in the positive, within the individual’s control, sensory-specific, concrete, and behavioral, outcome ecology speaks to the need for congruence with other aspects of life for the plans to come to fruition.  

When individuals start a new project, set a new goal, or try to form new habits, what may not be salient at the time is the need to scrutinize their outcome through an ecological lens. The excitement to transform current circumstances into a more rewarding future state may cloud the individual’s ability to think of this new outcome as a part of a whole existence.  There are many other important outcomes or needs that orbit individuals’ lives that should be considered and held in regard for how they might be impacted.  For example, if a surgeon wants to use a new technique in the operating room, wouldn’t it be prudent for that surgeon to check on several factors and with several other people to make sure they still get the desired outcome of keeping the patient alive and well? Of course! They would conduct an ecological scan in an example like this and increase the chances of safely implementing the new technique that might better optimize the patient’s quality of life.  Knowing many people will desire outcomes that may not have life and death implications like in the example of the surgeon, it is worth noting that if individuals partnered with coaches to consistently incorporate collateral checking of the surrounding environmental considerations during the planning process with the same gravity, it could dramatically raise the potential of success.  

Let’s examine how an ecological outcome might improve the potential for success using the common new year resolution scenario of an individual choosing a weight loss goal. Again, it is pretty apparent how an individual, outside of a coaching relationship, might frame this goal in the positive, have individual control to achieve it, and create a concrete action plan with the necessary details to get to their desired weight.  However, the same individual on their own may not have the resourcefulness or ability to evoke the required awareness to understand how the weight loss goals may conflict with other important things in their life.  Without an ecological examination of a coach, the individual will start their plan and then run into a conflict with some other area in their life which quickly derails their progress, motivation, and ultimately eliminates their chances of achieving their weight loss goals.  

This is where the solution-focused coach becomes most valuable to people with such plans.  During one or more coaching sessions, the coach might ask questions like “What else in your life will be impacted, when you achieve your weight loss goal?” or “What other things in your life might get deprioritized to achieve your outcome?” to send the individual to a different state of awareness. This shift in awareness takes the individual’s focus from the singular objective of their weight loss plan to zoom out and think about the constellation of activities that will occur and should be accounted for in their life that also could be meaningful to them. The answers to those seemingly simple but powerful questions can appropriately take the individual to a deeper understanding of the benefit to others after the goal is achieved, reveal a vision of their new identity post weight loss, reaffirm the value and importance of achieving their goal right now, unlock new resources or capability to make this outcome happen, expose unique action steps to take to bolster success, and finally encourage more immediate and timely implementation of new behaviors that brings a gratifying sense of accomplishment at every stage of the plan through ultimate outcome achievement.

The ecologically examined outcome provides a simulation experience that becomes invaluable to highly motivated individuals who have blind spots on their path to success.  Taking the time to partner with a solution-focused coach who can ask ecological questions about an aspirational outcome might be the best preemptive tool an individual can employ to grow the chances of their anticipated success. Not only might it save the individual from abandoning their plans when life gets difficult, but it also might help them create a community of support that reduces the pressure of having to achieve this goal alone. 

An ecological question is akin to a balancing measure that helps you monitor if any untoward things happen within a system when people introduce new processes or other interventions to change the outcome at hand. As a solution-focused coach who assists clients in the planning process, providing a gestalt view of the implications of the coachee’s outcome not only helps the coachee but it helps the coach.  As new insights get shared with the coach during the environmental perusal, it will inspire coaching questions to be more considerate of the lifetime evolution the coachee desires to achieve.  Therefore, an ecologically assessed outcome can truly be the game-changing catalyst that once and for all ends the disappointment of unfulfilled new year resolutions and other meaningful improvement ideas by sparking deeper awareness within an individual’s planning process, on how one goal might have a multiplicative impact on their life and their greater surrounding environment.