Discounting is a tool we use to filter the things that contravene our belief systems in order to keep our beliefs intact. This filtering is an important way of maintaining a stable, coherent worldview in a in a world that is full of contradictions, but it can also keep us stuck in a rut, preventing our ability to change and grow.
Discounting can be like a ladder that we ascend as the contradiction between our beliefs and the world becomes increasingly evident. Let’s take a simple example: somebody has left a pile of dishes in the sink. The discounting usually starts with doing nothing, ignoring the problem or refusing to acknowledge that there is a problem at all. “They’re sitting there; they’re not MY problem.” We might start to notice some behaviour adaptations: shrugging, passive body language, a refusal to make eye contact or acknowledge the focus of a situation. “I won’t look at them…I can still reach the faucet to fill the tea kettle.”
As we move up the ladder, we might start to see over-adaptation or passive-agressiveness: taking action but in an exaggerated way. “Okay FINE, I’ll wash them up, since NOBODY ELSE is apparently going to do it!”
If the problem continues (“What? More dishes??”) we might start to see signs of agitation and fidgeting. “Well, I’ll just STACK them all somewhere REALLY OBVIOUS so they know they JUST CAN’T LEAVE THEM HERE LIKE THIS.”
And finally, if we reach the pinnacle of the ladder of discounting, we might even reach violence, like scrubbing the dishes really hard and slamming them angrily into the dish rack. We might also start to get grandiose and all-or-nothing in our thinking. “WHY am I the ONLY ONE who EVER DOES ANYTHING around here? Doesn’t ANYBODY ELSE care about ANYTHING?”
So how do we get off the ladder? First, we start by acknowledging the problem. “Oh hey, those dishes have been sitting there a while.” Then, we assess the significance of the problem. “Hmm, this is inconvenient, and I am feeling annoyed about it.” Then we think about designing some options. “Well, I can deal with this myself right now, or I can wait to see if they notice them, or I can have a word with them about this.”
Designing options is core to the coaching process; it helps us become aware of the potential for change and gives us a sense of the full range of our abilities. The step of designing options is in some ways more important than the action we ultimately end up taking, because of its role in reinforcing our inner resourcefulness by reminding us of all our abilities, strengths, potential, and empowering beliefs about ourselves. Plus if the first option doesn’t work, we can return to the options we created and try again.
Next time you find yourself getting wound up, think about what options you have to get off the ladder and back on track.