Musing and Wondering

from The Coach's Way by Eric Maisel, PhD

Posted 5/3/23

Unlike a mental health helper — a psychiatrist, psychologist, psychotherapist, family therapist, et cetera — you are not burdened by the need to translate the information your client has provided into "symptom picture" language or "mental disorder" language.

If she says that she had trouble adjusting to art school, you don't have to start thinking, "Adjustment disorder." If she says that she's demoralized by world events, you don't have to start thinking, "Clinical depression." You don't have to approach the information your client has shared with you with a checklist at your side.

What you can profitably do instead is simply muse and wonder. You can wonder what it might feel like if you had composed three symphonies that had never been played publicly and now you were trying to begin a fourth one. Would you feel very motivated? Wouldn't you in your heart of hearts wonder what the point was, given what must feel like zero prospects for your infant symphony? Aren't the odds substantial that you might not be able to face that fourth symphony at all? If those were your experiences, wouldn't they make doing a hard thing, composing a symphony, even harder?

Say that in response to your information-gathering email, your new life coaching client has provided you with the information that he wants to start a certain sort of home business. He is very eager to start … and then you read in the next paragraph that he has three young children at home. Can you imagine being able to pay attention to a fledgling business with three small children scampering about? What seems possible or plausible in such circumstances? How would you game-plan that situation, if it were your life? Would you even be able to game-plan, given that the kids are exclaiming, "I'm starving!" every two minutes? Before you would dream of trying to solve your new client's problems, wouldn't you first want to picture his real world of laundry, kid squabbles, and exhaustion?

This isn't some sort of formal operation, with a checklist at your side or programmatic ideas in mind. You are just musing and wondering. You are wondering about your client's life, how his experiences may have affected him, what impact his current circumstances may be having on him, what it's like to be him. You're musing, not worrying or calculating. Yes, you may already have worries — that he feels difficult, that his goals are unrealistic, that his life is unmanageable — but you quiet those worries, give him the benefit of the doubt, and engage in the lightest of musing and wondering.

The coaching session is like this, too; and so is the time between sessions, especially if your client is checking in with you on his progress. Each check-in is an opportunity to muse and wonder. "Hmm, I wonder why that happened?" "Hmm, I wonder how he's feeling about not having managed to work on his business plan?" "Hmm, it looks like he's tripping in the same spot again. What might be useful to say? A little cheerleading? Or some pointed suggestion?" You do this musing lightly, as if you were a weightless spirit hovering in your client's world. You look, you see, you feel, you muse, you wonder.

We're still looking at that period of time before your first session with a new client. You haven't had a first session yet, so you really don't know this person. What you have is the information he's provided and your understanding of human nature. It is far too soon to draw any conclusions, especially any negative ones about how hard this will be. Just be with your client's information, relax, and feel privileged to be allowed into this fascinating world, the world of a living, breathing human being. Relax there; wander there; and let yourself wonder.


Easy. Say, "I don't have to leap to problem-solving. I can begin by just musing and wondering."

Easy. Pick something to muse about. See if you can muse.

Medium. Picture in your mind's eye the great many paragraphs of information that your client has provided. Feel into how to be with this wealth and mass of information lightly, rather than anxiously.

High bar. Go to some therapist's, coach's, writer's, or artist's website on the internet. Find their "About Me" page and muse about their life. What feels like it hasn't gotten said? What hunches are percolating up in you? What questions might you like to ask to elicit more information? Be with this stranger's "About Me" page and do a little musing and wondering.

Food for Thought for Informal Coaches

In life, and especially in our fast-paced contemporary life, it is very hard to just muse and wonder. Say that a coaching opportunity appears on the horizon. Can you picture yourself carving out some time and space to muse and wonder before your meeting? What might it look like to create that opportunity, that time, and that space?

Writing Prompt for Self-Coaches

Self-coaching is the tool; self-awareness is the goal. We gain self-awareness by taking a step to the side of life to muse and wonder about our situation. Write to the prompt "I am giving myself time and space to just muse and wonder about …"

©2023 Eric Maisel. All rights reserved.

The Coach's Way

Excerpted from the book The Coach's Way: The Art and Practice of Powerful Coaching in Any Field. Published with permission from

Eric MaiselEric Maisel, PhD, is the author of more than fifty books in the areas of creativity, the creative life, coaching, life purpose and meaning, writing, and critical psychology and critical psychiatry. ...