Mentoring your friends can change their lives – and yours too

One of the simplest, life-changing things you can do is sponsor your friends – it is one of the most powerful approaches to psychological change.

Why? – As young kids we are brilliant learners. We suck up everything we see and hear our parents doing… both the good and bad, unfortunately. Parents are a bit better today, but old-fashioned parenting had a lot of emphasis on what you were doing wrong. Telling someone what they are doing wrong (negative reinforcement) isn’t as effective as praising them when they get it right (positive reinforcement).

Unfortunately, parents (and other adults) accidentally do something worse than this, passing on to their children how they were treated themselves.

It is one thing to make a mistake, which, after all, is a healthy part of learning. It is another thing entirely to make a judgement about the person themselves because of a mistake.  “You silly child, you are stupid, bad boy, you aren’t good enough, can’t you think straight?” etc.

When I was 20 I got fired from my first job and my mother said “You are just like your father”, who was going bankrupt.

These same sorts of messages can be even more powerful when they are communicated non-verbally. As kids we read our parents all the time – with subtle, ‘bad vibes’ coming from their parents, children can feel invisible, or not deserving of attention, or not good enough, or incompetent, or not lovable.

These sorts of negative beliefs can stop you fulfilling your ambitions in life.

There are two ways to change these negative beliefs:

  1. Self-sponsorship: you start believing in yourself and giving yourself positive messages. When the negative beliefs are insidious, a two-step process is really helpful – someone else can role-model this for you by being a sponsor for you, so that you learn how to do this for yourself.
  2. Sponsorship from others: just as parents can misguidedly give you disempowering messages that get implanted in you, so the converse is true: people can offer you positive messages that empower you and help you believe in yourself. This is one of the most powerful tools for change.  It is a key tool for excellent therapists, coaches, trainers and facilitators.

I titled this blog “Mentoring your friends can change their lives..” because the concept of mentoring is more generally understood, but there is a very important difference between mentoring and sponsorship. Mentoring means “to advise or train someone” – to tell someone how to achieve what they want.

Sponsoring is based on empathetic connection – loving someone, with presence, and believing in them and their potential and their path. People believe they should be like some concept they have of how they should be. We need to learn to be how we are, rather than how we think we should be. Out of welcoming who you actually are, your authentic life path becomes clear.

The role of the sponsor is to see who you are and to keep acknowledging it. The sponsor doesn’t need to give advice. That can get in the way. The sponsor keeps saying, in a whole range of different ways, “you are great, talented, loveable (or whatever other qualities you see in them), believe in yourself and your way forward will become clear. Follow your instincts.” The sponsor helps identify and disrupt negative or disempowering messages and offers and reinforces positive and empowering messages about who the person is. The sponsor doesn’t bullshit but has a clear loving view of the persons strengths and their potential and names this.

So how much do you do this for your friends? How much do they do this for you? Keep it in balance- if the relationship is one-sided, it is unhealthy. Having said that, sponsoring people can be really joyful. People are so hungry to be seen and acknowledged – give them sponsorship and they will give amply in return (unless they are stuck in a Taker or Victim role – then you need to use other methods than the ones mentioned here).

Of course, sponsorship is also the role of the therapist, coach, trainer and facilitator. As we sponsor people, so they learn to sponsor themselves. Having said that though, we never stop needing outside sponsorship. We are not self-sufficient beings – our biology means we are herd or tribe animals. We need relationships. Be good at receiving sponsorship, finding sponsors, hanging out with great sponsors, as well as self-sponsoring.

And if you love it so much give it to others too!

From a coaching and therapeutic point of view, really good empathetically connected sponsorship is much more powerful than all the fancy techniques that get taught on training programmes. There are some skills to sponsorship (empathy, rapport, reflective listening, pacing and leading, and open-heartedness).

We need very little to grow.

Just the constant light of a warm heart, touching what is great in us and healing wounded places in our soul.

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