July 20, 2018

The Michelangelo Effect is The Reason You Can’t Become Your “Ideal Self” Alone

A coach is the missing ingredient in your pursuit of authenticity

The artist Michelangelo needs little introduction. David, The Pietà, and the ceiling of The Sistine Chapel speak to his expert skill
in transforming raw stone or blank canvas into a treasured life-form. And as with any good artist, there are secrets he used to unleash the vision
within the rock or canvas. In Michelangelo’s words: “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”

As coaches, this our job too. Like Michelangelo, we see the raw form of someone’s talents or gifts and help them move toward their ideal selves. This phenomenon
is known by researchers as“The Michelangelo Effect”,
the discovery that someone who knows you well and treats you in line with your ideal self (specifically a romantic partner) can help you grow toward

Say for example, you want to get more comfortable with public speaking. Just the thought of sharing in front of others makes you squirm in your seat, but
you really want to improve. So you tell your spouse about this goal, and your spouse replies: “That’s great, honey” and then forgets you ever said
it. (We’re all guilty of this at some point!)

Or say, on the other hand, you share this same goal and your spouse jumps out of their seat and says “That’s great, honey, you were born to take the stage!
I know you have what it takes to conquer this fear. Remember when you gave that great toast at your sister’s wedding? You’re a natural. Let’s plan
a few ways to get you in front of a microphone” and starts Googling local improv classes or Toastmasters meetings. Two very different ways of being
in the relationship and only the second response has The Michelangelo Effect.

Coaches are growth facilitators

The reason I share this scenario is this: The Michelangelo Effect isn’t just a transformational dynamic for relationships, but models the influence of
a healthy coaching relationship. It demonstrates what our clients need to realize success and what behaviors we can engage as coaches to help them
move toward their authentic selves.

Professor of Psychology at Brown University Dr. Joachim Kruegerdescribes how it works:

“The idea is that within each of you, a better version of yourself awaits release. The true, ideal, or authentic self depends on help from the outside
just as the statues of David and Moses did. The people who can help release your better self are those who are close to you and who care about you.
They want to help you to be the best you can be on your own terms, not theirs.”

It’s important to note that The Michelangelo Effect only works when action is directed by the client, not the coach. The client must drive change by asking
themselves: “What does my ideal self look like? What do I want out of life, not just in a material sense, but in an aspirational one? What do I value?
How do I want to grow?”

A coach trying to shape a client into their own image, or move them toward an identity that doesn’t suit them is not only unhelpful but damaging. This
means that as coaches, we must take precautions to ensure we aren’t coaching someone into a future of our own design, but one that the client has created.

Affirmation is the magic ingredient

The four phases of The Michelangelo Effect is defined as perceptual affirmation, behavioral affirmation, movement toward a goal, and authenticity.Here
are examples of how each works with this hypothetical goal of growing our public speaking skills.

  1. Perceptual affirmation: Affirming that we see the client’s ideal self as true and good. “That’s great! You were born to take the stage!
    I know you have what it takes to conquer this fear.”
  2. Behavioral affirmation: Acting toward the client in a way that affirms their ideal self. “Remember when you gave that great toast
    at your sister’s wedding? You’re a natural.”
  3. Movement toward goal: Helping facilitate ways to move toward the ideal self through actionable goals. “Let’s plan a few ways to get
    you in front of a microphone.”
  4. Authenticity (realization of ideal self): Affirmation that current reality mirrors ideal self. “Look at you, a professional public
    speaker! I knew you could do it.”

The Michelangelo phenomenon is a powerful tool at the disposal of coaches who want to leverage what the science of motivation already knows: Affirmation
works, personal responsibility is the active ingredient, and a coaching relationship can build steps for us to reach our ideal selves. Consider a free coaching consultation if you’re interested in moving toward your ideal self and want to activate accountability in your life to reach a long-held goal.

To your excellence in becoming “the real you,”

Coach Greg