Tattoos as a life coaching strategy

When I was 18, my friend Mike and I went to get tattoos. He went with a Native American feather peace symbol. Mine was inspired by my passion for playing bass guitar. In the latest Bass Player magazine, a feature article on Flea had a tribal swirl background. I thought it looked cool and it was associated with one of my bass guitar heroes. I made a design that incorporated the swirl with the bass clef symbol situated in the center. It symbolized for me how bass guitar was the sane, stable place for me in a chaotic, mad world. Recently, I decided to get a new tattoo. Inspired by events in my own life that I don’t want to forget, this tattoo will be inspired by the classic Japanese woodblock print, “The Great Wave off Kanagawa.” I also worked with my Chinese language teacher to come up with two idioms that will be part of the final design. The first, “感恩图报” means “to cherish the moment.”” The second “珍惜当下” means “to owe a debt of gratitude and hope to repay it.”

What does this mean in relationship to life coaching? We need symbols that represent the deepest meaningful things in life in order to live life fully and each of us has to determine what those symbols and meanings are. Viktor Frankl wrote about how important it was for him to create meaning each day in order to survive the Nazi death camps. In our everyday lives, we need the same. Even when living comfortable, relatively stress-free lives, in order to maximize our well-being and sense of purpose, we must create symbols of what our lives mean.

With clients, I go through the process of designing a tattoo that truly represents the deepest, most valuable meaning or meanings in their life at this time. The meanings should be somewhat durable, not a name of a new dating partner, or favorite video game of the month. We are looking for symbols that can survive a lifetime, even if new symbols are more relevant today. For example, my bass guitar tattoo still means a lot to me today. It reminds me of my chaotic childhood and how throwing myself passionately into something that I shared with close friends allowed me to survive. My new tattoo will also always have meaning until the day I die.

At the end of this exercise, clients may or may not actually get the tattoo. Whether they do or they don’t, the point is to put an extensive amount of self-reflection into creating a symbol that can instantly ground and center your mind. It must make you remember what it is you are trying to do with your life at this time. We need these symbols to carry us through the ups and downs of life and to give us strength during challenging times.

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Ian Felton has more than 20 years of professional experience writing software for organizations such as NASA, Mayo Clinic, Thomson Reuters, and many more. He is the author of The Coding Samurai : The Way of the Computer Warrior. His blog, The Coder Counselor, explores technology through the lens of psychology. Ian is also a published author of haibun, a prosemetric Japanese form of writing, mainly centered on travel and journeys to far-off places. In addition to bass guitar, writing and wildlife photography, his interests include practicing meditation, Chinese, and Chinese martial arts. Ian is completing his master’s degree in counseling and psychological services. You can connect with him on Twitter @psychcoder.

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