I have a client with a headache. This isn’t just an ordinary headache. It’s not even just a migraine. This is a permanent headache that has lasted seven months and may well last the rest of her life. She has been to doctors, alternative healers, Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners… You name it, she can tell you her experience of the treatment about the hope, the raised interest, the disappointment. The fact is, her headache has stayed, and no-one has the foggiest idea what to do about it.

How do you begin to work with someone in this predicament as a coach? Many coaches like me will advertise their work as being able to help you make your dreams come true. We structure our lives under the knowledge that if it is humanly possible, together we can make it happen. We have more stories than we can count of people who said they couldn’t do it, believed they couldn’t do it, had PROOF they couldn’t do it. After a few weeks of coaching we receive beaming photos and overwhelming feedback in gratitude for helping them to see that not only is it possible to achieve our dreams, if only we get out of the way of ourselves it is even likely we will achieve them.

And yet here is something that seems truly insurmountable. A coach has no magic wand and understanding the limitations of your coach is crucial in any process. I have to say it took me a long time to accept the reality that this may not be something I could help her with. But I knew there was something I could do and that was to focus on something other than the headache – a sentiment she values herself. Being a social person she meets many new people. When they discover the headache it becomes the central topic of conversation. She has spent so many hours trying to change the subject and is, to be frank, done talking about it.

When someone comes to me about a problem in their life, they are often surprised to discover I have very little interest in the problem at all. We have a saying in the coaching world. ‘Where thoughts go, energy goes. Where energy goes, life grows.’ A little investigation helped me to discover just how much time she was spending thinking about it. When we started talking about her sense of well-being, everything came back to the headache.

Life is full of so many opportunities for joy, wonder, expression, discovery and learning. There are experiences to be lived, people to be loved and abundance in all things. This is not wishful thinking. This is a simple statement of fact. Consciously shifting our focus onto the things we have more potential to be grateful for will fill our lives with these experiences. If we spend 60% of our days thinking about the problems, our lives will be 60% full of problems. Worse still, we will begin to find problems with the good things in life too. This habit can greatly affect our careers. We become problem finders, rather than the solution finders that employers are looking for.

Where my client has astounded me is the determination she has shown in searching for a diagnosis and a cure. She has chosen not to focus on the pain, but on the possibility of its absence. Her blog, permanentheadache, continues to grow. For me this demonstrates tremendous commitment to the experience and a hope that others will benefit too. Motivating herself in this way must be a tremendous source of strength. Perhaps the gratitude others feel when they read her story can be some cause for her own sense of well-being. The list of treatments is extraordinary. She says ‘I have got to a point where I must try everything, as anything may work.’ All things are fleeting. The joy, the sadness. The ecstasy, the pain. A life of triumph, a life of failure. The wisdom expressed in the saying ‘This too shall pass’ reminds us to remain unattached to our experiences in life for all things come and go. We explored this in our session, recognising that the headache could fade next year. It could leave on her deathbed. It could be gone tomorrow. The key lies in accepting that pain is not permanent, even if it has been long term. Small sentiment, yet once this has been acknowledged, we are more free to focus our time on what we choose.

For all of us there will be the permanent reminders of pain we know will never leave. The pain of bereavement. The pain of a failed relationship. The pain of a life that could have been. I have experienced a level of loss and isolation where I believed I would never talk again. It was inconceivable to me that I could form the words to begin to express what I needed to say. Yet slowly we find things that we can love. Things in which we can see the joy. We discover how life just keeps growing all around us. How the world changes moment by moment. Life by life. And this precious discovery is often all we need to find gratitude for the humbling experience we have lived. And that gratitude, though small, is powerful enough to transform our darkest moments to light, our most barren to an oasis, our isolation to re-connection with our loved ones, and with our communities, our world, our life.