Margaret Chapman-Clarke shares how to harness the ‘place of zero’ to release coach and client creativity by using the Nine Words process


Mason de Chochor describes our “place of zero”1 as a particular type of consciousness where, as coaches, we develop an expanded level of awareness in order to “get out of our own way”. To develop and transform others, he says, we first need to journey into ourselves, to become “conscious change agents”.

De Chocor’s work is all about helping people focus on the “right stuff” in a world characterised by a “malignant malaise”.

This collective mindset of fear and risk aversion was highlighted recently by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD)2, which noted that most organisations are operating in survival mode and unable to invest in productivity.

There is little space for creativity in such a world. Yet hope can emerge and new ways of being and an expanded awareness can be cultivated.

In this article, I share what has emerged from my recent research with advanced coaches into ways to foster this ‘place of zero’ by using ‘Nine Words’, and become heightened to the wisdom of what I call ‘embodied EQ’3.


How it works

  • Invite your client to engage in a focusing exercise or mindfulness practice
  • Lead your client gently through the practice, taking between eight and 10 minutes
  • At the end of the practice, without conversation, invite your client to write freely on the topic about which they might be ‘stuck’ or on a dilemma; or simply to generate ideas – without censoring
  • Invite them to begin with three minutes, after which, invite them to ‘scan’ what they have written, without re-reading. Ask them to circle or highlight three of the words, at random
  • Invite them to write for a further three minutes, scan, circle three words, and then write for a further three minutes, scan and circle
  • Now they should have nine words circled. Invite them to have fun with these Nine Words, to explore the issue that emerged in relation to the issue for exploration in the coaching conversation
  • Here are some questions to prompt mindful enquiry…
  • When I read this:
  • I notice
  • I am surprised that …
  • I realise that …
  • When I read this:
  • I am aware that
  • I feel …

The client

I was introduced to the Nine Words process in an introductory session to the mindfulness in coaching research (MICR) led by Margaret. It was profound. It was the first time I had experienced a free writing exercise accompanied by mindfulness practice. I discovered I could write poetry. The process brought out creativity I simply didn’t know I had.

It was very powerful and bought into focus thoughts and feelings around certain areas of my practice. Since that time I have written more poems using this method. I must admit, that while I use the exercise, I do not always do so after a meditation. I have, however, used the process when I needed or felt the desire to be creative, or at times when I simply wanted to make sense of my feelings and shift my state of mind.

It helps me to get into the ‘place of zero’ and from there, to access a lot of ideas and thinking that is out of my awareness.

Interestingly, when I have looked at the poems I wrote during the MICR, a pattern emerged which is about how I continuously put others’ needs first. This expanded awareness has led me to be more compassionate to myself and to notice when I am ‘creating stories’ that are not based on ‘facts’. I was also fascinated by the emergence of an image – of how visually the first and last poem, when put together, revealed the shape of an urn… I am still trying to work out that one!



As a coach, I was able to use this straight away. I have since integrated the exercise with mindfulness in two coaching programmes. What I’ve observed is truly humbling. Everyone in the room is able to write something that is significant to them. I chose to use this at the end of the session as it may not suit everyone and delegates might have been anxious at the start.

What the outputs from the process have shown me is that everyone is creative, even if they think they are not! I have also used the Nine Words exercise with coaching clients, as a way of providing a non-cognitive means of helping them access their feelings.

However, I am also selective. As with any coaching ‘tool’ or developmental intervention, it has to fit the client/learner’s need. I have found it particularly useful in well-being coaching, paradoxically, in one case where the client suffers anxiety and panic attacks.

Jane Worthington was a former client of Margaret’s and is now a practising coach, consultant and trainer




Personally and professionally I’ve found the process invaluable for accessing what is completely hidden. I’ve had the courage to read my own poetry and been touched by the way in which my words resonate with some aspect of others’ experience. Some of thepoetry has also been included in Margaret’s chapter in Coaching in Times of Crisis and Transformation (Kogan Page, 2015)4. It was truly a lovely experience to have had.



I first experienced this in a workshop on creative writing for personal development in 2014 with novelist and counsellor Kate Evans 5. Even though I’d written poetry off and on since my teenage years, I was stunned at the power of a seemingly simple method.

Adopting a somewhat radical methodology for my doctoral research with advanced coaching practitioners on auto-ethnography, it seemed an appropriate way of generating the ‘data’. I had faith that they could similarly benefit from the process of integrating free writing and mindfulness. They all discovered hidden talents once the thinking mind was turned off and the embodied ‘knowing’ was allowed to find a voice.

Like Jane, I’ve been truly humbled and when I’ve written about and shared with coaches in seminars and conferences, they, too, have been touched and impacted at the power of the process.




  • I have to be in the right frame of mind. Both free writing and meditation are deceptively simple, yet take practice
  • It has to be appropriate for the purpose and client/learner


  • It is a powerful process and the simplicity should not be underestimated
  • Clients may wish to engage in the process between sessions, in their own space and be selective in what they choose to share
  • If you choose to use this as an exercise to generate poetry, it is vital to hold what is meant by a poem with a light touch. Poetry is personal and can reach the emotional/being self that other tools in our coaching toolbox cannot.


How to ‘write free’

  • Keep to a time limit – set a timer so that you are not distracted by having to look at the clock
  • Keep your hand moving
  • No crossings out
  • Ignore spelling, punctuation and grammar
  • Don’t think, switch off the ‘doing’ mind and go with the flow
  • Simply engage in a ‘reflexive splurge’ about whatever aspect of your experience you want to focus on

(adapted from Chapman-Clarke, 2015)



  1. M de Chochor,‘The Conscious Change Agent: Looking inside ourselves as a path to developing the change agent in others’, in Mowinski, J and Francis-Jennings, L (Eds) Complexity Unravelled: The Power of Collaboration in Successful Change Leadership, The Change Leaders (COP) Ltd, 2015,
  2. People Management, ‘Fifth of all organisations in “survivor mode” and unable to invest in productivity’, Daily News, 24 September 2015
  3. M Chapman-Clarke, Exploring Coaches’ Experience of Mindfulness Training Using Poetic Inquiry: An Auto-ethnographic Study, unpublished doctoral thesis, The University of Derby, forthcoming
  4. M Chapman-Clarke, ‘Coaching for compassionate resilience through creative methods’, in Hall, L (Ed) Coaching in Times of Crisis and Transformation, Kogan Page, 2015
  5. K Evans, Pathways Through Writing Blocks in the Academic Environment, Sense Publishers, 2013. See also for workshops and information on her novel, The Art of the Imperfect, 2014


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