Stress Coaching Part II – Recovery From Stress

Time to be still...priceless!

Time to be still…priceless!

What we refer to as “stress” is quite a mystery. Ill-defined by most everyone except psychological researchers, we ascribe devastating levels of power to it, and often feel helpless to cope with it. We know that stress is linked to worsening health, greater risk of illness and the exacerbation of most any condition we find ourselves with.

Wellness and health coaches find their clients almost always struggling to manage stress. Clients often recount how they had been successful at lifestyle change, often losing weight, stopping tobacco use, etc., until…a stressful event or change occurred in their lives. Once the stress hit the weight was regained, the smoking revived and so forth.

stress-illnessWhen we experience chronically elevated levels of stress the Stress Response of the Sympathetic branch of the Autonomic Nervous System maintains unsustainable levels of arousal in several bodily systems. This causes digestion to be inhibited, heart rate and blood pressure to remain elevated causing extra strain on the circulatory system, and higher levels stress hormones (corticosteroids) to be produced. Cortisol levels rise and research has linked this in particular to extra weight gain and more difficulty in weight loss. (

Medical researchers aren’t exactly sure how stress increases the risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and many other health challenges, but it does. For many researchers the findings don’t always put the finger on stress per se, as we can see more directly in the case of increased hypertension, but on the resultant changes in lifestyle behavior. Under more stress people tend to engage in more unhealthy behaviors – smoking, drinking, overeating, more sedentary activity, depression, and to engage in less healthy behaviors – exercise, sleeping well, taking time to eat well. It’s felt that these shifts in lifestyle contribute to the disease processes. There is also lots of evidence that higher stress has a negative effect on the immune system. ( (

The Health-Challenged Client And Stress

Many, if not the majority, of clients that wellness and health coaches work with are challenged by some kind of chronic illness. For these clients stress management is a vital part of the Lifestyle Medicine approach that hopes to positively affect the course of their illness.

The wellness plan supports the treatment plan.

The wellness plan supports the treatment plan.

First of all your health challenged client must be under currently active medical care. Your work with them around stress management may have an effect – albeit positive – on their physiology. This means that your coaching efforts must be coordinated with your client’s treatment team. For example, practicing relaxation training may succeed in lowering blood pressure. A client on hypertensive medication will need to have their dosage adjusted as their blood pressure changes.

To help our clients create their own way of managing stress we need to be their ally and help them to build the self-efficacy and confidence that their stress can be successfully dealt with. On a realistic level few coaches are equipped to help a client with a complex cognitive restructuring process that is more the prowess of a counselor or psychologist. We can help our clients address barriers in their lives, but we may find that a “problem solving” approach to stress may be flirting with infinity. Another brush fire springs up not long after the last one was finally extinguished.

Instead we may want to proceed with a more holistic, lifestyle-oriented, positive approach. We could divide this approach into four components:

#1 Recovery From Stress
#2 Development Of Recovery-Enhancing Skills And Strategies
#3 Lifestyle Strategies For Reducing Stress Increasers
#4 Environmental Strategies

#1 Recovery From Stress

In our previous post ( we spoke about how change today has increasingly shifted from episodic change (which we are psycho-physiologically set up to deal with) to continuous change. Despite the seemingly constant barrage of information, demands and pressures today, we are still very human creatures with a nervous system that requires recovery and repair. The alternative is having stress show up in the weakest link in our chain in the form of a stress-related disorder. These often begin with milder symptoms such as headaches, insomnia, etc., but if there is insufficient frequency and intensity of recovery we often see an increase in the severity of symptoms leading to increasingly serious stress disorders such as hypertension, gastro-intestinal disorders, and even symptoms of heart disease and more.

The body has it’s own built-in counterpart to the “stress response”. It’s called the “relaxation response” (as made famous by Harvard researcher Herbert Benson ( Eliciting this response calms the body and mind. Heart rate and blood pressure are reduced, as is the production of stress hormones. Recovery with a “capital R” would mean bringing out the stress response in some way.

Part of recovery, however is with a “small r” and that means engaging in activities that people find “relaxing” and also getting sufficient and sound rest. Taking the time to read a novel, go for a hike, play music or your favorite sport, go fishing (often a great choice for the client resistant to anything that sounds too exotic), have a cup of coffee/tea or glass of beer/wine with friends and chat, garden, or anything that the client considers fun and relaxing fills this part of the prescription. Multiple health benefits come from such activities meeting needs on physical, intellectual, creative, social and even spiritual levels.

How To Coach #1

Ask your client to list the things that they like to do to relax. Then ask them the last time they engaged in those activities. This often brings up regret and sadness. Empathize and explore. See what they may be attracted to re-engaging in and set up support and accountability to help them succeed.images

Exploring fears and assumptions about taking the time to recover may be a necessary step. Engaging in recovery time is meaningless if you’re client has too many internal barriers in the way and won’t give themselves permission for self-care. Coach them around exploring their beliefs and assumptions about taking time for themselves. Help them identify what triggers their fears and develop a different response. Are they making any assumptions about their situation at work? How safe would it be to check these assumptions out? Can new agreements be made?

It’s not unusual for clients to discover that working on improved sleep and rest becomes an important part of their wellness plan. This may become an area of focus for them and setting up goals and action steps to work on this may contribute greatly to their stress recovery.

#2 Development Of Recovery-Enhancing Skills And Strategies

There are numerous ways that your client may choose to use, once they are aware of alternatives, to enhance their ability to recover from stress and “inoculate” themselves against further effects of excessive stress. The key is not to prescribe, but to help your client find a method that is a great fit for them. Personal values, beliefs, and even prejudices that your client holds need to be respected. One person may jump at the chance to learn Yoga or Tai Chi while another person may be repelled by the same opportunity.

How To Coach #2

Biofeedback can be simple and very effective.

Biofeedback can be simple and very effective.

Help your client to explore such options as: Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) (; recordings of relaxation training methods such as progressive and autogenic relaxation training; recordings of guided visualizations for relaxation; biofeedback training supplied by a qualified biofeedback therapist; meditation training; classes in Yoga, Tai Chi and Xi Gung may also be of interest to your client. Coach them through the process of finding out adequate information and following through with selection and engagement. The key is to keep coaching them and make the practice of these skills part of the coaching.

#3 Lifestyle Strategies For Reducing Stress Increasers

Too much of a good thing?

Too much of a good thing?

Some big advantages in living a healthy lifestyle are the ways in which itcontributes naturally to stress reduction. Smart wellness coaches help their clients to look at how their diet is working for or against their stress level. Excess caffeine over-stimulates and can contribute to insomnia. Too much sugar causes energy ups and downs. Excess salt causes edema, and drives hypertension. Inadequate nutrition or not following a prescribed dietary program (such a for a person with diabetes) can also contribute greatly to stress. Indeed medical noncompliance can be a terrific source of stress as medications are not able to perform adequately to maintain homeostasis or deliver proper treatment.

How To Coach #3

Help your client to examine their current lifestyle behavior and explore their potentially ambivalent feelings about making changes such as modifying their diet. Coaches can use Motivational Interviewing techniques to help resolve such ambivalence. Drawing upon all a coach knows about Readiness for Change theory (TTM) will also help the client to approach change in a stage-matched way that is more likely to succeed. Simple behavioral tracking that is combined with support and coaching accountability can often empower clients to finally make the changes they need to their diet, activity levels, and self-care behaviors.

Work with your client to examine their approach to time management and organization in their lives. It’s been astonishing how many times coaches discover that clients have not been making use of such simple tools as working with a calendar, operating off of a written (versus mentally kept) to-do list. Help your client to take charge of their life by consciously working on organization and time management.

#4 Environmental Strategies

Nothing better than a place to put your feet up!

Nothing better than a place to put your feet up!

There is such an emphasis in stress management work around cognitive approaches and relaxation methods that we often overlook the environment the client experiences every day. Home and work environments can aggravate or alleviate our stress levels.

How To Coach #4

Have your client describe a “day in the life” so to speak. That is, have them walk you through their typical day with an emphasis on where they are, not what they are doing. Does it put them in touch with stress sources? Are they facing a daunting daily commute by car in high-stress traffic? Is there neighborhood safe enough to walk and recreate in? Is there household cluttered (stressful in itself) or relaxing and peaceful?

While many of our clients are faced with economic realities that may make relocating unrealistic, other times this may be a real option. Can they move closer to work and eliminate the commute? What would it take to consciously make their home more of a relaxing haven? Could they even make one room such a refuge? Other times, through coaching, clients discover that even though moving is out of the question, there are things they can do environmentally to improve their situation and reduce sources of stress.

I love to say that “A coach’s job is to remind people that they have choices.” Sometimes under the burden of stress we forget this.

Connecting with family, friends, our greater community and the natural world also helps tremendously to relieve stress. Getting our social needs met requires…well, socializing! Exercising outdoors provides more documented benefits than exercising indoors. Spending time in nature feeds the soul.

One of the most beneficial activities a person can engage in is totally unstructured time. “Drift time” allows a person to let go of the “To Do List”, let go of expectations, roles and responsibilities. Whether it looks like hammock stretching, wandering through a shopping district on your own, fishing in a river, or whatever suits your fancy, the tension seems to fade as the day goes on.

Have A Back-Up Plan

No matter what the strategy you and your client are co-creating, have a back-up plan. Something may show up and get in the way of the best-laid plans. Coach your client to come up with an answer ahead of time to the question: “What will you do if…?” Having a fall-back strategy can allow your client to still achieve their goal. Can they modify their plans? Can they exercise for 15 min. instead of not at all? Can they go for a walk during the noon hour in their work clothes instead of a trip to the gym? Do they have food stocked in the refrigerator that will allow them to prepare a quicker meal than the one they had planned?

Maybe Stress Management Is More Simple

Pioneering Life Coach Thomas Leonard was fond of saying that “A coach’s job is help people to Eliminate Tolerations and Get Their Needs Met.” Perhaps this maxim could better guide all of us in reducing stress in our lives and being well. Coach your clients around what they are tolerating, whether it is an annoying source of aggravation like a door that sticks, or the way their colleague treats them at work. Have them list all of their tolerations and explore the list together. You’ll find that a lot of what they are tolerating often results in them not getting their needs met. Under stressful demands people often put their own needs last on the list and seldom get to them. Unmet needs lead to depression, resentment, anxiety and the experience of stress. Help your client explore this and see what they are ready to do to begin prioritizing their own health and well-being.

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Stress Coaching Part I: A False Sense Of Urgency

Is time always running out?

Is time always running out?

How often do you find yourself and others around you at work and at home operating on a false sense of urgency? How often do we take action before we have all the facts, or make a decision just to relieve our anxiety? See if this sounds familiar? On Thursday, a deadline is set for Friday for a report nobody will look at it until at least Monday, if not next Thursday. A false sense of urgency drives us into a state of psychophysiological distress and if we experience this on a chronic basis our health will suffer.

Stress management is the overlooked dimension of wellness that affects our health unlike anything else. The medical world makes rough estimates that 80% of all illness is either caused by stress or exacerbated by it. Wellness and health coaches inevitably find themselves working with their clients on how stress affects the client’s lifestyle and wellness.

We are built to handle stress and change on an episodic basis. We rev up our stress response and are ready for fight or flight. Chronic stress, without recovery time, however has a tremendously adverse affect on our health, and today change, in both our work and personal lives has shifted from episodic to continuous. (

Continuous change is hard enough to deal with, but what about the stress that we createa-sense-of-urgency for ourselves out of our own anxiety and habit? Former Harvard Business School professor, John Kotter, looks at how organizations benefit from a true sense of urgency and are undone by a false sense. “True urgency focuses on critical issues. It is driven by the deep determination to win, not anxiety about losing. Many people confuse it with false urgency. This misguided sense of urgency does have energized action, but it has a frantic aspect to it with people driven by anxiety and fear. This dysfunctional orientation prevents people from exploiting opportunities and addressing real issues.” (

Translate what Kotter is saying into your own life. How much of the everyday stress that you experience is driven by a habitual, almost reflexive sense of urgency? How many great opportunities did you miss because you prematurely committed to another course of action? How many health-enhancing experiences or self-care activities did you pass up because so many other things in your life felt so urgent?

At the other extreme it is far too easy to be complacent about our health. We too easily put off medical exams, grab the convenience foods for dinner, watch TV, and confuse our need for rest and recovery with a state of lethargy. Not only do we increase our health risks, but we also begin to let our tremendous potential to be happy slip away. Smart companies have a true sense of urgency, and so do healthy people. Kotter tells us that “A big reason that a true sense of urgency is rare is that it’s not a natural state of affairs. It has to be created and recreated.” How can we create, and recreate, over and over again, a sense of urgency that works for us, but not against us in the way we live our lives?

Medium5  The Coach’s Take Away  





Continuums often help people conceptualize better when they see a graphic representation. Perhaps we could apply this to helping our clients connect with a sense of urgency around their health and wellness, but hold back from the self-defeating behaviors (SDB’s) that come from a false sense of urgency.

← – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – / – – – – – – – – – – – -/- – – – – – – – – – – →
Complacency              Urgency                 Action               SDB’s

A Coach Approach to working with this continuum might be to have a client explore their own self-evaluation of where they see themselves on the continuum. Then using active-listening skills and powerful questions, have them explore how their current wellness efforts are working for them or against them. Is there complacency coming from real contentment, or from low self-efficacy and/or minimization and avoidance of looking at their health? Do they see their wellness as something with “true urgency” that motivates them to take action? Or, do they see their own SDB’s getting in the way and how? Are they finding themselves operating out of a sense of “false urgency” far too often?


As early as 1959 cardiologists Friedman and Rosenman identified the classic “Type A” personality and demonstrated a link between psychological characteristics and increased incidence of cardiovascular disease. One of the top three characteristics of “Type A’s” is a heightened sense of Time Urgency. Such folks tend to be impatient, to interrupt more, to walk and talk rapidly and seem to always be terribly award of how little time they have to spare. They also tend to be very self-critical and very competitive. The driven workaholic fits this description. The reality is, many of our wellness/health coaching clients also fill this bill.

When our list of demands and desires seems to overwhelm us stress grinds us to a halt. Our wellness plan gets put on the back burner yet again, and we’re back to our endless cycle of busyness. In a previous post “Question Your To-Do List And Be Well: Coaching The Urgent/Important Matrix” ( we looked at how to help our clients “remember that they have choices” and to consider both urgency and importance. Check that post out for more tips on how to coach your anxious client with that false sense of urgency.

Urgency-Emergency – A Key Distinction

Coaching excels at helping clients make distinctions that allow them to choose courses of action that are self-enhancing instead of self-defeating. One such key distinction to work with your client on is the difference between “Urgency” and “Emergency”. The sense of emergency that we are referring to here requires no trips to the hospital emergency room. Instead we’re talking about the perceived sense of urgency that makes a demand, desire or request seem like an emergency. Such “false emergencies” seem driven from three primary sources.

1) One can experience negative Peer Health Norms in their workplace or family around urgency/emergency. On a societal level it seems true that we are in what sociologists refer to as a “time famine”. Today with the push of increased technology, expectations for the delivery of results has far exceeds human capacity. Once again, emulating machines is hazardous to our health. Particular workplaces can operate out excessive competitiveness, fear and “siloing” where departments also compete instead of cooperating. Even the belief system (and therefore managerial style) of one single manager can drive a continually false sense of urgency. Families can pressure its members by only rewarding excessive performance and productivity.

2) One can experience a miss-assigned sense of responsibility. The old saying “A lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency in my world” must not only be remembered, but operated upon. Most conflicts can be resolved with a critical conversation around “Who’s responsible for what?”

3) One can assign excessive urgency to a demand, desire or request simply out of one’s own anxiety and/or belief system. The baseline level of stress that I’m operating on may already have me close to crossing the line from stress to distress, from functioning well to bringing on stress-related disorders and/or self-defeating interpersonal behavior. In short, I may be carrying around a level of worry, anxiety and stress that can’t handle much more. As a result I am far from centered and able to see threats, demands and requests for what they are. Instead every new brick on the load feels like it will break me.

On the other hand, coaches will encounter clients whose sense of urgency is driven more by anxiety that might be attributed to something physical, like an overactive thyroid, or to an internal belief system that has wired in habitual/reflexive responses that are deeply ingrained.

To help your client distinguish between urgency and emergency have them look at their thinking patterns.

• Are they operating on any assumptions? ASK: Do you know that to be true? How do you know that to be true? Are you filling in the blank yourself with an assumption?
• Do they have accurate information about deadlines? ASK: What is the true deadline? How much time do you really have to complete something? What are the risks vs. benefits of seeking an extension?
• Explore action vs. inaction. ASK: What are the consequences of acting vs. not acting? What are you afraid they are? What do you actually know them to be?
• Decision making. ASK: Are you making a decision here just to relieve anxiety? Do you have all the information you need (on both the factual and emotional levels) to make a well-grounded decision?

The other key to helping clients to reduce their sense of false urgency is not cognitive, but psychophysiological. The mind/body connection instantly translates our thoughts into the chemistry and neural responses of the body. Our sense of false urgency sends signals to our nervous system that are interpreted as indicating a need for our stress response to be activated. Our sympathetic nervous system arousal prepares us for “fight or flight”. Not only can we handle this on an episodic basis, it may actually prepare us to handle a true emergency very well. When chronic however, the perpetually elevated heart rate, blood pressure, cortisol levels, etc. work against us rather than for us. This psychophysiological problem requires a psychophysiological solution. In other words – relax!

Believe me, the last thing your anxious, time-urgent client wants to hear is the suggestion that they relax! For them it may be heard as a demand not a request, as a reprimand for them becoming so stressed to begin with, or a trivialization of what, for them, is a very real sense of

So, do the cognitive work first. Also acknowledge their feelings, that, for them, the urgency truly does feel intense. Honor and affirm how they feel. Then ask them if they would like to explore how often they feel this way. Is it just dealing with this issue, or are they often feeling urgency? If it seems to be far too common, ask them what they do to recover from stress. Would they like to explore ways to help them lower their overall level of tension?

You may do a little wellness education here exploring what they know about reducing stress and what they have tried. Then look at what methods of stress reduction appeal to them. Relaxation training, Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction, biofeedback, Yoga, Tai Chi, guided imagery, etc. are all proven methods that can help your client lower their baseline level of stress and help make them more resilient. The methods they choose have to be something they see the value in and are congruent with their beliefs and values. Practicing on a regular basis can be assisted by the accountability that coaching can provide.

In future posts we will look at how a true sense of urgency can work for us instead of against us. We’ll also explore a true wellness sense of urgency that is not fear-based and how that can combat the complacency that undermines our wellness. We will look at how to help our clients recognize the differences between episodic and continuous change and between complacency, true urgency and false urgency.

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New 2nd Edition Of Wellness Coaching For Lasting Lifestyle Change

New Second Edition!

New Second Edition!

In 2007 Wellness Coaching For Lasting Lifestyle Change became the first comprehensive health and wellness coaching book published. Written expressly for the practitioner, it quickly became the foundational book of the field and has remained so to this day. Updated in 2009 it has served as the go-to book for independent coaches, health care and wellness professionals, and is often used as a text for college and university classes.

I’m now proud to announce that our fully revised and updated Second Edition of Wellness Coaching For Lasting Lifestyle Change has been released by my publisher – Whole Person Associates ( Copies are available through Whole Person (with quantity discounts available with bulk orders), and through Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Just look for the beautiful new color design on the book cover image.  2nd Ed Cover - Med

Since the last update of Wellness Coaching For Lasting Lifestyle Change our company, Real Balance Global Wellness Services, Inc., (, has trained thousands and thousands of health and wellness coaches around the world. I’ve personally trained many, taught advanced wellness coaching classes, done mentor coaching with students on the ICF Path, reviewed hundreds of case studies and listened to hundreds of coaching session recordings. I drew upon what I learned from these experiences in my revisions of the book and feel that the new edition provides enough new material to warrant recommending the purchase of this second edition by those who already have the first. Many pages were deleted and the new total is over fifty pages greater than the old edition…over 300 pages!

All of that teaching and mentorship helped me realize where coaching students, and practicing coaches, need more guidance when it comes to coaching and to wellness coaching in particular. I found the places where students get confused, where they are unsure how to proceed, where they get stuck, where their progress slows down. Those thousands of hours taught me what coaches need to know more about.

In the new edition there is more on the actual coaching skills that wellness coaches need to be effective. Both the mindset, the facilitative conditions of coaching that create “coaching presence”, and the techniques that increase coaching effectiveness are elaborated upon. I found that coaches often need help going beyond exploration and must have skills and methods to “forward the action”.

The most important and complete revisions are found in Chapter Eight. We are told over and over again that the Wellness Mapping 360° Methodology ™ is what coaches find most valuable and in this new edition we’ve refined it much further. So many coaches just do “goal setting” with their clients. Here we show how to really co-create a fully integrated wellness plan for lasting lifestyle change. This structure and methodology allows the coach or coaching program to “get behavioral about being holistic”. We work with the whole person, including mind, body, spirit and environment (real wellness), and yet “put legs under it” with a behavioral process and tools that allow for greater tracking, accountability and support.

Wellness Coaching For Lasting Lifestyle Change has touched lives around the world. It is so gratifying when I hear from people across the United States and Canada about how powerful the book has been for them, both personally and professionally. Additionally phone calls, emails and wellness coach training class registrations show up from Australia, Brazil, Portugal, the Philippines, Russia, Poland, Ireland, and all over. I am both touched and excited to know that through its international distribution, we truly are CREATING ALLIES FOR A HEALTHY WORLD.

Wellness Coaching For Lasting Lifestyle Change, 2nd Edition

Michael Arloski, Ph.D., PCC, CWP

Michael Arloski, Ph.D., PCC, CWP

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Process Coaching: Yes, Coaches “Do Emotions”


The landscape of emotion is best walked with an ally.

The landscape of emotion is best walked with an ally.

How can we walk with our clients through the landscape of emotion and stay on solid and fertile ground? How can we avoid the mud, or even the quicksand of faux-counseling/psychotherapy? We want our clients to harvest the insights and benefit from the emotional release that comes telling their story, while feeling heard, understood, and even affirmed. We want them to know that we are true allies who won’t abandon them the first time they reach for a tissue.

Coaches may treat the world of feelings like they are all stored in a “Pandora’s Box”. Open the lid and we may be headed straight for disaster. Better to keep it closed tight. I’ve been alarmed to hear reports of wellness & health coaches out there working in systems where they say they “don’t do emotions”.

Probably the most challenging territory for coaches who do not have a mental health background is how to do what the life coaching profession calls “process coaching”. Sure, it’s easy to hear a client say they want to lose thirty pounds and quickly construct a wellness plan that has them increasing activity and improving their diet. Goals and action steps are set up and a system of tracking behavior may be implemented. Sounds great…until your client comes in talking about how they only walked one time last week. They feel embarrassed. They say they are sorry they let you down. And now they are almost crying as they relate how frustrating and painful it has been to be overweight most of their life. Like it or not coach, you’ve got to stay with them as they explore these feelings. Shut them down through either changing the subject or just non-verbally communicating your discomfort and you will likely damage the coaching relationship and the client will lose the opportunity to integrate their emotions around this important subject. The client needs to process their feelings.

edge-of-cliffCoaching Caution

There are also coaches who are more than willing to jump into the territory of emotion. I was very alarmed when I discovered a group of coaches in Northern California who, on their website, promise “deep emotional healing”. It did not appear that any of them were licensed mental health professionals, yet they were inviting clients to come to them to deal with their trauma. As a psychologist who has dealt with the full range of mental health problems and crises, I believe it is far beyond the scope of practice for coaches to enter this realm. It is dangerous and unethical for coaches who fancy themselves as “healers” to offer such false services.

Coaches can effectively work with mental health patients, if they limit their work to coaching and leave the counseling to the mental health pros. A recent article in Psychology Today explored some of the ways coaches are helping in the realm of mental health and also raises some important guidelines and warnings. (

Be sure to review my previous blog post “The Wellness Coach And Referring Clients To A Mental Health Professional: PART ONE – WHEN” ( ) for more in-depth information about making referrals. Another great reference is: “Coaching versus Psychotherapy in Health and Wellness: Overlap, Dissimilarities and the Potential for Collaboration” By Meg Jordan and John B. Livingstone appearing in Global Advances In Health And Medicine, Volume 2, Number 4, July 2013 •

Exploring both the external barriers to change, and the internal barriers is an essential part of most effective coaching. Clients benefit greatly by looking at their own self-defeating behavior patterns and do not always do so dispassionately. It may be essential for a client to ask for support in their life with their lifestyle improvement efforts. Yet, their reluctance to ask for help may be an emotional issue. Its roots may never reach Freudian depths. They simply may need to get in contact with their feelings, realize how tender this subject is for them, then, with the unwavering support of their coach, take the risk of reaching out to others.

Process Coaching

Coaching is not just about goals and action steps. It’s about the person’s own experiencing of their life as it intersects with this world. There is continually a lot to integrate. There is also so much growth that is possible. The authors of Co-Active Coaching (2012) explain that “Process coaching focuses on the internal experience, on what is happening in the moment. The goal of process coaching is to enhance the ability of clients to be aware of the moment and to name it… Sometimes the most important change happens at the internal level and may even be necessary before external change can take place.”

These authors also urge us to look at feelings as information rather than symptoms. Our inescapable humanness demands that we accept the fact that we are emotional beings. Recent research confirms that our decision-making processes draw upon feelings 60% of the time rather than logic. Part of the coaching journey is to assist our clients in sorting out their feelings so they can make the best decisions possible. That may mean acknowledging the validity and importance of certain feelings like when a client decides to live according to their values of closeness with their family and turns down the job offer that would keep them on the road most of the month.

Summit sunset coach & clientTen Guidelines For Process Coaching

1. The vast majority of your clients are functioning at a level where they can handle emotions well. They can gain insight from talking about their feelings.
2. In your initial discussions with your client about coaching you make it clear that your agreement with your client is that coaching is not a substitute for any form of treatment.
3. Read my blog “The Wellness Coach And Referring Clients To A Mental Health Professional: PART ONE – WHEN” ( For a good reference on when to refer.
4. “Get yourself out of the way!” – Realize when the difficulty you are having exploring emotions with your client (or your reluctance to) is really about your own feelings. You may have some emotional work to do yourself. You may have come across an area so tender for you that you have to ask the client’s permission to not explore this topic and help them find other resources to do so. You can also “be in the way” when exploration with your client is more about your own ego-needs.
5. Use the basic active listening skill – Reflection Of Feeling. Don’t just paraphrase what the person says. Offer your observation about the feeling that is apparent in your client as they speak.
6. When your client begins to dive deeper into their history of an emotional issue, “presentify” it. Ask the client to tell you how that experience/history relates to today. “So, I understand how critical your mother must have been, but how does that affect your taking time for self-care today?”
7. Ask permission. Don’t assume that it’s okay with your client to go forth into a new area that is likely filled with emotion. The necessary trust may not be there yet.
8. FAVE: First acknowledge, validate and empathize. Check out my previous blog post on the importance of acknowledging feelings: (
9. Allow your client to feel what they feel. Check your temptation to rescue your client when they are still in the shallow end of the pool. Convey your supportive presence as they contact their sadness, grief, joy or anger. Allow them to go beyond an intellectual conversation “about” feelings. Connection with feelings often is what allow a shift to take place within your client and through insight the path to action opens up. Don’t ask “why” the person feels they way they do. Explore it and acknowledge it. Let the client work with their own emotions, with your support and non-judgmental trust.
10. Forward The Action. Real progress is made when clients can take their new awareness and translate it into action. Coaches can get stuck in a carousel of feeling exploration that can go on infinitely. Develop your coaching skills for forwarding the action. Ask powerful questions that explore what the client is ready to do about their new awareness. How can they take what they are now aware of and apply it to what they want in their life? How can what they know now help them make progress towards their goals? Co-create experiments for the client to try out and support them by helping them with ways to be accountable to themselves for carrying it out. When clients stay stuck in that carousel of emotion, when they seem unable to translate their new awareness into action repeatedly it is most likely that you are looking at the need for a referral to a counselor/therapist. This, in fact, is one of the best indicators of the client’s ability to handle emotion and make great use of coaching…or not.

One of the most brilliant things I heard recently was that coaching is not a helping profession. It is an assisting profession. A critical distinction of mindset. We coaches who seek to be “helpers” and “healers” should look into other professions. There are lots of ways to be of great service helping others to heal themselves. If we are okay with “assisting” in the process of working with clients whom we see as “naturally creative, resourceful and whole”; if we are fine with evoking the wisdom within our clients so they can make life-changing use of it, then coach on!


Kimsey-House, H., Kimsey-House, K., Sandahl, P., Whitworth, L. (2011) Co-Active Coaching: Changing Business, Transforming Lives. 3rd Ed. Nicholas Brealey America.

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Lessons From Albert Bandura For Wellness Coaches


“Self-efficacy or belief in one’s ability to perform determines whether behavior will be initiated, how much effort will be expended, and whether the effort will be sustained.”

“People with high assurance in their capabilities approach difficult tasks as challenges to be mastered rather than as threats to be avoided.”        Albert Bandura

From ancient philosophers to Sigmund Freud and down to today’s latest psychological research, people have been attempting to understand what drives human behavior. If you were to pose the idea that what we do as human beings is a result of what we think and how we interact with our environment you would get few arguments. Yet such a theory is a relatively recent development in the study of psychology. Social psychologist Albert Bandura ( was primary among the people who have helped us validate the idea that our behavior is an interplay between what we observe in the world around us, how we self-reflect about it, and how we decide to go forward with action.

“With the publication of Social Foundations of Thought and Action: A Social Cognitive Theory, Bandura (1986) advanced a view of human functioning that accords a central role to cognitive, vicarious, self-regulatory, and self-reflective processes in human adaptation and change. People are viewed as self-organizing, proactive, self-reflecting and self-regulating rather than as reactive organisms shaped and shepherded by environmental forces or driven by concealed inner impulses.” (Pajares, 2002)

Bandura Model RD



Model Of Reciprocal Determinism – Bandura

Because Social Cognitive Theory sees our behavior as part of a reciprocal, continually interacting circle, our counseling or coaching efforts can directed at the personal, environmental and behavioral factors.

For the wellness professional who works with people to help them improve their lifestyle behavior this is an easy theory to sign on with. We see our clients continuously facing inner and outer barriers that challenge their attempts at behavioral change. Inner barriers include the Personal Factors that Bandura talks about: cognitive, affective and biological events. Or more simply put, the ways in which our thoughts and belief systems limit us; the ways in which our emotions override our logic in self-defeating ways; and our own emotional-biological connection. Outer barriers include the Environmental Factors that add stress and/or support to our lives.

In wellness and health coaching (referred to hereafter as wellness coaching), effective methodologies go beyond simple assessment and goal-setting and recognize that what derails the best laid wellness plans are usually these inner and outer barriers. Central to the coach approach is the contention that human beings are accepted in coaching as being “naturally creative, resourceful and whole.” (Kimsey-House, H., Sandahl, P., Whitworth, L., 2011) ( They are seen as having the ability, with the right support, to positively impact their world and their own lives.

“Social cognitive theory is rooted in a view of human agency in which individuals are agents proactively engaged in their own development and can make things happen by their actions. Key to this sense of agency is the fact that, among other personal factors, individuals possess self-beliefs that enable them to exercise a measure of control over their thoughts, feelings, and actions, that “what people think, believe, and feel affects how they behave” (Bandura, 1986, p. 25). Bandura provided a view of human behavior in which the beliefs that people have about themselves are critical elements in the exercise of control and personal agency. Thus, individuals are viewed both as products and as producers of their own environments and of their social systems.” (Pajares, 2002)

What wellness coaches observe is that there is often great disparity regarding the degree to which their clients believe that the efforts they make to improve their health and well being will be effective. Do they believe that they can affect their own health, and to what degree? For the wellness coach and client, this is the very essence of “self-efficacy”.

mtn climb hand up“Of all the thoughts that affect human functioning, and standing at the very core of social cognitive theory, are self-efficacy beliefs, “people’s judgments of their capabilities to organize and execute courses of action required to attain designated types of performances” (p. 391).” (Pajares, 2002)

“Self-efficacy beliefs provide the foundation for human motivation, well-being, and personal accomplishment. This is because unless people believe that their actions can produce the outcomes they desire, they have little incentive to act or to persevere in the face of difficulties. Much empirical evidence now supports Bandura’s contention that self-efficacy beliefs touch virtually every aspect of people’s lives—whether they think productively, self-debilitatingly, pessimistically or optimistically; how well they motivate themselves and persevere in the face of adversities; their vulnerability to stress and depression, and the life choices they make.” (Pajares, 2002)

Many clients arrive to wellness coaching having experienced failure experiences which have negatively impacted their self-efficacy. Discouraged by perhaps numerous attempts to quit smoking, manage stress, or attain and then maintain a healthy weight, their belief in the own ability to succeed at lasting lifestyle improvement has been damaged. Yet, as Bandura has shown us, this belief needs to be strengthened for the person to garner the motivation to change and the tenacity to succeed.

How do we then build self-efficacy? Fortunately effective wellness coaching methodologies have built into them the very factors that Bandura has found effective.

“Reality is not so much what happens to us; rather, it is how we think about those events that create the reality we experience. In a very real sense, this means that we each create the reality in which we live.” ~ Dr. Albert Ellis

“All that we are is the result of what we have thought; it is founded on our thoughts; it is made up of our thoughts. A man’s life is the direct result of his thoughts… We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts we make the world.” ~ Gautama Siddhartha (Buddha)

Though he’s not quoted as saying so, the essence of Bandura’s work would agree with the old saying that “We create our own reality.” Most human motivation is cognitively generated, Bandura argues. We anticipate our actions with forethought and figure our chances of success largely based upon our past experience in this arena. This forms beliefs about what we can and can’t do. We set goals and form plans to realize the outcomes we desire. The way we set those goals is largely determined then by our perception of our past experience and our level of self-efficacy. This combined with our current thinking yields our performance in attempting to reach our desired outcome.

Causal Structure


Perception of our Past Experience affects our Self-Efficacy. This in turn affects our expectations and the level at which we set our personal goals. This is then filtered through our thinking, or as Bandura puts it, our Analytic Strategies and this combination of Personal Goals and Thinking affects our Performance or outcome. So, if I have a history of failure at weight loss and low self-efficacy about succeeding at another attempt at losing weight I will set personal goals that may be minimal, or may be unrealistic. I then attempt to achieve these goals using strategies that are influenced by my lack of confidence, discouragement, and self-doubt, and my performance, or outcome suffers.

A Coach Approach Difference



Let’s say I now have a wellness coach helping me with the process of change. Firstly as I speak to my coach about my Past Experience, and they help me reframe my experience less negatively. I get empathy and support, even acknowledgement for how challenging weight loss has been for me, but I don’t get sympathy. My coach helps me discover what in my past experience was effective. What did work that I can use again?

My coach also works with me to improve my self-efficacy (see below) and help me build my feelings of greater self-esteem, self-confidence and helps me recognize and acknowledge my strengths that I can use in this change process. My coach is using the Positive Psychology approach that is inherent in coaching. Together my coach and I co-create a better set of Personal Goals that are optimistic, yet realistic. Through the coaching I discover more of the motivation that I have for improving my life, including losing weight. The coaching helps me see the motivational link between what action I am taking and how it will help me reach my greater desired outcome of living my healthiest, best life. This motivation helps me produce greater effort, push through barriers and, with my coach’s help, strategize though both internal and external barriers. The result is an improved Performance.


Now, when I look at my recent Performance I am encouraged by at least some level of progress. I now begin the Causal Structure of Change process again, and this time I begin by basing it on my Recent Performance, not my Past Performance. This helps push a higher level of Self-Efficacy within me. I set even better Personal Goals. My Thinking, my Analytic Strategies are more positive and effective and this all yields even better Performance. We are now on a positive circle of action and success that can be repeated, instead of a vicious circle of defeat.


How To Build Self-Efficacy

Most wellness professionals are already very familiar with the term self-efficacy and set improved self-efficacy as a desired outcome in virtually all of their wellness programming. Wellness coaches seek to help clients have greater belief in their ability, capacity, and confidence in positively affecting their health and improving their lifestyles. The question is “How?”.

Bandura (1997) identified four sources of information that affect our self-efficacy:
• Mastery Experiences – Self-mastery
• Vicarious Experiences – Role Modeling
• Verbal Persuasion – Social Persuasion
• Physiological Cues

Let’s look at how wellness coaches can help clients improve self-efficacy by working with these four factors.

MtnSummittSmallMastery Experiences

Mastery experience is the strongest and most effective source of building self-efficacy. As we say in coaching “Nothing succeeds like success!” An effective coach helps their client recognize and acknowledge themselves for even the smallest accomplishment. Many clients are notoriously poor at giving themselves credit for what the do accomplish and coaching can help them reframe this.

The coach helps their client avoid repeating self-defeating strategies they’ve used in the past and helps them devise more effective experiments at change. As clients set in place a wellness plan that sets out manageable goals and specific (easy) action steps that are in alignment with the client’s “readiness for change” (Prochaska, 1994) ( the probability of success is much greater. As the client experiences “mastery” it is very self-reinforcing and self-efficacy beliefs elevate.

bluezonesYogaAmazing OldsterVicarious Experiences – Role Modeling

A cornerstone of social psychology is that we all learn from one another and this influences our own behavior. Much of Bandura’s work has been around modeling whether it was the famous BoBo Doll Experiment (Bandura, 1961), or filming people crossing the street against a traffic light just because a well-dressed man carrying a briefcase did so. When we see someone being successful at certain behavior we are more likely to try it ourselves. Thus the omnipresence of fad diets and all the fitness trends we witness. Television and the internet serve to expose us to even more models to imitate. Self-efficacy, then, can be affected by observing what others experience.

People who observe a model successfully perform in a challenging situation are more likely to develop an expectation that they can acquire the same skill (Alderman, 1999). So, coaches can encourage clients to find models that will both encourage them and perhaps show them strategies and the skills they need to be successful like their models.

What we know about effective models is that they need to be people we feel positive about and can relate to. Most fitness and wellness magazines, for example, forget this and continuously hold up exceptional examples for us to follow. We may find it extremely hard to identify with celebrities, or a seventy-five year old ultra-marathoner who was an All-American track star in college. Models who are seen as having similar attributes (age, gender, ethnicity, etc.) as ourselves and who have struggled imperfectly, but persevered and succeeded at a similar task are most effective.

coaching-1Verbal Persuasion – Social Persuasion

The messages we get from others can have a profoundly positive or negative effect upon our efficacy expectations. When one receives encouragement that “you can do it” our belief in our own capacity for change increases. For these positive verbal statements to be effective though, they must be believable and conveyed by someone the person sees as trustworthy.

The term “persuasion” may be a bit misleading for the coach. The reality is that we really can’t “persuade” someone to be well. It’s not a convincing sales pitch that works, but instead the kind of “I believe you can do it, I believe in you!” statements that a coach sincerely makes that go beyond simple cheerleading.

At the heart of good coaching is what we call “coaching for connectedness” (Arloski, 2009). A key to successful and lasting lifestyle improvement is coaching with the client to help them consciously develop a system of support that will help them attain and maintain the changes they seek. This social support is a central part of Bandura’s message. When clients find walking buddies, social groups with positive peer health norms, or learn how to ask for the support they need, they are much more likely to succeed.

RelaxMP3Physiological Cues

Individuals sometimes judge their capability to perform a task by their own physical/emotional experience as they face the task or perform it. If they doubt their ability, possibly fear the consequences of failure, etc., they may experience anxiousness, increased heart rate, sweating, etc. Awareness of these symptoms can trigger even more self-doubt and fear and plunge self-efficacy beliefs further down and affect performance.

Bandura contends that individuals have the capacity for self-regulation. We can affect our physiological states through our awareness, our thought processes and through techniques of breath and relaxation. Wellness coaches can help their clients to become aware of these patterns of anxiousness and help them seek out methods for self-management. Coaching takes it further by helping clients establish accountability around practicing these self-management techniques. Positive mental rehearsal can also be used to reduce anticipatory anxiety and increase confidence in one’s capacity for positive performance. The coach and client can even rehearse in role play for an upcoming event for the same purposes.

Theory and Practice

Social Cognitive Theory (formerly known as Social Learning Theory) helps us see ways to be more effective in working with our clients. It also is very validating to the “coach approach” taken by professional life coaches and professional wellness coaches. There is tremendous congruity between what coaches do and what this theory advises.

Alderman, M. K. (1999). Goals and goal setting. Motivation for ahievement: possibilities for teaching and learning. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Arloski, M. (2009) Wellness Coaching For Lasting Lifestyle Change. Updated Ed. Duluth, MN: Whole Persons Associates.

Bandura, A.; Ross, D.; Ross, S. A. (1961). “Transmission of aggression through the imitation of aggressive models”. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology 63 (3): 575–582. doi:10.1037/h0045925. PMID 13864605.

Bandura, A. (1977) Toward A Unifying Theory Of Behavioral Change. Psychol Rev. 1977 Mar; 84(2):191-215.

Bandura, A., (1982). Self-efficacy mechanism in human agency. American Psychologist, 37, p. 122-147.
Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. New York: Freeman

Kimsey-House, H., Sandahl, P., Whitworth, L. (2011) Co-Active Coaching: Changing Business, Transforming Lives. Nicholas Brealey; Third Edition.
THE Coaching “Bible”! Best book on basics of coaching and coaching skills.

Naydock, G. R. How Would Bandura Increase Self-Efficacy In Therapy.

Pajares, Frank (2002) Overview of Social Cognitive Theory and of Self-Efficacy, Emory University, Archived at:

Prochaska, J., Norcross, J, & Diclemente, C. (1994) Changing For Good. New York, NY: Harper Collins/Quill. 1994 Harper Collins, 2002 Quill reprint.


Content is the copyrighted material of Real Balance Global Wellness Services, Inc., 2014 and may be used only for educational purposes and only when complete credit is given for its source.

Michael Arloski, Ph.D., Ph.D., CWP, is a psychologist, certified wellness coach and Founder and CEO of Real Balance Global Wellness Services, Inc. and Dean of The Wellness Coach Training Institute.

Michael Arloski, Ph.D., PCC, CWP

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Yes, We ARE Getting Healthier!

How Does Your State Rank?

How Does Your State Rank?

In the midst of the healthcare crisis, America’s actual health, in many ways, is improving! It’s easy to feel discouraged by the political struggles, obesity and diabetes “epidemics”. Hearing that the U.S. has a worse life expectancy than Slovenia and Chile is very disheartening. Yet, despite some huge challenges that aren’t going away, there is an upside.

The 2013 Annual Report by America’s Health Rankings® is in and the word is better than we may have expected. The longest running annual assessment of the nation’s health on a state-by-state basis, America’s Health Rankings has spent 24 years assembling health data to help us see our progress and challenges. (

The almost twenty-five year trend of increasing obesity appears to have leveled off since 2012. The scientists aren’t ready to predict which way the scales will tip on this one, but at least it’s not another increase. In 1990 almost thirty percent of Americans smoked. In the last year we finally edged just under twenty percent with seventeen states showing a decrease in smoking.

Healthier Hearts

Healthier Lifestyles, Healthier Hearts

Healthier Lifestyles, Healthier Hearts

A real eye-opener is learning that cardiovascular deaths have declined 36 percent since 1990 and each year continues to see a 2-3 percent decrease. We’re also doing a better job of helping people avoid ending up in the hospital when it could have been prevented. “Preventable hospitalizations continue to decline. In 2001, there were 82.5 discharges per 1,000 Medicare enrollees; in 2013, there were 64.9 discharges per 1,000 Medicare enrollees.”

The American workplace is also becoming safer. “Occupational fatalities have declined slightly in the last 6 years from 5.3 deaths in 2007 to 3.8 deaths per 100,000 workers in the 2013 Edition. Rates have reached a 23 year low.”

Though most of the decline happened between 1990 and 1999, infant mortality is 39 percent less than it was in 1990. Though not dropping much recently, there has been no increase in recent years. At the same time though, the number of children living in poverty continues to increase with the 2013 report telling us that slightly more than one in five American children live below the poverty line.

As you look at the state-by-state maps in the report the geographic and other disparities are painfully obvious. A close to home example show us this. “The prevalence of physical inactivity varies from a high of 52.8 percent of adults aged 25 and older who did not graduate high school in Arkansas to a low of 6.7 percent of college graduates aged 25 and older in Colorado.”

While challenges remain and stats like those found in the America’s Health Rankings report can help drive the changes we will need to improve our country’s health, the progress needs to be hailed. The knowledge that we can and in fact are being successful in improving the health of populations helps empower us all. When we see that a state like Nevada can lead the nation in decreased smoking there’s motivation to do more in our own neck of the woods!

Dr. Arloski

Dr. Arloski

The Coach’s Take Away

Many wellness coaching clients are discouraged not only by their own failure experiences, but also by the never-ending barrage of negative press that spotlights one problem after another. While a head-in-the-sand approach to life only leads to more problems, and we do need to increase our vigilance about the food we eat, etc., everyone needs to know that our country-wide wellness efforts are paying off. We talk about the client’s “self-efficacy”; their degree of belief that it is possible to positively affect their own health. Stats like America’s Health Rankings can show that there is reason to increase our collective sense of health & wellness efficacy. Positive psychology works!

Wellness Is About The Big Picture!

Wellness Is About The Big Picture!

Coaches also need to be involved in wellness beyond the one-on-one or small group work that they do. In a company, the key to a successful wellness coaching program is for it to be part of a larger comprehensive wellness program. Such programs provide not only coaching, but education, wellness skill building, opportunities to be well (healthier food access, physical fitness access, built-in movement throughout the day, etc.), and a thorough effort at establishing a culture of wellness throughout the organization at all levels. The natural extension of all of this is community and environmental wellness. Demonstrated progress can show decision makers in both industry and government that wellness works, and most importantly, is worth funding. Coaches who care about wellness can benefit by caring about the bigger picture as well.

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Ten Steps To Forward The Action In Your Life

Photo by M. Arloski Glendalough, Ireland

Photo by M. Arloski
Glendalough, Ireland

In the coaching process we listen, clarify and help our clients explore their lives, taking stock of their current life situation and health status. Eventually we have to go beyond our basic listening skills, summarizing and helping our client get very clear about where they currently are. At that point we help them get clear about what they are ready to do (referencing all we know about readiness for change theory) ( and we boldly ask them what they are willing to do. 

In listening to recordings of some of my mentor coaching clients I’ve realized that many new coaches struggle with what we call “forwarding the action”. If all a coach does is summarize, paraphrase, empathize, and reflect the client often continues to tell their story and stay wrapped up in it. One of the most powerful things that coaches do for people is to help them realize that they are not their story! They are much more.

Powerful questions challenge a client to look at things in new ways, to develop new perspectives and try on new ways to frame an old problem. Coaches can still be “client-centered” but share their own perspective on what the client is saying, pointing out observations, helping the client recognize patterns. At some point we ask “What’s one small thing you can do to make progress on that?” or “What’s one small step you can take between now and the next time we talk to work on that?”

Whether we are a coach acting as an ally in the growth process with our client, helping them move forward with their lives, or an individual whose own growth demands some “forward momentum” here are my

Top Ten Ways To Forward The Action

1. Contemplate Well
“Thinking about change” does not necessarily mean you are stuck. We may need to reflect deeper about an anticipated change. Ideally we may use three different methods that help us explore more completely: 1) thinking about it by ourselves; 2) writing about it – which often yields very different insights since we are drawing upon a different part of our brain; and 3) talking about it with someone else such as a coach.

Inadequate contemplation/exploration/research often yields pre-mature goal setting and usually results in failure. Talking it through is important, but of course this wears out its usefulness at some point. If you think you continually need to know more before you act, ask yourself. When will I know that I know enough?

2. Never Make A Decision Just To Relieve Anxiety

This is a phrase I developed in my years of work as a psychotherapist and it’s a good maxim to follow. Research shows that we make 60% of our decisions based on emotion, not logic. Remember that lemon of a sports car your bought on stylish looks alone? When making decisions about how to move forward with our lives we need to acknowledge the emotions, maybe even process them more, but temper them with our rational thinking. This is easier said than done and another argument for processing it with others, such as our coach.

3. Distinguish Between Cautious Wisdom And Gremlin TalkTaming Your Gremlin cover

There is a part of us that has our best interests at heart. This part can caution us to consider changes carefully, to hold back sometimes until we have all the facts. That part is a friend to be listened to. The inner-critic or so-called Gremlin, is not. This part of us is the home of our self-doubt, all our self-recrimination, and in fact is the accumulation of all the untrue statements about ourselves that we, and others, have made throughout our years. If we listen to the Gremlin we will never grow. Maintaining the status quo is the Gremlin’s full-time job so change, even wonderful improvements, is its enemy.

Listen carefully to your self-talk. Distinguish between being cautious and being negative. Does it sound like familiar old recordings being played again? Is your Gremlin hitting you with hurtful thoughts about how you don’t deserve a better life? Or is your self-talk simply asking you to examine your contemplated changes carefully and go forward with your eyes wide open?

4. Link To Motivation By Beginning With The End In Mind

Stephen Covey’s second habit of his Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People (, “Begin With The End In Mind”, helps us remember to start our journey with the destination clearly in mind. Coaches are rightfully notorious for asking “What would it look like…?” Instead of how will I solve the problem or overcome the barriers (which is often where we stay stuck) get clear about what you really want. Visualize, fantasize, imagine, dream. It’s all good.

Align that visualization with your values, with how you really want your life to be. We are talking about you changing your life so you can live in that healthier, more self-actualizing way for the rest of your entire life. Take the time to get clear about “what’s possible”.

Connect a motivational link by seeing how even the smallest action step you take is helping you achieve the goals you have that are part of you living your best life possible, the life that you have imagined. This puts purpose behind even the most mundane action step.

5. Anticipate The Roadblocks And Strategize Through Them

It’s easy to hold ourselves back by fearing the potential consequences of making change happen. Better not to stir the pot. Unfortunately not to decide is to decide. We usually know that our efforts at improving our lives will be met with support from some corners and resistance from others. Anticipate the highly probable negative reactions you may see and come up with effective strategies for how to respond. Anticipate some of the practical barriers like costs, time schedules, etc. You may want to communicate your intentions behind your new ways of behaving proactively to pre-empt potential conflicts. Here is where working with a coach can be so valuable as you work together developing new strategies to insure success.

When you're ready, go for it!

When you’re ready, go for it!

6. Take On The Challenge

Words matter. We may do ourselves a great disservice by dismissing semantics. Reframe your “problems”, barriers, obstacles, diseases, and diagnoses, as challenges. Improving your life, your lifestyle, your wellbeing may be daunting but see it as a challenge that, with the help of others, you are up for!

I always teach coaches that they can challenge a client more when their relationship with them is strong. It’s about conveying your belief in them, in their abilities, capacity, talents, and character. From the individual’s point of view it’s a combination of remembering these qualities and staying around positive and supportive people. This is not a time for hanging out with “dream drainers” and pessimists.

7. Experiment!

It’s easier to “go for it” when we lessen the risk involved. Most of the risk comes at us in terms of our own fear of failure. Adopting an “experimental attitude” allows us to frame our attempt as less risky when we are not putting our entire self-worth on the line. If it doesn’t work we go back to the drawing board. It was an experiment. How can we tweak the experiment to get better results next time? That’s all.

The word “try” or “trying” gets a bad rap from some motivational speakers. “Just do it! Don’t try!” Certainly a half-hearted “Well, I’ll try, if I have to, I guess” is most likely doomed to failure. Yet, I’ve had a number of clients really take to the idea of “trying” something enthusiastically, and yet because they were “trying” it seemed like there was less at risk. They were willing to “try”. One might think of it like trying on a piece of clothing. There is no need for a commitment “to buy”, just see how it fits, how it works for you.

8. Write It Downjournaling

Think it. Dream it. Speak it. Write it down! When we look back over our shoulders at our lives we start to realize that most of the ideas that we birthed and brought to fruition were things that we finally wrote down. Nurturing our thoughts into action works best when we get them outside of our heads. Ideally it begins when we start saying it out loud to others and then when we actually write it down, even if we show no one else, we’ve made a commitment to ourselves. It gets real.

In coaching this is where writing out action plans, wellness plans, business plans, funnel all of our thoughts and ideas into a focused reality. We have a map. We’re actually going to get somewhere!

9. Track it!

Trackers find what they are looking for. Forwarding the action doesn’t just mean getting started. It means knowing where you are on the trail. Coaches ask their clients “How will you know when you are being successful?” Well, I guess I’ll have to keep track of what I’m doing.

It’s always astonished me how often I get a negative answer when I have asked a wellness coaching client if they have ever kept track of their behavior (activity level, what they are eating, any biometric markers, etc.). Never thought of it. People try to make changes with revved up will power, lots of effort and sometimes little else. If they try to keep track of their efforts in their head it almost always becomes a muddle of uncertainty and usually results in abandoning the change process. Use phone apps or even a simple wall calendar but don’t deceive yourself, track it! Seal the deal with accountability to yourself and perhaps strengthen that by sharing that accountability with a coach.

10. Refresh Your Efforts.

Most folks will tell you that maintaining change is the hardest part. The real challenge is usually staying consistent and on your plan for the long run. It’s the smoker getting beyond the point of constant craving. It’s the weight-loss client maintaining through the dreaded plateau phase. It’s any of us staying with our wellness self-care when stress amps up in our lives.

One important part of maintaining action is to refresh it often. Are we following through on the actions we’ve committed to? If not do we need to “Reset, Re-commit or Shift” ? Perhaps we need to reset the frequency of our actions, less walks in one week or perhaps shorter ones. We may choose to re-commit to our existing action steps for another week, or maybe it’s time to shift to entirely new and different actions.

Refreshing may also include adding a greater dose of fun into the mix. Ditch the treadmill and head outdoors for a walk/run every time you can. Perhaps adding a social aspect, including others, will make it easier to get out bike riding, hiking, or walking. A Mediterranean cooking class might be just the thing to recommit to healthier eating and adding the skills to do it easily.

Beach runnerForward Momentum

Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary has a great definition of momentum. Think of this in terms of getting things moving in your life.

the strength or force that something has when it is moving
: the strength or force that allows something to continue or to grow stronger or faster as time passes
physics: the property that a moving object has due to its mass and its motion


With this definition it seems that improving our lives, our lifestyles is all about number one, getting things moving. This is what allows our efforts to gather strength, to gather force. Once moving it will grow stronger over time and essentially take on an energy of its own that is self-sustaining. Physics and psychology seem to complement each other here. Overcoming inertia (objects at rest tend to stay at rest), beating our stuckness, vanquishing our self-doubt, finding the support that bolsters our confidence and accepting the challenge seems to get us moving. Having a clear destination helps us set our course. Then once we are on our path with clear direction and a plan, our movement gets easier and easier (objects in motion tend to stay in motion). Now we’re getting somewhere!

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