Where The Listening Starts

Where Listening Starts

An essential part of any wellness coach training is focusing on developing competency in what the ICF (International Coaching Federation) calls Active Listening – Paraphrase and Restatement; Reflection of Feeling; Request for Clarification; the use of Silence and Intuition; Summarization. Yet the active listening skills that we talk about aren’t really skills about how to listen more effectively. They are critical skills for how we give evidence to our client that we are listening and truly hearing them. They are skills that further the coaching conversation. They are how we respond to our client when we take in their communication. This is the active part of listening: what the coach says and does. But, what allows us to truly listen at a deeper level, to pick up on even more of what is really being communicated?


Deep Listening – “I can hear tears.”

What is it that allows masterful coaches to become aware of things that most people miss in a conversation? How do they tune in to their client in such a way that the coaching conversation becomes rich, productive and even enlightening?

In a class discussion about listening, one of my Real Balance students, who demonstrated she was an already accomplished coach, shared with us the poignant statement “I can hear tears.” She was referring to coaching over the phone where the visual nonverbal cues are absent. She was picking up on both the client’s subtle vocal cues, and to a large degree, the context of the conversation. At such a tender moment, a client may make an effort to be as silent as possible. The vocal cues like a voice that breaks in tone, or speech that stammers are not even there for the coach to perceive during such a silence. The context can certainly tip the coach off that it would be natural for a client to cry upon sharing a painful experience or talking about a profound loss. Yet people react to experience and emotion in many different ways, from hysteria to stoicism. How does a more masterful coach hear tears that silently run down the cheek?

The powers of observation of a more masterful coach are as keen and sharp as a razor. They don’t miss much. They notice. They are mindfulness in action. They also don’t allow judgment to interfere and throw their subsequent observations into a prejudiced direction blinding them to the full picture of what is unfolding. They stay on pace with their client instead of ahead of them. They stay more out of their head. These practices allow them to stay in the present and in touch with all of their senses. Doing so they are not rushing ahead with their own imagined conclusions about where the dialogue is going. By maintaining a coaching mindset, they are able to facilitate the client’s work instead of attempting to do the work for their client like a consultant would do. By not engaging in that headwork (analyzing, deducing, imagining, problem solving, continually thinking of the next question to ask, etc.) they are able to be here now with their client and hear more. This way of being, combined with providing The Facilitative Conditions of Coaching is the very essence of Coaching Presence.

Observing by Scanning

One aspect of effective observation is what I call scanning. If you ever take a nature walk with a trained naturalist, or perhaps the type of experienced hunter who is keenly in touch with the natural world, you realize that they are constantly scanning the landscape as you move through it. I remember reading Barry Lopez’s magnificent book Artic Dreams. https://www.powells.com/book/arctic-dreams-imagination-desire-in-a-northern-landscape-9780375727481?p_isbn&partnerid=35409 He spoke of his time with the Inuit people who were out on a hunting expedition. They walked over the tundra all day, slowly, silently. Then, at night around a campfire they spoke about all of the things they had seen. Lopez, one of America’s greatest nature writers who has developed intense powers of observation himself, was amazed at what these indigenous people had picked up on, down to minute detail of the land and its creatures. They had been constantly scanning both the horizon, the place where they were about to set their feet and everything in between. They had been scanning visually, looking for movement, shifts, changes, anything out of order in shape or color. They had been scanning auditorily hearing birdsong, wind, twigs snapping. They had been scanning olfactorily smelling the scent of whatever flowers, animals, carrion, or people might be in the region. And, they had been doing all of this effortlessly. It was simply how they hunted.

As you coach, are you constantly scanning the horizon and where you are about to set your feet? Are you effortlessly scanning with all of your senses and noticing? Just like our friends in Lopez’s book, we want to be noticing shifts, changes, anything out of the ordinary. While the Inuit hunter might spot the movement of a partridge in a bush, we may notice the shift in our client’s tone of voice, in their posture, in the speed with which they are now talking. When we listen beyond words, beyond content we hear more. The verbal content is important. It’s like the landscape itself; it is the context of the conversation. Yet, what’s important is what is happening on that landscape. What movement is there in the bushes, so to speak? What is the client thinking and feeling regarding that content about which they are speaking?

The novice coach, new to the coaching landscape, may focus mostly on the content of our client’s communication. Yet, they progress in their coaching so much more when they realize that the client is not just speaking to them about a subject, they are communicating! It’s not just what they say, it’s how they are saying it. The content might sound like “I’ve walked only two times this week.” All the while the client is attempting to convey to their coach that they are becoming very worried that they will never get their lung capacity back after their acute heart failure if they don’t exercise more often. Did the coach see the frightened bird that just froze on the tree branch, or were they lost looking at the trees? What is my client communicating?

What Are We Listening For?

Just like the skilled naturalist, or the Inuit people that Lopez observed, the more masterful coach has learned what to look for in our coaching landscape. The novice coach may travel the same landscape and not notice half of what the more masterful coach will pick up on. They have learned how to read the signs, to distinguish a track from a mere depression in the soil. So, to deepen your listening ability what can you tune in to? Within the content of what is being said and beyond the content, what will help our coaching be more productive?


This blog was taken from a chapter in Dr. Arloski’s forthcoming book Masterful Health & Wellness Coaching: Deepening Your Craft, being published soon by Whole Person Associates. https://wholeperson.com/store/masterful-health-and-wellness-coaching.html

The Quandary of Closeness And Compassion in Coaching

“Don’t get too close to your clients.” It may have been my junior year of being an undergraduate psychology major when a professor offhandedly gave this warning to me and a couple of other students. There is always this question about ‘therapeutic distance’. Clearly when a therapist allows their own feelings of attraction or repulsion, insensitivity or caring to interfere with the ability to deliver effective therapy, we have a problem. Therapists may wall themselves off from connecting too closely to protect themselves from the pain of their client’s suffering. At the same time, therapists are exhorted to empathize, to connect genuinely, authentically, to allow a therapeutic closeness to grow. They are often left in this ambivalent quandary of just how “close” to be to their client.

The coaching relationship is not intended to be a therapeutic one, even though it may contribute to a client’s own healing. Many experiences are therapeutic and the experience a person has with coaching may be just that. However, our intent is not to heal the old wounds of our client, but to be their assistant in their personal growth. The coach’s quandary is similar to that of the therapist, but also different. Without the ‘therapeutic distance’, it may, in fact, be even more confusing. If we are not delivering treatment with our client, then, are we more like a friend? We will hear stories of suffering. How do we protect ourselves from feeling their pain as our own?

Coaches may start to find themselves becoming more reluctant to truly engage with their clients. They may find themselves pulling back emotionally and fighting the urge to connect more closely. Hearing another story of difficulty, failure, conflict, or even trauma, abuse and neglect, we may react by diminishing the very coaching presence that is essential to helping our client to work through their challenges. The coach may find their ability to concentrate and really listen to our clients becoming reduced. It may show up physically with difficulty sleeping, a drop in our immune response, headaches, digestive issues, and much more. Our ability to be compassionate may be just worn thin.

An ICF published article by Niamh Gaffney (https://coachfederation.org/blog/are-you-tired-of-coaching) defines Compassion Fatigue as “a combination of physical, emotional and spiritual depletion associated with caring for people in significant emotional pain and physical distress.” The term depletion is perfect in this description. Our own well feels like it has gone dry, or soon will. It may feel like our very soul is being drained. The way out of compassion fatigue is the same as preventing it.

 

Operating From A Coach Approach

Failing to recognize the difference between coaching and counseling or therapy leads coaches to delve into an attempt at therapeutic problem solving. We may disguise it to our client and ourselves as “working on stress”, but if we approach stress management by attempting to solve all of the problems that generate stress in our client’s life, we are engaging in an infinite exercise in futility. Not only does it not work, it is exhausting for both client and coach. Your client may sense the futility before you do and leave coaching entirely.

Maintaining a coaching mindset is essential here. Can we help our stressed-out client to learn how to deal with stress, and to recover from stress instead of infinite problem solving? When coaches ask “What issues do you want to work on?” they are inviting the beginning of a therapeutic expedition. When we see ourselves as our client’s ally, not their doctor, healer, priest or therapist, we take a stance of closeness and caring but with less of a feeling of responsibility for their solutions and ‘cure’.

In wellness coaching, instead of operating on a problem du jour model, we work with our clients to help them take stock of their current health and wellness, create a vision of their best life possible and then co-create with them an effective wellness plan. Operating from a plan is totally different than continual problem solving. Certainly, we engage in strategic coaching with them to address barriers, but our job is not to provide solutions. Compassion fatigue, I believe, comes sometimes from the sense of powerlessness that we may feel when we can’t provide the magic solution for our clients that will make their lives better. When we realize that doing so is not our job, we can allow for more of a healthy compassionate detachment to take place.

 

Compassionate Detachment

Twenty-seven years or so of doing psychotherapy with a wide variety of clients had its joys and challenges. Upon hearing the detailed recount of a young woman or man who had been abused sexually by a parent, I couldn’t just go home saying “It’s only a movie.” Clients come needing to tell their stories to a therapist who is not afraid to go absolutely anywhere with them. A really good therapist learns to be a true warrior/warrioress of the heart who is completely fearless. Yet, the only way they can go into battle again, side by side with their client is by learning something about compassionate detachment.

We practice compassionate detachment for the benefit of our client and for our own benefit as well.

Compassionate detachment is respecting our client’s power enough to not rescue them while extending loving compassion to them in the present moment. Simultaneously compassionate detachment is also respecting ourselves enough to not take the client’s challenges on as our own and realizing that to do so serves good purpose for no one.

Compassionate detachment is an honoring of our client’s abilities, resourcefulness and creativity. We remain as an ally at their side helping them to find their own path, their own solutions. We may provide structure, an opportunity to process, a methodology of change and tools to help with planning and accountability, but we don’t rescue. As tempting as it is to offer our suggestions, to correct their errant ways, to steer them toward a program that we know works, we avoid throwing them a rope and allow them to grow as a swimmer. Sure, we are there to back them up if they go under or are heading toward a waterfall. We are ethically bound to do what we can to monitor their safe passage, but we allow them to take every step, to swim every stroke to the best of their ability.

To be compassionate with a client we have to clear our own consciousness and bring forth our nonjudgmental, open and accepting self. We have to honor their experience.

“Only in an open, nonjudgmental space can we acknowledge what we are feeling. Only in an open space where we’re not all caught up in our own version of reality can we see and hear and feel who others really are, which allows us to be with them and communicate with them properly.” Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart

Compassionate detachment is also about giving ourselves permission to protect ourselves. Being in proximity to the pain of others is risky work. There are theories about the high rates of suicide among dentists based on this. Compassionate detachment is also about being detached from outcome. We want the very best for our clients and will give our best toward that goal, but we give up ownership of where and how our client chooses to travel in the process of pursuing a better life. Their outcome is their outcome, not ours.

Compassionate detachment is not about distancing ourselves from our client. It is not about numbing ourselves out mentally, emotionally or physically. It is not about treating our clients impersonally. That is mere detachment alone and more a symptom of burnout than of good work as a coach, therapist or any kind of human helper.

Intimacy is what allows compassion. When we fear closeness, we will hold back. We will be less empathic because we fear connecting with our own feelings. Compassionate detachment is being centered enough in ourselves, at peace enough in our own hearts, to be profoundly present with our clients in their pain and in their joy as well.

 

From Depletion To Replenishment

If compassion fatigue is about feeling depleted, then prevention and recovery is about replenishment. Fatigue comes from the expenditure of energy: physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Coaches must ask themselves what they are consciously doing to restore their own energy supplies. Once again, we are talking about the coach’s own Wellness Foundation.

We often think of wellness in terms of exercise and participation in all kinds of wellness activities. To what degree are these activities an expenditure of energy, and to what degree do they provide an energy return and replenishment. While a workout resulting in a “good tired” feeling my fatigue us physically, it may invigorate us mentally, emotionally, and even spiritually. Once again it is a matter of balance. Are we engaging in mind/body activities that replenish our energy on multiple levels? Mindfulness practices, meditation, Tai Chi, Xi Gong, Yoga, all share the intent of this kind of replenishment.

Our Wellness Foundation is not just about working out and eating well. What we are looking for here is replenishment on the levels at which we are being depleted: more the emotional, mental and spiritual. Re-filling our well on these levels is more about getting our needs met in these areas. Compassion fatigue can generate feelings of isolation, powerlessness and feeling overwhelmed.

  • Are we connecting with meaningful friendships to combat that isolation? Are we expressing ourselves creatively and feeling competent in other areas of our lives?
  • Are we consciously engaging in device-free time, in connection with the natural world, simplifying our lives?
  • Do we feel like we are truly in charge of our own lives?
  • These questions address the three basic human needs that Dicci and Ryan talk about in Self-Determination Theory. (http://selfdeterminationtheory.org)

When we come back to our own center and feel like our needs are getting met, when we feel safe and secure, energized and in balance, we can extend the heart of compassion to our clients and not fear intimacy. We can be the ally they need.  

 

Michael Arloski, Ph.D., PCC, CWP, NBC-HWC – is a psychologist, coach, trainer, author and wellness enthusiast.  CEO and Founder of Real Balance Global Wellness Services, Inc. (https://www.realbalance.com), his company has trained thousands of health and wellness coaches around the world.

Getting Yourself Out Of The Way: The Self-Vigilant Coach – Part Two – Projection In Health & Wellness Coaching

Projection – A Freudian Classic

Our previous blog post: Getting Yourself Out Of The Way: The Self-Vigilant Coach – Part One (https://wp.me/pUi2y-mu)  explored the many ways in which the coach can interfere in the coaching process and “get in the way” of the client’s own coaching work. Our own agendas, attitudes, beliefs, prejudices, projections and unfinished emotional business can all impede the coaching process. In this second part of the two-part series we’ll examine the complex concept of projection in coaching.

Projection

Another pitfall for the coach to be aware of is our tendency to project onto other people emotions that are really our own. A classic defense mechanism, psychological projection is when we attribute to others feelings of our own that we find unacceptable. The most common example is when we have unwanted feelings of anger and instead see hostile and aggressive qualities in the behavior and affect of others.

A broader understanding of projection, and a less pathological one, is that we project onto others not only negative qualities (anger, guilt, shame, etc.), but positive ones as well. These are positive qualities that we do not believe that we fully possess, but we ascribe them to the other person (successfulness, popularity, self-confidence, etc.). We can also include in projection the type of hopes, beliefs and dreams we have. We may want to believe that our client feels as passionately about exercise or meditating as we do! We may proceed with our coaching operating as though our client is fully on board with our wellness prescription for them. Conversely, as we have struggled for years with weight loss or smoking cessation, we project the same degree of difficulty onto our client’s experience, when, perhaps for them, that challenge is nowhere near as great. We fall into the trap of making assumptions, believing that other see the world just as we do.

 

We can also project our prejudices. If we come from a blue-collar working-class upbringing, we may think that our wealthy upper-class client has an easy life and knows little of heartache and struggle. We may withhold our empathy when it is really needed. We may completely underestimate the potential of our client because of their social status, gender, race or ethnicity and not treat them as being “naturally creative, resourceful and whole.” (http://www.coactive.com/learning-hub/fundamentals/res/FUN-Topics/FUN-The-Co-Active-Model.pdf)

 

If It Were Me…

A basic human tendency is to attempt to understand others by asking ourselves How would I feel/What would I do, if I was experiencing that? We put ourselves in their situation, and instead of going into a place of empathic understanding, we project our own feelings, conclusions, solutions onto the other person. We “know” what they ought to do! Perhaps our own work history includes supervisors who were bullies. Without realizing it we may hear our client’s story of conflict with their team leader and translate what we hear into a story of brutal abuse. We may then operate on the feelings this generates and steer the client towards taking extreme action to deal with a rather mild situation. For the client it was what we might call at one-dollar item, but we project a situation worth $100.00 plus change!

 

Our Own “Stuff”

Coaches may also project onto their clients the struggles and growth processes that they are currently engaged in and faced with. The coach who is exploring healing their own family of origin issues may see a need for this in many of the clients that they see. They may mistakenly think that the therapeutic process that is helping them so much is the panacea for all clients. They may start bleeding the techniques of their favorite self-help therapy book into the coaching that they do. The self-deception is that they may still think that they are doing coaching.

Perhaps the most disastrous type of interactions occurs when we project in such a way that we relate to another person as though they were someone else. Perhaps you’ve had this happen to you in your own life. Someone you’ve met recently keeps ascribing to you qualities that you exhibit very little of. They see you as self-centered, a braggart, trying to impress others, when all you did was share a couple of tidbits of what you knew about some subject. The problem is, you remind them of their brother, sister, ex-partner, former employer, second grade teacher, college roommate, army buddy, etc. who continually played the know-it-all role. Now all of the terrible qualities of that other person get projected onto you whether you deserve them or not!

Could the client who seems to bother us in ways that we find hard to explain be the unfortunate recipient of our projection? Do they remind us of someone else; a personal relationship from our past, or perhaps even a former client who struggled with the same issues? Do we begin coaching as though we expect this client to struggle the same way our other client did? Are we bringing our own unfinished emotional business into the coaching relationship?

 

Client Projections

When we are on the receiving end of our client’s projections, how do we handle it? A client who treats us as the high and mighty expert may cause us to overcompensate by being so informal and friendly that we now come across as a “buddy” or “pal” instead of a professional coach. The client who projects a parental role onto us may bring out our overly professional, even stiff and impersonal side. Such a client may become unexplainably resistant to even the best form of coaching accountability. The coach who is working with a client from a company who incentivizes employees to seek coaching to receive by promising a discount on health insurance, etc., may find their client unusually hostile. Such a client may be projecting their own issues around authority onto the innocent coach. The list goes on.

 

Minimizing Projection

The central problem with our own projection is that it is operating outside of our awareness. We make our assumptions without even realizing them. We slip into feeling that we do know best for our client, and on and on. Let’s look at ways to minimize the occurrence of our projection.

• Coach with a sense of self-monitoring. Check in with your own affective and bodily sensations and determine what they are telling us.
• Set clear boundaries and expectations for the coaching relationship as you create the coaching alliance.
• Draw a clear distinction between coaching and therapy. This includes operating from a coaching mindset, not an analytical, diagnostic mindset in our relationship with our client.
• Be vigilant for parental feelings that arise where you believe that you know what is best for your client
• Reflect upon the client who brings out unusual feelings in you that are hard to explain or understand. Listen to recordings and examine your responses to your client.
• When client reactions to coaching interactions seems extreme, consider what else might be going on that has nothing to do with the here-and-now coaching experience. Inquire gently “Does this remind you of any other experiences you’ve had?” “What’s this coaching like for you? Is it similar to anything else you’ve done?”
• Seek out mentoring/supervision to explore puzzling client relationships that “don’t feel right”.
• Do your own work! Your own personal journey of personal growth and healing may need some attention if it is leaking into your coaching work. Don’t let your own “unfinished business”, get in the way!

 

Dr. Michael Arloski

Learn more about projection in coaching and how to stay out of your client’s way at the Real Balance Global Wellness YouTube Channel —
Getting Yourself Out of the Way – Mastery for the Wellness Coach with Dr. Michael Arloski https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCp-aNFdbWwnX38fdLgr52eg?view_as=subscriber

Motivation Plus Mobilization: Coaching For Success At Lifestyle Improvement

Just can’t seem to get moving?

“I just don’t seem to have the motivation to really make changes.” This is a lament frequent to the ears of health and wellness coaches. Our clients are often puzzled by a lack of success in their efforts to start living a healthy lifestyle, or keep such efforts going. They blame it on either a lack of motivation to get started, or that their motivation fades as old habits reassert their rule.

Coaches help their clients examine and re-examine whatever sources of motivation they have mentioned. They help their clients revisit their desire to change and what drives it. They look at fear-based motivations such as not wanting to have an illness get worse, or not wanting to develop the maladies that have been prevalent in their family. They look at the love-based motivators like caring enough about ones self, wanting to be there for their grandchildren as they grow up, the intrinsic joy of dancing, swimming, tasting delicious and nutritious food, etc.

Perhaps the coach concludes, like their client, that these motivators just ‘aren’t enough’. The next step is to begin a usually fruitless search for additional motivators. Their client runs out of ideas and coaching descends into ‘what about this?’ suggestion after suggestion. What is really going on? What’s a more productive avenue to explore?

Got the gas, but no car?

Your client may have enough motivation. They may in fact, have listed three, four or more reasons they want to change. They may possess a terrific combination of motivators. Motivation is like the fuel for a vehicle to run on. The problem might not be the fuel, but the lack of an actual vehicle! The vehicle is a methodology, a structure, and a process that facilitates change. To get where they need and want to go, the client needs both a vehicle to carry them and the fuel to put in it.

How do we mobilize motivation? By providing our client with methodology. I’ve always been amazed at how simple successful change can sometimes be when clients have a well-developed way of achieving it.

Coaches often hear their client’s frustration at wanting to improve their lifestyle, but not having much of a history of success at it. If we inquire if they have ever started their change efforts by first taking stock of their health and wellness in a really clear way, we find they rarely have. If we ask if they have ever begun by first developing a thorough plan as to how they will make their changes happen, we often find them admitting that they usually just get their will powered amped up and set some sort of goals. Rarely have they ever carried out their change efforts with the help of an ally who helped them with support and accountability. And, all too seldom have they ever keep track of their efforts at change and actually written it down.

A mentee of mine was recently coaching a middle-aged woman who complained of a lack of motivation holding her back. As we began listening to the recording, the coach helped the client describe at least four strong motivators that had propelled her into action. She realized that when her children were younger playing with them had provided her with more activity and energy. Now her energy was low and she wanted to reclaim that. She also talked about hoping for grandchildren and wanting to be a very active part of their lives. The client was concerned about her advancing age and not wanting to lose the health she had. She didn’t want to become a burden to anyone. She went on to list at least two more motivators.

As the client described her lack of success at change, her conclusion was that she was just lacking motivation. She described coming home from work tired and just fixing a quick (though not necessarily healthy) meal and watching television in the evening. “I just don’t have the motivation I need” the client lamented. She intended to be more active and intended to eat better. All she had for a plan were intentions.

Doing a great job of coaching, my mentee gently confronted his client and recited the substantial list of motivators that she did, in fact, have. He questioned whether it was a ‘lack of motivation’, or something else that was missing.

Clients try to figure out what is keeping them stuck. Unless it’s a matter of identifiable internal or external barriers, clients often say it’s a lack of motivation. They are looking for an explanation and, frankly, they often don’t know what else to call it.

Co-Creating The Coaching Alliance

An often ignored part of coaching is the work it takes to Co-Create The Coaching Alliance. In addition to getting acquainted with our client and hearing their story, an important part of our first session with a client is to convey to the client just how coaching works. Clients are used to meeting with consultants, not coaches. They expect to be able to provide the consultant with lots of great information and hear the expert recommendations. We spoke about this from the coach’s point of view in our last blog post: “Making and Maintaining The Shift To The Coaching Mindset” https://wp.me/pUi2y-m3. The client also needs to make a mindset shift to get oriented to this new way of working with someone.

Coaching is about co-creating agreements. We co-create with our client agreements about how we are going to work together. Some aspects of our working together are negotiable and can involve compromise. However, we are not going to compromise the nature of our coaching relationship. That is, we are not going to agree to just be our client’s educator, and let go of the role of coach.

Part of what an effective coach does is to explain, in a succinct fashion, exactly how coaching works, how it is structured and what the benefits of this structure are. The client-centered nature of coaching is conveyed with real reassurance that the client remains the one in the driver’s seat.

Part of the coach’s job is to facilitate the client’s use of the coaching structure. The coach does this by showing the client how advantageous it can be to operate with a solid plan, to track one’s progress at making changes, etc. The coach provides tools that make these processes easier. Mobile apps for tracking can be recommended and then, importantly, integrated into the coaching accountability.

Mobilizing Motivation

Motivation can be puzzling and elusive, but when it is present a methodology, a structure, is what the client needs in order to mobilize it. By providing our client with the vehicle, we help them get where they want to go.

Word Origin – Coach: In the 15th Century the Hungarian village of KOCS was the birthplace of the true carriage or “coach” as the word evolved in English.

In other words we might define both types of coaches as:
A coach takes you from where you are at, to where you want to be!

A Thousand Pots of Brown Rice: A Mindful Way To Be Well

A Thousand Pots of Brown Rice
A Thousand Pots of Brown Rice

We all want to be as healthy as we can be, and are usually anxious to get there quickly, like it was a destination we could actually arrive at. Mastering a wellness lifestyle is rather like mastering any art, craft or skill. It’s more of a journey than a destination. Lifestyle means a way of living, and doing it well requires enjoying the journey.

The world around us sells the quick-fix. Becoming fit is presented as a dynamic and exciting adventure. Health foods are presented as not just nutritious, but delicious, exotic, fun and intriguing. The images of “well people” in the media portray beautiful individuals at their peak of physical fitness, exuberance and youth. The weight-loss marketing world attempts to entice us with programs that promise to be both exhilarating and expeditious.

For people who make real progress at improving their health, the reality is that change is slow, methodical, repetitious, and often plagued by lengthy plateaus. The folks who lose weight, get in shape, maintain good health and make it last are those who discover the secret of finding intrinsic reward in the mundane.


A Thousand Pots Of Brown Rice

masteryBkCoverIn his classic book Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment (available online for free at https://www.thecorporaterookie.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/Mastery.pdf ) George Leonard describes the path to mastery as one of short bursts of increased performance followed by slowly ascending plateaus.

 

mastery curve better

Practice, practice, practice. The key is to learn to enjoy the plateaus and know that eventually there will be progress. We live most of our life in these plateaus. Losing weight, smoking cessation, and other efforts are fraught with plateaus. Brown rice! Again? Great musicians, golfers, Yogis, all learn to love the practice. Living a wellness lifestyle is really practicing a way of living…over and over again. To keep it alive we have to notice. Noticing – being aware and mindful of the here and now – allows us to discover intrinsic joy through our senses and our emotions. There is great sensory satisfaction in the taste and smell of well-prepared wholesome food. There is real joy in the act of movement waiting to be discovered. There is true emotional satisfaction when we effectively execute a lift, a dance move, or leap over a small stream on a hike. The key is to notice.

Fortunately brown rice does taste good, kind of plain, but good. We can always spice up the brown rice in our life. Throw in a little cumin, some sort of variation to liven things up. Think of how this applies to a workout routine, a new route for that noon-time dog walk, or nurturing a new friendship to bloom instead of just sticking to our usual crowd. This helps, but what gets us through 365 days in a year, is enjoying our practice, simple as it is, of living a well-life.

Five Keys To Mastery

In Mastery, Leonard describes five keys to mastering anything, be it music, tennis, computer programming, or, in our case, living an outstandingly well life. He points to: 1) Instruction; 2) Practice; 3)Surrender; 4) Intentionality; and 5) Pushing The Edge. Here’s how this applies to our quest for mastering a wellness lifestyle.

1. Instruction

older-woman dumbells
In a world of infinite choices about what to eat, how to exercise, meditate, etc., the challenge is to separate the whole-wheat from the chaff. This is where we need to do our due diligence on the sources of our wellness information. Part of what Leonard is referring to as Instruction, means finding valid and reliable sources for health information that don’t have a commercial interest in persuading us to see and buy things their way. It may mean seeking out real expertise appropriate for our needs. A certified diabetic educator will do a better job helping you set an effective self-management course than just looking things up online. A fitness trainer with solid professional credentials can help you find ways to strength train that will keep you at it for life because you’ll learn how to do it right from the start. A professional nutritionist or registered dietician can help you far more than your friend, or nearby clinic that wants to sell you all kinds of dietary supplements.

2. Practice

Wynton Marsalis
Wynton Marsalis

One can approach practice with either a mindset of The Imperative, or The Volitional. As a junior high school student I approached my trumpet lessons under the imperative mindset. I avoided practicing all week and then a night or two before my lesson I would get in a couple of 20-30 min. practices starting with those boring scales and exercises. I did want to be in the high school band, my parents had bought this shiny trumpet for me and were paying for the lessons, so… As I got older, I found that I enjoyed the sense of accomplishment as I mastered my lessons and could play tunes I relished. Playing in the actual band and especially the jazz band, was straight-up fun and spurred me on. Today whenever I think of a professional musician, like trumpet-master and bandleader, Wynton Marsalis, I think of the thousands of hours of practice that got him to where he is today. Think of a famous martial artist, the Bruce Lee type. How many times did they do their repetitious katas to get to where they could draw upon any move in a nano-second and execute it perfectly? To get there, at some point they practiced because they wanted to – the volitional.

The wellness lifestyle that is lived with a volitional mindset is one of choice and preference. We eat well because we have gotten to the point of preferring to eat that way by finding the intrinsic reward in doing so. Yes, we may be enjoying the added benefit of reducing some key dietary health risks, but what motivates our choices is pleasure and preference. We have discovered that healthy food can taste good! We walk, bike, lift weights, practice Tai Chi or Yoga, or both, because we truly enjoy such practices. We will do our best to prioritize the time to do activities we enjoy on a regular basis.

When we operate out of the imperative wellness mindset we choose the grilled chicken salad at the restaurant because we “know” it’s good for us. We may still crave the juicy hamburger and fries, but we twist our own mental arm and “do the right thing.” The imperative mindset around exercise is very self-defeating. We can easily maintain our “I hate exercise” mindset while doing what we are “supposed” to do. It will take less of a barrier to provide an excuse to skip today. The health-risk reduction approach to motivating us to be well actually counts on us employing the imperative wellness mindset. After all, it’s imperative that we do these things in order to be avoid illness!

We often start our wellness efforts with the imperative mindset. That’s fine. Until we achieve a bit of conditioning even walking can be tiring, or strength training can make us sore. My quads were screaming after my first Tai Chi lesson! Eating brown rice is not very thrilling to begin with. Also, fear may push us towards the imperative. Borderline cholesterol or blood sugar levels can scare us into action and get us started! For the changes to be sustainable, we want to work our way towards the volitional wellness mindset where practice becomes our new way of life, and we love it.

3. Surrenderfool

The path to being well doesn’t have to be boring. When we surrender to trying new things, to allowing ourselves to perhaps even appear foolish, we often discover rich rewards. Overcoming our initial fear and getting out on the dance floor, trying a food we can’t pronounce at first try, allowing ourselves to ask for support can open amazing doors.

Surrendering is not giving up. Here we are talking about surrendering our ego, our persona. What unnecessary limitations do we put on ourselves that hold us back from new opportunities? Do we really need to avoid vegetarian dishes in order to maintain some kind of image we have of ourselves? Can we try something that seems foreign to our own culture? This is where the word “try” has a positive spin. Instead of referring to a half-hearted effort, here we mean trying something like trying on a new pair of shoes to see if they fit. Think of all the pleasing surprises that have awakened new interests, new skills, new tastes, and new opportunities in your life.

4. Intentionality Das Ziel anvisieren

The way forward in living our lives better works best when we do it with full intentionality. Envisioning our best life possible and lying out a concrete plan to get there works much better than just mustering will power. Seeing us living our well-life vision can provide a motivational tipping point that pulls us towards practicing all of the day-after-day, mundane steps that make up a wellness lifestyle. We choose the healthier food option, or to get up and move not because we want to lose forty pounds, but because we want to live the kind of life we will have when we’ve lost those forty pounds!

Mind games? Yes, but better to engage in positive and purposeful mind games, than to slip into the negative mind games of self-deception and stuckness. Setting our intentions positively is a proven process that leads to success. Creating a well-life vision that motivates and then creating an actual Wellness Plan to get there gives us a road map for achieving the life we truly desire. These are the basic tools at the heart of all effective wellness coaching.

5. Pushing The Edge

comfortzonestretch

Finally, pushing the edge means extending our efforts just a bit further than we thought we could at first. It means walking in the rain anyway, sacrificing an old pattern to adopt a healthier one, taking a step that is safe, but for us very bold.

The key here may be distinction. Life in our “comfort zone” may be living up to its name, but as one quote goes, “nothing grows there.” Think about most of what you’ve achieved in your lifetime and your reflections will show that at some point success required vacating your comfort zone. We want to move into what is for us a stretch. It may be doing 15 chest presses instead of our usual 12. It may be allowing us to dance until the band goes home! The challenge is distinguishing between a “stretch” and a “risk” or even a “danger”. Sometimes a well-considered risk pays off. The new person we met agrees to get together socially. Perhaps we get out on the dance floor and no one really stares at us after all.

The 1000 Pots Of Brown Rice Approach cautions patience. At middle-age, if you go from never running to pushing yourself to run mile after mile, day after day, in less than a week you will probably have the painful condition called shin splints, or some other injury. Jumping on a radical, unproven diet craze may upset your metabolism, digestion, or worse. You’ve gone beyond risk into the danger zone.

When we are firmly on our wellness journey and have both a well-life vision and intrinsic motivation working for us, we push through more barriers. Suddenly going out on a walk in foul weather becomes a mere exercise in selecting the appropriate clothing. We tolerate a growling stomach a while longer in order to cook a healthy meal instead of capitulating to the expediency of an unhealthy pre-packaged meal. We take the “risk” of rejection by trying out a new social group of some kind. We get more “comfortable” with “stretching”!

Dr. Michael Arloski
Dr. Michael Arloski

The Coach’s Takeaway

In my next blog I’ll share what it takes to develop Mastery of Wellness Coaching, but for now let’s look at how the content above can help us coach our wellness clients more effectively.

1. Go for sustainability. To coach our clients towards lasting lifestyle improvement the changes have to be sustainable. Sustainability requires both motivation and access or ease of maintenance. Our client will be performing these healthy lifestyle behaviors for the rest of their entire life.
2. Motivation sustains. Embrace imperative, fear-based motivation for the value it brings, but coach towards the embrace of intrinsic motivation. Help your clients develop the skills of mindfulness around their wellness activities. For example, ask for them to describe in detail their experience of a recent walk. Where did they go? What did they see and notice? How did they feel through their senses – warmth of the sun, gentle wind on the face, etc.? Help them reconnect with the positive feelings of performing the wellness behavior. Coach for the co-creation of a Well-Life Vision that provides a motivational link between what they want the behaviors (day-to-day) to get there.
3. Move from the Imperative to the Volitional. Coaching’s client-centered approach helps people to realize that they are in charge of their own wellness. All the aspects of their Wellness Plan are of their own choosing. We are empowering individuals to achieve what they want for their lives. As we coach clients who are still stuck in the blame game, we need to ask them “How’s that working for you?” Helping them leave victimhood behind is a great step. As client’s begin their wellness journey because they feel they “should” (the imperative) we can support them in practicing their wellness activities and action steps that help them get to the point of better physical and emotional/psychological conditioning. Then they are more ready to experience the more positive, intrinsic rewards in the same activities that took so much effort before. Maximizing on that motivation makes the shift to the Volitional Wellness Mindset.
4. Reassure. Clients need support and reassurance that life on the mundane plateaus will finally lead to success. Coach them with your own support and coach for connectedness. Growing other sources of support in their relationships, families, workplaces, etc. are key to lasting lifestyle change.

Leonard likes to say that most of a Master’s life is living in the plateaus. Make them enjoyable ones

Refining Coaching Linguistics: Verbal Tics, Placeholders and Fingerprint Words

linguistics-660x330
In a recent New York Times article, writer Gregg Easterbrook shared this observation of modern day speech. “The verbal tic of saying “real quick” is surging ahead of “you know” in the American lexicon. “You know” is an empty expression, a verbal placeholder. By contrast, “real quick” has significance, reflecting the continuing acceleration of life. “Good morning, I would like to order an espresso please” now is “real quick can I get an espresso?” People who once said “perhaps we should meet in the conference room to review the project” say “real quick what’s up with the project?” Insertion of “real quick” assures the interlocutor (a person who takes part in a dialogue or conversation) that the pain of actually listening to someone soon will be over, and multitasking can resume.”

I was first shocked into awareness of my favorite placeholder when, as a late teenager, a very astute young woman on the phone with me said “Oh my God! You just said seventeen “you know’s”! It was an embarrassing encounter with a verbal habit I hadn’t even been aware of. As I studied psychology and counseling, tape recordings and videotapes revealed other linguistic repetitions of mine so I could work on jettisoning my reflexive verbal placeholders from my work.

Listening to hundreds of recordings of wellness coaches in action, I’m often reminding Real Balance students to catch their own verbal tics. Saying “Okay”, or some equivalent, quickly after one’s client speaks is often a way to let the client know that we are tracking with them. When psychologist Allen Ivey taught “Micro-Counseling” skills he referred to such words, as well as head nods and “mmhh hmm’s”, as “minimal encourages”. Such responses by the counselor or coach encourage the client to go on. The trouble is…they often do!

person-speaking-to-another-personThe downside of the “Okay” type response, especially when it is reflexive, is that it is a very quick signal to the client to keep on talking. The result with the overly talkative client is like a quick squirt of gasoline on an already hot fire. The client continues to hold the floor, often rambles, and the coach has an extremely hard time saying anything. The conversation is no longer a conversation, but a monologue. The client uses their own “placeholders”, saying “you know”, drawing out words, and speaking in ways that keep the “talking stick” in their own hand. Respectful interruption is needed, but even that may be hard to do after we have already primed the client to keep talking with our “Okay’s”.

Listening to recordings of themselves coaching also helps coaches discover their own“fingerprint words”.

Fingerprint Words
Fingerprint Words

A coach may discover that they have pet words that they use over and over again. Often these words are a bit esoteric and can confuse the client if they are not part of that person’s common usage. Again, we do this without even being aware of it. The fingerprints may have a healthcare flavor, or be the trending words of current business-speak. Leveraging, optimize, or cognizant and the like, are words that, when used habitually not only become like identifying fingerprints of ours, they sometimes are unintended turn-offs to our clients.

On the other hand identifying the fingerprint words of our clients can be very helpful. While the intent of fingerprint words, especially ones that seem to reflect higher levels of education, may be to distinguish one’s self from the common folk, they can also have less snobbish meaning. A very powerful coaching technique is to identify such fingerprint words and when we see them used in a context that reflects emotional and/or strategic importance to our client, and then to feed this back to our client for them to consider. “Are you aware that each time you speak about taking time for self-care in any way you use the word indulgent?”

Our loquacious client’s vocabulary may be abundant, but quite natural for them. Even with Ph.D. behind my name and high scores on vocabulary tests, this American-educated soul was quite humbled reading The London Times in depth (dictionary at hand). Fingerprint words aren’t just unfamiliar words, but ones the client uses often, ones that leave their own “fingerprint” on a conversation. So it’s not usually the “twenty-five cent” words one uses, but more the ones we wear in our conversation like a tattoo on our forehead.

We sometimes pick up fingerprint words when we read or hear them in use and in some way identify with the author or speaker, or the context they are used in. We want to be like them and we start using the same key words, often without even realizing it.

When coaching and we encounter someone whose speech is different than ours, we are faced with a somewhat delicate situation. Sociolinguistics professor Diana Boxer says that in such situations we usually respond in one of two ways. “We either start to mimic them in some way, or distinguish ourselves from their usage.” We want to be careful not to send a message that we are being condescending, or patronizing. We need to ask ourselves how natural it feels to speak in ways that are more similar to our client. In coaching we want to always convey that our relationship is one of allies. Clients realize that there may be differences in speech and expression and don’t expect or even want us to alter who we are in order to communicate with them.

There is more to the ICF Core Coaching Competency of Communicating Effectively (http://coachfederation.org/credential/landing.cfm?ItemNumber=2206) than we often think. Coaches who are developing real proficiency in their work are scholars of language and communication. We study it because we know its power.

 

Downshifting To The Speed Of Life: Coaching Slowness

beach1

“Summertime and the livin’ is easy.” How long has it been since the words of that old song rang true? In response to the accelerated pace of life a conscious movement has emerged to help us slow down and reclaim our quality of life again.

In my last post I shared about Time Affluence (http://wp.me/pUi2y-hV) and how we can experience a greater sense of time by changing our way of perceiving it. Today I’ll share about another way to address our sense of “time poverty” by learning how to deliberately slow down our pace of life: the “slow movement”.

What started in Italy with “slow food” as a reaction to omnipresent “fast food”slow-food-logo-1-550x392 (http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/food-and-drink/features/carlo-petrini-the-slow-food-gourmet-who-started-a-revolution-1837223.html ) has morphed into a broader “slow living” movement including slow travel, slow schools, slow cities, slow design, slow relationships and more. Its main tenet is that for a more fulfilling and deeply satisfying life we need to allow the appropriate amount of time to experience the activities we engage in.

Savoring may save us. Consciousness may return control to our lives. As author Carl Honore (In Praise of Slowness) (http://www.carlhonore.com/books/in-praise-of-slowness/) puts it, our cultural obsession with speed erodes our health, productivity and quality of life. “We are living the fast life, instead of the good life.”

Operating on “automatic pilot” may seem like an important strategy to cope with feeling overwhelmed. However it usually results in staying stuck in habits that don’t serve us as well as the conscious choices we might make instead, if only we…slowed down and thought about it. As Mae West tells us “Anything worth doing is worth doing slowly.”

article-2381351-1B10EE79000005DC-377_634x422Downshifting

So, how do we make the shift? How do we de-stress ourselves, further change our perception of time and pump up our quality of life? How do we begin to embrace and benefit from “slow living”?

Value the intrinsic over the extrinsic. Focus on the internal rewards found in experience, not production; the taste of fresh tomatoes, the smile of a child. The irony here is that we know that intrinsic motivation drives greater and more creative productivity.

Re-wire your brain. Changing life-long habits means developing new neural pathways in our brains and staying off the old well-worn habit pathways. Catch yourself in your old speedy habits and jump back on the new path over and over again.

Plan to be spontaneous. Plan ahead to have free time. Make plans to “be” not just get things done. Make reservations at campgrounds so you will get out and do it. Arrange with friends to have a slow dinner evening savoring food and fun.

Lose your mind and come to your senses. Focusing on our sensory experience of taste, sound, touch, and smell can help us slow down. Breath deep, eyes closed, and take a moment to smell the roses.

16702647-mmmainCreate conspiracies. The only way to break out of unhealthy cultural norms is to conspire with friends, family and co-workers to create healthier, slower ones. Together cultivate the Italian phrase “Il dolce far niente” the sweetness of doing nothing!

 

Small head cropped1

The Coach’s Takeaway

Our coaching clients often come to us either feeling that they are overwhelmed and have to slow down their pace of life, or, perhaps when they have had a “wake up call”, like the onset of a serious health challenge, that has caused them to reassess life’s priorities. They want to “slow down”, but, “marinated in a culture of speed” (as Honore puts it), they don’t know how.

You may have clients who are do not want to slow down. Staying busy, staying distracted, they don’t have to look at deeper issues that may be more troubling to encounter. Coach them around exploring what they fear might happen if they were to slow down. Explore “what if” examples: “What would happen if you made an agreement with your family to eat dinner together with no television or other devices turn on?” “What would it be like to take a long, hot bath instead of a quick shower?” Some clients may have such fears that they need counseling rather than coaching and the “pressure” to slow down may be too much. Referral can be discussed, but you can also back up and coach in other areas until they are ready to look at how they might experiment with slowing down.

Some fears might not be so psychological. Your client may fear that if they slow down they won’t be able to compete in the workplace or marketplace. They may fear that they won’t appear as a attractive as the hard-charging, “work-hard/play hard” person they want to portray. If you client is open to it, this may be where you can turn them on to some of the resources of the “slow movement”, such as Honore’s book, or: http://www.slowmovement.com; http://www.create-the-good-life.com/slow_movement.html; and http://movimientoslow.com/en/filosofia.html. They may learn that they can allay many of their fears by seeing how the benefits of slowing down include just what they are trying to achieve by rushing and working too hard: greater creativity, productivity and quality of life.

Slowing down may have a link with self-permission. Many of the healthy changes in behavior often revolve around greater self-care. Great wellness plans go nowhere if the client is unwilling to give themselves permission to implement them. Explore this concept of self-permission and how the person is holding themselves back.

For most clients though, the desire for a slower, more fulfilling life is there.

  • Create experiments using the Downshifting idea above.
  • Get creative with your client and co-create new action steps that they can take week by week to try out new ways to slow down in whatever area seems both important to them and most likely of succeeding.
  • They may even want to commit to looking at several dimensions of their wellness (perhaps as represented in a simple tool like the Wheel of Life) and creating experiments in each area.
  • Commit to cooking more meals at home.
  • Visit a farmers market.
  • Declare a “technological Sabbath” for a day.
  • Commit to learning and practicing “centering” activities such as Tai Chi, Yoga, relaxation training, or some form of mindfulness practice.
  • Commit to reading a novel instead of work-related books.
  • Read Thoreau’s essay “On Walking” and learn to saunter! (http://thoreau.eserver.org/walking1.html)

M-ConamaraDiamond1

Time Affluence: What New Findings Mean For The Wellness Coach

Man in lounge chair on beach

No matter how intensely we human beings think about time, the Earth rotates on its axis in the same twenty-four hour cycle. Yet time is all about our perception of it, and far too frequently we view it as a scarce commodity. Time scarcity thinking is just as detrimental to our health and wellbeing as financial scarcity thinking, maybe even worse. Yet, in our stressful world it is so easy to feel like that planetary rotation has indeed accelerated. Feeling behind in our work, overwhelmed by our responsibilities and our to-do list, it often feels that we are indeed in a “time famine”. The perception of a time famine (as researchers have actually begun to call it) drives stress and dissatisfaction with life. We attempt to adapt by overscheduling ourselves, downloading productivity apps, making endless lists, and rushing from one thing to another, usually without scheduling enough time for the transit in between. No matter how hard we work, or how hard we work at “managing” time, we simply cannot conjure more minutes in the day.

The clients of the wellness coach, like many of us, experiment in ways that negatively impact health. We cut down on the hours of sleep, sometimes following the advice of so-called motivational speakers and celebrities who have “made it”. The harsh reality message of science, however shows us that getting less than our eight hours of shut-eye increases our risk of all the major chronic illnesses. (http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/healthy/matters/consequences/sleep-and-disease-risk) We cut down on time with family and friends leading to a real deficit in getting many of our emotional needs met and straining the most important relationships in our lives. We cut down on the time we spend cooking healthy meals, exercising, etc. The experiments buy us some minutes here and there, but in addition to what we lose in quality of life, we often don’t feel any more satisfied with the abundance of time in our lives.

Omnipresent Urgency

My blog post “Stress Coaching Part I: A False Sense Of Urgency” (http://wp.me/pUi2y-e9) spoke of how we can individually or collectively (like in the workplace or family) drive anxiety and even panic through creating a sense of urgency that is not in line with the reality of the situation. A frantic sense of urgency driven by anxiety and fear, sets us all up for unhealthy levels of stress and severely diminished quality of life. That post looked at how we create such perceptions and at ways to distinguish between true urgency and false urgency, and between urgency and emergency. We also explored how to concretely coach around this issue.

Get Organized!

Coaches often serve their clients very well by helping them to improve their experience of time by assisting them with organization. I’ve often been surprised by how often my stressed-out client operates a complicated life with no written calendar and no simple “to do” list! “Time management” strategies can help, but usually only go so far. What else is really at play here?

Time Poverty

Feeling like we are not in control of our time, especially in the workplace is actually a huge health risk. A UK study of over 10,000 employees found that those who were in situations where they were at the command of others as to when to work and when to take breaks were three times more likely to call in sick, and had a mortality rate three times higher than others the same age.

“Take Back Your Time” activists argue that the more control we feel over our moment-by-moment schedule, the greater our sense of time spaciousness, or time affluence. Tim Kasser, the researcher credited with coining this term, recently published the results of four empirical studies documenting its positive impacts. It not only relieves stress; it also improves physical health and leads to greater civic involvement, more positive ecological behavior, and increased well-being, including job and family satisfaction—all at rates significantly higher than increasing material affluence.” (http://www.iftf.org/uploads/media/SR1378_TYF11_4-Time_rdr_02.pdf) Workplaces may have to face their responsibility here for driving such health risks and the individual coming to coaching may have such an environment to cope with.

Time Affluence

What if we both personally, and as a family, a workplace, or of friendship circle, went from time famine to “time affluence”? What if we coached for a shift in perspective and consciousness, not just more and more “management” experiments?

Leisure timeCan you remember times when you had all the time you needed, even surplus time? It may have been during the summer in childhood. It may have been the prime motivator for traveling to another country where there is greater time affluence. The appeal of vacation destinations like Italy, Mexico or Ireland often rests largely in their more laid-back pace of life. Our challenge is not scheduling more vacations; it’s changing our thinking about time and creating norms that embrace a more conscious pace of life. Feeling time affluent can be incredibly empowering and lead, according to researchers, to greater health and personal happiness. “Time affluence, it appears, has real benefits in our lives. If time famine can create a state of rolling personal crisis, studies have shown that feeling “time affluent” can be powerfully uplifting, more so than material wealth, improving not only personal happiness, but even physical health and civic involvement.” (http://www.bostonglobe.com/ideas/2012/09/08/how-make-time-expand/26nkSfyQPEetCXXoFeZEZM/story.html#) However, becoming time affluent is not the same as financial affluence. “Time-poor people report being more stressed and less satisfied with their lives, and even money doesn’t appear to help. Figures from Gallup suggest that wealth has an inverse relationship with time famine. “The more cash-rich working Americans are,” a 2011 Gallup report on time concluded, “the more time-poor they feel.” (http://www.bostonglobe.com/ideas/2012/09/08/how-make-time-expand/26nkSfyQPEetCXXoFeZEZM/story.html#)

Coaching For Time Affluence

So, what are some quick ways to coach a shift in our perception of time and slow our lives down to an optimally healthy speed?

First, change our language about time. What would happen if you took the thought “I don’t have time to…” and changed it to “This is not a priority for me.” It might be tough to admit to yourself, but then again, it might cause you to reevaluate the way you think of your time and that particular item. How would it feel to say “My wellbeing is not a priority.”? Sure there are times when the situation demands that your own wellbeing might need to be temporarily set aside, but how chronic is this pattern? Are you saying “I don’t have time for me!” far too often?

A second idea is to begin to live your life with greater mindfulness about your daily experience. Tune in to what you are doing in the present moment and see if it is something you want to savor. Sunsets, bird song in the morning, the graceful movement of a child, the taste of fresh lemonade can slow us down to the speed of now and the relaxation and balance that comes with it. This is where “mindful eating” and such approaches can fit in nicely.

Giving It Away (Giving to/doing for others)

Counterintuitive as it may sound, but researchers have found, much to even their surprise, that when people help others, donate their time, they actually feel like they have more of it! Feeling useful and effective in such acts seems to create the feeling of an expansion of the time we have. People who gave more freely of their time for others actually engaged in more self-care activities as well.(http://www.bostonglobe.com/ideas/2012/09/08/how-make-time-expand/26nkSfyQPEetCXXoFeZEZM/story.html#)

Full Of Awe Not Awful

When people experience awe, time seems to also expand. Even tiny doses such as visualizing an inspiring scene in nature, watching a video of such, writing about a personal experience of awe or happiness, etc. can bring a momentary boost of in life satisfaction, and increase the perception of time availability. So, as coaches work with clients around relaxation practices we might want to include such guided visualization. The work we do with helping the client to create their “Well Life Vision” may serve not only as a destination for our wellness plan, but also as a source of time expansion as we settle in to visualizing that ideal way of living and see ourselves there experiencing it!

In further posts we’ll take a further look at the “Slow Movement” and additional ways to become more time affluent.

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. (http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/women-who-stray/201402/life-coaches-and-mental-illness)

Be sure to review my previous blog post “The Wellness Coach And Referring Clients To A Mental Health Professional: PART ONE – WHEN” (http://wp.me/pUi2y-bA ) 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 • http://www.gahmj.com

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” (http://wp.me/pUi2y-bA). 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: (http://wp.me/pUi2y-bZ).
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!

Reference:

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

Giving Our Lifestyle Power Away To Celebrities

If you don't know what this is, that's a good thing! (Chicken-fried steak)

The rise of celebrity chefs and food programs has been phenomenal. True, there are some excellent shows that feature healthy cuisines, and more wellness-oriented content. However the alarming trend has been for more and more shows to do what television shows have learned works for ratings: to shock and to “give the public what they want.” I’m talking gluttony and foods that have been scientifically linked over and over again to the obesity and health crisis we see in America and ever-increasingly, worldwide.

Americans watch an average of Four Hours of Television Per Day. (http://www.csun.edu/science/health/docs/tv&health.html) This media-saturated culture allows television celebrities easy access to our awareness and affects our lifestyle decisions more than we think.

We see food programs, often posing as travel shows, glorify over-eating to a degree that is all about shock value. We tune in to programs that seem to inevitably feature consuming the most disgusting substances the host can find. Far too many programs show the host seeking out and gorging on huge quantities of the fattiest red-meat items available. Or, we indulge in a convenient fantasy that “good old home cooking” with all the butter and gravy possible won’t really hurt us. Cholesterol, calories, salt and fat content be damned! Full speed ahead!

We WANT to believe that we can eat like those folks on television and get away with it. The identification with some of these television chefs has been astonishing. What we forget is that they often become more of a corporate “brand” than a person. They represent the tip of a business iceberg that at times becomes a juggernaut of capitalistic power. When that happens it’s not about your health, it’s about making money.

Paula Deen, the television chef who made millions pushing traditional Southern cooking with a style of over-indulgent exaggeration, became “The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest” recently when she announced that she has come down with Type Two Diabetes. While deserving of all the compassion we would give anyone who encounters this challenge in their life, Paula lost much of such potential support by only revealing her affliction three years after her diagnosis. In the meantime she had continued to push her “brand” and all of the diabetes-engendering recipes that went with it. She also never revealed her diabetes until she had a mult-million dollar contract in place to be a spokesperson for a diabetes drug company. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/23/paula-deen-diabetes-announcement-celebrity-chefs-support_n_1224454.html)

When we give our power away to entertainers who may or may not have our health and best interests at heart, we lose. We often feel betrayed when some truth finally comes to the surface, whether it’s about them, or when we suffer consequences in our own health.

It’s really like reading labels. What is the real content of this product? I loved hearing Marion Nestle (no relation to the food company) (http://www.foodpolitics.com/) talk about nutrition and the food industry at The National Wellness Conference (http://www.nationalwellness.org/index.php?id_tier=90) one year. She made it clear that the big food companies are not evil, they’re not out to get us. They simply are out to make money and are really very neutral about our health. If we purchase junk, they will make and market more junk. If we purchase more healthy food, they will, as we have seen, make and market more healthy food. The same is true for TV.

I’m not out to change TV. I’m out to help people reclaim their own lives. Read the label, so to speak, on what you watch on television. Remember that your favorite celebrity may simply be putting on an infomercial and calling it a TV show. Watch consciously and be conscious of how much you watch. We can’t always trust the intention behind a show. It’s like finding a good looking website on nutrition and then digging deeper and finding out that it’s just a propaganda voice for a coalition of food industry vested interests. The charge of all of these shows is to entertain first and foremost. That’s why we find them fun and interesting. What’s wonderful is when they share recipes that are actually heart-healthy, cancer-preventing, and diabetes-preventing.

We would love to feel like celebrities are our “friends”. We all want to be connected to others. We enjoy their entertainment and we sometimes aspire to be more like them, for better or for worse. Celebrities are real people and the few I’ve met personally, like John Denver and Dennis Weaver, were as sincere and genuine as it gets. However, let’s not make them lifestyle beacons for us or give them authority they don’t deserve. It’s like a time way back in the late 1960’s when I noticed a friend of mine hanging on every word of a rock band for philosophical and political guidance. No wonder The Moody Blues put out a tune at that time entitled “I’m Just A Singer In A Rock n’ Roll Band.” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RqOSzkqPhbA)

Wellness Self-Quiz:
1. Have you found television food shows that emphasize wellness and healthy eating? Please share.
2. Have you found yourself recently shifting your eating habits to include more (not less) red meat dishes, more fried foods, more higher-fat content items after seeing such trends on show you watch?
3. What is one thing you can do to be a more conscious consumer of food programs on television?