15 Vital Books for the Wellness Coach – 2020 – Straight Off My Shelf

In the last ten years the field of health and wellness coaching has continued to evolve as a professional filed with standards, credentials (https://nbhwc.org) and a solid evidential base (https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/1559827619850489). We’ve attained more clarity about what effective health and wellness coaching looks like and more awareness of what all coaches need to learn. Coaches have an ethical obligation to constantly be learning and growing in our profession.

So, what are the “must reads” for the wellness or health coach? Ten years ago, I posted a three-part blog on this topic.

15 Vital Books For The Wellness Coach: Straight Off My Shelf – Part One
https://wp.me/pUi2y-1n. 15 Vital Books For The Wellness Coach: Straight Off My Shelf – Part Two https://wp.me/pUi2y-1z. 15 Vital Books For The Wellness Coach: Straight Off My Shelf – Part Three https://wp.me/pUi2y-1H.

Now, in 2020, what I want to share with you are the top fifteen books that will influence the way you do coaching, the way you prepare for professional exams, and books that you will want to have at arm’s reach. These are the books on my own bookshelf that I find myself recommending over and over again to the thousands of wellness coaches that Real Balance has trained. There are many great resources out there, but here is my own very biased (as you’ll see when I recommend my own books) and opinionated list. In contrast to my own previous blogs this time I’m listing them in rank-order of importance to the coach practicing in the field.

15 Vital Books for the Wellness Coach – 2020 – Straight Off My Shelf

1. Wellness Coaching For Lasting Lifestyle Change,2nd Ed. , Arloski
2. Masterful Health & Wellness Coaching: Deepening Your Craft, Arloski (In Press)
3. Co-Active Coaching, 4th Ed., Whitworth, Kimsey-House & Sandahl
4. Changing to Thrive, Janice & James Prochaska
5. Becoming a Professional Life Coach, Williams & Menendez
6. Motivational Interviewing 3rd Edition, Miller & Rollnick
7. The Coaching Psychology Manual, Moore, Tschannen-Moran and Jackson
8. The Blue Zones, Dan Buettner
9. Your Journey To A Healthier Life: Paths of Wellness Guided Journal, Vol. 1, Arloski
10. Taming Your Gremlin, Rick Carson
11. The Wellness Workbook, Jack Travis & Regina Ryan
12. The Open Heart Companion, Maggie Lichtenberg
13. The Craving Mind, Judson Brewer
14. Raw Coping Power, Joel Bennet
15. The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working, Tony Schwartz


1. Wellness Coaching For Lasting Lifestyle Change,2nd Ed. (2014), Michael Arloski. (https://wholeperson.com/store/wellness-coaching-for-lasting-lifestyle-change.shtml) Like I said, a very biased list. Yet, I will have to say that this book (which is now also available in Mandarin) is used by many colleges and universities, as well as other commercial wellness coach training organizations all around the world. The 2014 2nd edition has expanded its coverage of coaching skills and the process of co-creating a wellness plan. The Wellness Mapping 360 Methodology provides the coach with a complete approach to behavioral change that distinguishes this book from others. The integration of what we know from the field of wellness and health promotion is another unique feature of this resource.

2. Masterful Health & Wellness Coaching: Deepening Your Craft, (2020)(In Press) Michael Arloski. (https://wholeperson.com/store/masterful-health-and-wellness-coaching.html) Coaching is both an art and an applied science. In this book my intention is to provide guidance for the health & wellness coaches who wants to go beyond competence to proficiency and embark on a journey towards mastery. The book is divided into four sections, Transformation, How To Be, What To Do, and Coaching People with Health Challenges. We will explore what distinguishes masterful coaches form those who are just learning their craft. Thoroughly substantiated by the evidential literature and providing in-depth lessons on all the major behavioral change theories, Masterful Health & Wellness Coaching will allow the reader to take their coaching to an advanced level.


3. Co-Active Coaching, 4th Ed., (2018)
Laura Whitworth, Karen Kimsey-House, Henry Kinsey-House & Phil Sandahl. (https://www.amazon.com/Co-Active-Coaching-Fourth-transformative-conversations/dp/1473674980/ref=sr_1_1?crid=2E78YGNE10TNG&dchild=1&keywords=co-active+coaching+4th+edition&qid=1601155442&sprefix=Co-%2Caps%2C206&sr=8-1)
THE foundational book of the life coaching field. The authors became the founders of The Coaches Training Institute (CTI) and in this work set down the cornerstones that shape the coaching mindset. A great book to bone up on your coaching skills and to learn what the essence of coaching really is. A true must-read.


4. Changing to Thrive: Using the Stages of Change to Overcome the Top Threats to Your Health and Happiness (2016), Janice & James Prochaska. (https://www.amazon.com/Changing-Thrive-Overcome-Threats-Happiness/dp/1616496290/ref=sr_1_1?crid=24WCWLPXR1KL2&dchild=1&keywords=changing+to+thrive&qid=1601155877&sprefix=Changing+to+thrive%2Caps%2C202&sr=8-1) Replacing the original Changing For Good (1994), this book definitely is in the top four for your bookshelf. The tremendous utility of the Transtheoretical Model for Behavioral Change (TTM, Stage of Change) makes it the coach’s most important behavior change model to know well.

5. Becoming a Professional Life Coach: Lessons from the Institute of Life Coach Training, (2015) Patrick Williams & Diane Menendez. (https://www.amazon.com/Becoming-Professional-Life-Coach-Institute/dp/0393708365/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=5.+Becoming+a+Professional+Life+Coach%2C+Williams+%26+Menendez&qid=1601156765&sr=8-1) Pat Williams is one of the true pioneers of Life Coaching and his earlier book (along with Deb Davis) Therapist as Life Coach was one of my favorites as I made the shift from psychotherapist to coach. Becoming A Professional Life Coach largely supplants this earlier book and provides the wellness coach with not only great skill building but lots of very practical guidance for practicing their coaching.

6. Motivational Interviewing 3rd Ed., (2012) William Miller & Stephen Rollnick. (https://www.amazon.com/Motivational-Interviewing-Helping-People-Applications/dp/1609182278/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=6.+Motivational+Interviewing+3rd+Edition%2C+Miller+%26+Rollnick&qid=1601157105&sr=8-1) This third edition is definitely the best resource on this vital approach to helping people change behavior. Motivational interviewing (MI) is a key tool for the health & wellness coach, especially when working with the ambivalent client. In addition to presenting the MI approach to many of the same skills used in coaching (with their own unique MI terminology), the book contains real gems of learning about the functions many of these skills serve and how to apply them in your coaching.

7. The Coaching Psychology Manual, 2nd Ed., (2015) Margaret Moore, Bob Tschannen-Moran and Erika Jackson. (https://www.amazon.com/Coaching-Psychology-Manual-Margaret-Moore/dp/1451195265/ref=sr_1_12?dchild=1&keywords=The+Coaching+Psychology+Manual%2C+Moore%2C+Tschannen-Moran+and+Jackson&qid=1601157580&sr=8-12) Another foundational book of the wellness coaching field. A comprehensive guide to many of the behavior change theories that coaches use and how to apply them.

8. The Blue Zones: 9 Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest, 2nd Ed. (2012) Dan Buettner. (https://www.amazon.com/Blue-Zones-Second-Lessons-Longest/dp/1426209487/ref=sr_1_2?crid=1OT3CA9BCUW6O&dchild=1&keywords=the+blue+zones&qid=1601323354&sprefix=The+blue+zones%2Caps%2C202&sr=8-2)  Longevity, we’ve found out is only 20% genetics (at the most) and is really 80% lifestyle (culture, behavior, beliefs, environment). Looking at studies of the hot spots or “Blue Zones” around the world where people live to a ripe old age quite often, common denominators teach us what it takes for an environment to make it easier to be well. The lessons for wellness are profound and based in solid evidence. We have made this part of the Real Balance curriculum since it was first published in 2008.

9. Your Journey To A Healthier Life: Paths of Wellness Guided Journal, Vol. 1, 2nd Ed., (2017) Michael Arloski. (https://wholeperson.com/store/your-journey-to-a-healthier-life.shtml)
A wellness journal for the client, this book outlines an entire wellness coaching process from self-assessment, to visioning, wellness planning, meeting challenges to change, tracking behavior and setting up accountability and support through connectedness for success. Many of the coaches I’ve trained use this with each of their clients either individually, or as a group guide (works very well in a 12-session format). Many coaches love it simply as their own guide for how they coach their clients.

10. Taming Your Gremlin: A Surprisingly Simple Method for Getting Out of Your Own Way (updated edition) (2003), Rick Carson. (https://www.amazon.com/Taming-Your-Gremlin-Surprisingly-Getting/dp/0060520221/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=Taming+Your+Gremlin%2C+Rick+Carson&qid=1601159057&sr=8-1) Whenever the wellness coaching client takes on change their own personal “Gremlin” or “inner-critic” will be there to oppose it, even if it’s the best thing in the world for that person. Our clients have plenty of external challenges to their attempts at change, but the internal ones can be the most devastating. This classic little book shows us how to spot the self-talk of the gremlin early and get it out of the way (as we get out of our own way!). Another true must read. I know of coaches who supply their clients with copies of this book when folks sign on to coaching.

11. The Wellness Workbook, 3rd ed: How to Achieve Enduring Health and Vitality, (2004) John W. Travis and Regina Sara Ryan . (https://www.amazon.com/Wellness-Workbook-3rd-Enduring-Vitality/dp/1587612135) Health & Wellness coaches need a thorough understanding of wellness and health promotion. This is the foundational book to understand what wellness is truly about. Jack Travis is one of the modern-day founders of the wellness movement and he lays out his theoretical foundation and theories in the introductory thirty-six pages which is worth the price of the book alone.

12. The Open Heart Companion: : Preparation and Guidance for Open-Heart Surgery Recovery, (2006) Maggie Lichtenberg. (https://www.amazon.com/Open-Heart-Companion-Preparation-Open-Heart/dp/0977606309) The psychological side of a major health challenge is often ignored. Maggie Lichtenberg, a PCC level coach, went through mitral valve repair surgery, saw a big missing piece and filled it admirably with this excellent book. As a wellness coach, whether you deal with heart patients or not, this book is an ultimate guide to helping your client with self-efficacy and self-advocacy. I make sure anyone I know (client or not) who is headed into any kind of major surgery (but especially heart surgery) either has a copy of this book or knows about it.

13. The Craving Mind: From Cigarettes to Smart-Phones to Love – Why We Get Hooked & How We Can Break Bad Habits,(2017) Judson Brewer. (https://www.amazon.com/Craving-Mind-Cigarettes-Smartphones-Hooked/dp/0300234368/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=The+Craving+Mind%3A+From+Cigarettes+to+Smart-Phones+to+Love+–+Why+We+Get+Hooked+%26+How+We+Can+Break+Bad+Habits%2C+Judson+Brewer&qid=1601319691&sr=8-1) The subtitle says it all. Health and wellness coaches today are quite likely to discover that their clients may be struggling with “device addiction” as well as other habits that work against their health. Understanding how our mind craves these behaviors and how they feed a cycle of addiction is critical to helping anyone take back control of their lives. What makes Judson Brewer’s approach different is that it is based in the practice of Mindfulness and offers an effective way back to wellness.

14. Raw Coping Power: From Stress to Thriving, (2014) Joel Bennett. (https://www.amazon.com/Raw-Coping-Power-Stress-Thriving/dp/0991510208/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=Raw+Coping+Power%2C+Joel+Bennett&qid=1601319602&sr=8-1) Coaching around stress is an inevitable part of health & wellness coaching, so having the knowledge you need to do so is critical. From knowledge to research about stress to the tools and methods you need to apply it, Raw Coping Power’s strengths-based, resilience building approach is the best resource out there.

15. The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working, (2010) Tony Schwartz.  (https://www.amazon.com/Way-Were-Working-Isnt-Performance/dp/1451610262/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=The+Way+We’re+Working+Isn’t+Working%2C+Tony+Schwartz&qid=1601320068&sr=8-1) Our coaching clients are often over-worked and under-supported with ever-increasing demands heaped upon them. Schwartz’s book looks at the systemic problems of the modern-day workplace, but then takes on an approach that individuals can use to cope and hopefully thrive. Think of stress management and time management as energy management. We are wired to deal with stress, but do we have “sufficient volume and intensity” of recovery? A great resource for helping our clients learn how to recover from the stress in their lives.

So, there you have it! Happy reading and keep on learning!

Dr. Michael

Michael Arloski, Ph.D., PCC, NBC-HWC is CEO and Founder of Real Balance Global Wellness (https://realbalance.com) a premier health & wellness coach training organization that has trained thousands of coaches around the world.

 

Emotions, Feelings and Healthy Choices: Coaching for Greater Wellness

One of the first things we learn about in the fields of Wellness & Health Promotion and Health & Wellness Coaching, is that our lifestyle choices are a primary determinant of our health and wellbeing. It seems straightforward that making the right or healthy choice is a rational process based upon having the best information. We often then address how challenging it is for a person to put that choice into practice by looking at their social support, environmental conditions, etc. Much of the focus for wellness coaching becomes helping our client to create a wellness plan based upon those healthy choices and implementing with support and accountability. Let’s stop and take a closer look at those decisions.

Anyone in the healthcare or wellness fields is keenly aware that clients don’t always opt for the best, or healthiest choice. They also often observe clients changing these choices for no apparent reason. One day our client is convinced to start working towards a largely plant-based diet, and on another day, they show little if any desire to do so. We can explore ambivalence, of course, but what is really going on in our client’s decision-making process?

Applying what we know about the role that emotions play in decision-making can be extremely useful to the wellness coach. Learning how to coach our client in this emotional realm is often critical to their success. (See my previous post: “The Great Utility of Coaching In The Emotional Realm”, https://wp.me/pUi2y-lA)

Emotions and Making Lifestyle Choices

Making lifestyle choices are like any other decision-making process – they are more complex than it seems at first. Understanding how our emotional bias fits into this process may help coaches to be less perplexed by some of the self-defeating lifestyle choices we see that our clients have made and continue to make.

Emotions are a heavily researched area of psychology and it is easy to get lost in its vast literature. In an especially succinct article, Executive Coach Svetlana Whitener synthesizes the work of several key researchers and conveys a useful paradigm to coaches to learn from. (“How Your Emotions Influence Your Decisions”, https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbescoachescouncil/2018/05/09/how-your-emotions-influence-your-decisions/#5eece5313fda)

Emotions emerge as a response to external stimuli, or the recollection of it, or the imagining of it. “That stimulus generates an unfelt emotion in the brain, which causes the body to produce responsive hormones. These hormones enter the bloodstream and create feelings, sometimes negative and sometimes positive… So, to review, it’s stimuli, then emotions, then hormones and, finally, feelings. In other words, your emotions impact your decision-making process by creating certain feelings.” (Whitener, 2018)

 

How we interpret or frame those feelings and how we respond to them results in our choices executed in our behavior.

In this model it is not the emotions that we are aware of, it is the resultant feelings that we feel. When our clients contemplate making lifestyle changes, they often experience a variety of feelings. They may experience positive anticipation or dread. The memory of past failures may bring up the emotion of fear resulting in feelings of embarrassment, regret, shame or guilt. Likewise, a history of more pleasant experiences may lead to positive anticipation. What Stage of Change the client is in may be heavily influenced by the feelings they are experiencing.

Expand Your Emotional Vocabulary

Psychologist Paul Ekman’s research on emotions opened a huge doorway to understanding how people express themselves. A key from his work that can help the coach is to look at how (as in our model above) emotions generate feelings and how those feelings differentiate. Researcher Tiffany Watt Smith has listed 154 different worldwide emotions and feelings. (1). Studying Ekman’s Wheel of Emotions can help a coach to expand their own knowledge and use of emotional terminology. As you coach with your client you can explore more possibilities to help your client clarify exactly what they are feeling.

 

Ekman’s Wheel of Emotions

 

 

 

 

How The Coach Can Help: Coaching With Emotions and Feelings

1. Coaching Presence – Your coaching presence sends an ongoing message that either gives permission to explore feelings or denies it.
2. Notice – Be keenly observant of the emergence of feelings on the part of your client. Be continually scanning not just their words, but how they say them. Hear the changes in tone of voice, volume, rapidity, etc. Notice all of the nonverbal information you can gather.
3. Contact – Help you client to connect with their feelings. Use the Active Listening Skill of Reflection of Feelings. Share observations of patterns you see. “I’m noticing that each time you talk about taking time for self-care you begin speaking about your partner.”
4. Name it – Help you client to name their feelings. As we saw above emotions can generate a wide variety of feelings. Expand your own emotional vocabulary and help your client to drill down to what they are truly experiencing. “Well, it’s not really anger, it’s more like resentment.”
5. F.A.V.E. – First Acknowledge the client’s experience and what they have been through. Then Validate their feelings. It’s okay for them to feel the way they feel about it. (Regardless of how rational or appropriate their feelings may seem.). You absolutely must not judge their feelings. Most importantly Empathize. Show real empathy and compassion and put it into words.
6. Process – Help your client to explore and process their feelings. Allow them to expand and talk about them. Once the initial release has taken place, they will usually start to analyze what is going on for them, looking to make sense (and meaning) out of their feelings.
7. Insight – Is your client able now to gain some insight from what they have learned in this process?
8. Application/Integration – Are they able now to take their insights and turn them into action? Now you can coach your client on ways they can modify their behavior or create experiments in their lives to improve their lifestyle.

Note – If you find that you are answering the questions in items 7 & 8 with the negative, your client may benefit more from counseling instead of (or in addition to) coaching. That is, if they just continue to process feelings, and process feelings without it leading to insight, or if they are unable to put their insights into action, and instead return to processing feelings (and emoting), then begin to explore the alternative of counseling. See my blog on this topic – Coaching a Client Through To A Mental Health Referral Using The Stages of Change (https://wp.me/pUi2y-lp).

A wellness coach may think that it is their job to get their client to make the right lifestyle choices. When coaching deteriorates into convincing or persuading, we are stepping away from the coaching process. We can certainly warn our clients about misinformation they may have about fad diets, or unproven remedies, etc. However, effective coaches honor their client’s autonomy. The reality is that after a coaching session, our clients will go on living their lives doing what they choose to do despite our urging. Trust the coaching process. Help your client to factor in their emotions in a more conscious way so that the lifestyle choices they make are working for them instead of against them.

References
(1) Tiffany Watt Smith. “The Book of Human Emotions: An Encyclopedia of Feeling from Anger to Wanderlust” (PDF). Anarchiveforemotions.com. Retrieved 2017-05-28.
(2) Ekman, Paul (1999), “Basic Emotions”, in Dalgleish, T; Power, M (eds.), Handbook of Cognition and Emotion (PDF), Sussex, UK: John Wiley & Sons.

Dr. Michael Arloski

Michael Arloski, Ph.D., PCC, NBC-HWC, is a psychologist, professional coach, author, trainer/educator and CEO and Founder of Real Balance Global Wellness. Follow his blog at https://realbalancewellness.wordpress.com, and his presence on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/michael.d.773), Twitter https://twitter.com/DrMArloski) and LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/realbalance/).

The Psychophysiology of Stress – What The Wellness Coach Needs To Know

Easier Said Then Done

Stress gets blamed for most everything, and much of time deserves the accusation (60 percent to 90 percent of health-care professional visits are stress-related – https://www.apa.org/monitor/2008/10/relaxation.aspx ). Wellness and health coaching clients inevitably recognize that excess stress in their lives is affecting their quality of life, performance at work, and their very health in negative ways. Finding a way to deal more effectively with stress becomes part of most client’s Wellness Plan.

Wellness coaches all too often approach stress by working with their clients to strategically attack the sources of stress in their client’s lives. While there may be some specific gains made by that approach, all too often the result is temporary and band-aid-like, as yet another source of stress emerges. Solution-seeking as a stress management strategy is like flirting with infinity.

For over twenty-five years I worked as a psychologist and devoted much of my focus to helping people with stress-related disorders. I was an early adopter of the use of biofeedback and relaxation training methods. Combining those modalities with psychotherapy, my work was able to be of great value to clients suffering from muscle-tension and migraine headaches, a wide variety of gastrointestinal disorders, insomnia, Raynaud’s Disease, and many more issues. I delivered hundreds of stress management workshops and became so involved in the field that I eventually became President of The Ohio Society For Behavioral Health and Biofeedback.

Both my clinical work and my years of coaching showed me that ‘managing stress’ requires the clinician or coach to understand the mechanisms of stress, its psychophysiology. I use the term psycho-physiology here because, perhaps nowhere else is there such a demonstration of how our thoughts and emotions have direct effect on our body. This is the center of the mind-body connection. Just thinking about taxes, a strained love relationship, a scary health condition, etc., can immediately result in an increase in blood pressure, the secretion of stomach acid, the constriction of blood vessels in our extremities, the release of cortisol into our bloodstream, and more. Understanding the psychophysiology of stress is vital to being able to develop coaching approaches that will allow our clients to recognize stress, recover from it, and develop the resiliency that they need to live their best possible lives.

The Psychophysiology of Stress

The human body operates on an amazing system grounded in the principal of homeostasis. This self-correcting process allows us to bring ourselves back into balance whenever it is required. When we overheat, we sweat and cool down. When our blood becomes too thick, mechanisms bring more water from our cells and thin our blood down to its proper viscosity. When we are under stress this homeostatic principal seeks to bring us back into balance. Let’s take a look at how our nervous system operates this.

 

From this graphic, focus upon the Autonomic Nervous System. You will see that it is composed of two parts, the Sympathetic and Parasympathetic Nervous Systems. When we are under threat, or stress, the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) kicks in and arouses us to either fight, flee or freeze. This is the classic Fight or Flight Response.

When we are under real threat, like a stranger jumping out of van and confronting us as we approach our car in an isolated parking lot, this response may be vital to our survival. Suddenly our heart rate goes up, our adrenal glands release adrenalin and noradrenalin, cortisol and other stress hormones enter our bloodstream, our eyes dilate (allowing us to see better in low light), blood leaves our extremities and pools to our body core (minimizing bleeding in case our arms or legs are cut, and protecting our vital organs), our digestion shuts down (we need our energy elsewhere), the bronchi dilate increasing our ability to take in oxygen, and more glucose is made available to the blood to provide a supply of instant energy for both cognitive and physical purposes. So, you can see that this remarkable response does a fantastic job of equipping us to deal with muggers, Saber-toothed Tigers (back in our days in the cave), and other acute threats.

Unfortunately, in our modern-day world, we often trigger SNS arousal to a greater or lesser degree, by what might be called ‘false alarm states’.

 

As any wellness coach can recognize, these false alarm states are often the drivers of the very issues that bring our clients to coaching. Stress has a tremendous effect upon these and many more health challenges. When we are in a chronic state of SNS arousal we will see more headaches, insomnia, difficulty managing chronic pain, more tendency towards unhealthy coping mechanisms (including addictive behaviors), and difficulty managing anxiety, anger and our emotions. It’s easy to see how a client with weight issues might have improved eating and exercise/movement but is still struggling losing weight as they continue to live a high-stress life. Thus, while we are wired to handle acute stress in a potentially adaptive way, chronic stress is our nemesis.

The Relaxation Response

Back to the all-ruling principal of homeostasis. The nervous system’s answer to Sympathetic Nervous System arousal is to counter-balance it with Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) arousal. To counteract all of this activation for action we need a way to slow down the heart rate, reduce the blood pressure, calm the breathing, bring blood back into the extremities, quiet down the release of stress hormones, get the digestive system back online, and essentially bring us back to our baseline level of tension/arousal, or even dip below it. In contrast to ‘fight or fight’, this response is sometimes referred to as ‘rest and digest’.

For thousands of years people have found ways to bring about this PNS arousal. Methods of meditation, breathing, movement, prayer, chanting, etc. all have the potential to bring about this state of profound relaxation. Harvard cardiologist, Herbert Benson, coined the term ‘Relaxation Response’, and his groundbreaking 1975 book by that title created a whole new way to approach dealing with stress. His research since then has continued to demonstrate the profound utility of bringing out this quieting response through mind-body practices. Benson managed to demystify meditation and to distinguish it from religious practices. In more recent times, Jon Kabat Zinn has done the same with Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction techniques. Bringing out the Relaxation Response allows us to recover from stress. I will be delving into how to coach clients to do this in my next blog posting.

 

Actions of The Relaxation Response

 

Stress And Distress

Coaches often encounter a client who will claim to “thrive on stress”.
We actually do require a certain level of stress to bring out our best performance. Think of how some of the greatest performances in music and sports have occurred in the most high-stress moments. We look to experience ‘optimal stress’, or what is called Eustress.

There is, of course, a point where the stress becomes excessive and this is where we see this positive stress become Distress. This is where one’s stress related disorder may kick in. The headache comes on, the difficulty sleeping begins, the gastrointestinal problems start, the skin reacts, etc. Practicing some kind of method that brings out our Relaxation Response on a regular basis may, however, bring our baseline level of stress down enough for us to remain in eustress longer and perhaps not cause us to cross over into distress. Thus, the wellness coach may work with a client to help them find a way to integrate some kind of regular practice that brings out the Relaxation Response. Performing such practice could be an activity the client keeps track of and sets up accountability agreements about with the coach.

Caution Coaching With The Relaxation Response

As a wellness coach working with a client who has chosen to practice some form of relaxation training or meditative practice, you need to inquire about your client’s health concerns and all forms of medical treatment that they may be under. The chief concern is that as a client develops more competency with bringing out their Relaxation Response, it may alter their psychophysiology in a positive way, but in a way that must be accounted for with potential medical adjustments. Specifically, if your client is, for example, taking medication for hypertension, such practices may reduce their need to this medication and the dosage may need to be adjusted. Have your client inform their treatment team of their practices that may affect their medication needs. The Wellness Plan always supports the Treatment Plan. Make sure your efforts are coordinated with your client’s treatment team.

In two subsequent blogs I will be addressing how we can coach around the need to recover from stress, and how we can build greater resiliency to stress.

Resources

https://www.apa.org/monitor/2008/10/relaxation.aspx

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11822639

https://www.britannica.com/science/fight-or-flight-response/media/206576/207822

Benson, Herbert and Klipper, Miriam. The Relaxation Response. William Morrow Paperbacks; Updated & Expanded ed. edition (February 8, 2000)

Real Balance Free Monthly Webinars: “Stress! Recovery & Resilience: How The Wellness Coach Can Help”.  http://www.realbalance.com/wellness-resources

For the very best in wellness and health coach training look to REAL BALANCE GLOBAL WELLNESS SERVICES, INC.  Over 10,000 wellness & health coaches trained worldwide.  http://www.realbalance.com 

 

 

For more about effective coaching refer to Wellness Coaching For Lasting Lifestyle Change, 2nd Ed., by Michael Arloski, Ph.D., PCC, CWP, NBC-HWC.   https://wholeperson.com/store/wellness-coaching-for-lasting-lifestyle-change.shtml

and to Your Journey to a Healthier Life (Paths of Wellness Guided Journals) by the same author.  https://wholeperson.com/store/your-journey-to-a-healthier-life.shtml 

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.

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!

The Tao of Wellness Coaching: Part Two – Practical Applications

Photo by Michael Arloski

When the best leader’s work is done the people say ‘We did it ourselves.’                                Lao Tzu

In Part One –  In the previous post “The Tao of Wellness Coaching – Part One – What Centers Us?”   http://wp.me/pUi2y-lN   we grounded ourselves in the history and context of The Tao and the concept of Centered Coaching. We examined how relevant the practice of Tai Chi can be.

Essential Concepts

Effective wellness coaching is, inherently, very much in harmony with the Tao. Let’s look at two key Taoist concepts and how they apply to wellness coaching.

Yin-Yang Balance

Fundamental to Taoist thought and foundational to Chinese Medicine is the concept of Yin and Yang. These are the polar opposite, yet complementary, forces of the world that, for health and wellbeing to exist, must be in balance. The Yang forces are active, positive, hot, overt, masculine, light, and hard. The Yin is passive, yielding, negative, cool, quiet, feminine, dark, and soft. In the classic symbol the Yang rises to the top and is represented by the light area with the black dot in it, while the Yin sinks to the bottom and is represented by the black area with the white dot in it.

The key is to understand that the two are opposite, yet interdependent, complementary and interconnected. When we experience having too much of one and not enough of the other, we experience dysfunction whether it is at the physical, psycho-emotional or behavioral and practical level. Regaining balance becomes the return to a level of healthy homeostasis.

As coaches work with clients to achieve a wellness lifestyle the goal of achieving a healthy balance is paramount. We must rest, but not become lethargic. We must move and exercise, but not to the point of exhaustion and fatigue. We must find a way to take in sufficient calories, but find the right level for our optimal health, etc.

As coach and client co-create a wellness plan the concepts of Yin and Yang can be very useful. Our culture tends to reinforce and promote the Yang forces while not supporting those of the Yin. We are urged to be productive, work hard, play hard, achieve, accomplish, try harder and push. Seldom are we reinforced, much less accommodated for self-care activities such as getting adequate sleep, relaxing, taking time to get a massage, meditate, or enjoy our leisure. In fact, we may face criticism for such ‘indulgence’.

Many components of a wellness plan involve greater frequency of self-care activities. As clients look at their health and wellbeing through a more holistic lens, they often see the value of taking more time to meet these needs to balance their lives. Often these same clients have been admonished by their healthcare providers to engage in more self-care activities in order to improve their health. Many times wellness coaches work with clients who have been foregoing their medical self-care, such as taking time to do self-testing (e.g. diabetes), following up on medical appointments, doing rehabilitation exercises, etc. Instead they have been consumed and distracted by the Yang-style demands of their work, and their own belief systems.

When wellness coaches work with their clients to construct ways to manage stress more effectively, they are inevitably working to achieve Yin-Yang balance. Without ever speaking of the terms (Yin and Yang), we might consider how all actions possess either Yin or Yang energy and help our clients to decide how much to include in their lives. There may be great stress management wisdom in exploring strategically with our clients when it is best to push, and when to yield.

At a fundamental level our clients are often in a state of ambivalence about change that displays the push-pull of Yin and Yang forces. Should I, the client, change my way of living, or not change? When we really examine the ambivalence resolution methods of Motivational Interviewing (MI) we can see a Taoistic stance taken by the therapist or coach. The coach does not “pull” for one path to be taken over the other. Instead, they neutrally allow the client to explore and experience both energies; change and no change. The coach using this MI approach remains as centered and non-judgmental as possible helping the client to weigh the pros and cons (again a Yin/Yang process).

Wu Wei – Effortless Effort

Living in harmony with the Tao is about letting nature take its course and not interfering with the natural order of things. The concept of Wu Wei conveys the idea on ‘non-doing’, ‘non-action’, or ‘non-intervention’. This concept seems antithetical to Western thinking. In Western culture we are taught to make things happen. In Western Medicine the expert seeks to find the best intervention and implement it as soon as possible. To accomplish a desired outcome by ‘allowing’ things to simply be and progress on their own seems either too slow or doomed to failure. Yet think for a moment. Have you ever needed to relax and unwind and the harder you tried to do so, the more anxious and tense you got? There is only one way to relax; you have to allow yourself to do so. When we intervene medically to treat a wound, the actual healing that follows is something we have to patiently allow to happen.

Wu Wei is perhaps best thought of as living in a state of effortless harmony and alignment with the natural cycles and ways of nature. We are truly ‘going with the flow’, and able to respond to whatever comes our way. As coaches allow such a way of being our ability to ‘dance in the moment’ is maximized. We aren’t there to intervene, to fix things. We are not attached to a therapeutic agenda, to a treatment-oriented course of action. The client is in the lead and we are able to effortlessly dance with them.

Keeping It Client-Centered

At the heart of all coaching is the client-centered approach. From the psychotherapeutic roots of Carl Rogers this ‘person-centered’ way of interacting has become the basis for the coaching alliance.

“There have been parallels made regarding Carl Rogers’ person-centered theory and the way of doing nothing in Taoism (1). Rogers suggested that the most therapeutic counseling occurred when the therapist was authentic and real in the relationship and placed trust in the client to discern what was best for himself without interference from the therapist (2). A central concept of Taoism is doing nothing and being natural. Both Rogers’ theoretical beliefs and Tao philosophy maintain that when these conditions are achieved successfully in therapy, the human organism will develop almost spontaneously (3).”

An excellent review of this is found in “East Meets West: Integration of Taoism Into Western Therapy” by Rochelle C. Moss and Kristi L. Perryman. (4)

Coaches following these principles ‘get themselves out of the way’ and trust in the wisdom of their clients. We see our work as helping to bring forth, or evoke, the inner wisdom of our clients. When we are not attached to rigid protocols, yet operating out of grounded principles and methodology we can serve as guides to help our clients get to where they want to go.

Coaches and clients walk down a pathway together at night in the forest. The coach’s job is hold the flashlight and illuminate what is before them.

The client’s job is to choose how the path will be followed.

Neutrality allows the coach to operate without bias, without their own judgments and prejudices. This allows the client to be in the lead, making their own choices. This is where wellness coaches must adhere to the ethics of coaching and not be promoting their own products or particular courses favorite ways to eat, exercise, and so forth.

The highest virtue is to act without a sense of self
The highest kindness is to give without a condition
The highest justice is to see without a preference
Lao Tzu

Coaches who find value in the concept of Wu Wei see the value in yielding. In Western society yielding is often seen as failure, as giving up. Yet, some of the most storied successes on both Eastern and Western battlefields came because of strategic retreat. In wellness coaching this may take the form of allowing a client to set their own levels of accountability. For example a client may state that they can perform a certain behavior, such as walking, five times in the coming week. The coach may suggest that going from not exercising at all to doing so five times a week may be less likely to be successful. The client insists that they can hit this target of 5x/wk. The patient coach then allows the client to go ahead with their experiment rather than argue and let the client experience what the Adlerian psychologists would call natural consequences.

The power of yielding may also be something for our clients to discover. Often people approach situations with only one option in mind; to win! The wise person approaches any situation wanting to have all options at their disposal. In dealing with conflict, in managing stress, the option of yielding often pays off better than pushing for one’s initial desires.

At the heart of both the coaching process and Maslow’s theories of self-actualization and personal growth is the principle stance that human beings are inherently moving towards health and wholeness. With barriers removed and balance achieved, people will naturally make progress towards their highest good. The continually accumulating evidence from the Positive Psychology research substantiates this position. Such a way of looking at human beings and their experience in life is in complete alignment with Taoistitc principles of the interconnectedness of all things, synchronicity and the let it be attitude of Wu Wei.

The Centered Wellness Coach

Drawing upon what may be called “Philosophical Taoism” as opposed to any kind of religious or institutional Taoism, the wellness coach can find wisdom that does not necessarily contradict any other beliefs they, or their client may have. What we find is real alignment with the principles of growth and self-actualization that form the foundation of the wellness field. What we also find are very practical guidelines for practicing as an effective coach.

1. Practice What Centers You In Your Life
The wellness of the coach is the foundation all else is built upon. When we embrace whole-person wellness that includes, body, mind, spirit and our relationship with our environment, we practice a lifestyle that moves us towards optimal functioning. The key here is the word “practice”. Coaches are usually very caring people who place the needs of others far above their own. That can easily result in a lack of self-care, a neglect of the very well-living practices that we encourage in our clients. Find what “centers” you and practice it with regularity. Connect with friends, read novels, garden, hike, bike, walk, dance, meditate, do Yoga, Tai Chi, go fishing, enjoy your grandchildren, play with your photography or poetry, pray, volunteer at a non-profit, scrapbook, quilt, take your neighbor’s child for a day in the park. Do whatever gets your healthy needs met and gives you meaning and purpose.

When you get knocked off-center, accept how this is simply part of the normal human experience. The centered person does not tip-toe through life like they were on a balance beam. The idea is that of reducing our  “center-recovery time”. If we are practicing what centers us in our lives we can come back to center more quickly.

2. Practice effortless effort.
The primary mistake I notice when I observe coaching students who are learning the craft, is that they work too hard. The coach is working much harder than the client. When coaching does not go well it is usually when the coach is trying to make things happen. The coach is busy “fixing” the situation and/or the client, instead of facilitating the client doing their own work. The coach is busy attempting to convince or persuade the person to be well. The centered coach is patient.

3. Embrace Paradox
By trusting their coaching methodology, and by trusting their client the coach is able to offer a “coaching presence” that is: calm, yet lively; supportive, yet challenging; accepting and nonjudgmental, yet discerning; empathic, yet not colluding; compassionate, yet firm. Again, it is from this centered “stance” that such paradox can exist.

4. Know When To Push And When To Yield
We have a culture obsessed with “interventions”, with taking action. The Tao teaches us that there is a time for both action and non-action. I’ve observed coaches attempting to appear “powerful” by pushing for action whether the client is “ready” or not. When we use Prochaska’s Readiness For Change Theory we are actually acknowledging the reality of the energetic state our client is in. An old Gestalt Therapy expression is “Don’t push the river”. But, we also know the need to paddle when we are in a dead-calm lake! There is a time in coaching to forward the action through request. The Tao is as much about taking action as it is about pivoting and moving with no resistance. Again, the coaching metaphor of “dancing in the moment” means know when to push and when to yield.

5. An Effective Wellness Plan Is About Balance

A well-crafted wellness plan, co-created with our client would resemble the Yin/Yang symbol of Taoism. Ideally there would be as much involvement in active steps to build energy and there would be for more passive steps to help one relax, restore energy and achieve more balance. One side would balance out the other.

The reality is that as coaches we have been practicing The Tao of Wellness Coaching all along whether we called it that or not. Taoistic principles have already been infused in psychology, psychotherapy, business, leadership and more. Being more conscious in their application expands the coach’s repertoire of options and helps them nurture their own wellness as well.

References

1. Hermsen, E. (1996). Person-centered psychology and Taoism: The reception of Lao Tzu by Carl C. Rogers. The International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 6(2), 107 – 125.

2. Hayashi, S., Kuno, T., M
orotomi, Y., Osawa, M., Shimizu, M., & Suetake, Y. (1998). Client- centered therapy in Japan: Fujio Tomoda and Taoism. The Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 38(2), 103-124.

3. Hayashi, S., Kuno, T., Morotomi, Y., Osawa, M., Shimizu, M., & Suetake, Y. (1994). A reevaluation of client-centered therapy through the work of F. Tomoda and its cultural implications in Japan. Paper presented at the Third International Conference on Client-Centered and Experimental Psychotherapy, Gmunden, Austria.

4. Rochelle C. Moss and Kristi L. Perryman
“East Meets West: Integration of Taoism Into Western Therapy”
https://www.counseling.org/resources/library/vistas/vistas12/Article_33.pdf taken from web 1.13.17)

The Tao of Wellness Coaching – Part One – What Centers Us?

What can today’s health and wellness coach learn from The Tao that will make their job easier and more effective?

When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.
Lao Tzu

History and Context

It is said that the legendary Chinese sage, Lao Tzu, rode off on the back of an ox when leaving the Middle Kingdom. Before a sentry guard would let him pass out of the city gates, he asked the sage to write down his teachings for the good of all. The result was the seminal text, The Tao Te Ching. Lao Tzu then rode off into the wilderness, never to be heard of again.

The wisdom of this book was never lost from those times (5th-6th Century BCE), but instead spawned a philosophy that holds real merit for our lives today. Our challenge is to bring the Tao, or “the Way”, into those busy lives and, ultimately into every aspect of our being. When we do, we operate very differently. We engage in our work in a different way. We experience stress but respond to it more effectively. We coach differently.

The Tao is a concept cloaked in mystery for most of us. Sage sayings that sound like one conundrum after another leave us puzzled. “Those who know do not speak. Those who speak do not know.” “Yield and overcome; Bend and be straight.”― Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching. Yet, there is a strong appeal because we often covet the apparent peace of mind that practitioners of the Tao seem to have. They seem, so “centered”. They seem to have a quite confidence that guides them. They know just what to do.

When we speak of the Tao and wellness coaching we are not implying that to know the Tao one must study and adopt the more religious form of Taoism. Taoism is most often defined as a philosophical tradition that is all about living in harmony with life, or literally translated, “The Way”. One can pursue living in harmony with the way of life without necessarily becoming involved in a religious pursuit, per se. Carolyn Myss tells us that living in harmony with the Tao is a way to “reduce the friction inherent in most of life’s actions and to conserve one’s vital energy.” (1) Studying the philosophy of Taoism, the Way of the Tao, however, holds great potential benefit for coaches.

The bookstores of the world are packed with books with titles such as The Tao of Business, The Tao of Golf, The Tao of Leadership, The Tao of Physics and an infinite list of variations on this theme. Clearly many find value in this ancient wisdom and have found ways to make it relevant and advantageous. Psychologist Wayne Dyer studied the Tao for an entire year and provided us with a deep resource with his book Change Your Thoughts – Change Your Life: Living The Wisdom of the Tao (2009)(2). There are many translations of The Tao Te Ching, but for the Westerner, Dyer’s book may be the best introduction because it explains so many of the concepts in ways we can apply to our everyday, and professional lives.

What Centers Us In Life

There are many things that ‘center’ us in our lives. Being centered is about living our lives in a healthy balance and getting our needs met so that we have vitality. Many things do this for us. Ask yourself: what keeps you in balance, what centers you. You may say getting regular exercise, gardening, reading fiction, connecting regularly with friends, getting out in nature, getting enough rest, etc. All of these activities and more help us to be more in balance, to live a wellness lifestyle, to be in harmony with the Tao. It all seems to be saying the same thing.

Our wellness lifestyle forms the foundation for this centered way of living, but any number of mindfulness practices can help us take it further for even more benefits. Practicing Yoga, various forms of meditation, Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, Contemplative Prayer, and other methods can all help ‘center’ us and not only teach us the ways of the Tao, but actually alter our psychophysiology in a positive way. All of these practices have the potential to help us shift our nervous system more into what is know as the Relaxation Response (Benson, 2000), the activation of the parasympathetic branch of our autonomic nervous system. This results in a lowering of heart rate, blood pressure, etc., and therefore makes it easier for us to be calm and less reactive to stress, in other words, more centered.

The Tao In Movement

Practicing Tai Chi On The Great Wall

Tai Chi is a Taoist inspired soft martial arts practice, a moving meditation actually, that embodies many principles of the Tao. The health benefits of Tai Chi are well documented. “Tai chi is often described as “meditation in motion,” but it might well be called “medication in motion.  “There is growing evidence that this mind-body practice, which originated in China as a martial art, has value in treating or preventing many health problems.” (http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-health-benefits-of-tai-chi) (3) The benefits one can derive from such a practice, however, go well beyond the psychophysiological.

For me, practicing Tai Chi has been a non-cognitive way to study the Tao. It is ‘centering practice’. I was fortunate in the late 1980’s, to learn the short form of the Yang Style of Tai Chi taught by a physician from China. My practice since then has been consistent, if not as frequent as I would like. The result of regular practice is a centered way of moving, and, to an increasing degree, a centered way of being. This is living in harmony, with the Tao. For me it has been a thirty-year journey in somatic learning.

When we move from center we are always in balance. Think of the martial artist in action, such as a practitioner of Karate, Aikido, or Tai Chi Chuan. For them to be effective in combat they must move from center. If they aggressively lean too far forward they land on their face, or if they are too afraid and lean backwards they end up on their backside. Think of how this same principle applies to a sales person attempting to make a sale, an instructor attempting to get a point across, an encounter that you may have attempting to resolve conflict with someone. Think of how this applies to our coaching. The metaphor holds up. If it did not go well, we might realize that we weren’t very centered.

Centered Coaching: What The Tao Has To Teach Us

When I observe masterful coaching the style of the coach may vary, but one thing is always present: centeredness.

A centered coach speaks less and listens more. They can “dance in the moment” effortlessly, going wherever the client needs to go, no matter how unexpected. They are not attached to outcome, but are focused on results. A centered coach can shift into new directions, but remains grounded in structure and the foundations of coaching. Such a coach has no need to impress or appear powerful. They don’t work at being powerful, yet they are. Centered coaches do not push their own agenda, yet they do not collude with their clients either. They know when to push, to confront, and have the courage to do so. They also know the power of yielding.

Mastering others is strength. Mastering yourself is true power.
Lao Tzu

In Part Two

Effective wellness coaching is, inherently, very much in harmony with the Tao. In Part Two we will look at two key Taoist concepts and how they apply directly to wellness coaching: Ying/Yang balance, and the concept of Wu Wei or Effortless Effort.

References

1. (Carolyn Myss, https://www.myss.com/free-resources/world-religions/taoism/philosophical-and-religious-taoism) – taken from web 7.5.17)

2. Dyer, Wayne. (2009) Change Your Thoughts – Change Your Life: Living The Wisdom of the Tao. Hay House.

3. “The Health Benefits of Tai Chi”. Harvard Women’s Health Watch. Harvard Health Publications.
(http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-health-benefits-of-tai-chi

“Coaching for a Lifetime of Wellness: Five Keys to Sustainable Behavioral Change”

2nd Ed Cover - MedThe theme of the 41st Annual National Wellness Conference was “Spotlight On Sustainability”. While we often think about sustainability and our environmental practices, as a wellness coach and psychologist I immediately thought of sustainable behavioral change. As I prepared for my presentation on this topic my research revealed that we actually know very little about how effective our efforts at helping people improve their lifestyles actually are.

Maintaining success at lifestyle change is often daunting. Most wellness coaching clients have a history of initiating efforts at losing weight, stopping smoking, managing stress, etc. For many, however, there is a trail of failures at maintaining those new ways of living in the long run. The result is a lowering of self-efficacy and lingering feelings of discouragement. As I explored in a previous blog post “Lessons From Albert Bandura For Wellness Coaches” (http://wp.me/pUi2y-dB) there is much for coaches to learn about self-efficacy.

 When we go to trusted sources looking for help with making healthier behavior last, what do we find? Unfortunately, not much. From Harvard Medical School’s online publication Healthbeat I found “The Trick To Real And Lasting Lifestyle Changes”. (http://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/the-trick-to-real-and-lasting-lifestyle-changes) Though this title sounds like the exact resource to look for, all it advised was a simplistic review of SMART Goals.

Turning to the APA Psychology Help Center we find “The key to making lasting lifestyle and behavioral changes: Is it will or skill?” (http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/lifestyle-behavior.aspx) This disappointing short article could only offer this: “Lasting lifestyle and behavior changes don’t happen overnight. Willpower is a learned skill, not an inherent trait. We all have the capacity to develop skills to make changes last,” said Katherine C. Nordal, PhD, executive director for professional practice at APA. “It is important to break down seemingly unattainable goals into manageable portions.” The article mostly talked about how ineffective we are at making any changes in our behavior and did not even address making changes last!

As I deepened my research quest I found that other behavioral scientists had been concerned enough about this issue to establish an impressive research consortium to tackle it. The result was a publication in The American Journal of Health Behavior (2010 Nov-Dec; 34(6): 647–659) entitled The Science of Sustaining Health Behavior Change: The Health Maintenance Consortium. The authors (Marcia G. Ory, PhD, MPH,1 Matthew Lee Smith, PhD, MPH, CHES, CPP,2 Nelda Mier, PhD,3 and Meghan M. Wernicke, MPH4) did a thorough research synthesis of articles spanning 2004-2009, amassed resources and funded twenty-one projects to look at this issue of lasting change in health behavior. Here is what they concluded.

elderly_hikingWhat we are up against when it comes to lasting change.

• How long can positive gains be sustained without additional long-term support?
• In most cases this is unknown because studies only track maintenance for a year or two after the post-intervention phase.
• In the majority of cases, intervention effects on lifestyle behaviors are often strongest in the one or two years closest to active intervention.
• Without additional support, positive effects tend to diminish over time, or treatment differences vanish.

What they found was frankly, not a lot.

• It’s not realistic to expect long-term maintenance based on initial interventions. (Single-variable research)
• Moderate-intensity behavioral interventions may need to be coupled with more environmental changes to sustain long-term effects.
• In other words people need the support of healthier communities and workplaces, peer groups, etc.
• Incorporation of physical activity into the self concept emerged as the strongest predictor, with self-efficacy having a major indirect influence confirming it as an important predictor for both behavioral initiation and maintenance

LongWindingRdIn summary:  The authors conclude that no single mediator makes a large impact; rather, there is a “long and winding road” with maintenance achieved through a multitude of modest interrelated meditational pathways from behavioral initiation to maintenance.

There are many reasons for our scarcity of knowledge. One is that much research of this nature is done by universities where graduate students need short-term projects that allow them to finish up and…graduate! We may learn more from larger sociological and epidemiological studies such as The Framingham Study (https://www.framinghamheartstudy.org) , the work of The Blue Zones, (https://www.bluezones.com) etc. However, here we are not isolating variables. We can’t really say if it was the plant-based diet, the supportive extended family, or the red wine that made the healthy difference. It seems we have to be satisfied with the shotgun approach and put our best bets on culture and environment.

What can we conclude about making positive changes in health and wellness behavior last?

• Changes must be sustainable over a lifetime
• Intrinsic motivation trumps extrinsic every time
• Most research looks at single interventions and doesn’t track more than one or two years
• Long-term studies show that a combination of environmental support and “internal” shifts sustain lifestyle improvement better. Culture, environment, attitude and beliefs!
• We must ask how can coaching support shifts towards “well” attitudes and beliefs?

Healthy Choices For A Lifetime
Healthy Choices For A Lifetime

The Five Keys of Coaching For A Lifetime of Wellness

• 1. Build Self-Efficacy
• 2. Nurture Visionary & Intrinsic Motivation
• 3. Focus On The Maintenance Stage (TTM)
• 4. Co-create Relapse Prevention Strategies
• 5. Coach For Connectedness

1. Build Self-Efficacy

Bandura’s Social Cognitive Theory (formerly AKA Social Learning Theory) shows tremendous congruity between it and the foundational principles of coaching. Bandura deeply explored the concept of Self-Efficacy which is foundational to wellness coaching. (Again see the previous blog post “Lessons From Albert Bandura For Wellness Coaches” (http://wp.me/pUi2y-dB)

2. Nurture Visionary & Intrinsic Motivationgreen nature_wood path

Much of our coaching work is around helping people to envision the outcome they want. When we have a clear picture of both where we are (our current state of wellness) and where we want to be (our Well Life Vision) we can “coach to the gap” between the two and coach around what needs to change to attain that Well Life Vision. Such a positive psychology approach is foundational to coaching and motivates better than just fear and illness avoidance.

We know that when clients experience intrinsic joy in activities they will be more motivated to engage in them. Look at the work of Jay Kimiecik, The Intrinsic Exerciser: Discovering the Joy of Exercise: ( https://www.amazon.com/Intrinsic-Exerciser-Discovering-Joy-Exercise/dp/061812490X) and Daniel Pink’s book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us (https://www.amazon.com/Drive-Surprising-Truth-About-Motivates-ebook/dp/B004P1JDJO/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1467763122&sr=1-1&keywords=Daniel+Pink+drive#nav-subnav).

To COACH for intrinsic motivation:
* Notice! – Help your clients to focus on the enjoyment, the pleasure that they perceive as they are performing the behavior.
* Inquire! – Ask about the details of their experience. When a client reports about taking a walk, hike or bike ride outdoors ask about what they saw, what they experienced, what they felt.
* Inquire about Bonus Benefits. Clients sometimes fixate on their goal of weight loss for example, but what else is happening during their efforts? Are they experiencing more energy? Better sleep? More mental concentration?
* Avoid incentivizing. Incentives tend to decrease intrinsic motivation.
* Take a Kai Zen Approach. (https://www.amazon.com/Small-Step-Change-Your-Life-ebook/dp/B00GU2RHCG/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1467763620&sr=1-1&keywords=robert+maurer#nav-subnav) Coach with your client to set up action steps that are so small that they are very doable and allow continuously successful progress towards their goals.

3. Focus On The Maintenance Stage (TTM)

Of all of the Stages of Change that Prochaska talks about in his Transtheoretical Model of Change (https://www.amazon.com/Changing-Good-Revolutionary-Overcoming-Positively-ebook/dp/B003GYEH2Y/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1467763816&sr=1-1&keywords=prochaska+changing+for+good#nav-subnav), coaching around the Maintenance Stage may be the most vital. Here the coach again takes a positive psychology approach and acknowledges and reinforces what is working. As the old saying from coaching goes “Nothing succeeds like success!” A key in this stage is for the client to see the value in Tracking Behavior and to do it regularly. Avoiding self-deception is key. Use whatever works for keeping track of new healthier behaviors: calendars, charts, apps, activity monitoring devices, etc. Then the Accountability that coaching provides makes the process conscious, deliberate and increases consistency. Lastly, coaches really prove their worth here as they coach their clients through the barriers and the “push-back” that sometimes is received by those who clients were hoping would provide support.

4. Co-create Relapse Prevention Strategies1369010631_url

Relapse happens! Count on it! James Prochaska is fond of back-up plans. We all know that life throws us curve-balls all the time. Our best-laid plans run up against life realities. This is where coaching can get creative! Coach clients to come up with their own back-up plans for then things don’t go as they would like, or when temptation increases. Going to a potluck dinner where the dietary direction of friends tends to be sabotaging of your wellness efforts? Be sure to bring an entrée to share that will satisfy your own needs. Not enough time to do your hour-long exercise routine? Having a quick and simple set of exercises you can do anywhere fills in “better than nothing” and maintains engagement in your program.

Pivotal to this key is self-compassion. There is a real difference between excuse-making and true compassionate understanding. Coach your client to be less self-critical and more forgiving. Help them keep a healthy perspective on their wellness plan.

5. Coach For Connectedness

Real Balance Faculty At The National Wellness Conference
Real Balance Faculty At The National Wellness Conference

In our Real Balance Wellness & Health Coach training (https://www.realbalance.com) we emphasize coaching for connectedness from day one. The amount of time any client spends in coaching is a brief moment compared to the lifetime they have to live in a new way. In addition to the support of the coach, other sources of support must be encouraged, discovered or consciously developed. For each step of action we ask “Who or what else can support you in this?” If our client has little support then making the development of such support a deliberate area of focus to work on in coaching is vital. This is where the role of culture, community, workplace, peer groups, family, friends, and relationships becomes a part of coaching that cements lasting lifestyle change.

Living a wellness lifestyle is a lifetime job! Providing the kind of coaching that goes beyond simplistic goal-setting and allows our clients to transform who they are can build the foundation for a lifetime of wellness.

A PDF of the PowerPoint from my presentation on this topic at The National Wellness Conference and a complete bibliography are available for download at: http://www.nationalwellness.org/page/2016NWCHando

If It Only Was That Simple: The Illusion Of Explanatory Depth

answersWhen faced with overwhelming, frightening and ultimately complex problems we tend to search for simplistic answers. Perhaps this is an adaptive attempt originating in the deep part of our brain known as the amygdala, where fear triggers our survival instincts (and our flight/fight/freeze response). In our ancestral days near our cave, taking action to freeze, run or fight like hell often served us well. Today, however we are faced with other stimuli that, despite our rationalizations and euphemisms to the contrary, actually do scare us just as much, but in a different way. No longer fleeing Saber-toothed Tigers, today, instead we face frightening foes like global climate change, racism, war and peace, extremist politics and chronic disease.

To combat these foes, we again seek the fastest, and therefore simplest responses that attempt to be solutions. Overly simplistic thinking causes us to latch on to attractive answers that seem to bring us some semblance of relief from the anxiety of overwhelm and the fear of the unknown. We generalize, minimize and seek solace in some quoted study that showed that ten people did one thing, one time, and now are healthy and safe for life. Eat low fat. Eat high fat. Don’t exercise…just drink wine! Chocolate could be one of your basic food groups!

“Psychological scientists have a name for this easy, automatic, simplistic thinking: the illusion of explanatory depth. We strongly believe that we understand complex matters, when in fact we are clueless, and these false and extreme beliefs shape our preferences, judgments and actions—including our votes.” (http://www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/news/full-frontal-psychology/extremist-politics-debating-the-nuts-bolts.html)

Just diet & exercise...not so simple.
Just diet & exercise…not so simple.

In healthcare and wellness we take something as supremely complex as weight management and leave our critical thinking hats off as we search for some magical Thor’s Hammer that will strike down obesity, diabetes and heart disease with one swift (and don’t forget easy) blow. If it only was that simple!

As a University Counseling Center Psychologist I worked with a great number of victims of rape and abuse. I observed how victims would astonishingly blame themselves and go through a time of attempting to feel safer by saying “If only I hadn’t been in that place at that time”, or “If only I had been doing this instead of that”. The health and wellness equivalent may be when we seek out lifestyle practices that we hope will insulate us from disease and misfortune. I’m not talking about basic health-risk reduction here, but rather the way people grab on to simple all-or-none thinking about diet, exercise, stress management practices, etc. We think that kale, mindfulness, Yoga, coconut oil, or a new Fitbit will be our single-track savior. We want the comfort of the “illusion of explanatory depth”.

Everyday, when we look harder at the research, and that means going back to what we learned in Psychology or Sociology 101 about basic research, we can sift through all of the contradictory data and at least conclude that there is nothing simple about wellness, health and especially challenges like healthy weight management. In this internet-based age we are continually bombarded with headlines sprung from single studies with incredibly small “n’s”. Changing what we eat based on the success of seventeen people who dined while standing on one leg how we are urged to take action by headline-grabbing authors.

We all know how hard it is to get rid of cockroaches once they infest a place. Research publicity sometimes creates myths that persist just as tenaciously. In a brilliant recent blog (https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/beware-cockroach-effect-faulty-data-die-jon-robison?trk=hp-feed-artic) Jon Robison gives us more evidence about not trusting sketchy “evidence”.s-l300

The Cockroach Effect is certainly not limited to weight-related research. Dr. John Ioannidis has spent his career exposing the personal biases, economic pressures and downright bad science that plague medical research. In a seminal paper in PLoS Medicine in 2005 with the intriguing title, “Why Most Published Research Findings Are False,” he presented a model which predicted correctly that 80% of non-randomized studies, 25% of randomized trials and 10% of large randomized trials were refuted by later research. While we expect contradictions as part of science, Ioannidis also found that even when faulty research was debunked, its conclusions typically persisted for years or even decades. The details of his fascinating findings are explored in an article entitled “Lies, Damned Lies and Medical Science” which appeared in the Atlantic Magazine in November 2010.”

As tempting as it is to look for quick relief in simplistic answers, we must take a deep breath and know that health and wellness is a marathon, not a sprint. The progress may be found in a combination of studying both how we change, and how we maintain change.

This June at The National Wellness Conference (http://www.nationalwellness.org/?page=NWC2016) one of the breakout sessions I will be presenting is Coaching for a Lifetime of Wellness: Integrating the Keys to Sustainable Behavioral Change. We’ll look at how to shift our thinking from short-term outcomes to the only kind of study that really counts – the longitudinal study of one’s lifetime. There is a lot to explore about how to help people make lifestyle improvements that will have to last for the entire rest of their lives. The problems we face are multi-causal. The answers we seek need to be holistic and thorough. As many of you have heard me say “I did not write a book entitled “Wellness Coaching For Temporary Lifestyle Change.” See you in St. Paul, Minnesota this June!

Be well! Coach MichaelM-ConamaraDiamond1

 

 

The first rule of sustainability is to align with natural forces, or at least not try to defy them. Paul Hawken

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