Wellness Coaching Australia's Blog

Can Stress Become a Postive Force in our Lives?


Stress is generally seen as the bad guy in today’s busy world.  The belief that we have not got the resources to handle what is on our plate, creates stress!  Note – the belief.  Stress can make certain health problems worse and there are many downsides of prolonged, untreated stress.  But let’s get back to this idea of “belief.”

Stress is very personal.  What creates pressure and anxiety for one person might be the minimum level of responsibility needed to motivate someone else to get out of bed in the morning!  We are different by nature, experience and genetic make up, but understanding more about what causes stress and how we can control it is a great step to harnessing the energy we can get from this powerful “force”.  And it is a force – the fight or flight response that is created from being under stress also creates energy.  Perhaps it appears as negative energy, but can we turn it into something positive?  How can we make ourselves more “stress-hardy”?  Perhaps by understanding the positive that can come out of the stress response.  The fight or flight response is not the only one that can be activated.

At times, the tend and befriend response comes about with the production of certain hormones such as oxytocin that can be released in situations when we feel the need to reach out to loved ones, or strangers, to comfort them and increase our social contacts. This is often seen after tragic events have hit a community and this very connection reduces stress and can assist in recovery.

But we don’t need extreme events to try and turn our mindsets to believe that we are able to handle stress and in fact, can benefit from it.  Some of the following are useful exercises for us to try out:

  • When we notice our heart rate increase before a stressful event, realize that this is happening so that we have more energy to complete the task and use this energy to perform.
  • Ask yourself, “Are nerves caused by the fact that what you are about to do is really important to you?”  Does this situation have value in your life and therefore provide meaning?
  • When stress rears its head, acknowledge it then turn your focus to the task at hand.
  • Is your stress due to the fact that you are setting unrealistic expectations around what you can complete in a set time (day/week etc.)?  Change your deadlines and to-do list so that they are more realistic and you can think clearly about one or two things instead of feeling overwhelmed by an undoable list.
  • Switch your attention to someone else. Do something kind for another to get out of your head.  You will feel differently about your workload.
  • Ensure that you have good social networks.  Communities support each other and caring creates resilience.
  • If small events stress you, like having to wait on the phone for someone, remind yourself why you are doing this – is there a larger purpose?  Are you gaining information for something that has importance in your life?  
  • Question why you are feeling stress and look for positive aspects.   Is it making you stronger, are you feeling energized?  Are you connecting with others?  Are you feeling alive?
Once we start to see stress as merely a challenge that can help us grow, then we can learn to view it a different way and do just that – grow from it!

If you want to learn more about this interesting area, we have a full module of learning with comprehensive information and tools to use. To learn more about our Understanding Stress for you and your Clients course, CLICK HERE.

References: Healthbeat, October 2017 Harvard Medical School
The Upside of Stress, 2016, Kelly McGonigal

Coaching and The Brain - Part 2





This is part two of our two part blog on Coaching and the Brain. Click here to read part one. 

There are many qualities that make a good coach and many skills that we learn to improve connection with our clients and help them create effective change.  While considering the role of the brain in the process, let’s take a look at what happens there and put four important aspects of coaching under the spotlight.

TRUST

We cannot support our clients unless we have trust, and building that trust takes time.  Once trust is created, the brain chemical that is released is Oxytocin  - likely in both client and coach! This is the chemical that is associated with empathy and connection. What’s interesting about Oxytocin is that it only creates connection with people you closely associate with – your tribe, if you like – and when we are with people we identify as being “our people”, it has the effect of reducing fear and calming the amygdala – positive things in a coaching conversation.  However, the same chemical can cause rejection of people who are not seen to be in that “tribe”.  Interesting implications? The coach needs to build trust and allow the client to get the full benefit of Oxytocin.

The actual physicality of coaching – either touch or close presence will also increase the release of Oxytocin - under the right circumstances.  What isn’t known as clearly is how this works during phone coaching, although there is no doubt that trust can be created in that situation. Some people have a higher level of inherent trust than others and what’s interesting is that it has to start with the relationship with our own bodies.  If we don't have that, it is unlikely that we will trust others.  This is highly relevant to concept of whole body coaching which fits so well with health and wellness coaching.

LISTENING
There are six types of listening:
  1. Hearing (noise);
  2. Pretending (to listen, often being skilled enough to fake our body language too);
  3. Self-biographic (filtered, self-related);
  4. Selective; 
  5. Active – this can be with your mind;
  6. Empathetic listening – this has to always be with your heart.
So how does the brain work when we listen? What we need to understand is that our brain builds up information on incomplete data.  We make assumptions about things that may not have been said as we try to make sense of what we are hearing. This is very important for us as coaches to realize as we endeavor to fully understand our clients. Our brains want to make “sense” not necessarily find “truth”! So we fill in the blanks to confirm our own hypotheses. So it is essential that we find out what really is there – what the client’s story is all about, not what we think it is about when we listen ineffectively.  We must always strive for the last level of listening.

ASKING QUESTIONS
By asking the right questions, we will help the client share information that is as important to them as to us as coaches. However, if we ask the wrong type of questions, instead of triggering new pathways in the brain that can lead to different outcomes, we can cause the client to become defensive and actually create new barriers.

REFRAMING
Once again, by reframing and showing new perspectives, we open new channels and pathways in the client’s brain which can increase possibilities and solutions!

Knowing how our brains work is important knowledge for any coach. Our work should not be random use of learned skills. We have to be aware of the actual effect that our presence and our choice of words can produce.

Coaching and The Brain - Part 1



We now know that our coaching conversation can actually light up different parts of our clients’ brains and create an “environment” that makes positive change more likely to happen - or at least be considered!  There is a lot about the brain that we still need to understand and the field of neuroscience is rapidly providing this information.


The “split brain theory” refers to the left and right brain which we have known for some time to perform different functions– one being used mainly for linear thinking (left) and the other for creative, holistic thinking (right).  Our left brain organizes information and our right brain senses danger, recognizes patterns and creates imagination (amongst other things).   We could say the left brain sees the trees and the right brain, the forest!  We need both and we are aware of tapping into each side with our work with clients. There are times they need to dream and envisage and times they need to plan and rationalize.  

When we make decisions our brain is involved, yet what we may fail to recognize is the part that other organs play in this crucial process.

We need to revisit how our brain was formed.

The brain evolved by layering – as it became more complex it built on the existing structure and the following stages occurred:

Reptilian brain – our primitive brain served three purposes – sustenance, survival and sex!  All necessary functions to stay alive and prolong the species!

The next stage of development saw the Paleo-mammal brain – this appears still in horses, apes and certain other mammals.

Then came the sophisticated  “hardware”– the Neo Cortex which included the prefrontal cortex responsible for high level learning and thinking that occurs in today’s world.

So that’s three in total.  What people aren’t generally aware of is that we have many neurons (brain cells) in two other organs – our heart and our gut.  There are over a hundred million neurons in our gut alone.  Which makes these additional organs extremely important in decision making.  As often happens, when we look back to how our language developed and the expressions we use, we realize that on some level we have always been aware of the role of these body “centres”. Think of the term “heart felt decisions”, or “gut instinct”.  We learn something “by heart”.  The heart has the most powerful magnetic field in our bodies and many stories are told about heart transplant recipients taking on characteristics and knowledge of the donor.  90% of serotonin, the “feel good’ neurotransmitter is produced in the gut!

We will take a look at what happens in the brain when we coach in our next short article but for now the most important message here is that out of our five “brains”, only one is rationale! We need to use all of them to make decisions but when it comes to the final word, our emotions will win out.  And this involves our entire body.  It has been said that reasons (thinking) leads to conclusions, but emotions lead to action.  A very important awareness for anyone who is trying to help someone with tough changes that may need to be made to improve their health.

This is part one of our two part blog on Coaching and the Brain. Click here to continue to read part two. 

Reference:  Carlos Davidovich, MD.  2016

Can We Really Change How Happy We Are?


I have often pondered the question of whether happiness comes purely from within.  Not that I believe that we can find joy in life by focusing purely on external “things”,  but I have recently been convinced that happiness comes from both within and without – internal and external factors.

We now know that our genes play a part in how happy we are.  We have a genetic predisposition to look at things in a positive light or a negative light, or somewhere in the middle. We have a default level of happiness.  A landmark and often- quoted study found that people who won the lottery and those who became paraplegic within a year, on average, returned most of the way to their baseline levels of happiness. 

The reason for this is the “Adaptation Principle” which states that humans are susceptible to changes in certain life conditions, but not to their absolute levels.  To explain - a person who suddenly has an increase in wealth will be excited by the change, but in time will become used to having a bigger house, more expensive car and other luxuries which have become the new “norm”.  

Now the notion of increased life satisfaction is of course more complex than this.  Gerald Haidt, in his “Happiness Hypothesis” proposes that: 

H = S+C+V.

Happiness (H) is a sum of our genetic set point (S), certain conditions (C) of our life that are relatively stable (ie level of wealth) and those voluntary activities (V) that we choose to do that we know will increase our levels of wellbeing.

But what is interesting is the fact that there are exceptions to the “Adaptation Principle” which again, suggests that we will adjust and become used to certain conditions that are relatively fixed in our lives. For example, living in a cold climate, having physical disability or a level of power, are things that we simply get used to and adapt to.  They do not continue to influence our levels of life satisfaction.

Interestingly though, Haidt states that there are five changes you can make that are not subject to the adaptation principles and may well make you happier in the long term.  These are:

Living with noise – people generally do not adapt to chronic noise – particularly if it is intermittent or variable. 

Commuting – traffic causes stress hormones and they do not reduce with time.

Lack of control – the human drive to be self-determining is extremely powerful and we do not adapt well to having it removed or reduced.

Shame in appearance – a person’s appearance may seem trivial in the happiness stakes, however, it has been shown that plastic surgery or other changes that make a person less self conscious or somehow deficient can lead to increases in self confidence and wellbeing.

Quality of relationships  - we never adapt to interpersonal conflict and it will eat away at our life satisfaction every day.

So it might be worth considering what voluntary activities we do that make us happier and also whether there are certain “conditions” of our lives that might be worth reviewing.  
Voluntary activities are many and varied and include things like exercise, mindfulness, spending time with loved ones, any time that positive emotions are experienced and things that really give us a sense of purpose of meaning.  And of course, the cream of the crop, those that give us a sense of flow.  

So our genetic make up does play a part, however, with study in epigenetics receiving more attention, who knows, perhaps we can also change our genetic make up and find ourselves looking at life with more of a positive frame!

Worth a thought?
  

How Mindfulness Can Help Your Clients Kick a Habit



We are aware that most of our work as coaches, focuses on helping adopt new habits and get rid of a few old ones.  Of course there is a bigger conversation that precedes this but eventually, we have to face the fact that certain behaviours have to go!

And it’s not easy.  

But here’s a new approach.  We have always said that we need to replace an old habit with a new one. But what if we could simply “turn the switch off” and knock that old habit on the head.  We can. By revisiting Mindfulness.

Let’s think about those habits.  Most of the time we are indulging the behavior because we’re not feeling so good. We could be tired, stressed, bored, frustrated, anxious or sad.  We reach for the food, the wine, Facebook, the cigarettes…We use the habit as a way of coping.  And this is where mindfulness begins its work.  By noticing what is going on for us, and paying attention to the cycle we have got into, we can start to change things.  But the important point is that we need to pay attention but not judge. 

So here is a step by step approach to using mindfulness as a way of breaking the cycle.

RECOGNISE
Note the craving, recognize the feeling and avoid rationalizing it

ACCEPT
Accept that the craving is there. Don’t do anything about it, just accept it.  Don’t try to ignore it or distract yourself, just accept it.

INVESTIGATE
Get curious and notice how you feel.  Identify your thinking and remember, your thoughts are not you!  

NAME IT
Make a mental note of how you feel – or even better write it down! Use a word or phrase and put a label on it.  When you give a feeling a name, it calms your brain.  

You are now in a better place to “surf the craving” and you may well find you can ride it out and it passes on its own. The trick is to become more aware, mindful about what is going on at the time the behavior is about to kick in. The more we become interested in what is happening in our minds and bodies, turn towards our experience rather than away from it, the sooner we can take control back of our actions, and our life.

REFERENCE:  The Craving Mind, Judson Brewer
Highly recommended:  
Barking up the Wrong Tree, Eric Barker.

Coaches: Should You Call Yourself An Expert?


If you’ve been learning about marketing from any of the gurus out there, you've probably been told you should be positioning yourself as an expert.

But as a coach, you know that you are supposed to be the OPPOSITE of an expert. It’s the CLIENT who is the expert in their own lives.

What’s more, this talk of expertise can feel a bit uncomfortable. 

You might be feeling like a fraud...like you don't yet have the years of experience to be an expert.

So, what do you do? 

How do you position yourself in a crowded market full of experts, in a way that has integrity and credibility?

Actually, the answer is pretty simple.

What is "Expertise" All About?

If you think about it, being seen as an expert is really just about portraying your experience, skill and professionalism - so you can build TRUST.

A client who trusts you is more likely to buy from you.

The problem with positioning yourself an 'expert' is that: 

  1. it usually implies years of experience in a specific field...and as a new coach, you may lack this experience, or may not have specific health-related knowledge.
  2. the word expert diminishes self-responsibility in the client.
Both these things can feel mighty uncomfortable~!

The good news is, there ARE ways to generate trust and curiosity in your clients with integrity and authenticity.

Experts vs Specialists

So, you're not an 'expert'? Here are some ways to build trust in your audience in an authentic, comfortable way.

1. Be a Specialist

Calling yourself a specialist achieves exactly the same outcome as calling yourself an expert, but without the pressure or expectations.

Specialists are simply people who focus on a particular area.

As a Health and Wellness coach, your core speciality is behaviour change – helping people change habits in a way that fits with their lifestyle, drawing on their strengths, past experience, values and existing commitments.

And in all likelihood, if you have been on a particular journey yourself, then you have hands-on, real-life experience in the area that your client is struggling with.

Using the word “specialist” has some benefits:

  • You can let go of needing years of experience

  • It helps you to focus on a niche (demographic or problem area)

  • It helps you get specific in your marketing language

  • Specialists generally attract higher fees

  • It removes the pressure of being an ‘expert’

  • It creates clearer expectations in your client 

Let’s face it, the reason people seek a coach is that for a period in their life, they need help to overcome an obstacle and change their behaviour.

That is what you specialist in - that obstacle.

2. Share Your Journey

This one takes a bit more courage, but it is a very authentic way of building trust and communicating thorough experience.

If you have been on a journey yourself - to lose weight, to overcome a massive obstacle, to thrive after burnout, to bloom with self-confidence, to get organised....then you are automatically talking about the end point that your clients want to achieve.

You've been there.

You've done it, successfully, with a few trip ups along the way.

That makes you credible, believable and trustworthy.

Sharing your story and your process of getting the outcome is attractive and will attract clients who were once like you.

3. Show, Don't Tell - Be An Awesome Coach

This sounds left field...but bear with me.

Being an awesome coach means people will share their success with others - particularly, they will tell people how much they enjoyed working with you.

Word of mouth is the most powerful way to build a good reputation.

And when you're not coaching a client, you are STILL having conversations with people in your daily life and on social media.

If you contribute thought-provoking comments or questions - or if you reach out to help people who are struggling - you are demonstrating your skill and experience, compassion, empathy and ability to listen - without having to use the word expert. 

Experts AND Specialists

Some coaches DO have expertise in an area, so it IS possible to be both an expert AND a coach.

For example, you are a personal trainer or nutritionists and you also offer coaching.

You're someone who helps people ACTUALLY MAKE THE CHANGES they need in their exercise, eating etc. while helping them to build motivation and confidence in the process.

In this situation, there are some challenges and understanding gaps for your clients:

  • they might think coaching is something you normally do
  • they are confused when they're used to you telling them what to do 
  • they may not understand the value of coaching.

And with all that going on, you may be unclear on how to integrate coaching, or how to transition to a coaching-only business. 

Clear positioning, education and communication are essential to help you transition seamlessly into a coaching-inclusive or coaching-only business.

How To Introduce Coaching Into Your Existing Business 

A lot of new coaches ask how to distinguish coaching from their existing service, or how to make the transition.

So I've decided to run a Business Training Intensive on this very topic.

It's for coaches who have an existing business and want to transition into a coaching-inclusive or coaching-based business, and it's called:

How to Package and Introduce Coaching Into Your Health Based Business

This training will be delivered via live Webinar on  Wednesday 9 August, 2017. 

Click here for more information.

In Summary

Ok, let's wrap this up into a neat package.

Firstly, you can communicate skill, professionalism and value without using the word expert. 

You can present yourself as specialist, build a business around people going through your own journey, or build your reputation with 'demonstration.' 

Secondly, you CAN be an expert AND a coach.

To do this effectively, you need to be able to communicate what coaching is, how it differs from your service, and explain the value of coaching as a stand-alone service.

I'd love to know your best strategies for positioning coaching. 

What's worked for you? Post in the comments below and let us know.

A New Slant on Goal Setting


We always encourage coaches to work with clients to create positive goals that take them in the direction of what they want!  This fits with the idea of running towards, rather than away from things in life.  

I recently had an interesting conversation with someone who had been at a conference on death and dying, with one of the speakers raising the idea of having a “Reverse Bucket List”. A very strange notion I thought - where does that go?  

The “Reverse Bucket List” consists of things that a person no longer wants to do!! Now that might mean saying “no” to a number of onerous tasks that drain energy and take precious time away from doing what we do want to do.  

It also might encourage our clients to take a good hard look at what they spend their time on - believing that they enjoy it and yet we come to the realisation that we don’t enjoy it any more!  

This type of “bucket list” can actually be very empowering!  Yes, it might be more meaningful to us as we get older and realise the value of the years left to us, but I think it's worth considering and playing around with. It’s really no different from asking, “What do we want more of?”, and “What do we want less of?” Try asking it of yourself and see what comes up! 

Happy culling of unwanted and unrewarding activities!


Motivation is not all equal



Here we go – 2017 is underway and we all love a fresh start. The new year can give us the opportunity to begin new projects, to make changes, to wipe out any of the less uplifting parts of the previous year.  But what do we need to actually make a change?

There’s no getting away from it – that overused term – “Motivation”!  And if you want to know more about it, there is no shortage of material, books, articles, speakers etc. to fill you in. But really what does it mean to be motivated? The essence of motivation is energy.  Energy to drive us forward to make that change.  Yet motivation can also come from many different areas – some more powerful than others.

Let’s keep it simple and look at two sources. Controlled motivation and autonomous motivation.  Both can be helpful but one more than the other.
Controlled motivation comes from outside.  Often from another person, who may well have the best interests in mind for the person they are pushing to make a change. Health professionals have traditionally been the people who provide “controlled motivation.” They provide all the facts, the dangers and the wisdom of their superior knowledge to convince their clients to make a change. When someone is influenced by this type of motivation, they tend to “comply” with someone else’s desires.  You may have heard this referred to as extrinsic motivation, but “controlled” suggests that there is a third party involved.  Frequently there is an element of fear inherent in the urge to change.

Autonomous motivation has quite a different feeling about it.  This is when a person is motivated by interest, desire and choice. They have a sense of control and value over the change they're about to make.  They are energised in a different way and often feel a sense of excitement about the challenge ahead.  Health and wellness coaches work in this space... Their job is to “unleash” their clients’ own motivation to change.

Why is the latter so much more powerful than the former?  As human beings, we have certain drives that are universal and one is the drive to control our own destiny to be “autonomous” and “self-determining”.  Although the support of a coach or other person may be of great help, ultimately we will become more flexible and creative, persistent and successful when we are driven from within.  

How we do tap into this type of motivation?  Simply by reflecting on the importance of the change we wish to make.  Time spent uncovering our real reasons to change is time well spent and an investment in the outcome of our efforts.  All too often, we rush in to do what others have propounded as being the “right” way to live.  Why not stop and ask yourself:
  • What will this change mean to me?
  • What will happen if I continue the way I am living?
  • What else might change if I am successful?
  • What does the change represent to me?
Then we’re armed with what we need to move forward.  But only then!

Two Words


The new year is well and truly on us and before we know it, we are into the swing of things and are now wondering where the holiday went. But most of us take some time, if only a moment or two, to ponder what lies ahead. What do we want for 2017?  Do we have new directions to travel in? New challenges to enjoy?  Notice I have not once said the word “goal”... Not that there is anything wrong with having goals, as long as we don’t get caught up in a mad rush to achieve them.  

What I prefer to do each year is to find two words that I can focus on that mean something significant to me at this point in time.  And I let those words “colour” my  plans and way of living.  So, for example, my two words for this year are, “Balance” and “Freedom”.  I won’t indulge myself by explaining what they mean to me, but I think you’ll get the general idea. 

So why am I sharing this?  Because I think it is just another creative way of working with clients at a time when most of them are busy, they've set new years’ resolutions (that often are broken by now) and planning to make major changes in their lives, which suggests that things are really not going well.  The reality is, we have all spent the last year growing, learning and experiencing a variety of things.  Hopefully, we have ended up with more information about what we want, what we don’t want and are feeling fairly clear after a nice rest and reset that Xmas and New Year can often give us.  Choosing two words keeps it nice and simple, creates a feeling of control and gives us clarity around what we need most. 

What are your two words?  How do they apply to your life?  How can you bring more of those two elements into your world?  Share this with your clients.  Have fun with them as you invite them to do the same. Spend time talking about what those words mean for your clients.  Coaching does not always have to be delving into the dark stuff.  There is always room for laughter and lightness; for fun and anticipation; for a sense of the unknown whilst feeling grounded in who we are and what we stand for. 

Go lightly into the rest of 2017 and make it a wonderful year. 

Why Measure Happiness?



We often use the terms wellbeing and life satisfaction in favour of the sometimes wrongly interpreted label of “happiness”, yet there is no getting away from the fact that happier people do better in life – on many fronts! But first, how do we measure happiness? There are two commons ways of measuring “happiness” – firstly, subjective wellbeing – people are asked about the degree of life satisfaction they experience and this is matched with a high level of positive emotions and a low level of negative emotions. This is more about a snapshot at any one time. The second way is of a more enduring measure – how much fulfillment we are getting from our relationships, how much meaning we are experiencing in our life and whether we feel we are developing as a person. 

So when we have this “score” what correlating relationships do we then look for?  Well, research has shown that happier people experience the following:

  • Greater productivity at work;
  • Greater creativity;
  • Higher earning and better jobs;
  • More likely to be leaders;
  • More satisfying relationships;
  • Better overall health;
  • More likely to be helpful and generous.
Sonja Lyubomirsky presented at a Coaching conference in September this year and emphasised that the research also showed that happier people tend to be more focused on others, and sadder people more focused on self.  We might question which comes first, for example, if we are not experiencing good health, then surely we will be unhappier.  However, Sonja described a study which exposed people to the cold virus (after measuring their happiness levels).  The virus was actually injected into their nasal passages. And guess what? The happier people were less likely to develop a cold. This gives weight to the notion that happiness is the cause rather than the effect of all these other positive factors.  

So we know that around 40% of our overall happiness can be influenced by the activities we do.  (The other 60% is either genetically determined – 50%, or linked to our circumstances.)  What are those activities?   Well there are many but here are a few tried and tested:

  • Express gratitude;
  • Be physically active;
  • Be mindful and savour experiences;
  • Practice forgiveness;
  • Set life goals;
  • Perform acts of kindness (make someone else happier).
The important thing also to note is that the activity needs to be a good “fit” for the individual. It needs to fit your personality, culture, and even strengths and what might work well for one person may not work for another. We need to remember this when working with clients and at times help them find the source of their unhappiness and come up with an activity that will counteract this.



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