Wellness Coaching Australia's Blog

Power of Meaning, Pillar of Belonging Part 1: Is Happiness What We Really Want?


















We often refer to happiness as the holy grail. Surely this is all we would want for our children? If only we could achieve happiness, then it wouldn’t matter about the rest (because the rest would be what was making us happy?) Isn’t this what health and wellness coaching is really all about? Helping people find happiness by living “well”? It’s not quite that simple. Physical and emotional wellness is affected by many factors, but back to the holy grail.

The trouble with happiness is, the more we chase it, the more it will elude us. Although “feeling good” may be better than feeling bad, it does not mean that we are living a “good” life. This question has been researched and debated for many decades and there is now a growing recognition that having a sense of meaning, or choosing to pursue one, ultimately allows us to live fuller – and happier lives! There are times when meaning and happiness can be at odds with each other but the former will sustain us when times are hard.

So where do we get this sense of meaning? The meaning of life has never been revealed but much work has been done to try and establish where people can find meaning. Of course the answers are endless and individual yet, like most complex factors, they fall into broad categories.

Emily Esfahni Smith has written a landmark book called The Power of Meaning and she identifies four “pillars of meaning”. We are going to look at the first:

Belonging – our close relationships which often come from our community are critical for a meaningful life. But not only do our close relationships give us this sense of wellbeing but what has been referred to as “high quality connections” is also important.  Sharing short term high quality interactions with people we love gives us a great sense of meaning but it can be just as important to share those moments with friends, acquaintances and possibly strangers. People give value to others and feel valued themselves when their interaction is empathic, caring and showing mutual regard and respect.

Letting people be seen, heard and acknowledged creates bonds. Compassion lies at the centre of the pillar of belonging. Everything we strive for in our coaching practice supports this pillar. Our very conversations can add to our client’s and our own, sense of meaning.  

So how else can we use this information to add value to our coaching?  By helping and encouraging our clients to seek out opportunities for routines and activities that allow a sense of belonging. By exercising with others, joining groups, group coaching? But also helping them recognize and appreciate where they already “belong”. Often we forget that we have communities around us that if we took the time to acknowledge and promote those communities we would help ourselves, and others!

Reference:  Emily Esfahani Smith, The Power of Meaning.

Connecting with Groups


I remember many years ago taking part in an exercise class. It was in the days when aerobic style dance styles classes were all the rage and the top instructors used to attract big crowds. Often it was because they just looked so good up there and could move so well but I loved this guy’s classes, not only for those reasons, but because he had the ability to make you feel that he knew you were there!  And cared whether you were enjoying it or not. How did he do that with over 50 people in the room? 

I used to observe these things and soon noticed that eye contact was the thing that made him special. Instead of looking at some distant point above people’s heads, he kept coming back to focus on each individual. I still don’t know how he did it but I felt special. I felt “seen” and it made all the difference. I spoke to other people about his popularity and they said the same thing.  

I have tried to remember this ability or talent that this man had (his name was Marcus for any old aerobic fans) and it has helped me in countless presentations when I felt nervous or just wanted to connect better with people. I have tried to make sure that everyone felt seen and listened to if I could draw them out. Not always possible in big groups but eye contact works. It makes the person listening feel recognised and it can relax a presenter. And if there are any skeptics in the room, don’t ignore them – focus on them!! 

Now of course we are developing the area of group coaching and we need to be even more aware of building connection in the room.  It is very important that the facilitator makes each person feel that their presence is important and if they can build a good connection with each individual in the time they have, then that will be very powerful indeed.  But there is something else that will have an even greater effect on the group’s cohesion and success.  And that’s building connection between the group members.

Another old health club story. Years ago we used to think that the success of a Health Club was largely due to the quality of the team we employed and their ability to “connect” with the members. Until a report came out that stated that “member to member interaction” was more important than anything in their rating of satisfaction and enjoyment in the time they spent in the Club.  

So when we hold group coaching, we need to remember some key points.

  1. Connect with each and every member – even if it means taking some time at the end.. We can do this by eye contact and trying to draw them out but respect that some people are less likely to speak out than others
  2. Try and help the group  create an inclusive “vision” of what they want to achieve – even if they have specific health outcomes that they alone are there for.  This will build cohesion and a sense of belonging.
  3. But even more important – help the group members connect with each other. As often as possibly and with each and every other member.   Only in this way will you guarantee they will keep coming back when life might otherwise have got in the way.  Having buddies to work with is also a great “connector” but being part of a team is everything!

Coaching in the Cloud


In our constantly evolving world of technology, we have many options of tools to use to help us achieve our health goals. Pedometers have given way to more sophisticated sensors that we can wear that will monitor our number of steps, distance traveled, our total energy expenditure and sleep. This is useful information indeed yet it has been shown that most people discard these devices after a short period of time.  What’s missing is human interaction.  

A new sophisticated system of support involves a subscription the gives the client contact with a “real” coach. It is claimed that a trained coach will be assigned to each subscriber and have live contact with them to encourage, challenge and “gently cajole” them towards improved lifestyle habits.  Now we’re getting closer to “coaching in the cloud”. This is no doubt an improvement on the original tracking devices.  And the regular messages and interaction with a person, plus one liners of support may well help. However, something is still lacking.

One of the biggest strengths of a coaching relationship, is just that – it is a relationship. And a relationship can’t be built on one line interaction.  It involves an exchange of information which can only happen when insightful and perceptive questions are asked and the answers acknowledged. When the conversation helps an individual get to know themselves better.  Motivational interviewing techniques, used to help people move through “stuckness” are subtle and complex and can’t be automated. Relationships are built on trust, empathy and rapport. These things cannot be created through a digital service in Mumbai.  

That doesn't mean that services such as the one referred to above do not have value. The value will come from increased engagement and accountability of the client and the occasional lift in mood when a message comes through,  but some things in our world cannot be found in the cloud. Positive relationships are created through time, effort, acceptance and understanding and just like a good marriage cannot be created from a few sessions of speed dating, the value of  a coach is undermined if we feel a few  digital sentences will suffice.

A Question of Values


The topic of "values" comes up frequently when coaching people and I have often listened to debate on whether today's value system is as good as the "old one".  What needs to be considered are the changes that are occurring rapidly in society that have meant people's ways of living have shifted and in many cases, ways of thinking.  One thing for sure, our way of communicating has certainly changed. 

With the breakdown of the traditional family and close community where people meet regularly and feel part of a "tribe" or "herd", there is a greater need, seen readily in young people, to form alternative groups to foster that sense of belonging we all need.  

Hugh McKay comments on how young people "realise that their most precious resource they have for coping with life in inherently unpredictable and unstable world is each other".  And how they maintain this contact by mobile phones, computers, social media, yet still come together socially at regular intervals.  Sharing is much more acceptable than in their parents' days and perhaps there is something to be learned from our teenagers who have adapted to a changing world to ensure they have support and "connection" in whatever way they can.  

We need community in order to establish a society that is supportive, fair and cares for each other. The more we can encourage face to face contact, the better, to prevent any growing isolation that ail inevitably lead to loneliness and depression.  So let's use technology to organise meetings and face to face contact, in this way, satisfying our need for personal relationships and some degree of "intimacy" in what can be a fast-paced and detached environment.

I was in Melbourne last week and saw on Saturday night the huge number of people who were out in groups, enjoying each others' company - people of all ages, brought together by the shared interest of AFL. I really struck me how lucky that city is to have a bond like that and how healthy it was for the community.  It made me feel that my solitary glass of wine and connection with my iPad really was second best!

Belonging - Join the club


This weekend I had the pleasure of attending the Queensland State Surf Life Saving Championships and watching some of the country's elite athletes perform in some of the tough events that exist in that sport. As the weekend approached the final few hours, the big events were being televised and the crowd grew larger and excitement rose. 

The funny thing about sport is that we have long known it is a showcase for seeing some of the best and worst of human behaviour. It is also interesting to observe as an innocent bystander (i.e. not a competitor, nor a life member of any one Club), what makes the whole thing work.

The great thing about any sport is when people compete for a Club.  Yes, we love individual superstars, but the Olympics are evidence that representing something bigger than ourselves is an honour that is highly sought after. 

So here we are on the beach at Mooloolaba - watching these athletes compete for their Clubs.  The Clubs with the strongest competitors had the most people down there watching.  Yet I saw smaller Clubs get behind their members and cheer as loudly and with more heart than often the bigger name Clubs. What is that about I wonder?

And a metaphor for life came up. Or perhaps simply a classic example of a principle of motivation.  Most people have a need for achievement and mastery.  A big driver for many. But we also have a strong need for affiliation or a sense of "belonging". It is my belief that the Clubs who support their members across the board, who value participation as highly as winning, who encourage the less talented but determined competitors, who recognise the loyalty and devotion of older masters competitors, will be the Clubs who grow and who really represent what Surf Life Saving is all about. Caring for our community.

I then read a report this morning on Global Workplace Health and Wellness and see that in their key findings (aside from the health of their employees) engagement, morale and fun were listed as some of the top objectives to achieve sustainable success of a program.

Knowing that workplace wellness is closely correlated with financial success of a company, I could see the parallel between the world of sport (in this case it happened to be surf lifesaving) and business. Perhaps we should work out what needs to be focused on and make that a priority?  It isn't always about winning and measuring the success of a company, or a club, in terms of medals or financial profit. These factors may not always be a good indicator of future retention and growth of our people.



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