Wellness Coaching Australia's Blog

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.

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.

Why Do People Resist Change?




“There is nothing permanent except change. “

Heraclitus. 

“They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself. “
Andy Warhol

Change in life is inevitable, otherwise we stagnate. Yet people can often find change challenging. There are many reasons for this and two that we can easily recognise:

  1. Change requires stepping out of our comfort zones - familiarity is comforting.
  2. Change requires acceptance of the unknown – which can be scary.
Admittedly, we vary in our response to novelty and uncertainty.  Some people thrive on constant variety and unpredictability; others much prefer to plan ahead and be prepared for upcoming events. 

In coaching, we see this variability all the time. One of our jobs is to work with people where they feel comfortable, at a speed they feel fits their personality type.

So although the two reasons given above are extremely common, there is another reason why we come up against reluctance, ambivalence and at times resistance to change in our clients.
 
Because other people are trying to change them

Health and wellness is an area that is full of information, facts and guidelines.  Many people struggle with living their best lives, achieving optimal wellness. Our clients often come in with a series of failed attempts under their belts and although they realise they should do something about their weight/stress/sleep/fitness, they are already expecting not to succeed. If we coach for compliance  (with safe guidelines and recommendations about lifestyle habits that we “know” will make a difference),  we will simply add fuel to the fire and send the message that we want to change our clients. The end result – they resist. This hidden scenario can be very subtle and at times coaches don’t even realise they are playing it out. Even if we’re coaching well and asking sensible questions that lead the clients down the desired change path, somehow they will know that it’s really our agenda!  They’re expecting this pressure.


So what can we do to avoid this cycle?
Get right out of our clients’ way. Coaching requires the ability to put all our values aside and truly find out what the client wants for themselves.  And sometimes this means breaking down those subconscious beliefs that everyone else is planning out the steps to their improved health.  

It’s not easy. We know that to sit in the space of uncertainty is one of the hardest things to do. We want to help. But until we learn to do this, to curb our impatience and desire to help, to slow down and let the client lead, even if it takes an age to get started, we will not help anyone.

We know that slow change lasts...

Pleasure and Purpose


Well another year gone and where did it go? This is the time of year when stop to catch our breath and often look back to see what we did with our time, what major events occurred, what challenges we met and how we met them, plus do a quick glimpse at what the next year might hold. 

For my final comment for 2014 I feel compelled to revisit the concept of pleasure versus purpose orientations that Chris Skellett so cleverly defines.

In this last week, I have had the personal task of moving to a new house. (I still believe that moving is like childbirth and we only go back again as our minds have cleverly wiped the painful memories, thus allowing the human race to continue and the Government to collect revenue from stamp duty!) But back to the point. I woke to my new home and reveled in the amount of positive emotions I was experiencing in its comfort, location, outlook, size etc. and started to feel worried that this feeling might be temporary and quickly fade into complacency.

I recognised that this was the “pleasure” aspect of Skellett’s theory and how some people seek it out more than others. I then shifted my thinking to how much work there was still to do on the house and how much I was looking forward to the planning, designing and even the labour involved, and recognised that this was of course the balancing side of “purpose” that made “pleasure” easier to accept!

It really struck me then asked myself whether it was wrong to have to always balance out the two drives and realised that for me personally, the answer was probably yes, and that if I had a tendency to lean towards one more than the other, it would be towards purpose. Of course this can have a dark side when we forget how to unwind and forge on, intent on accomplishment  without taking the time to stop and savour the moment. 

I believe that moving to our new home has given me the gift of more opportunities to experience pleasure in terms of connection with nature, beautiful places to sit, and a relaxing environment and my aim will be to take full advantage of this privilege in coming months.  

At the end of the day, the equation is easy to see:

Pleasure + Purpose = Life Satisfaction (wellbeing)

And that’s what Wellness Coaching is all about. How balanced is your equation?  

How we get in People's Way




There are many people out there who really want to help other people change/be happier. Some of them are professionals some simply fall into the “helping role” because of their desire to be of service. Most have noble unselfish reasons for doing this. Yet the wish to help does not mean we always do it effectively. In fact, it is quite easy to actually put someone off making a change that they are uncertain about if the “helping” party behaves in a certain way.  

You see, people who are “stuck” or shall we say “ambivalent” about change, generally want two things that are incompatible, or that they both want and don’t want  at the same time!  In comes the helper, armed with the knowledge of what is “good” for their friend/client and proceeds to push them in the “right” direction.  Funny how after the well-meaning advice from the helping friend, the individual often runs in the other direction!  

What is important to understand is that human nature is very complex yet one of our most basic drives is for independence/control/autonomy.. And that means, we rarely like being told what to do!!  Even though we may ask someone what they think we should do!  What we really want is to be able to come up with our own reasons for making a decision, based on our personal values and beliefs.  We don’t want to be persuaded or convinced of what to do.  So how can we help as a well-meaning outside party?  Well let’s start with what doesn't work. 

The following list may seem like harmless enough approaches, yet all can prevent the listener from moving forward:

  • Ordering, directing
  • Warning 
  • Giving advice, making suggestions, providing solutions
  • Persuading with logic, arguing or lecturing
  • Moralising or telling them what they “should” do
  • Disagreeing, judging, criticising or blaming (anyone)
  • Shaming, ridiculing or labeling 
  • Interpreting or analysing
  • Reassuring, sympathising or consoling
  • Withdrawing, distracting or changing the subject!
So what’s left??  

Five simple things we can do that may help someone make an important decision when we accept that only they know what is important for them.

  1. Ask open questions (can’t be answered with one word or a grunt!)
  2. Listen and reflect what they have just said back to them (like a mirror but without any from the above list layering the content!
  3. Acknowledge their strengths
  4. Summarise what you hear them say
  5. Have compassion and give them space.
So next time we are tempted to jump in and “fix” a person’s problems, stop for a minute and ask whether what we plan to do is really useful or if there could be a different approach.

Ref: Miller and Rollnick,  Motivational Interviewing 2013.

Why we need a vision for change?



I often refer to the quote by Lily Tomlin – “I always wanted to be someone; I just wish I’d been more precise.”

Many of us would like to change something in our wellness. Whether it be improvements in fitness, eating habits, weight control, stress management or other health behaviours, we know WHAT to do. But we don’t do it. Perhaps we need to focus on WHY we want the change.

In today’s society we are inundated with facts on what is good for us. What we should do, what we shouldn’t do (says who?). Learning how to change our own behaviour is not easy. We know we want to say, lose weight. We know we need to eat less or make better choices, so what do we do? Go on a crash diet, deprive ourselves with an eating plan that leads to low energy, demoralization, rapid weight loss  and equally rapid weight regain. And we fail again, which reinforces our lack of belief in our ability to take control of our weight.  

Rewind back a bit.  In fact a long way. Before we begin any drastic action, it is a great idea to create a vision of where we would like to be if we were at “our best”. First, write down what that would look like. Then ask the deeper question, “Why is that important to me?” You will find that the answer to this question can be quite revealing and it will always be connected with something you value in life. It might be as simple as “good health”, or it could be, “to be a good role model for my kids”, or even “to walk the talk”.


You will find that without knowing the reason why you want to create change, you are on an empty, fruitless mission.  It is our deepest values that will give us the motivation to start and stay on track more than anyone else’s recommendations.


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