Wellness Coaching Australia's Blog

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 Communication Skills for better Client Outcomes




At Wellness Coaching Australia, we are passionate about helping people establish their careers as a health and wellness coach. We know that professional coaches will fill the gap in the healthcare system, supporting people to improve their health and wellness by creating sustainable change in their lifestyle habits. We also know that a career in this field can reap enormous returns, both personally and professionally to anyone entering it.

However, we forget sometimes, that becoming skilled at using even parts of the coaching model when working in a practice where behavior change is important, can benefit the client AND the practitioner.

If we think of this as “Skills Development” in the area of communication with clients, we start to speak the language that makes more sense to many. They may not want to be coaches, but they do want to be the best health practitioner they can be.

So how can undertaking training in this area help someone? Consider the following:
  • Better connection with clients;
  • Increased engagement by clients;
  • Higher adherence and compliance with any program set;
  • Lowered dropout rate;
  • Improved results in the long term for clients.
Do any of these sound desirable?  
They can all be achieved by learning to communicate with our people in a different way, by putting aside the old traditional expert approach of telling and advising and instead collaborating with our clients to create steps of change that they take responsibility and ownership of. This is exactly what our coaching courses offer.

These skills can be learnt and the immediate difference they will make on any conversation will be apparent. Turning a statement into a question, learning to really listen and reflect back to a client, helping them find their own reasons for change. These things will transform the relationships we create with the people we want to help.  

So if you have been “sitting on the fence” with undertaking studies with us, why not just start with Level 1 – Foundations of Wellness Coaching which will have you walking away being able to communicate with your clients in a much more engaging and outcomes driven way.

When It's Time to Speak Out!



Coaching is a wonderful way of relating, one on one with clients, and it can also be a great method of facilitating small groups who are working towards change together. But now and again, we need to take the stage and speak to a larger group of people, although it’s pretty hard to coach more than 12 at a time!

However, we can still follow the same principles which I will cover shortly.  But first, why would be put ourselves out there and do what many people would consider to be one of the most scary things imaginable...PUBLIC SPEAKING!?

Well public speaking literally gets us out there!

So:
  • If you want to let people know what you do;
  • If you want to attract new clients;
  • If you want to share your passion for living a better life;
  • If you want people to think about what they want and not keep looking for someone to give them the answers.

Get Out There and TALK!

If you follow the next set of guidelines, it will make the process a lot easier.

  1. Plan your talk.
    What five things do you want them to take away? Or, what journey do you want to take them on? I prefer the second approach as we can then structure our talk around the coaching model.

  2. Write the flow in key points from start to end. 
    Concise clear language of how one point will flow into the next

  3. Keep your slides brief and clear.  
    Let them be prompts for you to talk about an area you are familiar with and passionate about.

  4. Engage the audience – get them involved, sharing with the group or each other.  
    Make them think and you will open up their brains to new possibilities

  5. Leave them wanting more. 
    Don't give up everything.  Tease your group with what else they can learn (from you).

  6. Lighten up - use humour but don’t try too hard.
    Laughter relaxes you and relaxes them.

  7. End on an action.  
    What do they do next?  You don’t need to sell your services as the only option, but you can certainly offer support. 

  8. Practice.  
    In front of the mirror, in the car, to the dogs, with slides and notes, without notes. The more familiar you are with the content the more relaxed you will be. 

  9. Smile a lot, and never apologise... For anything!

  10. Make sure your materials are professional and clear to read. 
    Give them handouts with questions, not the whole talk.

If you would prefer to use a ready to go talk, we have a single seminar or series of four available. Called Journey to Change, it takes the group through a process of change to improve health and wellness. This can save you time and recorded slides can help you prepare. For more information click here.  

Helping our Clients Define Success



Inevitably, our clients want to move forward - in a direction that they may have struggled with in the past. In fact they may even have failed in that area. So their drive is to succeed this time, which is why they have a Wellness Coach.

Our job as a Wellness Coach is to help them define exactly what it is they wish to achieve and of course to help them get there. But first, conversation around this concept of “success” is essential. Closely related to the idea of achievement is the notion of  ”ambition” and an exploration of both terms can reveal interesting insights for both ourselves and our clients. 

Some people describe themselves as ambitious and others may not relate to the term. The word is often associated with competition and succeeding at the expense of others, but if we accept that a better and more accurate definition is “a strong desire to do or achieve something", surely we would like our clients to become more “ambitious” around their goals? Words can do strange things to our interpretation of life. Success and ambition are really very personal constructs and relate purely to what a person truly wishes to obtain in their life. So to be motivated and enthusiastic about working towards goals is a great thing as it can lead to success, but in this sense, “success” is not about “winning”, neither is ambition.

The first question to ask a client is “what makes you fulfilled and happy in life?”  By doing this we can uncover a person’s core values.  So let’s take a look at a few examples. They may identify strongly with any of the following:

  • Imagination and creativity;
  • Kindness and compassion;
  • Lifelong learning;
  • Building relationships and connection with others.
These are all values and also strengths and if we can recognize what really drives us, we can then set goals accordingly and ensure that the steps along the way give us opportunities to incorporate these core values.

The next question is, “How do you measure success?” The answer to this could be anything, and you may hear responses such as:

  • How much fun I have in life;
  • How peaceful and calm I feel;
  • How much I can contribute to the world.
These bigger picture questions and answers can help shift someone’s mindset and help them identify changes they would like to make that may be somewhat different from what they thought they wanted, or at the very least affect the choice of the ways in which they choose to move forward. When we work with clients to help them define the steps they wish to take, we must never forget to explore their bigger world view first.

When Positivity Doesn't Fit with Wellness Coaching




As Wellness Coaches we work with our clients using principles of positive psychology as often as we can. Yet there are times when asking clients to “look on the bright side” is inappropriate and it is of more value to help them explore the not so pleasant emotions they may be feeling.  There is a phrase known as “the tyranny of happiness”,  which is referring to the potentially harmful habit of always assuming that positive thinking should be the end goal, which may cause us to enter into a trap that ignores the reality of life.   Instead, Susan David encourages us to develop emotional agility, which she defines as “the process of being with the fullness of human emotions”.  It is anticipated that by 2030, depression will be ranked number one in the list of illnesses.  It is essential that we take preventative measures by learning how to manage the sad parts of life. 

When faced with dealing with negative emotions it is important to remember that our thoughts and the stories that we tell ourselves, are just that –they are not facts and not who we are.  
To help our clients work with their more distressing feelings, we might follow these steps:

SHOW UP

Drop the “should” and “shouldn’t” suggestions about our emotions.  We often fall into the trap of thinking, “I shouldn’t be feeling this way”, which adds more pressure and layers further negativity on the situation!  Instead, don’t push them away and don’t judge them.  Accept them for what they are.  Think of them as “data” not “directions”.  

STEP OUT 
Move away from the emotion itself and step outside, observing them from a distance. Finding a name to describe the feeling is a great way to start this process.  Notice what you are feeling and separate them from your sense of self.   “I am noticing that …. “, “I am having the thought that….”  Hone in on the exact feeling and perhaps look for alternative ways of describing it.  Is it stress?  Is it frustration?  Is it disappointment?  

So rather than ruminate on their sadness/anger/distress, we can help our clients to work in a more productive and less destructive way when bad things happen -  which is inevitable.

We sometimes talk of counseling as following “the trail of tears” whereas coaching follows “the trail of dreams”.  Yet, tears are as important as joy and laughter and can teach us a lot about ourselves.  


Reference:  Susan David, Emotional Agility

The Language of Connection - Connecting with Wellness Coaching Clients


As a Wellness Coach, our first and foremost aim is to connect with the client. But often it’s quite tricky to define how we actually do this. 

There are many meanings of the word “connect” but some of the less obvious that may resonate with you include “meld with”, “come aboard”, “relate”, “ally” and “unite”. All of these words really describe what we try to do as coaches. Connecting is an extremely important first step – we want to engage the client, gain their trust and create a solid foundation to work from. We know the importance of body language and the human skills of coaching: warmth, zest, calmness and authenticity, but how much difference do the words we choose and how we use them make?    

Here are some reminders of their significance:

Speak slowly, allow pauses.  There is nothing quite so overwhelming as a coach who rattles off observations and questions.  When you slow down, the client slows down.  In a fast-paced world this can be a really restful experience.  

Ask more than tell – come in with curiosity and go where the client wants to go.  If you are curious, your questions will come from the right place and be delivered in an engaging manner.  Clients know when they are being “led” in a certain direction.  Curiosity without judgment reveals interest and suggests caring!

Reflect what they say and know that this can be as effective as any probing question in helping the client connect more deeply to their emotions and to the truth.  Questions are great but they often make the client go into analysis mode, searching for the right answer.  Reflections activate a more emotional response.

Use the same framework as they do.  If a client uses a metaphor that involves physicality, such as “I’m stuck”, don’t respond with, “How does that make you feel (emotion)”, but ask how “they can move forward”, for example.

Never talk over the top of someone.  This would have to be one of the biggest mistakes and often comes from the excitement of sensing something that the coach wants to share with their client or a great idea of their own.  Remember that the client’s own words are much more powerful than anything we can say. 

Creating a connection is an essential element in providing valuable and significant Wellness Coaching experiences to clients, it is a foundation "puzzle" piece. Becoming a Wellness Coach is a career path for those of us who are passionate about supporting individuals in healthy lifestyles and empowering clients to achieve their health and wellness goals. Even the most experienced Wellness Coaches often reflect on the language of connection, and revisit the points above as each client may present a new perspective.

How Much do Words Count?


I am a great believer in the power of words.  As coaches we use them to help people clarify and re-frame their reality and often can assist in what appears like a major break through by simply reflecting back the content of what someone  has said using different language. Great things words.

So here I am on my first few days in France, trying to access 9 years of school and Uni French with a brain that is taking a while to warm up those particular neural pathways and help our group of four smoothly negotiate all the daily transactions that keep us alive (eating) and having fun (as tourists). And with this comes plenty of opportunity to observe what makes communication work well, or not!  And I am now rethinking my ideas on the importance of words.

The reality is, that a person’s attitude that is expressed in the face or by body language is the biggest indicator of how well the verbal interchange will go.  If I am faced with an impatient, frustrated “shopkeeper”, my language skills deteriorate rapidly as they look blankly at my attempts to ask for my café au lait with “only a little milk and a lot more water”, as if I have asked for “a cup of cow juice with eggplants on the side”.  Perhaps I have but that’s not the point.  I am trying my best and if they smiled I might be able to access that deeply stored language quicker.  And I really believe that’s how it works.  In an atmosphere of friendliness and support people do fare better and that must surely include being able to recall long forgotten information!  I am finding that the best conversation occurs when I am speaking with someone who is as keen to practice their English as I am to revive my French and we both happily babble on on in our second  language  – both occasionally saying ridiculous things but with lots of smiling and fun being had on both sides.  And going away with a warm sense of achievement that we know adds to a rich and fulfilling life.

In a week’s time, I will arrive in Italy where my language skills include “pizza”, “cappuccino” and a phrase that I picked up from a language app that I failed miserably at fitting into my life before leaving – translated means, “It’s a boy”.   I already know that I am going to feel frustrated with not being able to say what I want, so I am working on those facial expressions and gestures that say so much more than words, and will hopefully help when I am lost on a bike in the middle of Puglia where no one speaks English.  

So good language skills are a wonderful thing to have, but our attitude, our intention and our ability to use our facial expressions and body language are indeed the things that really matter when we connect with people! If I am to rely on my language in Italy, all I will achieve is a few extra kilos and perhaps part-time work as a midwife.

Putting “I should” back under the spotlight


For many years now I have been sending a strong message about my belief that the word “should” is language that has no real use in the English language. My reasoning being that it could easily be substituted with “I could”, “I want to” or “I choose to” which is much more empowering and suggests that the value behind the action belongs to the individual rather than from outside (mother, father, peers, media etc.). Today I have to admit to realising that another interpretation is possible when someone is stating, “I should… tell her, visit him, do that etc.”  And again, it is to do with the issue of values. 

Which brings me to the interesting area of what is right and what is wrong and how do we make that decision. Once again, I am influenced by my good friend Hugh McKay (one day I’ll meet the guy), and on re-reading his book “Right or Wrong”, I came across a statement that made me change my view and allow “should” some small place in our vocabulary. The reason I have been re-reading this particular book is that I seem to have come across many situations recently that involve moral dilemmas. I have been on the outside of these and drawn into thinking about how both sides of the situation have a strong argument for being morally right, depending on whose eyes you are looking.  

We know that under very different circumstances, lying, stealing or even killing have a justifiable reason. Take the war in Israel. People involved would say they are justified for killing. (I find it ironic that a cease fire to allow people to buy groceries is considered necessary). Let’s make sure we have breakfast before we die. But I am not writing this to comment on anyone’s choices. Simply to acknowledge that when people say “I should” it may well be indicating that they are torn between two of their own internal values. 

I could cite many cases where this occurs.  
  • “I should tell her but don’t want to cause hurt.”
  • “I should change my eating patterns but don’t want to feel unhappy or deprived.”
  • “I should cut down on alcohol but want to feel relaxed at night.”
As Coaches we set out to accept our client’s values for what they are without ever putting our own into the session.  Health and fitness professionals often struggle with this notion as they have been educated to know what is right or wrong for optimal health and feel obligated to tell their clients what they “should” do.  The shift to allowing the client to take responsibility for their own choices based on their personal values as to what is right or wrong is a big one! But it is necessary. And if we are to live in a world that accepts an individual’s freedom to choose, we must step back and allow them room to do this.

As McKay says, “The right answer for me may be different from the right answer for you, and the right answer for me in my present circumstances may be different from the right answer for me in another set of circumstances.”

Reference:  Hugh McKay, Right and Wrong – how to decide for yourself (2004)

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.

The good and the bad of the healthcare system


When we work in the field of communication – specifically communication around health and behaviour change, it is easy to become overly “observant” of the way traditional systems work. I stress “observant” as “judgementalism” is to be avoided at all costs if we are to be true to our model! 

Recently, I had the delightful experience of being part of a conversation (in the healthcare system) where the “expert” met me halfway and joined me in our discussion around a health issue. I came away feeling heard, seen and empowered. “Wow,” I thought “Things are looking up”. I reflected on the experience. What the person in question did was not that complex. I was treated as an individual who had some thoughts, had some unique experience and a story to tell, some ideas about any action to be taken, and (thank God), my health professional had a sense of humour. Essential to relate well to me, I am reluctant to admit. All in all an uplifiting encounter.

And then not longer after I was talking to a friend who had been to see a specialist about a more serious condition (in her eyes). She was obviously feeling very deflated by the encounter and I asked her why. This was her account.

“I was in the room with the specialist and a medical student. Most of the time I felt more like a power point slide than an anxious patient and the main aim of the dialogue was to educate the student. In order to further his knowledge I was told of all the possible terrible things that could happen and how they could be dealt with.  It was clinical, without warmth and with little regard or interest for my feelings or ideas.”

This was quite disturbing for me to hear and I asked her what she wanted from that person - because we face a dilemma when we need to get expert information yet still want to feel like we’re in the driver’s seat.

She replied as follows.

“I wanted to be heard.  I wanted to tell my story but also to share my feelings about what had happened. I wanted them to be acknowledged, if briefly. I wanted to have trust in the specialist’s knowledge and ability to apply it to my unique situation. I wanted to feel like a person not a statistic. I needed some degree of reassurance but not patronisation – call it respectful caring and concern. I wanted to get the message, “I've got your back even if we’re not sure what likes ahead.” I wanted a connection with this important person in my life at a time when I felt my most vulnerable."

Doesn't sound like too much to ask.  Why don’t they include a course called Connection 101 in specialist’s training?


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