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 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?
  

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!

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.

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

Rituals or Rewards?


People often mistakenly think that we work in the space of transformational change. They believe that to create an improved sense of well being, surely major life changing events must occur? Yet it is far from the reality. Health and Wellness coaches are the in the business of helping people create new habits, step by (often mundane) step and this is where rituals become important and incredibly helpful.

What is a ritual?  What does it do?  Now, we’re not talking about having turkey on Christmas Day here. We’re thinking more of the small “ceremonies” like clinking your glasses before having a celebratory drink with friends.  Somehow it adds to the pleasure. If we translate this into other areas, we are looking for anything that creates a significance around what might be a simple daily habit, that adds to the pleasure and the likelihood of it eventuating  Rituals are very powerful motivational tools!  

So what do rituals do?  
They increase the pleasure of the moment or activity.  The can steel your resolve, focus your attention and help you savour the moment.

We know that “savouring” is a good thing.  It is one of the components of this shift towards mindfulness that is so very current (and so very helpful in increasing well being).  

So how can we use the concept of Rituals in creating new habits?
First we identify what new behaviours we wish to adopt, or do more of, and whether they are pleasurable or not so pleasurable, think of ways of increasing the pleasure of beginning.  So instead of rewarding ourselves for finishing the “task” we start by doing something we look forward to. For example, it may be sharing a juice or coffee with friends before a yoga class.  It may be having a c up of tea in the morning before heading out for that early morning ride.   It doesn’t all have to be about caffeine.. It could be any activity you really enjoy but you need to set a time on it and be ready to move into the “real” task after a set time.  

The technique can really help combat procrastination. Charles Duhigg refers to it as a “personal starting ritual”. Don’t get rid of pleasurable activities upon finishing – rewards are great!  But don't underestimate the power of  rituals that get  you going.

What else can rituals do?
Rituals are useful in so many ways.  To name a few:
  • Improving your relationship
  • Improving your sports performance
  • Making you better at work
  • Overcoming grief
  • Increasing happiness!
What are your personal rituals?  Do you have enough of them in  your life?  If not, create a few!

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?  



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