Wellness Coaching Australia's Blog

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

More on Happiness



Positive psychology underpins health and wellness coaching. Our conversations with clients are drawn from its principles and the outcomes that are frequently achieved involve at least in part, greater life satisfaction, and of course happiness.

We owe a lot to the researchers who have managed to research and quantify the effects of various interventions that lead to this all important resource and yet there always seems to be more to learn from these people.

Sonja Lyubomirsky, (The How of Happiness, the Myths of Happiness) presented a summary of her findings in Boston recently and highlighted some of the things we already know, yet still managed to catch our attention and expand on existing knowledge.  A summary of what was stood out for me follows:

Research has shown that happy people are:
  • More productive at work and more creative
  • Earn more money and have overall better jobs
  • Are more effective leaders
  • Have better relationships
  • Have better health
  • Are more helpful and generous
Note that happiness is measured in two ways – overall satisfaction with life and self report of positive emotions at any one point in time (eg over the course of a day etc.)

Of course we wonder how these things and this was explained.  Studies measure happiness levels of a wide cohort of people and at a later point in time compare where these people have ended up on the above list of life factors.

A fascinating study showed  that when injected with the cold virus (into the nasal passages, the people in the study were thenkept in confinement away from other life factors that could influence the result.  The findings showed that happy people were less likely to develop a cold than the less happy subjects.

But can be actually become happier and how do we sustain this state?

There are three factors that suggest that happiness is pretty static over life. These are the “set point” theory, the adaptation principle and the idea that our personalities are fixed.  However, we now know that we despite these ideas, 40% can be we still have the ability to improve our happiness by up to 40%.

There are many strategies that have been used, all of which have been shown to work. These include:
Gratitude and appreciation exercises
  • Performing acts of kindness
  • Savouring
  • Practicing forgiveness
  • Setting and working towards life goals
  • Working on relationships
  • Visualising best possible future
  • Making someone else happy

These are not new ideas but what was interesting to note was that some work better for certain people and some may have no value at all, possibly because of  cultural factors.  And also, that the dosage is important. So for example, expressing gratitude in some cultures might be inappropriate and actually make the person feel less satisfied with life and somewhat uncomfortable. Similarly, whereas one person might find the “three blessings” exercise useful on a daily basis, someone else might find that it actually becomes less meaningful than if they did this once a week.

The learning for us as coaches, one size does not fit all and we need to take the research and apply it in our work but never in a prescriptive way and always taking into account the individual ‘s values and stage of life.

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!

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.

The Prison of Perfectionism


How many clients do we work with who admit to being perfectionists? (Often said quite wryly but we can sense the pride behind the statement.) It’s as if they know they are trying to achieve impossible goals yet are upholding a value that often defines them. So we get this sense of conflict which so often happens with our client. They know it’s unrealistic to expect to be perfect all the time but they’re driven by an internal measure. I.e. their heart dictates the value. Sometimes perfectionism comes described as being an  “all or nothing” person. Unless they totally give something up, they can’t cut down, they have to embrace change completely or they won’t bother taking the first step. 

Sound like perfectionism?  It is

Perfectionism has been linked to a wide array of mental health issues – depression and anxiety being the most common.  Instead of thinking it as a virtue, we need to think of it is a form of vice – or a prison that keeps us locked into unrealistic expectations - that we will never fulfill.

There is a better approach. moving from perfectionism to optimalism. Optimalists also strive for success for they are “more flexible, resilient and adaptive in the pursuit of their goals”, according to Tal Ben-Shahar.

So what’s the difference between an optimalist and a perfectionist? Here are a few, Which do you lean towards?  
  • Perfectionists have a fear of failure – optimalists view failure as feedback
  • Perfectionists are defensive – optimalists are open to suggestions
  • Perfectionists look for faults – optimalists look for bright spots
  • Perfectionists are rigid and inflexible – optimalists are adaptable and flexible
One of the most debilitating characteristics of perfectionists is their tendency to procrastinate – simply because unless they can do something perfectly, they hesitate to begin or to do it at all. They freeze. 
 
“Don’t let great get in the way of good” is an excellent mantra for these people.

So what do we do with clients who are perfectionists?

As coaches when we work with perfectionists we encourage the idea of setting goals as “experiements”.  As something they can learn from.  If we set them up in this way, they are more likely to enter the journey willingly and with a better attitude.  The answer to perfectionism?  Be authentic!  Be who you are, go after the things you love, use your strengths, accept your weaknesses and learn to get satisfaction from within no just from outside, i.e. other people!

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...

Coaching in Leadership and Healthcare


I am very excited about the opportunity once again to attend the Coaching in Leadership and Healthcare conference that is being held in Boston in September. Run by the Institute of Coaching, McLean Hospital, and Harvard Medical School this conference is in its 9th year and I think this will be my fourth visit although it’s been a few years since I last attended.

I jumped at the chance to get over there and immerse myself in sessions delivered by the world leaders in leadership, neuroscience, health and well-being coaching, behavioral and positive psychology. The conference is aimed at “leaders, physicians, healthcare providers, executive coaches, life coaches, and health and wellness coaches” and I am really looking forward to seeing what new developments are unfolding at this hugely energising event.  

What is wonderful is to see how this conference has grown to encompass such a large field. The recognition that developing coaching skills can be used to influence professionals in business – both profit and non-profit and the vast domain of healthcare where “science-based coaching competencies can improve motivation and the capacity of patients to develop and sustain health-giving behaviors”. I also love the fact that coaching is now referred to as both an art and a science!  A rare combination.  

Opportunity to discuss international credentialing
After a fruitful conversation with the Margaret Moore, one of the Directors of the US based National Consortium for Credentialing Health & Wellness Coaches, she noted she was hoping to pull together a meeting on international credentialing the day before the conference which is great news. 

The timing is perfect as Australia really is at the stage where the health and wellness coaching field needs to be formalised and overseen in some way, by an independent organisation who can develop certification of professional coaches in this field and assess training programs for key competencies and assessment criteria. We have watched what they have done in the US over six years and how far they have come and there is much to be learnt. Of course our industry is much smaller and the number of training programs is limited but it will grow and we want to be a step ahead.

I am looking forward to coming back in October with many ideas and potential news after attending the conference that will further our field in Australia!

Creating our identity - the influence of coaching and technology


Creating our identity - the influence of coaching and technology

I recently read an article that was compelling and disturbing at the same time on how technology is messing with our identity and how in the future, with the rapid changes that are occurring,  it is going to be even more difficult for a person to “find themselves” than it is now.  And for many, this is a serious quest. 

It was argued that our sense of identity usually comes from many factors in our lives – what we do, what we own, who we love and care for, our various roles, our gender, sexuality, race, the way we look, what we’re good at where we were born, what we habitually do, how we measure up to others - to name a few!  Many of these are external references which suggests that our identity comes from outside and from within.  

How is technology changing this?
Social media allows us to selectively choose what how we present ourselves to the world. We can become a person that appears to be quite different perhaps from who we really are – an extrovert, a party goer, a happy, fun loving , or excessively healthy individual. You choose. Many of us believe we are posting real images of who we are – with the people we love, on special holidays, yet even this is a snapshot of a point in time when things were going well!  And creates an impression of how we want to be seen.  

Our possessions are becoming simplified with many things stored online, no need for cash any more!  Our memories are digital photos.  If we can remember where we stored them!

Virtual reality games have become so popular where the player takes on a role to play –and uses their skills to make decisions during hundreds of hours of play.  They try on an identity in a safe environment and it can become so addictively pleasurable that they might just “give up” the real world, not having to deal with messy complex things like feelings, failure and relationships that you can’t always control as easily as you can in cyberspace.  

Cosmetic surgery has become easier and cheaper and genetics is moving rapidly towards our having the ability to switch on and off certain genes that influence who we are or might become. Pharmaceutical drugs allow us to alter our brain chemistry so we can have the kind of mood that suits who we want to be.  

And then there’s our daily life spent continually online even when we’re going about our normal routine. Constant distractions, interruptions affect our ability to be present and in the moment.

HOW CAN COACHING HELP US RETAIN OR DEVELOP OUR SENSE OF SELF?
After writing the above, I then think of going into a coaching session – as coach or coachee. And everything slows down. We slip into a relaxed and calm conversation where the pace of life decreases and and atmosphere of curiosity and exploration is created. Good coaching helps us work out how we see ourselves and who we want to be.  We can explore our strengths and what we enjoy doing. (Much of our identity is determined by what we feel most valuable doing.) We can talk about what matters to us and why we think certain things are important.  We have time to explore our beliefs, both rational and irrational – work out what are still relevant with who we are today. Most of all we can take the time to think, feel and explore our individuality and question how we live and whether this life is giving us what we need.  Do we have time to relish and savour experiences, people and feelings? In the process, we hope that we can eventually work out who we really are.

What makes Wellness Coaching different from other types of coaching?


What makes Wellness Coaching different from other types of coaching?


We are often asked the question of what makes health and wellness coaching different from other types of coaching. 

The two more commonly known fields of coaching are Life Coaching and Executive Coaching. Life coaching as an area of coaching first appeared as the obvious avenue for improvement in life satisfaction and to obtain those elusive life goals. Executive coaching focus on performance in business and other specialty coaching areas are springing up – retirement coaching, career coaching, relationship coaching – all have a purpose and a place. 

But back to coaching for health and wellness.

Health and wellness are made up of many different domains – physical wellness is what most people think of straight away, but mental wellness and emotional and spiritual wellness are very often areas of focus for any clients and equally as important as their physical health.

Although we follow and use many of the same principles and skills that are described by the International Coaching Federation (membership body for Life and Executive Coaches), there are other distinctions in the way we work. Let’s touch on a few.

DISTINCTION NUMBER ONE – WE WORK ON HABITS

Health and wellness coaches work with clients around habitual behaviours. Often these are mundane things that may not seem to have a lot of significance but when combined with other mundane behaviours, they may be slowly draining a person’s health, vitality and life satisfaction. The changes a person decides to make may well revolve around purely around what they do each day – over and over again.

DISTINCTION NUMBER TWO - GOALS BECOME ACTIONS
Leading on from this, health and wellness coaches will often then support a client in creating action goals rather than outcome goals. Having an end vision is important but equally important are the behaviours you need to do to get there. Clients focus on the steps they need to take – over and over again.

DISTINCTION NUMBER THREE - FOUNDATION HABITS TAKE PRIORITY

Although the ear of health and wellness is so very vast, we know that if we help a client begin to build a strong foundation, this will support them in the other changes they wish to make. And if these “foundation” habits aren’t working well, this will often prevent the other changes from happening. Foundation habits include areas like sleep, exercise, nutrition, and personal organisation! Improvements in these areas can underpin much bigger shifts.

DISTINCTION NUMBER THREE - PLAN AND ACCOUNTABILITY
Having a clear, detailed plan and having a system of accountability is very important in health and wellness coaching.  The two things will influence the success of any behavior change program.  The plan may be detailed down to the small steps to be taken each day and lead towards what the clients can build to in three months’ time.  Clients may start with small steps and build slowly but having some way of being accountable will make the difference between success and failure.  It happens along the way, not at the end.

DISTINCTION NUMBER FOUR -  PROGRESS MAY BE SLOW
Health and wellness coaching is not about quick fixes. Building new lifestyle habits takes time and often determination. Which is why having a coach as a support is so very valuable. All we have to do is look at the number of people who have failed to improve their health alone to realise that this is an area in desperate need of a new approach.

DISTINCTION NUMBER FIVE – DIFFERENT SOLUTIONS FOR DIFFERENT PEOPLE
One size does not fit all. No matter how much expert knowledge a health professional may have about how to reduce risk factors and improve health outcomes, unless they understand this fact, their good intentions will fall on fallow ground. People are unique and attempting to apply the same “prescription” to many is doomed to failure. We respond differently to outside expectations, we have different barriers to change, different value systems,  fears, identities and needs. Coaching allows the individual to find a path to change that works for them.

DISTINCTION NUMBER SIX – BODY CENTRED APPROACH
Health and wellness coaching is as much about the body as the mind. We simply cannot work in this field unless we understand how to integrate the two elements. We need to understand that our body may not do what our mind tells us and reading physical signals as well as mental ones is essential.

Yes coaching is coaching.  But who we coach and what we coach them towards can greatly effect the way we work.


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