Wellness Coaching Australia's Blog

What is Hope and How Do We Get More Of It?



I often read articles and blogs that have direct relevance to our work as health and wellness coaches and I find it a really growth-promoting exercise to make notes on how a different model fits with our work with clients.  


The topic of “Hope” really struck me as highly topical at a time when many people -  if not feeling hopeless - are struggling with the challenges that lie ahead – be they financial, emotional (inability to visit loved ones), or physical (yes, many, many people have been touched by Covid-19)!

We have also seen some shocking scenes of anarchism – looting, rioting and terrible violence and of course this is what will appear on our screens each evening because BAD NEWS gets attention.  What the presenters often fail to show are the numerous acts of kindness and support that are given when times are at their toughest.  I was gratified to read that research actually  shows us that when disaster strikes, altruism is the rule – not selfishness!  High five to the human race!  Apparently kindness and cooperation win out. 

Now there’s a reason for hope!

So, in order to feel more hopeful, what do we have to do?  Well, what we can’t do is sit around and wish for things to be better.  We need to take action. And create a plan.  Sound familiar?  Eric Barker talks about “scientific” hope. 

So first let’s define it.  Here’s one definition. 
“ Hope is the sum of perceived capabilities to produce routes to desired goals, along with the perceived motivation to use those routes.”  (Snyder, 2000)

Goals

People with high hope tend to have a lot of performance-based goals that are moderately difficult to achieve.  Interesting. How does that fit with how we encourage our clients to go about their change journey?  Surely we want them to succeed.  Yes however, with the The research shows that with our goals, we want a 50% chance of success.  Now by goals here, we are not referring to behavioural goals. We are talking about outcome goals.  Human nature responds better to a mix of failure and success.  Hence, BHAG (big, hairy, audacious goals). If we always succeed there is no sense of excitement and achievement; when we fail constantly we become disheartened. A mix is good!


Agency (this is where motivation comes in)

This the sense that we can start and continue along the journey towards the desired outcome.  But make sure that outcome is accurately described – somewhere.  Does this sound familiar?  A bit like creating a vision and having a strong sense of self-efficacy?  It did to me too.  And not surprisingly, using your strengths to work towards meaningful goals is essential. 

Having a Plan

We then need the “resourcefulness” to create plans and recover from setbacks.  Anticipating problems, breaking down the steps into a plan and being able to be flexible enough to come up with a new plan when you need one are all crucial skills.  Also visualisation.  We often talk about that with habit formation, but when we think about the journey we have to go on, it is better to imagine the middle section instead of the end. That’s where it can get tough and that’s where the power of our mind comes in.  The beginning is exciting and the end is a celebration. The middle is the tricky part. 

Also remember - If the plan fails,– it was the plan that was bad – not you.  Then create a new one!

How is HOPE different from OPTIMISM?   I know many of you will have been pondering that question.  There is a difference.  Optimism at times can be directionless.  Hope involves action.  And it involves us coming together to support each other and get through this time.
We will and come out the other side stronger and wiser. 

Stay safe and hopeful.  

Barker, E. (2020) Barking up the Wrong tree
Snyder, C.R. (2000) Handbook of Hope: Theory, Measures, and Applications.
 

Four Ways of Living Through this Quieter Time




I have purposely not referred to the term that is appearing in every publication, as information on the virus that is changing the world is abundant and to be honest, I think we all can feel a bit bombarded at times - reading about what is happening and what we should be doing.  Instead, in this short article I will focus on four areas that seem to be relevant for most people.  I realise that we are all having very different experiences of what I like to think of as a “quieter time”.  There is so much sadness and loss occurring which will take us time to recover from and emerge into the new normal - whatever that looks like.  As coaches, we like to look at the positive and reframe where we can, but it is not always possible and grief is inevitable and necessary.  However, let’s consider some of the phenomena, (skill sets, qualities) that have come to the forefront during this unusual period of history!

The need to adapt –adaptability has been a buzz word in the popular field of resilience for some time and never has the need to adapt to change been more essential. We have heard some wonderful stories of how people have reinvented their businesses into new and profitable concepts that have filled a need that has suddenly been created due to our new restrictions. 
The creativity that is involved here is inspiring and generative.  The demise of one thing has led to the birth of something new. In a similar vein, I wonder how many of us have thought of “re-inventing” some part of our own lives – be it personal or professional? The advantages of being adaptable are many, not least of which is the growth of new neural pathways as we are forced to do something in a different way!  Out of change comes courage.

Compassion – the world seems to be overflowing with it.  What an unexpected outcome!  Sadness breeds empathy and a desire to reach out and connect. There are many stories of how the public are honouring the healthcare workers, how people are supporting their elderly neighbours, how we are watching countries around the world handle their unique situation and our hearts are full of love for those people. It has been said that this disease knows no boundaries and our common humanity is bringing us together – in a way that religion (and politics) have never been able to do. The other side of compassion is self- compassion. And it is something that is also very important as we struggle to take on a new set of values, be they temporary. There is now no need to measure up to the next person. We recognise that it is the luck of the draw whether we have jobs, businesses or are left with a big gap in our previously busy and purposeful lives. It makes it easier to be kind to ourselves (and others) when we know that feeling guilty is inappropriate.  Our only choice is what to do with the new situation. But starting with self love and self care are great places to begin. Our conversations with clients are going to be inevitably drawn into discussions about how we can look after ourselves with love and kindness.

Slowing down – how interesting that many of us have a sense of the world turning more slowly on its axis. Even if our routine is the same and the pressures of work and study remain, there is an innate need to take each day easier, to calm the busyness, to stop and linger.  What’s with the butterflies? The butterfly is a symbol of hope and regeneration and there is something awe-inspiring to watch them fly past in their hundreds. Were they always there? Or have we just got time to appreciate what’s going on in nature.  

We are now spending more time with friends and family (even if over zoom) than ever before!!  We’re getting to know the minor details of each others’ lives, sharing the challenges and the small wins and connecting more than ever with both empathy and humour!  Yes, when did we ever have time to watch those videos that are sent our way? Now we are amazed at the cleverness of everyday folk who can put together something that is entertaining without taking anything away from the seriousness of the situation. How many times did you cry this week when you watched a tribute to Captain Tom or heard an artist share their talents by sending a message of love and hope through their song or film making skills?

Reflection – finally, there seems to be time to reflect. Being introspective and getting to the heart of how we are feeling, looking back to the way we have been living and daring to hope that things could be different is a daily occurrence for many. Establishing what is important to us - really? And wondering (metaphorically) whether those “butterflies” will still feature in our lives when this is all over. How can we hold on to the lessons learnt, continue to live with the quietness if only in our minds?

This is a very personal account of my experience in the last five weeks. There is also disappointment, sadness and worry ever present but it comes and goes. Our conversations with clients cannot help but change and go into a much deeper exploration of what they are feeling. What they are learning from this experience?  How they are growing, what they need to come through it intact. We can’t work with clients without, at times, sharing our experiences. This is the time to work together, to share our thoughts and feelings and to help each other stay well.  

How do we define success?


















This is not a new question and I am sure not the first time I have written about it, but it is such a significant area to explore that I feel it is worthy of re-visiting and reviewing our responses.  Answering the question will help us get a greater understanding of our client’s goals, aspirations and sense of achievement.  Like so many aspects of health and wellness coaching, as coaches we have to ask the question of ourselves to provide the most meaningful support for our clients.

There are many different factors that influence whether a person feels “successful” in life.
Let’s consider the external factors.  We live in a world where relativity is a fact of life - the inevitable tendency to compare helps us define normal, exceptional and perhaps just plain “odd”.  “We are wired for comparison” according to Mark Manson.  Success and failure are somewhere different concepts but both frequently influenced by what others think.

Common ways of measuring success:

Financial – many people feel that success is only theirs when they hit their financial goals.  Money is extremely important to them and they spend much of their life working towards that notion of “success”.  Whether this healthy or not is irrelevant – it just is what they do and how they feel. It may come from parental values, from a fear of not having enough or any one of a multitude of reasons from their past.  Interestingly, people who value money often report that they never feel financially sound and they are often striving for more to achieve that end.

Status – this is all about how other people see us.  Status cannot exist without there being a hierarcy.. Someone has to be below us to feel successful in this realm.

Accumulation – plain gathering of “more” drives many people and the sheer fact that they own an abundance of things makes them feel successful.  But do they ever stop the need to acquire?  Will there always be an empty void which can only be further acquisition?

The satisfaction that we get from achieving a goal  – or not?

“Society values success and there is a competitive edge to most aspects of our world” writes Chris Skellett when he describes why people can lean too much towards an achievement orientation.

Yet it is really useful to remember something about goals.  The pleasure we get when we succeed at an important goal can be quite short-lived.  We call this “post goal attainment positive affect”.  However, when we are working towards a goal, the steps along the way often provide “pre-goal attainment positive affect.  The reality is most pleasure is felt along the way – hence the term “the progress principle”.

But how does this all fit into our definition of success?

Define success internally, not externally
This phrase had a powerful impact on me.  It reminded me that so very often we define success based on what other people think.  (see all the above examples listed above.) If we can shift our measuring stick to one of internal values, we may well be on to something that can reduce stress, anxiety and the feeling of being continually deficient in our lives.

When we ask ourselves certain questions such as the following, we can get closer to refining the way we look at success in our own lives.
“Would you rather be well off and work in a job you hate, or have a lower income and work in a job you love?’
Would you rather be famous and influential for something that has little importance, or be anonymous and working on something that could make a difference to the world?”

When we truly define what is important to us, only then can we decide whether we are successful or not. Stand back and take a look at your life and decide whether there are days when you feel you are failing and ask whose measuring stick you are using?  Do you see yourself as successful in other ways?  Once we have this self knowledge only then can we support our clients identifying their ways of measuring success.

References:
Jonhathan Haidt, The Happiness Hypothesis
Mark Manson,https://markmanson.net/5-mindsets-that-create-success
Chris Skellett, When Happiness is not enough

Power of Meaning, Pillar of Belonging Part 4: Transcendence


The fourth pillar of meaning that Emily Smith refers to is that of “transcendence” which comes from the word “transcend”, or “go beyond”.  ‘Go beyond what?”, we might ask.  The sense of going beyond our everyday world to a higher reality is what transcendence is all about.  
But how can that give a deeper sense of meaning to our seemingly trivial lives?

You would expect the opposite. Yet it works the other way.

Imagine looking at a sunset, imagine meditating for hours at a time, imagine looking down on earth from a spaceship. What those experiences all have in common is that we are faced with something bigger than ourselves that creates a sense of insignificance and this feeling can transform us!

How does this happen?

In two ways.  First, our sense of self tends to disappear and along with it all the petty worries and wishes. Secondly, we get a feeling of being deeply connected with other people and everything else in our world. This experience can help us get a greater sense of meaning and promote a state of peace and wellbeing.

This should come as no surprise to health and wellness coaches who instinctively now that time spent in nature is somehow more valuable than perhaps time spent working out in a crowded gym. Mindfulness meditation come directly from this understanding and works in the same way.

But back to nature. If you needed any evidence of the benefits of nature, consider this.  A study had students outdoors in two groups. One group spent one minute staring at the huge trees that were part of the environment, and the other spent one minute staring at a tall building nearby. They had no idea what the study was about. After this time, a researcher approached them with a questionnaire and “accidentally” dropped a box of pens. The group who had stared at the trees showed much greater willingness to help pick up the pens, than the group who stared at the building. The conclusion? Nature created a reduced feeling of self-importance and made that group more generous towards others.  


How do we use this in our work?  Keep encouraging our clients to experience and savour the wonders of the world!

REFERENCE

Emily Esfahani Smith, The Power of Meaning


Power of Meaning, Pillar of Belonging Part 2: What creates Meaning in our lives?


Purpose and meaning are often referred to together, however, having a purpose is just part of what can create “meaning” in our lives. So how do we define “purpose”?  What does that mean exactly?  How can we become more “purposeful”?  

Emily Smith (The Power of Meaning) states that having a broad purpose helps us deal with the more “menial aspects of life”.  So although we have to spend a lot of our time just doing the mundane tasks of our daily routine, if we have a sense of what is behind that, we will be driven by a stronger sense of meaning and less likely to feel that life, well, is like a treadmill! If we’re not sure why we are doing what we’re doing – it can easily lead into depression.

Purpose needs to be defined. There are two aspects to it:
1) We are working towards a stable and far-reaching goal;
2) Somehow we are contributing to the world, in other words, we have a more meaningful purpose than just to please ourselves.

In order to fully define our purpose, we need to do a lot of self-reflection and have a great deal of self knowledge - because our purpose needs to fit our identity; our sense of who we are, what we value, what our strengths are and what is important to us.

Now don’t misunderstand this. Self knowledge does not come from spending long hours thinking about ourselves. In fact, Dr. Tasha Eurich, in his book “Insight” states that “ the more time the participants in a study spent in introspection, the less self-knowledge they had”.  He says we should start by noticing more rather than reflecting. Notice our behaviour and the results. Interestingly, he believes that questions that start with “what” can be more useful than with, “why”.  A “What’s going on for me?”, or “What would be a different way of thinking about that?”, might give more productive answers. Self awareness takes time and effort and we never stop learning. We need to avoid assuming that we know everything about ourselves and keep an open mind. 

But there is a time and place for “why” questions as we know in coaching. 

“Why is this important to me?” is an essential place to start when we are working with anyone around behaviour change.  We encourage self reflection and knowledge, particularly around identification of values. This gives a strong sense of purpose around the changes that need to be made to achieve their goals, and setting goals also creates more meaning in our lives!  

Back to purpose.  When we start to get a good sense of identity, we can then find ways of living with purpose. We may not find a “calling” but if we can find a purpose, we are on the right track. Health and wellness coaching help create meaning in peoples’ lives.


REFERENCES
Emily Esfahani Smith, The Power of Meaning
Dr. Tasha Eurich, Insight
Eric Barker, Barking up the Wrong Tree

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


















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

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

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

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

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

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

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

REFERENCE
Emily Esfahani Smith, The Power of Meaning.

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!




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