Wellness Coaching Australia's Blog

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:


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”.  

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

Looking Forward

Do you have times when you wish you could feel just a little more satisfied with life? It is human nature to rever to a kind of set point of contentment. Whether things are going well or badly, we seem to reach a homeostatic point of satisfaction. Unless our routine has produced unusual moments of the things we love, if we do the same each day, have you noticed that we can easily become complacent about how fortunate we are and how pleasant our lives are? It takes a couple of tough days to help us appreciate how good things are when our normal life resumes. That’s why we love weekends – the variety helps us appreciate relief from our work obligations.

For people who are experiencing worry, stress or even depression the exercise of writing down three good things that happened that day and the reason for them, is now well recognised as being an effective way of improving depressive scores or at the least people’s mood before bed! This comes from the theory of hope and optimism – part of the positive psychology literature.  

A new study has modified the intervention to focus on future events and activities and found that asking the question, “What awaits you tomorrow (that is positive)?” can do three things: 

  1. reduce pessimism, 
  2. reduce negative feelings/mood and 
  3. reduce emotional exhaustion. 
If people struggled to think of good things coming up, they then created a desire for them and often made them happen.  

So whether you are aiming to help yourself, or help your clients as a coach, I believe this exercise is worth adding to you bag of tools to use when times are, well, not as appreciated as that might be.  Together with “What went well today?”, asking “What’s coming up tomorrow that I will enjoy?” we can turn a bland day into a better day.

(Littman-Ovadia and Nir,  the Journal of Positive Psychology, 2013)

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