What does it mean to focus on values and strengths and why does it work?

What does it mean to focus on values and strengths and why does it work?

We all know that values are important and we try to teach them to our kids, but when it comes to determining if we are living in harmony with our values it can be a tricky subject. As we go along in life we make millions of choices. Over time those millions of choices add up to our lifestyle. When we start to feel stuck, or depressed, or stressed, or when our health seems to be going steadily downhill, the first, and sometimes most illuminating step is to ask with curiosity and honesty: What are my values in life? Another way of asking this is, what do I hold dear, and why is it important to me?

Neuroplasticity

What does neuroplasticity mean for you? It means you can drop that habit by forming a new one...at any age. Not so long ago, scientists thought that our brains couldn't change after a certain age, but research shows that's just not true. So how do we change? By redirecting our thoughts and our actions. Certainly, it is easier said than done. It's difficult to do alone. Which is where coaching comes in. It's both simple and powerful to sit with a coach trained to find and focus on strengths, values, and motivators. This video from Sentis really underscored the hard work that each of us do to change our brains. Perhaps, more presciently,  it speaks to the idea that no matter what our past looks like, by focusing on the present, we really can shape our future.

I really want this one thing and if I can't get it, I'll be crushed

Sometimes we get so focused on something, perhaps a particular job, partner, or house and we set so much store by it, that we're devastated when it doesn't work out. In other words, when the opportunity vanishes, we tell ourselves, we failed. I am guilty of this kind of thinking and it can cause some pretty destructive anxiety. Well, a coaching friend recently outlined a vision in an upcoming book, a new vision for pursuing what we most want in life. Consider what would happen if you focused instead on what your interests are - on what excites you and gets you going. Let your thinking range far and wide. Brainstorming with a friend is a good practice - they may think of things you didn't and you can borrow from each other's lists. From there, you can see what it is you're interested in that led you to think about a given possibility as the one, and you may even decide that the one isn't the one any longer. From your list of interests you can develop a field of alternative possibilities. For example, you'll have many jobs (or even a job that doesn't exist yet!); many possible partner scenarios; or different types of living situations and homes. When you do decide to go after a particular job (or house or partner) you'll know that you do have other options if this one doesn't work out. After all, it's pursuing your interests that matters, rather than any one particular thing or person. Whew, that's a load off my mind! Thanks to Justin Wright at Habitus Incorporated for these insights.

The Stars

I am under an expanse of stars shining brightly in rural Eastern Oregon, unfiltered by the usual light pollution from the city. Snow from a fresh snowfall lights up the landscape while the stars glow with intensity. Why is it such a comfort to be surrounded by cold snow, a dark sky, and millions of twinkling stars? In the vastness of the universe and the starkness of nature, I am a tiny presence. I am standing here, in the middle of this beauty, which I believe means that I am a part of it.

When you are confused, sad, hurt, or in need of feeling something, do you ever just go outside? This thought occurs to me often, and as often as I follow it, I begin to work through my difficulty. It's not just an anecdotal suggestion...a new field of research is opening around "Ecotherapy": using the outdoors as therapy for disease or disorder. Outdoors can be as simple as a walk around the block or ten minutes on the porch if that's all you have to spare. Remembering that you too are a part of nature, a part of the vastness of the universe, helps to diminish the sometimes overwhelming feelings of worry, anxiety, fear, frustration, anger, sadness - you name it - that everyday events throw your way. While you're outside open your eyes, pause, and enjoy being a part of it all.

Milestones

Recently I completed a milestone in my training as a coach--I became certified through WellCoaches School Coaching. I was drawn to and inspired by WellCoaches because I've seen their model used in the healthcare industry by Kaiser. Their model fits well with phone coaching and also in-person coaching. They are well known in their field for using evidence based methods to change the health behaviors of individuals with chronic, lifestyle related illness. For me, passing the WellCoaches exams was a big step towards becoming a masterful coach.

The WellCoaches methodology is impressive. They draw on different areas of positive psychology; including motivational interviewing, non-violent communication, cognitive-behavioral therapy, appreciative inquiry, and others. The idea is to create positive conversations that empower individuals to understand their motivations, elucidate their needs, and drive towards their goals. There's a very clear outline WellCoaches are instructed to follow in each session. I've been following that outline with some success - especially the brainstorming - which is used to both illicit client ideas and as an opportunity for me to suggest ideas. 

I'm curious to see going forward, how this outline can guide me, and how I can also find my own rhythm. Already, I see some clients really taking their own path in the conversation, and others desiring to follow my lead. The give-and-take of coaching is a key part of each session. WellCoaches tells us that the client that should be working harder than the coach...just as on the athletic field the best athletes give their all at every practice. My goal is to find a balance, where I am giving my full best as a coach, acting creatively in the moment, and inspiring my client to work hard at determining their strategies for success. Unlike the milestone of completing certification, I believe this will be a life long endeavor!

Autonomy

The ability to make one's own path in life, what some would call freedom, is a core value of the coaching relationship. Wars have been fought over the deep human need for freedom. Small internal battles are waged every day in provider's offices when patients stubbornly refuse to follow "Dr.'s orders". The coaching relationship turns the Dr. - patient relationship on its head. This can be a little scary, because when the patient's autonomy is recognized and elevated who knows what might happen. Yet, this is exactly the place where things get interesting in coaching.

The truth is, it feels good and natural to make our own choices. Just ask the parent of any toddler: the desire to choose one's destiny starts very early in life. The more choices we make for ourselves, the better we get at determining which things are worth holding onto, versus which things we might be better off without.

With a deeper sense of autonomy comes another key to lasting change: inner motivation.  This is the type of inner drive that is independent of external rewards. Coaches strive to find inner motivation in clients. But where is it hidden? Well, it often slowly comes out of the coaching conversation. Inner motivation can take shape when a person recognizes what they truly value in life, and why they value it. The recognition of what you value, comes along with a realization that perhaps your actions aren't actually in accordance with your values.

We may not act in accordance with our values all the time, but the more we recognize what it is we value and what it is we want, the more awareness we bring to each little decision...and lasting change is about a lot of little decisions made over time.

Measuring Results

Did you meet your goal? Check yes or no. Done. Moving on to the next one. That's one way to handle a coaching session. But anyone can do that. 

We've learned - myself and thousands of coaches before me - that attention to the bigger picture is key to eventually creating worthwhile goals that can be life changing and life giving.

It's not really about whether or not clients complete goals: it's about the lessons learned along the way. That's why a great coach will carefully carve out the space to ask a client to delve into their full experience with the prior week's goal. A coach may ask what worked? What did you learn? These answers lead to discoveries that are carried over into subsequent weeks. As these little nuggets of wisdom accumulate clients develop greater self knowledge. With that comes confidence and the client's ability to truly design a lifestyle that meets their needs and desires.