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.

Aha!

The generative or aha moment in a coaching conversation is like reaching the summit of a mountain: you've been toiling up up the mountainside and all of a sudden you reach a vista where you can see things that just before were hidden by the trees. This insight helps you to discern new pathways and to move forward with confidence.

An Aha! moment can happen at any time, but how do we get there? In a practice coaching session with fellow coaches today I tried to use our WellCoaches coaching manual to get there. This resulted in a lot of awkward questioning and responding...we defined the problem, explored what it meant, strengths we could harness, and how it would feel to get there. Then we started to brainstorm ideas.

And then, I let go of the manual and tuned into my coach's intuition. That's when things started to get interesting. Without judging our ideas, my client and I started throwing out possible pathways to solve her problem - we dreamed big, we dreamed small, and everywhere in between. After about 90 seconds we'd thrown out maybe 20 ideas. Were they practical? Most of them were not. But that wasn't the point. Somewhere in that brainstorming, we found a gem. An insight connecting her stated need and one of her unique strengths. Then my client said in a new voice filled with energy, I like that one, I could see doing it, I'm excited to try that. 

The two of us, together, collaborating, reached a new vista. A new jumping off place where we could see through the trees to a new mountain beyond.

I Can't

And that's ok. As a coach it can be difficult to know what to do when a client comes to me with a strong desire for change, and an equally strong sense that they can't possibly make the change they desire. It's easy to hear the "I want to change" and ignore the "I can't change." Yet, honoring I Can't is one of the most powerful things that a coach can do for a client. 

It’s alright to not know the answer. And it's important for me as a coach to honor my client's reasons for not being able to make a change. Change is a life-long process. Sometimes bringing myself and my clients to the present moment is the first step in a change that may not occur for some time. Sometimes focusing on actions my clients take every day that are positive and that go unrecognized is a powerful shift. Above all, being willing to get down in the weeds and honor obstacles and barriers is a vital part of also being able to help others to find their own way out of the weeds.

Barriers

We all have them, but did you know that sorting barriers can help us get through them? When we're thinking about making a specific change there's usually some (or many) barriers that are standing in the way, otherwise we'd actually be doing the change we're thinking about. Barriers can be pretty intimidating. And some may actually be things we can't control. But what if there was away around them, and a way to bust through the ones we can control? That's where sorting through the barriers comes into play.

If you've got a change in mind you'd like to make...and you know why you want to make it, but you're daunted by all the stones in your path, take out a piece of paper. Make two columns. Column one: things I have control over. Column two: things I do not have control over. Put all of the barriers to change that you have control over in the first column. Put all of the barriers to change that you have no control over in the second column.

Look away. Close your eyes. Take three deep breaths. Fill your mind with all the reasons why you want to make your specific change. Now look back at your paper. Check to see if you've miscategorized any of your barriers and make adjustments.

Now you've got your barriers sorted. You know the things you have control over. Focus on those. Sleep on it. Let your creative mind start devising ways to bust through, dodge, and eliminate those stones in your path. Have fun taking control.

 

 

Empathy

Empathy is the heart of coaching. It's like building a bridge of understanding to another's experience. The bridge extends from the coach out to the feet of the client on the far shore. 

Empathy is often described as an emotion. Yet, in coaching empathy is the ability to understand without getting one's own emotions involved. Human nature is to sympathize - to place oneself in another person's shoes emotionally. Yet, when a coach sympathizes, he/she is accessing his/her own emotional experience, which turns the coach's attention inwards, away from the client. So the trick is to create the bridge - the respectful understanding - and to keep the focus outward on the client: on what he/she is saying, feeling, and showing. When a coach's attention is fully directed on the client, the coach can more easily reflect and voice what the client is saying and feeling. That reflection helps the client recognize their needs in a way they could not have done without the coach's deep understanding and appreciative reflection of their situation.