Being a Mindful Coach

May 21, 2021


Being a mindful coach

Mindfulness and coaching are natural companions. Both have to do with helping people tap into and grow existing inner resources. Both help improve self-awareness and awareness of others. Both can build resilience; the ability to process emotions without being overwhelmed and can help create a greater sense of peace and resourcefulness.

There’s enough buzz around mindfulness in the last few years (from Oprah Winfrey talking about it to it being taught in schools and prisons) so instead of talking about what it is, let’s jump straight to this question.

Why do we need to be mindful?

One large benefit of mindfulness is finding peace and calm in the midst of all the chaos that often defines our lives. Another way of looking at it is this. We’re all constantly preoccupied with the past or the future (this kind of thinking is often described using the metaphor of a waterfall; you can see how that metaphor applies for the relentless chatter that’s going on in our heads). This prevents us from living in the moment and making decisions that are appropriate to our here-and-now-experience. Instead we react instinctively and often unwisely.

We need to recognise that our thoughts and emotions while real, are not always true. As Victor Frankl said “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom”.

A mindfulness practise allows us to observe and see our thoughts and feelings for what they truly are; to see the waterfall instead of being pounded by it. In doing so, we can respond with wisdom and not react.

How can mindfulness help you be a better coach?

It helps you be more present: The ICF defines coaching presence as the ability to be fully conscious and create a spontaneous relationship with the client, employing a style that is open, flexible and confident. There are many factors that can prevent us from being fully present with our clients – questions about our own capability; conflicting views about the contract the client has brought in; strong, unprocessed feelings towards the client etc. Mindfulness practise, over a period of time, helps us become aware of our internal processes as they are playing out and helps us develop a better relationship with them.

It can help you become more aware of what’s going on for a client: You’re probably familiar with the concept of mirror neurons; our survival has depended on being able to empathise and our neural networks have developed accordingly. Becoming more aware of our emotional and body states, through mindfulness practises, help us become more aware of those of others. This is one explanation of empathy and needs more scientific validation but the fact that we have more information available to us when we pay attention, the way we practise, is undeniable.

It helps you be more open to whatever a client may bring up: Think of a time when a client said something that triggered you (could have been them saying “nothing much” when you asked what they got out of the conversation; could have been them talking about a success of theirs in a way that made you feel inadequate; could have been a direct criticism of how you work as a coach). In situations like these, the part of our brain that is continually monitoring the environment for danger gets triggered and we’re likely to move into fight/flight/freeze mode. Mindfulness practises help us create a more open, receptive mind – where there is a sense of spaciousness and we can receive what a client says without our receptors being triggered.

It helps you be unattached to outcomes: In the core practises of mindfulness, we work with becoming aware of our experience (body sensations; thoughts; feelings) without feeling the need for things to be a certain way. As we continue to practise this, we can bring this core sense of awareness and acceptance into our work with clients. So we can be ok with outcomes being what they are and with letting go of the need to direct the client to a particular solution.

It helps you develop a greater sense of compassion: Mindfulness practices are of two types – those that help you develop more clarity and insight into yourself and those that help you deliberately awaken the more compassionate, loving parts of yourself. As you practise the second kind of mindfulness, you will develop the capacity to hold yourself and others with gentleness and kindness.

It can help you invite your clients into a more centred, grounded space: You could work through mindfulness exercises with your clients in the session or you could share resources with them to get started on their own. As you get more comfortable, there are mindfulness techniques (such as RAIN) for working with strong emotions that I’ve personally found extremely powerful.

How can I get started with using mindfulness as a coach?

The most important place to start is with developing your own mindfulness practise. Apps like Headspace, Calm and Insight Timer offer a wide range of accessible guided practises. You could also look for a group that meditates together (if you’re on India time, write to me at sunitha@navgati.in and I’d be happy to help).

Here’s a 5 minute practise you can do to prepare for a coaching conversation. Read through the script once fully before you do it.

Think of the client that you’re going to meet shortly. Start by holding the image of this person as vividly as you can. Become aware of your breath and notice what is happening to you as you think about this client or stakeholder of yours.

What bodily sensations are you experiencing? What are the thoughts? How do you feel? Watching all of these as though they were clouds floating across a sky. Do not try to explain things or justify what you’re feeling; just allow yourself to experience what comes up for you as you think of this client of yours. Observe what happens to these thoughts and emotions as you pay attention to them. Do they get stronger? Go away?

You could find yourself judging the client/being angry with them/feeling intimidated by them…without judging any of these feelings, just allow yourself to become aware of what is here. Feeling a sense of spaciousness as you do that.

You could also experiment with developing positive states of mind with respect to this client. Sense into how you want well for him/her and how this can exist side by side with all the feelings you experienced earlier. If you were to think of one wish you had for this client – what would it be? Try starting the sentence with “may you”..may you be happy; may you feel kindness towards yourself; may you accept yourself.

If you can think of some success they have had, you could work with feeling joyful about that “I’m happy that you are happy. May your happiness continue”. If they are going through a difficult time, you could mentally say “may you be free from this difficulty”.

Try doing this consistently for one client and observe what difference it makes to the quality of your presence with that individual.

If you’d like to know more about ICF certified coach training and the programs we offer towards ACC and PCC certification, please take a look at https://www.navgati.in/icf-accredited-coach-training/


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