If you're trying "self help" you, need to see yourself as coaches see you!!
Updated: Dec 8, 2020
The first rule of coach-club "The client always has the strength within themselves to get there". ...and apart from our ethical code, that's probably the only rule of coach club! So much so, that if for some reason you begin to believe that your client lacks that ability, or perhaps you are not the person to be able to elicit it - it is often better for both of you that you signpost them to someone else. It's also why coaching sessions tend to be booked in batches of 4 - 6 which limit the potential for dependency. While it's not necessarily the best for business - repeat custom from the same person (unless over a different aspect because they have been able to move forward) is not your goal! Therefore equipping clients with the tools to keep growing and later to flourish without you is essential.
But what may also be important is to remind the client - or anyone who is using any of my (or other coaches') tools as a form of self help - that the key to success is in the mindset that YOU always have the strength within yourself to get there.
Martin Seligman explains this wonderfully succinctly in his book "What you can change". Using examples from various fields including mental health, weight loss/fitness, and addiction he notes that the deeper rooted the drive, the harder it is to change - BUT if it is not genetic, then change is possible. He adds the further caveat that one can unfortunately deepen a non genetic root by continuing to engage in that behaviour ie. alcoholism may cause a drive for more and when one is so desperate for it, it is hard to change (although not impossible). BUT, that desperation, that deepening of that addictive behaviour is not genetic, so it is not inevitable. If you cannot work to change the behaviour at the tip of the habit it is still possible that interventions can help before repetition means the habit takes root.
Coaching interventions are about giving you CHOICE
Thus, coaching is there to remind you that (unless it's genetic), how you feel right now - and perhaps even your instinctual reactions - are not inevitable. You have the ability to change. You have the ability to CHOOSE.
However, of course coaches recognise that sometimes your mindset is in such a dark place it can feel almost impossible to even try.
At this point I should be clear that while I believe in your self-efficacy as a coach, I understand that being able to offer a consistency of trust, nurturing, reliability is an essential part of support. To offer you responsibility is not about making you accept any blame, and this step comes second to establishing a safe space professionally and personally within you. (It is why I would always recommend that if you are seeking support for domestic abuse and gaslighting it is essential you find a coach who understands that you must be built up first before the self efficacy work can begin.) Therefore depending on the client, my work can start with building that sense of security in the self before moving onto the practical techniques for choice and change.
How positive psychology contributes to the coaching process
It is often through positive psychology tools - a focus on self love and feeling positive emotions towards the self; recognising support from good friends and the healthy relationships you have; finding meaning in what you do and who you are that unlocks and builds your resilience and inner strength. Such tools - eg. the "3 good things about me" daily reflection, or creation of positive affirmations, or a reminder of the things you used to love doing, with gentle encouragement to try them again do not seem related to the process of change...and yet are fundamental to finding the strength to do so. Then, when you are ready, we move to working on the practical approaches you can take to situations, while still doing the things that are beginning to make you feel good.
For more about positive psychology tools alongside coaching, please read my article here.
Methods to encourage change through CHOICE
In tricky situations - unless you are physically under attack - a measured response will often be more successful than an instinctive reaction:
-Practicing meditation or methods to calm the mind can help. Further studies on meditation have shown positive neurological effects such as better sleep - which in turn can reduce feelings of irritation and encourage better focus...having a ripple effect on what we do and who we do it with.
- Healthy alternatives: Recognising any urges we might have to engage in unhealthy practices and both avoiding the triggers if possible and practical and/or having easy to reach substitutions (eg. healthy snacks instead of crisps; the affirmation "Even if I can't control anything else, I can control my breathing" rather than immediately reacting to what you perceive to be a criticism; or a podcast or book to focus on may help you surf the urge to check your work email at the weekend.)
These remind you that you have options.
Methods to work WITH your anxiety
Again, there is no gene for anxiety, so even though we may feel overwhelmed this is often because we are letting habitual practices such as rumination (overthinking), or avoidance exacerbate the problem.
As I have said in previous articles - emotions (even negative ones) are not your enemy. They are like the petrol light in the car. Ignore it and you'll definitely be in trouble, react too soon and you might waste time and money...but you're going to have to deal with it sometime, if you want to keep going.
- Ask don't assume. Rather than letting overthinking lead to you catastrophising an event that may not be as bad as you think - ask someone about it. Asking questions is a powerful tool - it is not accusatory, it is an active and constructive approach to rapport. In that sort of atmosphere it is possible to learn and grow and amend (...or make amends if needed).
- Seek advice. Ideally do this from someone who understands your situation - friends and family are not always the best sources here because they may either be to close to the issue, or they may just want you to feel better and their responses will be shaped by that intention.
- Find ways to change anxious energy into positive energy. Perhaps anxiety over someone else's success might motivate you to work on your own (rather than circulate into making you feel bad)? Perhaps through spending time with people who make you feel great, you have less time for the ones who drain you? Perhaps by working on being fit you feel less self critical?
Working with a coach can be helpful because you always have someone to recognise blind spots, as well as a person trained in numerous techniques - some of which may resonate better with you than others - but it is not essential. What is essential however, is that you understand that change - especially of deep rooted habits - is hard, it is harder alone - but it is always, always possible.
Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and author. Listen to her podcast Retrain Your Brain here; and catch her practical masterclasses Psych Back to Basics on DisruptiveTV & Energy Top Up for resilienceFor coaching tips and tools including positive psychology: click WORK WITH ME or SKILL PILL and here for Media appearances or Psych Q&A. Twitter/IG @draudreyt