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  • A peek behind the coaching curtain

    We go to health practitioners for all sorts of reasons, usually to fix a problem we can’t figure out on our own. In this part of the planet there are plenty of skilled and knowledgeable medical professionals who have the expertise to heal our Rubix Cube-like body/mind and provide relief (most of the time) for issues which trouble us.

    Fortunately, we also have the capacity to remedy many health issues on our own without having to utilize the health care system. This would apply for things such as weight management, stress relief, improving sleep and many others too numerous to mention.

    Of course, having the capacity to do something doesn’t mean we always do it.

    We usually know what we can and should do to improve our health, yet it’s a challenge to consistently do a few simple things pretty good science tells us will help improve our situation. We may do well for a while but have a hard time sustaining the effort.

    How, then, do we get unstuck?

    In health and wellness coaching, it is often said that ‘the client has the answer’, a rather counterintuitive notion. If the client had the answer, why the heck do they need to consult an expert for a solution?

    Truth be told, we don’t necessarily need an expert to solve our issues related to weight, exercise, sleep, stress, etc. A good friend, co-worker or family member, with the right mindset and a few skills, can partner with us to explore possibilities we often are blind to considering on our own.

    Conversely, we too can function much like a good coach for others, helping to uncover new and exciting strategies for building healthy habits and serving as a catalyst for positive change.

    Here are a few keys to being an effective ‘coach’ when conversations with the people we care about venture into territory related to improving health and wellness.

    ·      Be fully present. This means eliminating all distractions, especially the electronic ones. When we give another human being our undivided attention we are showing them the highest form of respect. It is foundational to every quality relationship. 

    ·      Listen way more than you talk. In coaching, we strive for a ratio in which the client speaks 2/3 or the time and the coach speaks for 1/3 of the time. Remember, this is not about you, but about the person you’re trying to support.

    ·      Avoid giving advice as much as possible or having an agenda of your own. It’s tempting to share our own story and talk about what works for us, Unfortunately, it’s not usually helpful. People are generally resistant to receiving advice from others, even from experts (see my Gazette piece, How to Stay Motivated, 1/23/19) because of an innate need most of us have to be independent, a desire to live life our way, on our terms.

    ·      Be really curious, as if you are trying to understand something for the first time. Ask open-ended rather than closed-ended questions. Open-ended question, such as those which begin with ‘how’ or ‘what’ lead to rich answers and are conducive to deeper conversations. Close-ended questions can usually be answered with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and may stifle communication rather than promote it.

    ·      Do your best at reflecting back, in a non-judgemental way, what you’re hearing and sensing. When we hear another person reflect back to us what we’ve expressed, it can help shed new light on our thinking. Hearing someone else tells us what they’ve heard us say tends to stimulate more insight than the internal dialogue we have with ourselves all the time. 

    ·      Get their imagination involved. Encourage them to describe their vision for health in rich, sensory detail. Some beautiful neurochemistry gets activated when we allow ourselves to think about what can be. When we’re envisioning our best self and thinking about possibilities, we are more hopeful and likely to act in our own best interest.

    ·      Finally, be patient and accept that there is not always a clear resolution reached in every single ‘coaching session’. The goal here is not necessarily to ‘fix’ everything. It may take a while before insights result in a breakthrough in behavior. Trust that every engaging ‘coaching’ conversation helps lay the groundwork for healthier actions over time.