Health care providers know that a healthy lifestyle is essential to optimal health, but they do not know how to enable clients to adopt new healthy habits and abandon old harmful ones. Medicine had been somewhat effective at managing health and medical concerns, and even better at addressing acute medical emergencies and conditions, but it is not as well suited to helping people like your client manage a lifelong journey to sustain health-promoting behaviors. In many cases, clients need to master new life skills—how to develop a personal formula for health and vitality and how to become confident in their ability to implement, sustain, and adjust strategies needed to allow transformations to endure over a lifetime. Most clients do not believe that they are capable of mastering these life skills. This is where coaching enters the equation. In fact, good coaches, work to specifically build confidence in the clients. They serve, and in doing so support the health and medical professions toward a greater good.
A lot of our clients have never considered management of risk factors as a life skill, and so they do not see them as important. Other clients have never contemplated management of risk factors at all. Professional health and wellness coaches have emerged as experts who are competent in the field of designing strategies to help clients become more personally accountable and responsible for engaging in a healthy lifestyle. This requires confidence to change often times the role of the coach becomes one of facilitator to help clients become motivated and effective at managing lifestyle risk factors that can become chronic illnesses.
Why does it seem to be so difficult to reach our health goals?
In the past two decades, adults surveyed in the United States have been less than consistent with their lifestyle behaviors, and this does not serve them well in terms of healthy outcome goals, or their overall health status. According to the Center for Disease Control, and their behavior risk factor surveillance system, the numbers or statistics gathered on Americans, and their health metrics are either unstable or going in the wrong direction. In other words, there has not been much improvement and behaviors, such as sleep, eating more fruits and vegetables, engaging in moderate intensity, exercise, or eliminating risky behaviors like smoking or drinking. Some of these areas have seen increases, especially in more recent times with regard to alcohol intake, and the recent COVID pandemic.
So, what can coaches do for those who need to take action to improve their genetic predispositions and all of the additional challenges they face to change risky behaviors? The good news is that there is a lot of scientific study on how human beings change behaviors, and the most important ingredients needed to allow sustainable change. The most compelling research comes from the fields of psychology and neuroscience.
Currently, social and behavioral psychologist have placed a new focus or emphasis on factors that allow us to change behaviors shown to improve physical and mental health. This includes everything from exercise, healthy nutritional intake, strategies, weight management, and stress regulation. Less often understood or evaluated or discussed is the mindfulness needed to support behavior changes. This is where coaching can make a significant impact.
An understanding of behaviors that lead to mental and psychological health are just as important as how mental growth supports positive physical health outcomes, especially when transformation is needed in multiple areas of health and wellness. The field of psychology continues to contribute more research and study to support the neuroscience community, by helping to explore biological processes of neural plasticity and neurogenesis, which we often called self-directed neural plasticity. This includes the generation of new neural connections that are integrated within brain networks, and support the formation of new habits. We also need to understand the cognitive and emotional mindset needed to sustain change, and this is where mindfulness comes in.
Coaching Mindfulness: Getting Perspectives
Mindfulness practices are believed to improve emotion regulation and have also shown protective factors that improve a number of medical conditions. Newer research shows that positive emotions – even those shared within caring relationships (i.e. coaching) can improve mental and physical health outcomes. Another new and exciting area of research is the role of meaning and higher purpose in improving health and wellness.
But there are two ways that we need to understand mindfulness. The first comes from the coaches side. For coaches, mindful presence is a condition to help clients become more mindful of themselves, and this is seen during coach conversations about the client’s every day life. Coaches, use reflections, awareness, regulation, compassion, and positivity as critical factors and helping the brains change process. In fact, elevated mindfulness enables coaches to improve their listening skill and be more present with their client; in mind for coaches, never distracted by thinking about what they are going to say in response to a clients comment. The mindful state helps the coach get a better sense of their clients perspectives as it relates to negative and positive emotions and those important messenger coming from the clients words.
Mindfulness is considered a health promoting intervention that coaches use to enhance the process of and session work, and this is all done toward a goal of increasing clan awareness of vital factors that influence their success in reaching transformative health outcomes. We could also view mindfulness as a way to break free of being stuck on auto pilot. This means that we have to pay attention to our thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and the client relationships where we coach without judgment. We use mindfulness to process what’s going on around us and at the same time what is going on within the client in terms of timing: in other words, we want to have this critical understanding while it is actually occurring. This allows us to make great decisions about client directives with respect to outcome goals.
Mindfulness has many applications in coaching. The use of mindfulness can lead to everything from improved eating habits to better work performance, and stress management. One solid strategy that coaches can use to promote mindfulness is to ensure the coaching space and environment has no distractions that can interfere with the ability to remain present for your client and focused on their words. Coaches can also provide clients with mindful exercises, and this can include taking a moment of silence or are even breath work.
When we can increase our clients mindfulness during coaching sessions, your client learns to increase their mindfulness in their daily lives and activities. They use your coaching to naturally grow into a more attentive person that can process many dynamics of health and wellness, and in fact, their whole life. This holistic approach works universally and should be part of any coach training in session work that you provide service to your client.