The power of mindfulness in coaching
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness means choosing to be aware of present moment experience and engaging fully with it, whatever it is, without trying to change it or wishing it was different.
One way we can bring awareness to the present moment is to notice our senses: what we can see, hear, taste, touch and smell. Without indulging our internal narrator, we can just take in colours, shapes, movement, the breeze on our skin, the sun on our face or the smell of cut grass in the air. The voice in our mind will start up, that’s a given. It’s a normal and natural function of the brain. In mindfulness, we don’t try to fight or stop that, we just notice it and bring our attention back to our senses.
We can also bring the same awareness to our thoughts in the present moment. It is possible to notice our thoughts: their content, the tone of voice our internal narrator uses and the pictures that illustrate the ‘story’ without having to get into a conversation with them.
This takes practice though and this is where meditation comes in to mindfulness. Meditation is like push-ups for the brain but instead of strengthening our arm muscles, we’re strengthening our ‘concentration’ muscle. As with weight training, to get the greatest benefit, we need to practice regularly.
Contrary to stereotypes, mindfulness meditation doesn't involve sitting down cross-legged, it’s not a spiritual practice and it doesn't involve mantras or imagery. A mindfulness meditation could involve going for a walk and choosing to redirect your awareness back to sounds each time you notice that your mind is beginning to chatter.
Being mindful can involve noticing what your mind is telling you in the heat of an argument, being aware of habitual reactions that normally make the situation worse for you and finding a moment to choose your response more carefully.
Most importantly in mindfulness, we practice being interested and curious towards all experience, whatever it is, without trying to change it or wishing it was different. In this sense, we don’t use mindfulness to escape or avoid what is unpleasant but gently and gradually change how we relate to it instead.
How can mindfulness help in coaching?
Let’s say for example, you’re seeing a coach to help you lose weight and together you've set action steps of regular exercise and a diet plan to help you reach your goal of losing a stone in time for your wedding.
For some people, imagining themselves in their perfect dress on their dream day is enough to get them through the hard times: resisting that plate full of carbs or large glass of red after a stressful day with the children; getting up before work to go to the gym or that ‘calves-feel-like-their-on-fire’ sensation at the beginning of a run.
For most of us, it isn't that easy.
In this context, mindfulness as part of a coaching programme can be extremely supportive in a number of ways as it offers the following outcomes:
- People who regularly practice mindfulness develop greater self-compassion. They are accepting and forgiving of themselves when they experience difficulty and are less likely to engage with self-critical mind chatter that leads to goal inhibiting behaviours.
- People who regularly practice mindfulness have greater coping strategies for dealing with physical discomfort. Often the physical discomfort that accompanies a new exercise regime can result in low motivation and may cause some people to give up. For people who regularly practice mindfulness, physical discomfort becomes interesting. When discomfort comes up, they investigate the ‘qualities’ of the sensation instead of engaging with thoughts about disliking the experience. Instead they choose to be curious: noticing the size and shape of the discomfort; if it burns, tingles, pulls or aches, if it comes and goes, if it gets bigger or smaller, if the intensity rises and falls. People who practice mindfulness understand that experience is constantly in flux and this helps them to keep going.
- Because people who regularly practice mindfulness are better equipped to deal with emotional and physical discomfort, they experience an increase in resilience that expands out into other areas of life.
- Because people who regularly practice mindfulness understand that all experience is in flux, they experience greater contentment... “this too shall pass.”
- People who practice mindfulness have greater concentration and can stay focussed for longer.
It’s not just in weight loss coaching that mindfulness can offer support. In any area of life where emotional or physical discomfort is experienced or where extra focus or resilience is needed, mindfulness is wonderfully supportive.
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