Today we are looking at Coaching & Mindfulness and asking can you be a Mindful Coach?
It is something that I look at in my book ‘Uncovering Mindfulness’ too, but it is rather a big Iceberg floating in a vast ocean of thoughts, customs and practice, &, something I feel that up to now we’ve only really been touching the tip of.
This feeling was further borne out when I recently got a group of coaching practitioners together to look at Mindfulness and Coaching. They came with a wide range of experience and an even wider range of perspectives, which as you might imagine led to a rather vibrant and robust debate.
A Working Summary
Nonetheless, we endeavoured and kept to task and finally came up with a consensus and working summary that captured both the mood and the many points raised.
And here it is: “Using Mindfulness, a coach can perfect a form of conscious and comfortable simultaneous Attention to themselves, their client or coachee, the relationship between them and the mental, emotional and relational dynamics occurring in the moment”.
I’ll give you it’s not light, but how does it stand up to scrutiny?
Some Definitions Of Coaching
As part of our starting point we looked at some pretty standard definitions of coaching.
For example, one provided by John Whitmore, “Coaching is unlocking a person’s potential to maximise their own performance: It’s helping them to learn, rather than teaching them”.
Another from the Association Of Coaching, “Coaching is a collaborative, solution focussed, results orientated and systematic process in which a coach facilitates the enhancement of work performance, life experience, self-direction and personal growth of the coachee”.
And a third from Peter Hill, “Coaching is the art of facilitating the development, learning and enhanced performance of another”.
And Then Some Questions
We then set ourselves some questions to provide a framework for our discussions:
- What are we are actually talking about? Coaching with Mindfulness or Mindful Coaching?
- Is there an implicit tension between the principles of Mindfulness and the goals and practice of coaching?
- Can Mindfulness provide a lens through which to view the coaching experience and enrich it? &
- Is Mindful Coaching, or Coaching with Mindfulness, better coaching?
Mindfulness At Its Simplest
At its simplest, Mindfulness is just being Present and paying Attention on purpose to the Present Moment Experience, with an Attitude of openness and non-judgemental acceptance of thoughts and emotions, whether positive, or negative, accepting whatever is.
It is physically and mentally connecting and being aware of what is going on inside the mind and body, whilst also being aware of the world around oneself.
Here however lies an essential paradox and one I wrestle with in the book and quite simply it is this — From a practical perspective is being a Mindful Coach actually possible?
Let me unpack this: Mindfulness is chiefly associated with non-doing and Being; whilst coaching is about doing and Action.
Coaching can provide valuable insights into behaviours, patterns and the relationship between thought and action.
When coupled with Mindfulness or a Mindful approach though, individuals are able to jettison judgement and start to question ingrained beliefs, or perceptual Blind Spots that might result in what Dan Segel, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at UCLA School of Medicine, describes as, ‘Oversimplification’.
The oversimplification however might also be that a coach using Mindfulness could be missing something?
Your Authentic Self
However, I believe from my study of all this that Mindfulness is not just really thinking about what you are doing — It is full awareness of your Authentic Self at all times.
It is holding positive, energetic states of Mind at all times. It is walking your talk at all times and it is in each of these things where Mindfulness aligns with coaching.
Indeed, if you frame Mindfulness as something that is overarching — & a set of things, rather than just one thing — then the notion of the Present Moment Experience and the concomitant Awareness, becomes fundamental to everything else and a precursor to all other possible steps in the Coaching Taxonomy — From Awareness to Core Values, to Long Term Vision, to Short Term Goals, to Action.
A Universal Space
Mindfulness I would suggest provides a Universal Space between Thought and Action — & within that Universality the possibility of being able to move to the particular.
Put another way a clear and important part of coaching is taking a Goal-Focused approach — Identifying what already exists and focusing on it, to help the achievement of future goals.
However, an equally important element of coaching is not necessarily striving for specific material goals, but rather enabling and supporting a client to explore their attitudes, beliefs, values and thoughts.
The Coaching Experience
Must be both a vessel and a conduit for that — Responsive, Enabling, Supporting — & here it is complementary to Mindfulness which can create a ‘Container’ in which unorganised agents in the form of observations, thoughts and feelings are welcomed.
Of course, some will recognise that this touches on Adaptive Capacity and indeed the hinterland of Complexity Theory, because in its purest sense and followed to its logical conclusion, the Mindful Coaching relationship will ‘Honour Emergence’ by accepting whatever comes up, &, what then follows are new insights and revelations (interconnections, patterns and reconfigurations) that in turn may catalyse internal and external shifts in the coachee and indeed, in the coach themselves.
Three Aspects Of Mindfulness
There are three aspects of Mindfulness that I think have a particular relevance to coaching:
- An Empty Mind
- Non-Reactivity; &
- Permissive Attention
An Empty Mind and being what Gestalt Therapists would refer to as an ‘Empty Vessel’, is key to letting something happen in someone else. It is the essence of coaching and can’t be achieved by greater effort, or more action.
It’s not about what you do, or don’t do, but how you are — It’s about your demeanour, your approach, your style, &, most importantly of all, about your Awareness of the Present.
With an empty mind, judgement is suspended and full Attention is given to the coachee, which enables them to feel their real substance and the value of being heard.
And to achieve this the coach centres themselves in the Present, or the ‘Be Here Now’ place, as it is called in John Herron’s ‘Catalytic Toolkit’ model.
On the other hand, Non-Reactivity, on the part of the coach gives the person being coached room to roam from perspective to perspective — trying on this, or that — from one incomplete thought to another until they become whole thoughts and the basis for change and growth.
The coachee can in fact feel invigorated by this space to explore — An emotional space without any Landmines!
Whilst Permissive Attention is about the focus that is set and maintained that allows the coachee to stay in the moment and remain open to new perspectives and different answers.
Essentially coaching is a Humanistic Practice, in which as described by Carl Rogers, the concepts of congruence and empathetic understanding are available to the coach as Awareness.
This then enables the coach to facilitate psychological change and growth, &, provide an environment in which the client can flourish through congruence.
Whilst being empathetic creates a support structure necessary for the client to feel the presence (or focused Attention), the support and the understanding (without judgement), of the coach.
Change = Change
And as the coach facilitates change in another through the coaching experience they are indelibly changed themselves in some way, shape or form, whether it be through understanding, learning or gaining new knowledge, or improving their skills.
The evidence would suggest than that the role of Mindfulness in coaching is, if anything, very important.
It enables a coach to hone their Mind to be sharp and Aware of what is currently present, so they can intuitively pick-up what is going on, but not be engulfed or overwhelmed by it.
It also enables the coach to develop and maintain focus within the coaching session and manage an emotional detachment; able to enter each session with fresh eyes and a free Mind.
Intriguing isn’t it where discussions can lead you. However I still feel with all this that we are only scratching the surface — But it’s Authentic scratching — It’s heart felt, compassionate, empathetic scratching — & well, what a surface to scratch!!
My book has more to say on this and I also look at Mindfulness and Coaching in the iTunes and YouTube series now available, ‘From Mindfulness With Love’.
It’s certainly an area of Mindfulness that I need to pay more Attention to, both professionally and personally, as I continue my journey ‘Uncovering Mindfulness’.
You can, of course, follow this continuing journey on Twitter @TheMindfulBook and until the next and penultimate newsletter in this series when we’ll be looking at ‘The Compassionate You’, Be Mindful!