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Professional Development Tips for Coaches

A great way to begin to add coaching skills to your growing toolbox as a health professional is to reflect first on your own interest in change and growth. Have a good look at where you are noticing stress in your life, and then find an experienced coach to help you outgrow a struggle.

Harvard psychologist Robert Kegan, Ph.D., describes stress as simply the signal that the demands of the moment are beyond one’s capacity. His book titled “In Over Our Heads” explains that the demands of adult life are over our heads at least some of the time, causing growing pains.

Negative emotions are a force for good if you lean into them with self-compassion, and then reflect on and move toward new lessons that may emerge. You’ll find that a good coach won’t give you a prescription; instead s/he will co-create a new path forward, generating new insights and learning along the way. My “How Coaching Works” video on YouTube (more than 600,000 visits) captures the essence of coaching if you haven’t already seen it.

A next good step would be to further develop your mindfulness skills, the precious ability to access the part of the brain that can stand back from the noisy voices in your brain, to watch the action in your brain as if watching a movie, rather than being embedded in the movie. Mindfulness skills allow you to be less reactive to passing emotional states, witnessing, naming, and accepting them without feeling hijacked and out of control. A mindful brain is vital to forming a warm connection with your clients and colleagues. Mindfulness training is now widely available. Check out mindfulness-based stress reduction courses and resources, developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D.

You may want to look for books and courses on compassion, empathy, and nonviolent communication developed by Marshall Rosenberg Ph.D. In the last quarterly column we discussed the gift of self-compassion, to accept and embrace one’s negative emotions, including the frustrated inner critic that keeps telling you to raise the bar, to do better. Notice the inner critic and appreciate how it helps you; its intentions are good even if its methods are harsh. Suffer with its efforts to try too hard, instead of trying to push it away or fight back with anger, which as I explained last time is, “a temporary move as the brain doesn’t have the software to destroy negative emotions for good. They will inevitably come back to bite you. The only way to get past negative emotions is to work through them.” Then, negative emotions transform into a force for growth and learning.

Many positive psychologists believe that the most powerful source of positive emotions, which optimize resilience in the face of adversity, is a sense of meaning and purpose – whether in the moment, making each moment a special contribution, or the arc of your life, what you hope will be your legacy. Read Victor Frankl’s M.D., Ph.D., book, “Man’s Search for Meaning,” the most widely read book on this topic. The importance of meaning is why coaches help clients identify and stay connected to a sense of purpose in each moment, day, and over a life stage, or a whole life. The more purposeful you are, daily if possible, the more you will inspire your clients to pause and reflect on what things mean and their intentions and purpose.

The field of Motivational Interviewing has introduced excellent skills for new coaches to teach helping professionals how to “get out of sales and into fishing” to quote my motivational interviewing trainer colleague, psychologist Robert Rhode, Ph.D. Skilled use of mindful listening (not thinking about what you are going to say next or anything else for that matter), open questions that emerge from a beginner’s mind (no assumptions or expectations), and creative reflections, all deepen exploration and foster insights not possible in an expert-prescriptive communication model.

Behavior change expert and psychologist John Norcross, Ph.D, ABPP, just released a new book on the Transtheoretical Model called “Changeology,” which is chock full of great tips for helping people change, matched to each stage of change, including Psych (getting ready), Prep (preparing for change), Perspire (taking action), Persevere (managing slips), and Persist (maintaining change).

Coaches help clients organize their minds for change and success and if you find your mind to be disorganized you may appreciate my 12- month self-coaching course called “Organize Your Mind to Thrive” build- ing on the Harvard Health book I co-authored with Harvard psychiatrist, Paul Hammerness, M.D. – “Organize Your Mind, Organize Your Life.” While the course is intended for personal growth, the topics, webinars, and exercises are a rich source of resources for your professional life too.

Last but not least, you may want to jump in with both feet and complete a reputable health and wellness coaching program offered by Wellcoaches (ACSM partner), Duke Integrative Medicine, University of Minnesota, or the Wellness Coaching Institute.

Most of all, it’s fun to grow and change and coaches are privileged to facilitate the change process every day. Onward and upward, as I say.

Originally published in ACSM Certified News Coaching Column

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