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Ten Coaching Tips for Health Professionals

While your environment may not allow the time for a full coaching conversation, utilizing all of the tools and theories related to behavior change, you can take the “coach approach”, even in a short patient visit, with these tips in mind:

1. Be a Role Model. Engage in upgrading your personal health behaviors in order to walk the walk. Be patient and understanding in discussing how to change when change is hard.

2. Be Present. Give your undivided attention to a patient, not distracted by your thoughts, infinite to-do list, papers, or computer screen. Stop the clock for a few moments and cultivate a deep level of presence so that you listen with all of your brain’s resources.

3. Share Positive Emotions. Ask patients about what is going well in their lives, in their health, what they are enjoying most, what puts a spring in their steps, what they are most grateful for. Positive emotions improve the brain’s potential to learn, strategize, and find creative solutions for challenges.

4. Improve Self-Compassion. In our high-achieving culture, most people are highly critical of themselves, not accepting, judgmental, or compassionate toward their own suffering and failings, all of which assist in regulating negative emotions. Model self-compassion for your own suffering, and radiate compassion for the messiness of being human, and the many challenges that make it hard to take good care of one’s health.

5. Elicit Motivation. The bigger the why the easier the how. Help people dig deep to find what they treasure most about their lives and why health is an important resource, the means to what they desire most in life.

6. Improve Confidence. Motivation goes to sleep when confidence is low. Help patients articulate several ways that might work to overcome challenges, which builds confidence and hope. Whether you think you can, or think you can’t, you are right, says Henry Ford.

7. Welcome and Learn from Setbacks. Help patients adopt the growth mindset, not a success/fail or self-esteem based mindset. Every step is simply an experiment. Every result brings more learning. Problems are opportunities in work-clothes, said Henry Ford.

8. Foster Creativity. Brainstorm possibilities to overcome challenges in a light and playful manner in order to generate new ideas, the wilder the better until new energy and insights emerge.

9. Catalyze Insights. View your role as a catalyst of your patient’s insights, not the know-it-all expert. Facilitate the generation of insights through provocative open questions and creative reflections. Get out of sales and into fishing.

10. Set a behavioral goal. Help patients define and commit to a behavioral goal. Any action, even small behavioral steps, starts momentum for the change journey. It’s easier to change course when there is momentum than to overcome inertia.

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