I have been a coach for over 10 years and a mindfulness practitioner for the last 2 ½ and have been sufficiently struck by its impact on my life and my work to have become involved in both teaching and researching it.
Mindfulness has been practiced by Buddhists for centuries and there are thousands of people around the world who have been practicing mindfulness for many more years than I have and who are much better placed to talk about its many long term impacts and benefits. Equally there are neuroscientists who can articulate much better than I can the growing body of evidence of how the brain changes with sustained mindfulness practice, helping to make sense of some of the impacts that practitioners report.
Many of the benefits my colleagues and I have experienced from developing a mindfulness practice are very relevant to working as a coach. Benefits such as:
- An increased sense of calmness and equanimity.
- An increased ability to bring myself into the present moment and to notice when that is not where my attention is.
- More refined noticing of what is going on in my body in the present moment
- Clearer articulation of what I notice.
- A heightened sense of the difference between simply noticing something and interpreting or judging it and the power of this.
- More connectedness and empathy with myself and with others – more kindness, less judgement.
The usefulness of most of the above to a coach is largely self-evident. Each of them has had a direct impact on my coaching work and I believe has helped me to be of greater service to my clients.
My increased ability to notice and articulate clearly what is going on in the present moment during the coaching session, gives both my coachee and me much more data to work with – data about the coachee, the impact she is having, the relationship. In particular, it is the clearer articulation that coachees say is especially helpful. Rather than feedback and observations drawn often from intuition and therefore sometimes difficult to explain, I now find I can be much clearer about what it is I am seeing, hearing, feeling etc .
Greater calmness and groundedness has been really useful in enabling me to be less unhelpfully entangled in my coachees’ activation and emotions. I can stay in a place of empathy but also aware of when that is tipping into a desire to in some way ‘rescue’ the client for reasons of my own. From this place I am much more able to truly help the client.
Needless to say, being able to bring yourself into the present moment more quickly is an extremely useful tool when preparing for a coaching session. Some internal coaches I have worked with in particular talk about the usefulness of being able to focus on their breath for just a few minutes before a coaching session. This brings their attention more fully to the present, enabling them to focus more on the coaching session and less on whatever else they are currently preoccupied with in the work environment.
This is what you ‘practice’ when you do mindfulness meditation. You sit on a mat or in a chair for 20 minutes everyday – noticing your breathing or what is going on in your body or in your thoughts in that moment and bringing your attention gently back to your breathing when you notice it has wandered. And it will wander. Buddhists talk about ‘monkey mind’ and we all have one. Thoughts, significant and completely insignificant, float in and out of our heads all the time and a lot of them are judgements of some kind, of situations, of others and of ourselves. Whilst some of this serves us some of the time, it also gets in the way of being truly present to what is happening in the moment.
Practicing every day increases your awareness of when you are not present in day-to-day life. The more you notice this and practice bringing your attention back to the present in all sorts of daily activities from brushing your teeth to washing up to going for a run, the more aware you become of your level of presence when you coach and the more able you are to keep bringing your attention back fully in service of your coachee.
Much of the research around mindfulness has been done in clinical and therapeutic settings, where mindfulness is taught to the patient or client in order to help them with whatever condition is being treated. This has been particularly successful in cases of depression, trauma and addiction. For me the next interesting step is how mindfulness might be a helpful intervention with some coachees, particularly those suffering from stress and anxiety.