What are you doing right now? What are you thinking about as you’re reading this? At this very moment, how happy or unhappy are you? Indulge me, if you will, and answer these questions as truthfully as possible.
Now, whatever your answers were to the questions above, are you paying attention to them? Or are you letting your mind wander off to other thoughts and matters? I think it’s likely that your mind is already racing ahead to other things, perhaps the unfinished laundry, that call you need to make, or whether the traffic will be bad.
The thing is, our human minds tend to wander, and this can cause us to feel unhappy, unproductive, and prone to anxiety, depression, stress, and burnout.
Psychologists Matthew A. Killingsworth and Daniel T. Gilbert of Harvard University published research recently in Science Magazine that revealed that a human mind is a wandering mind, and a wandering mind is an unhappy mind. They state that people’s minds wander 46.9% of the time, thinking about something other than the task at hand.
Killingworth added that “Mind-wandering appears ubiquitous across all activities.” The happiest people were making love, exercising, or engaging in conversation. The least happy people were at rest, working, or using a home computer.
Let’s put this under the coaching microscope. Do you think a wandering mind is conducive to a coach’s productivity, performance, and overall well-being? I hear a resounding NO. What does this mean to you as a coach, and how can you improve your wandering mind? The solution lies in the practice of mindfulness.
If you are passionate about coaching, about using and applying the ICF core coaching competencies, and looking to polish your coaching skills – read on for strategies to incorporate mindfulness into your coaching practice.
Understanding What Is Mindfulness In Coaching
Coaching is an evolving and intimate relationship between coach and client that is built on trust and mutual respect. A quality coaching conversation requires the coach’s full attention; it’s being present in the moment and aware of what is being said.
Practicing mindfulness is being aware of your own reactions, emotions, and thoughts while remaining non-judgmental. In other words, mindfulness is the capacity to be aware of what is happening in the present moment without becoming hijacked by thoughts about the past or future.
Mindfulness has become a bit of a buzzword in recent years, with people from all walks of life singing praises for its tremendous impact on our personal and professional lives. Organizations, corporations, government, healthcare, education, and even leisure and entertainment – it seems that everyone is trying to get a piece of the mindfulness pie.
Jon Kabat-Zinn, professor emeritus of medicine at the University of Massachusetts and the creator of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society, defines mindfulness as “The awareness that arises through paying attention to purpose in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”
When you are mindful, you can have greater clarity, focus, and understanding. You can also build trust quicker, be more attuned to your client’s needs, and create a safe environment for open and honest dialogue.
Fundamentals program. So let’s dive deeper into how mindfulness adds value to a coaching session
The Benefits Of Mindfulness In Coaching
Mindfulness is not the solution for all the ills in the workplace, but it does offer a number of benefits that can help you to perform better as a coach and have a positive impact on your client’s professional or leadership development.
The International Coach Federation (ICF) has outlined the 8 core competencies that all certified coaches should have. Yes, you guessed it – mindfulness is needed for effective coaching and specifically shows up in these three ICF core competencies; (2) Embodies a Coaching Mindset, (5) Maintains Presence and (7) Evokes Awareness.
Learning all 8 core coaching competencies is at the heart of any professional coach education, and at The Coaching Academy for Leaders, we teach these competencies to our aspiring leadership coaches in our Phase 1: Coaching Fundamentals program. So let’s dive deeper into how mindfulness adds value to a coaching session.
Here are some of the benefits of mindfulness in coaching:
1. Practicing mindfulness can help you to become a better listener
The art of listening is one of the most important skills a coach can have. When you are truly present with your client and listening to them, they feel heard, validated, and understood. This creates a safe space for them to open up and share their innermost thoughts and feelings.
There are various mindfulness meditation practices you can do to help you become a better listener, even without the deeper process of formal meditation practice. One is to focus on your breath and count each inhale and exhale (which we will tackle in the latter part of this article). This mindfulness exercise will help you to become more aware of your thoughts and emotions and allow you to be present in the moment. Mindfulness training opens a new path towards the next level of listening – understanding what was not said. This evokes awareness and helps a coach tailor the best coaching approach for the client.
2. Mindfulness can help you to become more attuned to your client’s needs
I love this quote from Sylvia Boorstein – “Mindfulness is the aware, balanced acceptance of the present experience. It isn’t more complicated than that. It is opening to or receiving the present moment, pleasant or unpleasant, just as it is, without either clinging to it or rejecting it.”
Anyone can find themselves more attuned to their surroundings and the needs of others when they practice mindfulness and are open to receiving the present moment.
But mindfulness can be a key tool for coaches because it helps them focus on the present moment and be more aware of the cues their client is giving off. This can be anything from body language to the tone of their voice. When you are attuned to your client’s needs, you can better understand them and what they are going through. This allows you to give them the support they need to achieve their goals.
3. Mindfulness training strengthens clarity, creates empathy, and builds trust
The ability to be clear and concise is important in coaching. When you can communicate clearly, your client will be able to understand you and your message. This creates a foundation of trust between you and your client.
Mindfulness can help you become more aware of your thoughts and emotions, which will allow you to communicate more effectively. When you can understand your own thoughts and emotions, you will be better equipped to understand your client’s as well. This creates empathy and builds trust.
Practice Mindfulness Coaching With These 3 Tips
Self-awareness and mindfulness are two important qualities of being an effective coach. By being mindful of our thoughts and feelings, we can learn more about ourselves and what is important to us. Mindfulness also helps develop self-awareness, which is the first component of emotional intelligence.
Recent research at Case Western Reserve University suggests that a mindful workplace boosts employee focus, attention, and behavior while reducing stress levels. Often dismissed by companies and seen as spiritual, mental, or “woo-woo,” mindfulness has become more mainstream in recent years as studies have shown its benefits.
The good news is that you don’t need to be fully grounded in a deep mindfulness practice to start reaping its benefits. A growth mindset, openness to trying new things, and a willingness to be vulnerable are all you need to get started.
Here are three tips to help you get started:
1. Schedule time for mindfulness practice
The building blocks of mindfulness are self-awareness and focus. To develop these skills, you need to dedicate time to practice. You can start by setting aside 15-30 minutes daily to sit quietly and focus on your breath.
Consistency is key when it comes to mindfulness practice. If you can, try to practice at the same time each day. This will help your mind and body to get into a regular rhythm. Remember, the goal is not to clear your mind of all thoughts but rather to focus on the present moment.
2. Experiment with different techniques
There are many different mindfulness exercises, so it may take trial and error to find the one that works best for you. You can start by trying out some of the most popular techniques, such as:
Dr. Scott Symington describes a simple breathing technique in his book, Freedom from Anxious Thoughts and Feelings, where you focus on your breath and count each inhale and exhale.
“All you need to do is picture a box with equal sides, where the inhale, the holding of the breath, and exhale are all four counts. As you take in a breath, for four counts, visualize traveling up one side of the square. Next, imagine moving across the top of the square during the four counts of holding your breath. Then follow the breath down the right side of the box on the exhale and watch it travel across the bottom of the square on the breath hold, following the exhale. Repeat the pattern.”
Picture yourself in a peaceful place, such as a beach or meadow. Leave no room for outside thoughts, negative emotions, or distractions. Focus on the sights, smells, and sounds of your peaceful place.
3. Use triggers to remind you to be mindful
It can be helpful to set reminders throughout the day to return to the present moment. These reminders can be in the form of alarm clocks, post-it notes, or even apps. Committing to this practice and being consistent is essential for developing your mindfulness.
As simple and easy as it sounds, it can be difficult to remember to be mindful throughout the day. Our phones are a great reminder tool we already have with us everywhere we go. You can set up alarms and notifications, or even download apps that will remind you to take a break and be present.
Mindfulness Is A Coaching Tool
Goldman Sachs, BlackRock, and General Mills are just a few organizations that have hopped on the mindfulness bandwagon in recent years. Aetna, the insurance company, reported that their employees who participated in a four-week mindfulness coaching program saw a reduction in their stress levels and increased employee engagement.
These are corporate juggernauts who know a good thing when they see it. And, as the world of work becomes more and more stressful, the demand for coaches who can incorporate mindfulness into their coaching practice will only continue to grow.
As the founder of The Coaching Academy for Leaders, the professional coach training that I offer helps coaches improve, enhance, and incorporate mindfulness into their coaching work. I’ve seen firsthand the powerful effects of mindfulness in the coaching industry and its contribution to creating high-performing teams.
If you would like to learn more about becoming a professional coach, incorporating mindfulness into your coaching practice, or learning about the 8 ICF core coaching competencies, please get in touch. I’m more than happy to guide you on your journey toward becoming a mindful and present coach.
By Corry Robertson