Coaching as a Mindfulness Practice

I’m noticing that my meditation practice is informing my coaching practice and vice-versa, in a virtuous cycle.

This makes perfect sense in my own mind, but let’s see if I can put it into words!

For starters, I think of meditation as one type of mindfulness practice. In my Psych degree I reviewed some research on mindfulness, and found that it was defined in the literature as a combination awareness and acceptance. My brain made it into a formula:

Mindfulness = Awareness + Acceptance

There are many ways to practice mindfulness, and many types of meditation. So I’ll just discuss what I mean in terms of these two elements.

Awareness

Coaching is so much about being completely present (in the moment) with the client and not my own thoughts. My own ideas, beliefs, and judgements come up, of course; the practice is to notice them and acknowledge they are my own (often not remotely relevant to the client), and let them go.

In meditation, it is helpful to have a point of focus; it’s often the breath but it could be a mantra or other point. Coaching is client-centred. My practice is to focus on them and just listen. To what the they are saying. To what they are not saying. To my own body, noticing what comes up for me and if it is a reflection of the client.

In meditation, there is an awareness practice called labelling. It’s a very gentle acknowledgement of a thought or feeling that comes up. With practice, one can label in a tiny bit more detail – perhaps the thought or feeling is pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral. With time, it can become more specific without a whole lot of over-thinking and meta-processing (double and triple looping about the thought or feeling)! Which brings me to acceptance.

Acceptance

I think of acceptance as releasing judgment or worry. In order to cultivate trust and safety, coaches need to demonstrate unconditional acceptance of who their client is and where they are. It’s not about agreeing (that would be a form of judgment), it’s more about acknowledging without attachment.

It’s not the coach’s job to assign value to anything about the client. Only to notice and accept. I use the Headspace meditation app and it has a little cartoon video illustrating this concept. Thoughts are like cars driving by on a road. We are just sitting on a hillside watching those cars drive by. We don’t try to stop them or change their directions.

Applying Meditation to Coaching

The practice of awareness allows the coach to reflect back to the client. For example, “I’m noticing my body responding to something in you that feels like grief to me.” Or something much simpler, like pointing out posture, tone of voice, other body language. Even more on the surface, it can be noticing that a word or phrase keeps on repeating.

The acceptance part is this: if that information is useful to the client then they will take it. Otherwise, let it go like watching the cars drive by on a highway. It’s not our job to control their traffic. 

There are so many more layers and parallels and applications, but these are the ones that have been swimming around in my consciousness lately.

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