Many coaches who value mindfulness wonder, “Why do I need to focus on mindfulness any more than I already have?”
That is a fabulous question.
One of my students has taken Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) training ten times and studied with Jon Kabat-Zinn.
She said, “Working with Brett took my work to an entirely new level.”
Another trained MBSR facilitator said, “If you wish to use mindfulness as a coaching tool in sessions actively, this is the way.”
Advancements in Our Understanding and Practice of Mindfulness
Since the standard mindfulness training was created decades ago, much research has been conducted on the impacts of mindfulness on your nervous system and general health. In addition, we have a deeper understanding of how mindfulness can be taught based on decades of clinical practice.
That said, the standard mindfulness training is still the standard training created many decades ago.
Here’s a quote from an interview I enjoyed conducting with Dr. Ron Siegel, who teaches mindfulness to therapists at Harvard and elsewhere.
“Traditionally, mindfulness is taught first with a focus on attention training. But we now know [meaning that there used to be different assumptions, and now we have better intel] that the biggest contributor to transformation is open acceptance of your experience, whether good or bad. This is what has proven to be true in therapy and should apply to coaching as well
This is an excellent example of why coaches who have had traditional mindfulness training can improve further with a coach context-specific. You might be inclined to help a client with attention training first, as that is how traditional mindfulness is taught, but open awareness and acceptance are now seen as the “fastest path” to transformation in sessions.
Coaches benefit immensely from having a foundational understanding of neurology.
In truth, when working with clients, we’re helping people learn to manage their nervous systems.
It’s useful for a coach to know what part of a client’s nervous system you’re working with.
Can you spot, for example, when executive functions kick in? Identify state changes in the limbic system and know who to use them in coaching. Notice trauma responses that are somatically triggered (and realize why you can’t just talk your way through that?). This one is tricky and takes some study—much misinformation about trauma exists.
Also, in this area are breathing techniques you can teach your client. What are the methods, and when to when to use them?
I sometimes call this part of the work “mindful triage” skills you can teach your clients.
Specific issues arise when you’re a coach that are not issues you are taught about when learning mindfulness.
For example, role authority. You are the paid professional. The client trusts you to use this implied authority skillfully and carefully.
Ron Kurtz, the founder of the Hakomi method, used to say to clients, “I’m in charge of the session, and you’re in charge of me.”
There is a lot of wisdom in this in that it gives the client the power to be in charge and invites them to follow your lead.
Good coaching involves “dual-awareness,” where you are very mindfully paying attention to (“tracking“), in a state of refined open awareness, what the client is saying and doing, AND your own experience of the client. (These are all terms from Hakomi).
You have your own center, AND you stay in that center even if the client is emotional, provocative, or otherwise challenging.
In this way, you become aware of mindfully making coaching decisions that benefit your client.
And that “being aware” part is key.
Relational & Micro Mindfulness:
Most mindfulness training is taught as a solo effort.
This is due to its roots coming from Buddhist practices that were essentially contemplative in nature. This is a great practice, and I strongly recommend it, but it is not relationally focused by design, what my colleague Mark Leonard calls Social Mindfulness.
He’s done research on relational mindfulness practices and “brief” mindfulness techniques resulting in a new way to teach mindfulness that is very effective.
Frequency is more important than duration.
Diana Winston, director of the Mindfulness Awareness Research Center, developed the notion of “Glimpse” practices based on this notion.
So for the best impact, combining short, repeatable, practical exercises that can be practiced several times a day is an excellent benefit for you and your clients, mainly when they are somatically focused in a relational context.
I call these “micro mindfulness” practices and use them extensively in my work to significant effect.
Consider what’s it like for you when you talk to someone who is being present and mindful.
Did it have an impact on you?
Did it change the conversation?
Modeling is one of the most essential benefits of coach-focused mindfulness.
I often hear from clients and students that they learn much about being more mindful and present simply because of our interaction.
Jon Eisman, who founded the Mindful Experiential Therapeutic Approaches (META) center in Portland (and created the Re-Creation of the Self method, which I studied), called this “being the surrogate operating system for the client.”
Ron Kurtz used to say, “Simply being in rapport with someone in a state of Loving Presence is healing.”
In this way, people can learn about mindfulness indirectly through direct experience.
Tomorrow focuses on one simple technique you can use immediately to improve your session.
If you resonate with this article, you can take a 6 week Mindfulness and Presence FastTrack designed specifically to help coaches and other helping professionals bring more mindfulness and presence into their work.
You’re invited to join The Mindful Coach Association. Membership is completely free. List your services and meet your colleagues in open, supportive, weekly community meetings as well as enjoy the other benefits. We even have our own podcast!