What if… mindfulness were a coaching tool?

It had been a taxing coaching session. Concentration on listening, feeding back, spotting limiting self-beliefs, challenging… Even, let it be said, dealing with a little voice of frustration whispering in my ear – a voice which faded away soon after it began…

Reflecting afterwards on the session it suddenly struck me. The voice of frustration had faded away so fast. Why? I puzzled over this and a realisation dawned… What if mindfulness were a coaching tool? It certainly looked like it had become so for me. How?

Blue swirlsWell, over some years I’ve persevered to establish a formal mindfulness practice. In addition to trying as best I can to be mindful of the present moment in the ups and downs of life, most days I manage to take time out for a few minutes to sit quietly and concentrate on my breath, getting in touch with what’s going on for me internally, and how that might be affecting my attitude in the here and now. I realised during my reflection on the coaching session that this mindfulness practice has influenced the way I attend to distraction, the focusing of attention, and the flow of emotion as I am coaching.

Whilst I wouldn’t go so far as to suggest mindfulness is the solution for all ills, I would say that for me it has a definite value in increasing my awareness of what’s really influencing my mood or niggling away at the back of my mind or my emotions. It’s also helped develop my capacity for patience, identification of and trust in my gut feelings, and ability to remain calm in circumstances that would once have been beyond my ability to endure…

Here I’d like to share a couple of insights into why for me mindfulness has become an effective coaching tool, touching on:

  • thoughts, emotions and distractions as clouds that pass
  • identification of what’s really going on for me emotionally during sessions

Thoughts, emotions and distractions as clouds that pass

Over time and with a non-judgemental, patient and kindly approach, mindfulness increases the capacity of the individual to sit back calmly and observe thoughts and emotions as passing phenomena. In a state of ‘doing’ the brain engages thoughts in particular as ‘truths’ to be pursued, explained and ‘solved’. In a mindful state of ‘being’, however, the brain allows these thoughts and emotions to exist, observes them – and lets them go.

Blue green butterflyOver time, a mindfulness practice can help free the mind from the compulsion to ruminate on the past or future. Instead, an alternative vista of ‘being’ is opened up – focusing attention on the direct experience of the here and now, most commonly through concentration on the flow of the breath through the body. Over time, the capacity to be ‘present’ with thoughts, emotions and distractions is strengthened, wherein kindly curiosity and observation help one identify thoughts, emotions and distractions, come close to them, name them – then let them pass.

In this process, thoughts and emotions are often described as moving through the mind in the way that clouds cross the sky – tangible realities until they pass and disappear. Allowing them to just ‘be’ without engaging them means that in their own good time they move on.

Of what relevance is all this to coaching?     Well, I’ve found over time that I’ve become able to coexist with distracting thoughts and feelings in such a way that, if need be, I can screen them out to concentrate on something else. The voice of frustration that whispered in my ear during that coaching session would once have engaged my full attention, distracting my mind and limiting my ability to be ‘with’ the coachee. But a mindful detachment allowed me to non-judgmentally disengage and allow that voice of frustration to just ‘be’. Losing the nourishment of attention, it moved on. Like a cloud, it passed. And I was left to continue concentrating on the task at hand…

Identification of what’s really going on emotionally

Sometimes coaches can leave sessions with strong but difficult-to-identify emotions. I know that happens to me. A period of mindfulness can help tease out what’s really going on. In my experience, getting ‘close’ to those emotions in a kindly, welcoming way can sometimes encourage verbal expressions to emerge of what they represent. Indeed, it may be that several emotions are involved – a combination, at the root of which is the one that’s really the heart of the issue. And it might not be the one identified at first!

Small white birds in blue skyThink about it. We can frequently become angry, frustrated or despondent – and blame a particular person or event. However, I find that taking time out to mindfully examine my inner landscape in such circumstances can sometimes reveal that the underlying cause is something completely different, more often than not related to an internal dialogue of my own. Externalising, or blaming another individual for causing one’s discomfort, frustration or anger may in reality be covering emotions or feelings that point to deeper anxieties or worries. When the emotions or feelings are identified, and the deeper anxieties or worries are named, they can be gently approached in ‘being’ mode during the mindfulness practice – quite often fading away once they are recognised and accepted rather than hidden away and obscured…

Of what relevance is all this to coaching?     Well, whilst it may not be of much help when a coaching session is ongoing, this kind of mindful approach certainly catalyses enlightenment during periods of reflection afterwards. Those strong but difficult-to-identify emotions mentioned above are trying to tell us something at the end of sessions. A mindful approach to allowing that message to be expressed and heard enriches our insight into what happened for us in the coaching session, as well as expands the kind of ‘knowledge’ we are able to access. And that can only enhance our coaching capability as well as the quality of the service we can offer our coachees…

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5 thoughts on “What if… mindfulness were a coaching tool?

  1. sorry about that, I did close an initial blog and transferred to a new one, that’s probably the issue. If you are interested this is the blog Breathe Underwater
    https://underwaterbreathes.wordpress.com/. You may be interested in the mindfulness and emotion posts, would love to hear any comments or thoughts. Kind regards, Chris

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I think you’re right that our society does struggle to pause and allow the time/space for considering emotion. We struggle to pause and allow time/space for a lot of important things, like getting to know ourselves and taking care of ourselves. About your blog, I’ve clicked Chisi98 and it says the blog’s been removed, so I don’t seem to be able to access your work…


  3. Totally agree on reasoning and yet our reason can so easily be influenced by those emotions. I think as a society we struggle to pause and allow that time/space to consider the emotion. I also write on WordPress on emotions and mindfulness if interested…not trying to use this reply to self promote, just some similarities in what we write about, albeit I come at it from a mental health view. Anyhow, thanks again for this article.

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  4. Thanks for dropping by and for the comment. It seems to me there are numerous sources of learning we’re not good at accessing in our society, and feelings/emotions are among them. Maybe it’s our inherited ‘either/or’ approach, and the way emotions have been denigrated as opposed to ‘reason’. Whatever the case, in my experience, ‘listening’ to emotions and feelings in a mindful way opens up space for learning and incorporating that knowledge into thought and (potentially) action. ‘Intuition’ can tell us a lot, and ignoring it is ignoring part of our selves…

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  5. Nice article and I see mindfulness as a key coaching tool, both for the coach and the coached. The emotional distraction you refer to is definitely a key thing to explore and understand, to help with learning. Our initial emotional reaction to something is often a key pointer to an underlying change we may wish to make or a value we feel is compromised. But we so often ignore it.

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