Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Open Ears, Open Hearts, Open Minds

We speak a lot about the future opportunity that Wellness Coaching has to offer Australians. In September, I was given the opportunity of speaking at the Australian Integrative Medicine (AIM) Conference last Saturday and it was an opportunity to take a close look at how tangible this opportunity really is.

The theme of the conference was “Bridging the Gap” and the aim of the AIM Association is to recognize and bring together health practitioners who use varied disciplines and methodologies to treat their patients. 

I have to admit I was expecting a fairly cool and possibly hostile reception - after all, wellness coaching is a new and unaccredited profession and the medical fraternity can have strong views on who is qualified to “help”.  Instead, I met a lot of people who really did have open hearts and open minds.
The very strong message that came across was that a change in public health would come by taking a united approach. Rather than working in silos we could (and should) work as a team to help people in a variety of ways– whether it was to manage pain, to end their lives with dignity, to stay well or simply to enjoy what they had. 

The shift is in the belief that there has to be a better way of doing these things than the old, cold professional approach that was more about control and delivering “prescriptions”.  Instead, creating rapport, showing empathy and focusing on the relationship as much as the outcomes were as important as the techniques and advice we were trained to give.

These are key principles that underpin wellness coaching and I felt very at home and thoroughly enjoyed my presentation to a room full of people who perhaps knew little about what we did but took only minutes to “get it”.

I spent the limited time I had there listening to people referring to naturopathy, acupuncture, Chinese medicine and many other “alternative” therapies  (known as CAM – Complementary Alternative Medicine) as being legitimate treatment methods.

Far from downplaying the need for evidenced based research and the need for continued growth in this area, the focus was on not so much fixing illness, but perhaps preventing it. As Dr Tim Sharp put it, “If we could cure the population of sickness in the world, would that be enough?”  I think not.   Yes we need to cure illness, but simultaneously we need to promote wellbeing.  Once again, there was recognition that the physical and mental dimensions are inextricably linked.

So how do we do this?  First, we start with an open heart.

To lay aside our professional status and expert knowledge that sometimes defines us takes courage.  Accepting that we don’t really have all the answers take humility.  I have worked with a lot of people now in wellness coaching workshops and love my work so much as the training predominantly attracts people with open hearts and open minds.  And who are humble.  I talk to a lot of very clever people. Clever in different ways. But the ones who embrace the coaching model have without exception a degree of emotional intelligence.

Now our training is accredited with ESSA, we will be seeing more AEPs (Accredited Exercise Physiologists). I look forward to working with this group of people and to helping them help others make positive changes in their lifestyle by using a collaborative, coaching approach. And when I am back in Melbourne in October, I also look forward to having other attendees of the conference in our workshop who wishes to learn more about what we do.  The ball is rolling and we momentum growing and together we are building a tribe.   I love to think that Wellness Coaching is part of the movement that will change the world by breaking down our barriers and helping us support each other through caring, better communication and above all, relationship.

If we can all open our hearts, open our minds and open our ears and take a similar approach to AIMA we would make a bigger difference in healthcare. 

If we can listen to the ideas of others and accept that there is much to learn, we would gain power in using the strength of many. 

If we could empower our clients to take responsibility for change by working with them as coaches, instead of doling out advice, we would truly help them.

If I could provide my trainees with a T shirt it would say, “I don’t have all the answers but I have some really good questions.” 

And above all, we can learn to listen to the answers.


Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Messages we send (and Assumptions we make)!

I recently had the challenge of spending two days with no voice. Laryngitis may not sound like too big a deal for most people but it certainly was a new experience for me and perfect opportunity for mevto do a lot of thinking. Silent thinking not the type that many of us females do – thinking out loud! What was interesting was the way people related to the new silent me. Firstly, people who do a stage whisper instead of speaking in a audible voice don’t fit in as “normal” any more which makes others suspicious and unsure. Why would anyone whisper back to me when they haven’t lost their voice? Let’s presume it’s empathy at work! Secondly, the quality of attention I received was poorer. In stores, I did not get served as quickly or with as much respect. So having a voice helps set our place in the world as someone worthy of attention. It denotes confidence and authority (and a right to exist)! I felt lonely! My wonderful partner is a quieter person than myself and doesn’t feel the need to chat as I do. This made me feel somewhat isolated and apart from him. It got me thinking. I couldn’t express my mood or my needs as well as I would have liked. I resorted to passing a note saying “PLEASE - CAN YOU PROVIDE SOME MINDLESS CONVERSATION?” Later that week I had another experience that made me think about how we present to the world. My colleague came to work with her normally curly abundant hair, straightened. She looked so different I had to comment on it and ask whether this changed anything for her. As expected, she confirmed that people actually treat her differently when her hair is straight as opposed to curly. As if she had a different personality! ASSUMPTIONS WE MAKE All of this got me thinking about the assumptions we make about people based on often the most trivial of signs. And of course, when we are coaching, we are trained to let go of those assumptions and treat each client’s story as uniquely their own – never presuming anything. But is it that easy? I would say not. We all have memories, triggers and filters that direct our understanding of a situation. Yet we cannot rely on these past experiences to be accurate. At most we can be guided by “intuition” but we must have an open mind to alternative truths. As with our clients, so with our friends and colleagues. Many hurts and grudges are borne because of inaccurate interpretation of a comment or a look which has tapped into a memory which might stem from a faulty belief. We tend to be proficient at helping our clients recognize these unhelpful beliefs but are we as good at picking our own? We may be coaches, but we are human and now and again it is a good reminder that signals we send can be received in many different ways. It is also an interesting exercise to try communicating without a voice for a while and to learn to rely on other ways of relaying information and perhaps defining ourselves!

Friday, June 29, 2012

The Purpose and Pleasure Principle

Are you driven by Purpose or Pleasure?
We constantly refer to “wellness” or “wellbeing” as being something more holistic to strive towards than simply “happiness”.
If we ask people what “wellness” means to them we will often hear terms such as “physical health”, “mental health” or “balance” in their response.  Let’s assume that optimal mental and physical health is a desirable state to work towards.  So how do we achieve that? 

If we look at physical health, it somehow seems easier to identify the changes we need to make.  After all, we can all tell when we are “unwell”.  Improvements in strength, fitness, flexibility and body fat levels are all frequently cited as being good areas for focus if we are to become more physically “well”.

But what about mental wellness - closely aligned or some might say interchangeable with “emotional wellness”?  Now that’s more difficult to define. Apart from the more serious and debilitating mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety that so many people struggle with these days, there are less severe levels of “disquiet” or “discontent” that we might experience that are often hard to put a cause to, other than the fact that our lifestyle seems to be out of “balance”. 

So what needs to be balanced better?  A few places to look might be:

  • Time we spend at work and at home
  • Time we give to others and time for ourselves

A closer look at these two might reveal some discrepancies between what we value and what we do.  There are many ways of categorizing where our issues arrive and a common one is Work/Life balance. (Interesting that the phrase implies that Work is the opposite to Life!) So here’s another slant - Does our orientation lie closer to seeking purpose or pleasure?  I recently came across a book by Chris Skillett called “When Happiness is not Enough” in which he puts forward the idea that very often, our lack of satisfaction with life is our inability to achieve a balance between the drive for pleasure and the drive for satisfaction. Let’s look at this more closely.

The purpose versus pleasure driver

We would all agree that experiencing pleasure on one hand and then experiencing satisfaction of achievement both contribute to feelings of wellbeing.   However, an excess of one over the other can lead to problems. Striking a balance between the two is the way to achieving a fulfilling life.  Think about it.  If we lean towards seeking pleasure continually we may well be drawn to a life of excess and lifestyle problems.   However, an excessive focus on achievement will create a different type of problem typified by the over achieving individuals who burn themselves out with huge working hours and a constant feeling of pressure to go after the next goal. 

But this potential imbalance can be experienced in other areas of life. 

What will dictate which side we lean towards is our value system.  When we can identify which our biggest driver is, we will soon understand what shapes our behavior.

Ask  yourself –

  1. When considering your overall life, do you tend to value the drive to achieve or the experience of pleasure?
  2. What does “personal growth” mean to you?  Is it about “knowing yourself better” or striving to be a better person.
We are often obliged to make decisions based on this balance between pleasure and achievement and we will find that we have a preferred style.

Consider these four lifestyles:

  1. The driven lifestyle – high achievement, low pleasure
  2. The stagnant lifestyle – low achievement, low pleasure
  3. The indulgent lifestyle – low achievement, high pleasure
  4. The fulfilled lifestyle – high achievement, high pleasure

Various stages of our life may steer us more towards one of the quadrants listed above more than the other. When we are younger the need to achieve may be more important - to set ourselves up and create a place in society.  As we age, our focus may shift towards enjoying the moment and the simple daily pleasures of life.

Ideally we will have balance of both of these in our leisure, our work and our relationships.  It is also easy to see how incompatibility issues may arise if we choose to share our lives with someone who has a very different driver from us.  The weekends may involve a constant battle between the desire of one, to “get things done” and the other “to relax and chill out”.  Sound familiar?

A workplace can also be geared more towards one than the other.  Does your organisation focus purely on KPI’s and achieving goals, or does the happiness and enjoyment factor of its employees figure into the equation?  Different industries may require different focus and different leaders may create different environments to suit their drive.

The important thing is to recognize how the two drivers influence our life at any time and to attempt to find a balance that works for us at any given point in time.   If we feel that our “wellness” is not at its best, perhaps a quick review of whether we are experiencing enough pleasure and satisfaction in all areas of our life would be a good place to start fixing things.
Stay warm and well,

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Let it Unfold - or Create Change?

At the start of this year I made a decision to observe two principles:
1. Simplify
2. Let it unfold
These had personal significance to me and I really felt that both were a good way of going into the new year and avoiding the self-inflicted stress of over-complicating my life and a tendency towards, shall we say impatience? They have served me well so far, and I wrote about the first in my last newsletter and my understanding of how simplification could be a good thing. And now I review the year to date, I am realizing that the second, is also open to interpretation as to what it means to the individual – when it’s a good rule to follow and when perhaps life needs a bit of a nudge! 

I think that any clich├ęd advice such as the two I have pinpointed can be applied to an individual and only have value if that person is in need of a change in attitude, way of living/working. So if there is anyone out there who, like myself, wants everything to happen NOW, the idea of “letting it unfold” can be a great shift to make. If however, a person has a tendency towards inaction, procrastination and indecision, it could simply be a way of letting them off the hook and be a negative way of viewing the world. So again, we come back to “First, know yourself”! If you are feeling uncomfortable with not knowing the outcome of a situation, the first question to ask is:

 • Is it in my power to reveal the outcome sooner? The second one might be:
 • Is there value in my knowing the outcome sooner?

Taking time to reflect on these two things can produce interesting awareness. For example, it may well be a situation that you have no power to change. That the answer lies with someone else and when the time is right, all will be revealed. Not much you can do about it other than let it go! When we make a conscious decision to do this, our anxiety about the outcome reduces. (The Serenity Prayer has not stood the test of time for nothing.)

The second one may produce the answer “yes”. “If I knew more NOW then I could make other decisions and move forward with a Plan.” We love to plan. What lies behind this is the need for control, for self determination and a desire for being in charge of our lives. Nothing wrong with that. But there are times when knowing the outcome of a situation earlier, may not be the best thing. Perhaps other things will change in the coming weeks, months that will provide more information and allow you to make a better decision when the outcome is finally revealed.

This year, for me has been a wonderful year of “letting it unfold”. If I had had the answer earlier, I might not have the opportunities that now exist. When we work with clients, this simple exercise of asking those two questions can be very helpful in letting them decide what action to take and what goals to set. We don’t always help clients move forward. Sometimes we help them sit “in the muck” while life runs its course and they become clearer on what to do. If we understand what this feels like, then our empathy increases.

Friday, March 30, 2012


Hi everyone,

I have been thinking a lot about how complicated life can become and of the benefits of simplifying life to achieve more, so thought I'd share with you in this newsletter.

Many of us suffer from complete overload of things to think about in our increasingly busy lives. We have deadlines to meet, challenges to overcome and sometimes buried in the midst of this mass of commitments are the goals we want to achieve! Here we are approaching the end of March and how many of us are asking ourselves, “Where is the year going?” Behind this is a sense of time rushing away and a sneaking regret that we still haven’t completed any of the projects we set out to finish in our rush of enthusiasm at the start of the new year!

I can certainly relate to this and I have spent a lot of time reading ideas on how best to structure our time, our workspace, our energy (and even our brain) to get the most out of life and make sure we do get a sense of fulfilment from the completion of unfinished business or plans!

I am learning a lot about how we need to direct our attention to focus clearly on the task at hand but at the same time, know when to apply the brakes and step back from what we are doing when the time is right and our work is unproductive. There is so much fantastic information out there and knowledge to be gained that can really help us live better lives and follow our passions instead of getting caught up in the myriad of smaller jobs that a) we don’t enjoy, and b) don’t use our strengths.

This last week I have great cause to celebrate. I have ticked the box on one of the long outstanding projects that I have had on my list for over a year now! Last January I set out to convert my Level 1 Wellness Coaching workshop into an online version, thinking I would kick it over in a month or so. But life got in the way and here I am – 15 months later (at last) with the final product completed, accredited and ready to be launched! And a huge feeling of achievement and satisfaction – one of the five pillars of wellbeing that Martin Selgiman identifies as being important for many people. If this was so important to me, then why didn’t I get it finished earlier?

If we can step back and look at the choices we make each day as to how to spend our time it can tell us a lot about our operating system (for want of a better term). I believe that we are often caught up in a fast flowing stream that feels like it’s going in the right direction but we haven’t really got time to check in on that or whether there is anything along the way we might like to stop and look at! Our to-do lists become a burdensome picture of guilt, particularly when the majority of items are unchecked each night/week/month (that was certainly the case with my online program!)

There has to be a better way of doing things and I am realising that there is. By a slow and careful process of change in my own daily habits, I am incorporating systems to ensure I have control of how I use my time and energy - no different from helping people choose nutritional or exercise habits that will serve them well in the long time, I am coaching myself to a better way of working (and living) and becoming aware of my tendency to sometimes get lost in the big picture and forget to structure the steps needed to get where I want to go. I am also recognising that there are times that I need to apply the brakes and shift my attention from the task at hand to achieve the kind of life balance that I so wholeheartedly encourage my clients to have. Life isn’t just a goal but it is nice now and again to kick some but certainly to enjoy the game that we play along the way.

Recommended reading:

Getting things done – Steve Allen
Organise your mind – Margaret Moore and Paul Hammersmith