As coaches and as people, the most common misconception we have is that we should be perfect, or need to have it all figured out, before we can be of help to someone else.
My experience is that nothing could be further from the truth.
We all have experiences that feel like failure to us, and in some ways they probably are: a job gone wrong, the end of a relationship, a missed opportunity; but if we are honest, these are the very experiences that have ultimately made us better human beings, have opened our hearts and minds and allowed us to connect more deeply with ourselves and with others.
The end of my marriage has been both my biggest failure and my biggest teacher. Although it has taken a toll on me in many unexpected ways, it opened me up to insights and understanding that have made me a better person and a more compassionate and effective coach.
I learned to let go: of belongings, a home, a lifestyle, financial security, and even of what I thought my relationship with my children should be. After initially trying to hang on to as much of my old life as possible, I realized just how much of a burden many of these things had become and how little they had to do with me, my values or how I truly want to live my life.
Coming out on the other side of anger, frustration and depression, I have learned that I will be ok, even though I do not know what the future will hold. It has given me that certainty that only comes from firsthand experience: that it is never too late and that, for better or for worse, nothing lasts forever and, precisely because of that, so many things are possible.
This sense of empowerment, excitement and wonder is something I share with my clients. With compassion and respect for their struggles and fears, and with the joy and honour of being part of their journey, I join them and sustain them in their search for the hidden gems of opportunity, happiness and beauty that are within their reach.
If we are to help our clients to be their very best – authentic, happy and fulfilled – mindfulness definitely has a lot to offer.
What actually happens in a mindfulness practice? Different traditions may have slightly different meditation methods, however, mindfulness is most often taught by following the breath.
For instruction, there are any number of qualified teachers: Thich Nath Hanh, Dalai Lama, Ekhart Tolle, Kathleen MacDonald, Susan Piver, Lodro Rinzler, Stephen Pende, Davide Cova and a world of others. You can learn by reading about it, watching videos on websites or YouTube and attending teachings in person.
Here are some ways in which mindfulness can help you become a better coach:
1. IT WILL GIVE YOU SPACE TO SIMPLY BE
By learning to sit, quietly focused on your breath, you gradually begin to notice your thoughts. At first it will seem like a bunch of crazed monkeys are running the show – hence the common name for this phenomenon of “monkey mind”.
Not only will you become aware of this in yourself, you will become more sensitive to the fact that this is also what your clients are going through, and it is difficult for them and a cause of suffering. This insight in itself is reason enough to practice, but there is so much more.
Once you learn to identify less with these thoughts, you are able to find the space between your thoughts, and this is a revelation.
Thoughts become merely clouds that are passing through the blue sky of your natural state and are not YOU. It is a revelation for many people to experience that we are not our thoughts. Discovering that these “things” that keep us up at night, make us angry, happy or sad, are not an intrinsic part of ourselves is liberating.
This gives you freedom and space, but more importantly, it gives freedom and space to your clients as well.
You learn to just sit with them and their emotions, their problems and their breakthroughs, and together you will “taste” or “savour” each of these moments. By slowing down and giving yourself and your clients space to merely be, a world of opportunities opens within them.
Insights arise and have the time to be internalized, uncomfortable thoughts and ideas can be faced without the need to give an immediate solution or answer. Because sometimes things just are.
The best coaches accompany their clients on a voyage of self-discovery. They facilitate and provide tools and techniques for the clients to get in touch with their own innate wisdom, and then once discovered, help that to flourish.
By resisting the temptation to fix, provide solutions, or sometimes even to ask questions, there is more time for a client’s self-discovery.
This creates the possibility of a truly transformational experience rather than a quick fix.
As Rich Litvin says, “it’s the deep work you need to do on yourself. You cannot take a client any deeper than you’ve gone yourself.”
2. IT GIVES YOU FOCUS
By learning to focus on the breath, we are in fact, learning the art of concentrating on one object single-pointedly. This can be our breath, a task, an emotion or another person. Once we have begun to learn this basic skill, it will arise naturally in everything we do.
We become more focused on the task at hand without letting our minds wander. How many times have our thoughts about a project, a problem or something to do snuck up on us during a session, even though it is truly our heart’s desire to be there for our client?
Shamata is a Sanskrit term that means that the meditator is able to focus their undivided attention on a single object of their choice, without digression or distraction of any kind whatsoever, for more than 4 hours at a time!
While this is an incredibly beneficial goal, and something I would highly recommend to anyone who has the motivation and the time, it is not necessary to reach those levels before you reap the incredible benefits of a more focused mind.
By staying focused, you help your client stay on task.
More can get done in a session, not in the sense of cramming in as much as possible because you want to make sure that you “deliver”, but in the sense of “being in the flow” that we all seek. As children we had a very developed sense of this. How many times did we lose ourselves in play, oblivious of the world? By improving your concentration, you can achieve more in less time with a sense of spaciousness.It’s almost as if time slows down.
3. IT MAKES YOU A BETTER LISTENER
How is it possible to be an effective coach if we are not able to truly listen to what our clients are saying and what they really mean?
Deep listening is a practice taught by Vietnamese Zen master Thich Nath Hanh. By learning to concentrate and still our minds, this inevitablycreates the conditions for us to become better listeners.
It is a way of hearing that happens when we are fully present, in the moment, without trying to control or judge.
This is a far cry from merely listening. It is a profound practice during which we let go of our need to judge, to form answers and we listen with the deepest respect possible to what is being said.
We often have a limiting belief that listening is a passive activity, yet nothing could be further from the truth.
A contemplative mind, open, spacious and vibrant, listens actively. As coaches and people, we often focus on the next thing to say or plan our next statement and this detracts from paying full attention.
Attentive listening rather than reactive listening lets all of this go,increases retention and encourages insight.
4. IT REDUCES STRESS AND INCREASES POSITIVE STATES OF MIND
There is a large body of scientific literature explaining how meditation and mindfulness help us reduce stress and increase positive mindsets. Neural pathways are “smoothed” to make way for new ones, endorphins improve your mood, blood pressure lowers, sleep improves, ageing is slowed and cognitive faculties improve.
Quantum physics has come a long way in proving that we are all connected. By feeling this way yourself, you will inevitably have a positive effect on your clients and their state of mind.
Seeing how focused, productive yet relaxed you are will be an inspiration, not only to work with you, but to include this practice in their own lives.
5. IT BUILDS CONNECTION
By being quiet, you allow your clients to quiet themselves, slow their words, their thoughts and relax their bodies and minds.
By being still and observing your client, you create the opportunity to build a profound connection with them through mirroring and matching.
Tony Robins explains these techniques as the most effective way to build rapport with your client, or with anyone you have a relationship with, in this fantastic article by Ajit Nawalka.
My matching our clients’ tone, words, body language and breathing, we can build a deep sense of connection and trust that opens them even more to a transformational experience. By allowing ourselves to slow down, we have the time to let go and to become more sensitive to how the other person is speaking, feeling and behaving. This will provide us with invaluable insight on the best way to be of service to them.
We can also move from mirroring our clients in a receptive mode to actively modifying the same mirrored actions in order to help them feel more relaxed and at ease. It will also help you “tune in” to their emotions and this will add a deeper layer of empathy and connection to your coaching skills.
6. IT KEEPS YOU AUTHENTIC AND VULNERABLE BY CULTIVATING A BEGINNER’S MIND
In the Zen tradition, beginner’s mind is a mind that is focused yet fresh and spacious, as if learning for the first time.
This means that you are always a student, ready and open to the experiences of life, without judgment and without ego.
Showing your clients that you are vulnerable and authentic is an extremely powerful combination.
Admitting to having difficulties on your own path makes you and your teachings powerful and credible. As Rich Litvin so aptly puts it,
“People do not relate to perfection. The more you are yourself, the easier it becomes to run and fill your coaching practice.”
Pretending to be perfect can actually drive them away, making them feel that if they have no common ground with you, how could you possibly be the right coach for them?
7. IT WILL HELP YOU GROW AS A PERSON AND A COACH
Meditation is a very practical, down-to-earth activity. It is a very nuts-and-bolts, step-by-step way to grow. By learning how to listen to our true selves, and not the chatter of our minds, new vistas of experience open to us.
Great coaches are on a constant journey of self-discovery.
It is our own personal growth that gives us a depth and richness of experience that makes us relevant to others, their lives and their problems. A great coach is someone who shares their experience and helps their clients with a powerful combination of authenticity, vulnerability and skill.
Isn’t it time you started following your breath to see where it takes you?
This article first appeared in the Evercoach blog, a great resource for coaches and a virtual home for coaches such as Rich Litvin, Gina Devee and Ajit Nalwakha