by Marissa Afton
Mindfulness has taken the world by storm. It seems as if every day there is new research touting the benefits of mindfulness and new methods developed to bring mindfulness to industries such as healthcare, law, technology, and others. It’s no wonder: mindfulness, the ability to manage your attention and better focus on the task at hand, has been proven to enhance concentration, improve creativity, cultivate empathy, and reduce stress, among a host of other advantages for health, performance, and wellbeing. It can be no surprise that mindfulness has found an application in coaching, with mindfulness-based coaches and mindfulness-based coaching courses available to help both coaches and clients enhance their capabilities and achieve optimal results.
What is it that makes mindfulness so compatible with coaching? In its simplest form, mindfulness is the ability to clearly attend to the situation at hand while opening our awareness to identify and recognize things we may otherwise be oblivious to. Mindfulness helps us stay alert without becoming distracted by our thoughts or overcome by our judgments, thereby managing what comes up within ourselves as well as what comes up for the client within a coaching session. These critical qualities progress the coaching dynamic to new levels of trust and rapport, allow for new insights during the session, uncover unseen blind-spots between coach and coachee and help prepare each for the next right action. Plus, all of the positive benefits of mindfulness have a direct impact on the coach—my mindfulness practice enables me to become more grounded and centered in coaching settings, and I notice that I am more agile and clear headed to respond to my client’s needs moment by moment.
Many aspects of mindfulness can be directly linked to the coaching Masteries. Mastery #3 – Engaged Listening asks that we “give full attention to the words, nuances, and the unspoken meaning of the client’s communication”* with the impact being that the client feels understood and validated and therefore, more likely to express themselves and go deeper into their own process.
Mastery #4 — Processing in the Present, calls upon us to “focus full attention on the client”, and not be encumbered by our own thoughts or judgments.
While Mastery #8 — Invites Possibility, where we “create an environment that allows ideas, options and opportunities to emerge”.
These and other Masteries cleanly overlap with mindfulness training and its outcomes. An ongoing personal practice is a great way to cultivate these and other capabilities for coaches. Traditions and techniques abound, and one must find a method that fits and will stick over time to be useful. Once I began to daily train my attention and focus, the practice naturally blended into my coaching dynamics without needing much energy or effort.
There are many ways to cultivate a ‘mindful moment’ during a coaching session without bringing formalized mindfulness practice to the client—although there is certainly benefit and an application for this as well. I like to think of mindfulness training as I do any other form of exercise: there are times when you want to do a long run on the trails and keep your body moving in a sustained and concentrated way. At other times, you gain great benefit from some high-intensity spot training to focus on the areas that need it most. The same can be true for mindfulness.
For my personal practice, I find a sustained training of sitting and focusing on my breath for 10 to 20 minutes helps prime me for my day. However, when preparing for a session, taking only a minute or two to breathe, center, and focus before engaging with the client can be tremendously helpful in ensuring I let go of other thoughts, distractions, or concerns that might otherwise impact my ability to be fully present. If, during a session, I find myself confused, otherwise engaged with internal thoughts or unable to gain clarity on how to proceed with my client, I can likewise pause internally, return to my breath, and reset myself for better engagement, presence and attention. This need not even be detected by my client—it is solely about me and my process of engagement with my client in the here and now.
A disclaimer: these ‘mindful moment’ tips, while effective and good, should not be considered a substitution for formalized mindfulness training. As with coaching itself, having an understanding of mindfulness does not equate to proficiency in the practice and I would not necessarily recommend engaging a client directly in mindfulness without first considering some sustained training and practice oneself. Trust that with time, even these mindful moments will begin to transform your practice, as well as your own capabilities as a coach and person. And as with any exercise, the more you do it, the more benefit you’ll experience for yourself and for your clients.
*From the IAC Coaching Masteries eBook
Marissa Afton is a senior consultant and trainer at the Potential Project (www.potentialproject.com), a leading supplier of Corporate-Based Mindfulness Training on a global scale. A sought-after executive coach, Marissa has worked extensively with leaders of Fortune 500 companies across the globe, helping them apply psychology, mindfulness and transformational leadership skills to become more impactful with their teams. She is also a partner at Cognitive Change Concepts, Inc. and a founding member with IAC.