by Jennifer Hanawald
Building a positive psychology–based coaching practice can be a rollercoaster. First there’s the exhilarating climb. The life-changing research. The magic of powerful questions. The positive psychology–grounded tools in action. Then we get assigned peer-practice partners. At this point, levitated by the likes of Sonja Lyubomirsky, David Cooperrider, and Laura King, we newly trained coaches have sailed to the highest point of Kingda Ka (or the Cyclone, or the Beast—you name it). We’ve broken the bonds of human existence the way we knew them. It’s incredible, and it’s all grounded in research. It’s for real.
Then, boom! The coaster train jerks to a halt. It lurches forward and you get a glimpse of a downward maze of twists and turns. Now it’s time to remember competencies and questions while holding space with a caring presence, while focusing in on the moment, while other people watch you. It’s exciting, it’s vulnerable, it’s a realization of our dreams and yet, for some of us, it’s a recipe for a racing pulse, a blank mind, and even full-on imposter syndrome. Not to mention learning how to explain what your new work is to a sometimes skeptical audience, and possibly becoming an entrepreneur and building a business as well.
The good news is that we can easily tap the resources we have for coaching clients to support ourselves. One powerful way to do this is with SPIRE, a tool that we’ve developed here at WBI, and that we teach and use in virtually every class. SPIRE is essentially a check-in, designed to help its users get a sense of how they are really doing, from the five perspectives of wholebeing. It helps us get grounded in ourselves and in the moment. And just going through the process of a SPIRE check-in can boost our wellbeing.
I find that if I take a few minutes before a coaching session to check in with SPIRE, it can completely change the dynamic of the client meeting. When I do this, I take a comfortable seat, I close my eyes, and I do it all in my head. I ask myself how I am doing in each of the areas of SPIRE through the lens of myself as coach in that moment, and by the end, I’m ready to go.
Each coach will have their own experience, and that experience will vary depending on the kind of day they are having. To shed some light on what this might look like, I asked a few peers about how they take care of themselves as a coach, too, and came up with this.
Self-Care for the Coach: A SPIRE Approach
Spiritual. We tap into our meaning and purpose as coaches. We are driven to help our clients achieve their goals and live in a way that aligns with their best self. If we are frazzled by our workload, or feeling anxious before a coaching session, we can remember the way this work has touched us, why we feel compelled to do it, and that, as my fellow former CiPP TA, Nicole Stottlemyer, shared, “It’s an honor to be able to help someone else.” In a similar line of thinking, another experienced coach told me she reminds herself that she’s trying to be of service, not to impress anyone. When we can truly be there, big things happen—for our clients and ourselves.
Physical. We take care of our physical needs and cultivate an awareness of the connection between our mind and body. How we do that varies. The key is that by taking care of ourselves, we are walking the walk and in the best possible frame of mind as we move into our work. One coach I admire runs almost every day. Another I know rides his motorcycle and surfs. My own physical routines run the gamut from walking with a close friend to regular strength training and boxing lessons. It feels good to sit down to coach with circulation flowing.
Intellectual. Coaches love learning! Knowing our stuff makes us feel competent, and competence feels good. We are lifelong learners who make lists of powerful questions and review them, read, and swap resources—even after we have hundreds of coaching hours under our belt. We can also tap into our “I” to manage our nerves. A health-coaching peer of mine explained it this way. “When I first started coaching, I was always nervous before a session. I worked with lots of positive self-talk, and reviewed the process in detail.” Now, she says, “About 10 minutes before the call, I get in my coaching spot with my notes from previous sessions. I review the client’s previous actions. I also have a list of some of my favorite, more generic questions. Not that I will ask them specifically, but it gets me in my coaching mindset.”
Relational. Coaches invest in supportive relationships. A habit I formed early on was to stay connected with my peers. I am in multiple Facebook groups and have held on to peer-coaching partners way beyond the end of courses. I also developed different “morning meetings” and mastermind-style groups with cherished colleagues, where we share work in progress, challenges, and wins. Fostering these relationships is still critical to keeping me on track.
Tapping into connection is a tool that expert coach Lynda Wallace uses to support herself while coaching, too. “I focus on something I enjoy about being with that specific client.” This is a strategy I’ve adopted since she shared it with me to help me ease any personality challenges that rise up.
Emotional. In my check-in ahead of my coaching call, I take a moment to become aware of how I’m feeling. Just noticing this helps me self-manage, so I can focus fully on the session. And when a session goes particularly well, I take time to savor. As positive psychology coaches, we are adept at helping our clients to cultivate positive emotions. This is a way for me to remember to do the same for myself as well. After I hang up from the call, I sit up in my seat, look out the window, and breathe it in. Hearing hope, motivation, and progress in a client’s voice inspires me to keep at this incredible work. Instead of racing on, I pause and notice how I’m feeling in my body.
In the words of WBI co-founder Megan McDonough, “By looking at each facet [of SPIRE] individually, you can more clearly track your progress over time and put in place action plans to appreciate what’s best in your life. You can then bring the positive energy from these successes to address whatever concerns you have in other parts of your life.”
As coaches, we encourage and facilitate self-compassion and self-care for our clients, and as with any major new commitment, in the process we risk losing sight of our own needs in our eagerness to move forward. Tapping into SPIRE is a great way to take care of ourselves and truly walk the walk, so we can be of greater service to our clients while fully thriving as we do the work of our dreams.
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Jennifer Hanawald, a faculty member for WBI’s coaching courses, is a health coach who helps her clients to live their healthiest and best lives. She holds National Board certification as a Health and Wellness Coach, Duke University certification as an Integrative Health Coach, and a Certificate in Positive Psychology from WBI. Find out more about her work at jenniferhanawald.com.