A prospective coaching student once wrote to me to ask how quickly they would be able to apply their new skills from WBI’s Positive Psychology Coaching Fundamentals course. My answer was “Immediately!” This question energized me, because the student was clearly motivated and ready to go, and also because it connected to a theory about change that we teach early on in our course, and which informs our approach at WBI.
Psychologist Daryl Bem’s self-perception theory posits that we form our beliefs about ourselves in the same way we form our beliefs about others—by witnessing a person’s behavior. A person who is quick to grab the check is generous. A person who speaks up with an unpopular but insightful opinion is brave. And a person who sets a fitness goal and follows through is committed and determined.
We as coaches learn to support our clients in breaking down heartfelt goals into small chunks and actively working towards them, because that helps our clients get unstuck and see themselves as capable of change. Over time, they develop a different story about who they are. In the same way, if a coaching student begins to work with peers right away, and then, with practice, with clients, they see themselves becoming the skilled practitioner they wan to be, and gain confidence and forward momentum. It’s an upward spiral.
As a beginner coach taking WBI’s training, I remember when I was first introduced to the concept of asking powerful questions. I raced to the bus stop that day with new purpose. My kids were barely settled into their seats before I threw out, “What interesting challenge did you tackle today?”
To my utter thrill, that first question landed well, and over time, the techniques I was learning transformed the way we connected and spoke about our respective days within my family. It grew from there. As soon as I studied VIA character strengths, which are core to our Positive Psychology Coaching approach, I asked my daughters to do the VIA survey, and began to “strengths spot” them (name their character strengths as they used them). Our family conversations switched from problem oriented to solutions focused, and we grew together. I also instituted a simple gratitude practice at the dinner table that persists to this day. My reach gradually extended beyond family and peers to other practice clients and eventually paying clients from all walks of life.
Now, as a faculty member for all levels of Wholebeing Institute’s Positive Psychology Coaching Certification program, from Fundamentals through the Coaching Mentorship, I get to witness students move from complete beginners to varying degrees of mastery. Not only do they not have to wait until they are certified to start using their emerging skills, jumping in and practicing what they absorb in class is essential to the learning journey.
Our teaching philosophy supports students in applying a growth mindset—something we explicitly teach in our coaching program—in order to turn the learning into doing. We do this by embedding it in the structure of the course. On day one of our introductory course, Lynda Wallace, director of the certification program, introduces active listening, the art and science of “other-focused listening” that is at the heart of all coaching. In this method, rather than planning what they might say next, the listener takes a nonjudgmental, curious stance toward what the client is sharing. Simple, and revolutionary for many.
Immediately following that class, students begin to work with peer partners to ask questions, mirror back some of what they hear, and learn more about their partner’s strengths, values, and hopes for the future. Students then meet with other faculty members for further demonstrations of the skill and in-the-moment practice. Week by week, we teach approachable, research-based tools, and support students as they pivot and apply that learning in their individual contexts, which could range from school pick-ups to experienced executive coaches.
Our coaching courses are designed to empower our students from the get-go. Starting with our first class, which includes both basic coaching skills (a review for some) and positive psychology approaches, we support our students by giving them tools for what will become a diverse, rich toolkit to apply however they choose. And rather than tucking these away for when they feel “ready” or “qualified enough,” we ask our students to pick them up and play with them straight away, with the belief that using them is the best way to embed the learning and start building greater wholebeing, for themselves and others, from day one.
Jennifer is a core faculty member of WBI’s Positive Psychology Coaching Certification program. She 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.