In her August 5 podcast, former First Lady Michelle Obama shared that she was suffering from low-grade depression. This in the context of the pandemic, of racial strife, and the painful political climate that so many of us are struggling with. After listeners responded with concern, she followed up in an Instagram post to reassure them she was doing okay, and to say she had felt moved to share her experience because “the idea that what this country is going through shouldn’t have any effect on us—that we all should just feel OK all the time—that just doesn’t feel real to me. So I hope you all are allowing yourselves to feel whatever it is you’re feeling.”

She makes a great point, and it’s moving to see a leader of her stature role-modeling what we at Wholebeing Institute call “permission to be human” to her millions of followers. As a certified Positive Psychology Coach and coach trainer, session after session these past six months has shown me how critical it is to share the possibility and power of applying the research-based concept of taking a kind approach towards oneself in tough times. Everyone is coping with profound disruption. We don’t need to—and quite honestly can’t—stiff-upper-lip our way through this in a healthy way. WBI’s evidence-based coach training teaches that helping clients to cultivate a growth mindset—the belief that through diligent effort we can learn and gain the skills we need to overcome obstacles and move forward in the direction important to us—is essential to meaningful change, and that self-compassion, or kindness towards ourselves, helps us work through the painful setbacks that typically accompany the pursuit of challenging goals. This message has never been more relevant than it is now.

As I Zoom with clients on a daily basis these days, I’m especially grateful for the unique arsenal our Positive Psychology Coaching toolkit offers us. I’m lucky to work with the most amazing clients, some of whom are reaching toward ambitious career and life goals, while others are looking to develop healthier habits and nurture relationships with themselves and others. Since March, I’ve also had the privilege of working with several individuals who came to me as a result of the pandemic—individuals whose lives were particularly disrupted, who lost work and projects, routines and even homes due to COVID.

For this work, the same tools are as useful as ever. In addition to growth mindset and self-compassion, I’m drawing heavily on the strengths-based approach that all of our work is grounded in, helping clients cultivate and lean on their perspective, hope, love and gratitude—to name a few—to give themselves the self-care, motivation and resilience they need to keep going. I’m also tapping into the current thinking of leading positive psychologist researchers and practitioners. In particular, I’ve worked with the concepts of recalibrating big goals and, in the toughest moments, creating micro-goals to support resiliency. This particular framing comes from psychologist, teacher, and author Dan Tomasulo, shared this past spring on a continuing ed call presented through a partnership between WBI and the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan. I’ve also drawn on offerings through the Institute of Coaching (IOC) at McLean Hospital, a Harvard Medical School affiliate: A call with IOC founder Margaret Moore focused on Lisa Barrett Feldman’s research on emotions, and from another leading coach, Patrick Williams, on coaching authenticity. It is empowering to hear expert insight related to the current context and apply it straight away to help clients cope with lost opportunities and to generate relevant goals. It’s also been personally moving to be a part of this community of coaches, exploring together what approaches are most helpful in this unprecedented context. One of my takeaways: Coaches are abundantly generous and creative.

So what does success look like in current coaching engagements? Some existing clients have made adjustments but stayed the course towards original goals; most have had major areas where they’ve chosen to recalibrate or embrace these micro-goals for a period. Some have let go of carefully laid plans involving education, careers, and health, and explored and embraced new work and schooling opportunities, as well as different approaches to goals. Others have focused on a way to care for themselves while they sit with a sort of holding pattern. There has been, and continues to be, a lot of pain. Through all of this, I’ve been blown away by my clients’ honesty, bravery, perspective, gratitude, humor, and kindness to themselves. Success has been not giving up on themselves, opening to new learning, staying connected to what and who is important to them, and frequent doses of self-compassion.

Which brings me back to our former First Lady. “I’m doing just fine,” Obama clarified in her follow-up post that accompanied a pic of her out on her deck journaling. Like my thoughtful, hardworking, and wonderfully human clients, she continues to move forward, drawing on her strengths, practicing gratitude, and urging her followers to reach out to loved ones and good friends. I bet she’d make a great Positive Psychology Coach.

Find out about Positive Psychology Coaching: Skill-Building Intensive, with Jennifer Hanawald and Phoebe Atkinson.

Learn more about WBI’s Positive Psychology Coaching Certification.

Jennifer Hanawald

Jennifer Hanawald

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.