by Lisa Michelle Kucharz
There are many ways to serve the world. Regardless of the specific role you choose, you owe it to yourself and those you serve to optimize your impact. Coaches are charged with inspiring clients to maximize their potential through a thought-provoking and creative process. Inspiring others to maximize their potential is no small feat. To fulfill this role, it takes practice, the right attitude, and educational opportunities to develop one’s skills.
Long before the International Coach Federation had Continuing Coach Education requirements for credential renewal, local ICF chapters focused a large portion of their meetings on growth and development, and coaches sought other opportunities to stay on top of industry trends.
As I was searching for a high-quality learning experience to enhance my toolset as a well-rounded coach, I came across the Certificate in Positive Psychology program by Wholebeing Institute and Kripalu. As the science of human flourishing, positive psychology is a perfect fit for a coach to develop his or her understanding of the best ways to help people and organizations succeed. With Kripalu’s reputation as one of the most well-respected retreat centers in the country and top leader in the field Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar of Wholebeing Institute teaching the course, I knew I found a program that met my needs. The syllabus was comprehensive, the caliber of the faculty was very impressive, and the ICF CCEU’s were the icing on the cake.
With the emphasis on bringing out the best in individuals, groups, and organizations, creating lasting change, and increasing positivity, one of the key advantages of this course is that the material and tools can be used by all coaches, regardless of their areas of expertise. Here are brief descriptions of ten of the many positive psychology tools I use with my clients:
Reinforcing Neural Pathways for Positive Change
This tool begins with a structured discussion with clients about neuroplasticity, neurogenesis, and neural pathways that leads to shifts in thinking and commitments to try new, positive activities to bring about change. Repeating the activities reinforces the neural pathways and increases the likelihood to establish change that lasts.
Two-Step Intervention for Change
Based on Jeffrey M. Schwartz’s Brain Lock, the Two-Step Intervention first re-labels a problem to weaken its deep-rooted pathway and then refocuses it in a positive manner, creating a new pathway. When repeatedly facing a challenge, clients learn how to redirect themselves and benefit from the repetition of the more positive response.
Rituals and Routines
Establishing unique rituals and routines is a highly effective way to support change that lasts and the achievement of goals. While declaring commitments to accomplish objectives between coaching sessions can be effective, establishing rituals and routines helps clients incorporate their efforts into their lives, making it easier to implement and ultimately succeed.
Daily reminders are unique to an individual and his or her situation. Clients write about their goals, areas for personal or professional growth, and a source of inspiration, (e.g., quote, poem, prayer, etc.). They are encouraged to incorporate relaxing breaths and an element to stimulate their senses while they read the reminder out loud at a fixed time of their choice every day. Like rituals and routines, clients incorporate daily reminders into their lives on a regular basis to focus their ongoing efforts.
Perfect > Good Enough Exercise
This tool begins with the discussion of shifting from perfection to good enough execution for some situations or tasks, and the associated benefits of focusing on what’s important while decreasing stress and anxiety and moving from frustration to satisfaction. Clients are then asked to list areas of life or work that are most important to them, followed by including those areas in a table with two columns—Perfect and Good Enough. They list what would be perfect in the first column and good enough in the second. Then, after discussion of what makes sense to them and their comfort level, clients choose to implement some good enough items.
Whether personal or on the job, relationships need cultivating. One of the ways to nurture healthy, lasting relationships is to establish relationship rituals—enjoyable or meaningful activities that can be carried out on a regular basis, (e.g., date night for couples, weekly lunches for colleagues, monthly celebrations for teams, etc.). Clients share relationships they’d like to improve, explore activities to carry out, share their suggestions with the others involved, agree on rituals to implement, and commit to them on a regular basis.
Five-Minute Take Off
When clients express they want to accomplish a goal, but may not have a strong desire to execute a task, are overwhelmed by fear of failure, or are uninspired, this tool helps them take action. Clients commit to focus on a relevant task five minutes a day and incorporate it as a ritual. While starting the five-minute take off may not be easy, clients find it helps them begin the process of implementing a task and sometimes even get into flow.
Happiness Sweet Spot
While positive psychology is not only about increasing one’s happiness, it is one of the main focuses. Working with our clients, we sometimes focus on overall happiness, or in a specific area, like happiness at work. This tool combines discussion about happiness as the experience of pleasure and meaning, present and future benefit, as well as the use of one’s strengths, followed by clients writing down what is meaningful and pleasurable to them, and their strengths. Then, areas of overlap are further explored.
What Went Well? Exercise
With this tool, clients learn to develop their skills as benefit finders—either in general or in a specific area—by dedicating a few minutes each day to consider “What went well?” They’re asked to write down three to five things and intently think about the experiences to fully appreciate them for a second time. With some of my clients, this has been very effective in increasing their happiness at work, growing their appreciation of working with specific peers, and developing their overall sense of gratitude.
Signature Strengths Exercise
In this exercise, clients are encouraged to discover their signature strengths, most often by taking the Value in Action Signature Strengths test, and then to focus on finding ways to increase their use. They commit to designating time to exercise one or more of their signature strengths in a new way, and they’re encouraged to write about their experience. Clients who use this tool for several weeks or more feel a sense of increased happiness and develop a better understanding of underutilized strengths to consider incorporating into career opportunities.
Not only do my clients greatly benefit from the enhancement of my toolset, I also benefit from applying the material myself. Some examples of how I incorporate the tools into my own life are: establishing a morning ritual helps reinforce my personal and professional goals; incorporating mini-reminders keeps me on track, especially when facing challenges; respecting my natural rhythms and increasing flow amplifies my productivity; finding areas that I can shift from perfect to good enough execution gives me more time to focus on what’s important and reduces unnecessary stress; practicing the five-minute take off helps me get started on projects that would otherwise get put off; listening to music helps shift my mood to motivate productivity, creativity, or relaxation; and practicing mindful eating is instrumental to my overall wellness goals and my recent weight loss. In addition, according to Dr. Martin Seligman, positive psychology students and practitioners’ overall well-being increases.
For coaches and their clients, the impact of this program is tremendous, because the course is about transformation, not just sharing information.
With more than 20 years of leadership experience, Lisa-Michelle Kucharz is an award-winning professional and adjunct professor who has served as a mentor for emerging professionals and students throughout her career. A lifelong lover of learning, she obtained an MBA and holds certificates in diverse fields, including positive psychology, coaching, management effectiveness, human resource management, innovation, psychological first aid, and mental health first aid.