by Jennifer Hanawald
It’s a real dichotomy. On one hand, positive psychology–based coaching is meaningful and connected work. But on the other hand, it can be isolating. Training and client time are rich and interactive, but after certification is over, building a business and developing your skills can be a lonely grind. And coaches know it.
In every class I’ve been involved in, whether as student or facilitator, I’ve witnessed calls for collaboration to counteract this challenge. In my experience, the supportive relationships that coaches forge amongst themselves are critical to well-being and success. But what about the days when you don’t have inspirational interactions to generate forward motion?
One strategy that really helped me was to articulate who I am at my best as a coach, and to turn that into a concrete reminder statement (or in my case, three reminder statements relating to my coaching business) that I use to support myself and stay on track.
3 Tools for Tapping Into Your Ideal Self
This idea came to me when I was working with a business coach. I was in the midst of a real struggle: I loved my work but the task of creating a business that allowed me to do the work felt overwhelming. My coach and I had both completed WBI’s year-long Certificate in Positive Psychology (CiPP), the precursor to today’s Certificate in Wholebeing Positive Psychology. And we had both found the “ideal self” tool taught in that course to be particularly useful. In fact, for my final project, I expanded on the tool and developed a workshop to help others create and use daily reminder statements about who they were at their best and how they wanted to be—regardless of the ups and downs of life.
So it made sense to me to turn back to this helpful tool, which I was already using in different variations with clients, and adapt it to my current situation. I knew that having a greater awareness of who I was at my best as a coach and what I was striving for—my ideal self—would boost my confidence as I built my business and coached my clients. The key was to get really clear and concrete. To do this, I boiled down what had been a full-day workshop into three tools we can draw on to articulate our ideal self as coaches and further our self-care.
1. Best Self Stories
The first step was to tap into something we do in almost all Positive Psychology Coaching sessions: Look for stories of our clients at their best, to reflect the strengths they can draw on to move towards their goals. In my case, I mined memories of when coaching felt good. I asked myself: Who am I at my best as a coach? Even if you are at a very early point in your career, you can recall times when you used your coaching skills to support others. To do this, bring back a very specific memory. What did you do well? What kind of presence did you offer your client? How did you achieve that? And how did you feel?
After bringing up specific memories around these questions, I wrote a few paragraphs and let myself explore the story without focusing on why I was doing this. Then, I read what I had written. I zeroed in on the words and descriptions that mattered most to me. These were real descriptions of me at my best. Evidence.
2. Role Models
Next, I turned to another tool I had first been introduced to in CiPP, and which many clients bring into our coaching sessions unprompted. This involves thinking and writing about a role model to raise our awareness about strengths and traits that we admire in others, which offer insight into characteristics that we want to develop in ourselves. Often our role models have characteristics we already embody, perhaps to a lesser extent. As long as there’s a seed, mindful nourishment can help us grow those characteristics.
When using this tool, as with best self stories, it’s important to get specific. Tell a story with details. In my CiPP program, the instructions went something like this: “Write about a person whom you admire or respect, and include the traits and characteristics that lead you to feel the way you do about the person.” I adapted this to my current goal, which was getting really clear on how I wanted to be as a coach. I chose someone who was a coach, but any leader, facilitator, or person who inspires you will bring insight.
Again, I read through the page or so that I had written about this individual and jotted down the characteristics that most resonated with me, many of which were aspirational, still not thinking too much about where I was going with this.
3. Future Best Self
And for the icing on the cake … Another tool I use with clients, which can enhance and consolidate these elements of best self and ideal self as a coach, is Laura King’s “future best self” prompt: “Think about your life in the future. Imagine everything has gone as well as it possibly could. You have worked hard and succeeded at accomplishing all of your life goals. Think of this as the realization of your life dreams. Now write about what you imagined.”
In coaching, I may use it as is, or adapt it to relate to something specific that a client is working on, which applies in this case. For instance, I could tell myself, “Think about your life in five years. Imagine that your coaching work has gone as well as it possibly could. You have worked hard and succeeded at accomplishing all of your goals relating to your coaching business. Think of this as the realization of your dreams. Now write about what you imagined.”
Choose the time frame that makes sense to you. In King’s original research, subjects did this exercise for 20 minutes on four consecutive days. Researchers have found that writing about your best possible self is an extremely supportive way to think about goals, and helps people prioritize and increase their sense of control. It’s also been associated with a boost in positive emotions and increase in life satisfaction.
Putting It All Together
When I do this work with clients, I walk them through each step with very specific instructions, and coach them around what comes up. If this is something you’d like to try, here’s how I suggest bringing it together. Each step of the way, take time to reflect on what you wrote and note phrases that inspire you and that you believe to be true about how you are at your best—or how you can be with focus and effort, but are not reflective (yet) of how you are regularly. Identify what’s most important. Boil that down to one very clear “I” statement that really gets at the essence of how you want to be as a coach. Follow that with two or three longer phrases that flesh out what that means.
Getting to this point is already an accomplishment. From here, I support my clients as they refine and develop consistent ways to practice their statements—to make them part of their lives. As coaches, we have all sorts of strategies to make using these a habit. I’d love to hear what works for you!
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.