Wellness Coaching Australia's Blog

Mindfulness and Reflections from a Sydney Ferry

I had the pleasure of using public transport in Sydney last week in the form of a ferry ride across the harbour where I spent half an hour enjoying balmy skies, the sea and the sheer beauty of this amazing city.

When I boarded the boat I had to make a decision about where to sit. Wanting the fresh air I opted for what I thought was the front of the boat and found myself sitting at the back! I watched the city recede into the distance and pondered on the difference between looking at where you had been as opposed to where you were heading. And of course the metaphor for life was clear. I like to look forwards. I'm a coach!  It's in our DNA. But as a Counsellor, I also know it is very useful to look backwards to see what might need understanding better to allow us the freedom to enjoy our future.

And I was reminded of Martin Seligman's belief of our need to have a healthy relationship with past, present and future. Put simply, when we look back into our past, do we do so with gratitude or regret? And when we look into the future, do we face it with anxiety or anticipation? It seemed very appropriate for the occasion as I scanned the city looking for familiar landmarks of where I had lived, worked and played and funny memories came up for me. I really focused on all the enjoyment I had had over the years. So my choice of seat on that ferry gave me the opportunity of nurturing my healthy relationship with the past. 

And the future, well sure, I was looking forward to the meetings I had planned and curious to know what might come out of them. Also looking forward to strolling through Manly's streets on a gorgeous sunny day. But as the journey progressed and I settled into the experience, I realised that what was really happening was that wonderful experience of "time out" and total mindfulness of where I was right at that moment. 

People report feeling very "grounded" (!) when they are in the sky flying somewhere. I have experienced this feeling too. It's as if we are between places and that sense of freedom that the travelling interval gives us, helps us clarify exactly where we are in our lives, relationships, businesses. Long live travel and the chance it gives us to be mindful.

A Question of Values

The topic of "values" comes up frequently when coaching people and I have often listened to debate on whether today's value system is as good as the "old one".  What needs to be considered are the changes that are occurring rapidly in society that have meant people's ways of living have shifted and in many cases, ways of thinking.  One thing for sure, our way of communicating has certainly changed. 

With the breakdown of the traditional family and close community where people meet regularly and feel part of a "tribe" or "herd", there is a greater need, seen readily in young people, to form alternative groups to foster that sense of belonging we all need.  

Hugh McKay comments on how young people "realise that their most precious resource they have for coping with life in inherently unpredictable and unstable world is each other".  And how they maintain this contact by mobile phones, computers, social media, yet still come together socially at regular intervals.  Sharing is much more acceptable than in their parents' days and perhaps there is something to be learned from our teenagers who have adapted to a changing world to ensure they have support and "connection" in whatever way they can.  

We need community in order to establish a society that is supportive, fair and cares for each other. The more we can encourage face to face contact, the better, to prevent any growing isolation that ail inevitably lead to loneliness and depression.  So let's use technology to organise meetings and face to face contact, in this way, satisfying our need for personal relationships and some degree of "intimacy" in what can be a fast-paced and detached environment.

I was in Melbourne last week and saw on Saturday night the huge number of people who were out in groups, enjoying each others' company - people of all ages, brought together by the shared interest of AFL. I really struck me how lucky that city is to have a bond like that and how healthy it was for the community.  It made me feel that my solitary glass of wine and connection with my iPad really was second best!

It's all in the words - the power of language

Words are amazingly powerful. I recently read an argument for using "I don't.. eat chocolate" instead of "I can't … eat chocolate" and it's not difficult to see the difference between the two.  One implies a choice which is much more likely to empower and build confidence in the person. (Thank you Gary Bertwistle.)

And then we get the well worn phrase, "I should… get fit/lose weight.." etc. But do we want to? Perhaps saying, "I want to … get fit/lose weight…." will make us feel more positive about taking action. Again, our language suggests a choice exists. A declaration has been made, we "own" the decision. "Should" comes from outside - someone else's values. The word can be used sparingly.

What about "advice" as opposed to "information"? When we are advised by someone, the suggestion is that they have more knowledge, wisdom or intelligence than we do!  No matter how much of an expert the person I am consulting is, I would like to be given "information". I then have a choice.

Another example of how the meaning can be changed by a simple substitution of one word.  Instead of thinking, "I worry..  " about a situation, change it to, "I wonder.. .what the outcome will be". Although we are still pondering perhaps an uncertain situation, we remove ourselves from emotional attachment to the outcome and immediately feel more relaxed about it.  

It is amazing what a difference our language can make to our attitude towards anything really.

It's not what you eat, it's the way you think about what you eat

With Easter safely behind us and the articles telling us how many hours of walking we have to do to burn off one small Easter egg, it's time to revisit our "healthy lifestyles" and get back on track.  But is also a good time to reflect on the emotional response that one comment on social media can create when we asked, "How much chocolate did you eat over Easter?"  Most people responded, tongue in cheek, with confessions or proud declarations and it go me thinking (again) about how we relate to food and our choices and what a difference our attitude can make to our peace of mind.

I've worked out that it is quite easy to know when we have eaten something that makes us feel good, and when we have eaten something that makes us feel not so good. First, there's the health/energy aspect.  A meal made with fresh, nutritious ingredients is going to make us feel more energetic and comfortable than a Big Mac with fries. But an indulgence such as a Swiss chocolate egg, or even a crispy bacon and egg roll can also give us a feeling of satiety and satisfaction. Can't it?

Whether we have sauce with it or not is less important than whether we liberally sprinkle on guilt with our good choice.  If we view our choice in the moment as being a bad one, we will quickly feel like we have punished ourselves, as is the case when the whole packet of Tim Tams disappears in minutes.  Very short-lived pleasure is quickly replaced by feelings of self loathing, depression and even hopelessness.  

So how do we break this cycle.  I believe that if we can think of food choices as being "gifts" to ourselves, we are on the right track.  If we choose to start the week after Easter with the intention of treating our body to clean, nutritious and delicious meals, we will feel much more positive about the week than if we view it as "time to repent and deprive ourselves of anything that tastes nice, chocolate being the main offender"!  

If are about to eat something that doesn't feel like a "gift", and instead can be recognised as being more of a "What the heck, I've had a bad day?" decision, we know that this doesn't support our decision to care for ourselves with love.  

How hard is it to change our thinking like this?  Any ideas?

Belonging - Join the club

This weekend I had the pleasure of attending the Queensland State Surf Life Saving Championships and watching some of the country's elite athletes perform in some of the tough events that exist in that sport. As the weekend approached the final few hours, the big events were being televised and the crowd grew larger and excitement rose. 

The funny thing about sport is that we have long known it is a showcase for seeing some of the best and worst of human behaviour. It is also interesting to observe as an innocent bystander (i.e. not a competitor, nor a life member of any one Club), what makes the whole thing work.

The great thing about any sport is when people compete for a Club.  Yes, we love individual superstars, but the Olympics are evidence that representing something bigger than ourselves is an honour that is highly sought after. 

So here we are on the beach at Mooloolaba - watching these athletes compete for their Clubs.  The Clubs with the strongest competitors had the most people down there watching.  Yet I saw smaller Clubs get behind their members and cheer as loudly and with more heart than often the bigger name Clubs. What is that about I wonder?

And a metaphor for life came up. Or perhaps simply a classic example of a principle of motivation.  Most people have a need for achievement and mastery.  A big driver for many. But we also have a strong need for affiliation or a sense of "belonging". It is my belief that the Clubs who support their members across the board, who value participation as highly as winning, who encourage the less talented but determined competitors, who recognise the loyalty and devotion of older masters competitors, will be the Clubs who grow and who really represent what Surf Life Saving is all about. Caring for our community.

I then read a report this morning on Global Workplace Health and Wellness and see that in their key findings (aside from the health of their employees) engagement, morale and fun were listed as some of the top objectives to achieve sustainable success of a program.

Knowing that workplace wellness is closely correlated with financial success of a company, I could see the parallel between the world of sport (in this case it happened to be surf lifesaving) and business. Perhaps we should work out what needs to be focused on and make that a priority?  It isn't always about winning and measuring the success of a company, or a club, in terms of medals or financial profit. These factors may not always be a good indicator of future retention and growth of our people.

Want change but feeling stuck? Who hasn't...

One of the most common situations we see in coaching is when a person is very clear about what they want to change in their lives but is stuck in procrastination, or 'inaction".  It is probably the time when the support of an independent outside person is the most valuable, yet why is it so hard to go after what we know we want?

Let's break down what might be going on for us at the time when indecision is most rampant!

  • What we do know is that something isn't right.  We have a sense of dissatisfaction with some area of our lives.  It could be many things - the way we are living, dissatisfaction at work or perhaps a partner who doesn't share the same values or goals that we hold dear. 
  • We can list all the reasons why the change is desirable and when we do this it is often with a sense of frustration as while we know those things are within our reach, we just can't seem to take that first step to get there.
  • And there is a reason for this.  Because on the other side, there is something that we still value.  It may be quite concrete like financial security, or it may be an attachment to a more nebulous element such as a memory or a hope, or even a safe routine!  But there is definitely a big pull to keep us right where we are.

And the result of this inner conflict?  It can range from a vague sense of discontent with life, or a feeling that we are losing our sanity when it is so obvious what we need to do!

When I hear the details of the dilemma, it is a time that I feel the most empathy for the person I am with - because this feeling is one we all recognise.  And it can take years to resolve depending on the specifics of the situation. 

At these times, as a coach we can quite often feel helpless to help because we understand a few things about human behaviour.  Namely -

  1. If we push someone to take action and they are not ready, instead of helping them move forward we can actually create more resistance to the change.  I.e. they dig their heels in further and feel under pressure to meet our expectations as a coach.  Not good.
  2. If we offer our opinion or advice, we then take the power away from our client/friend/colleague by adopting an attitude that our take on the situation is better than theirs.  Incorrect.
  3. If we sympathise with them and join forces in promoting the safe alternative.  Not helpful.
  4. If we make suggestions that back up what we think their decision should be.  Disempowering.

So how can we help?  What can a person do who is so "stuck" and potentially unhappy?

  • A coach or friend can help shine a light on all aspects of the situation. By listening to the details and the feeling behind the story, we can mirror back to the person sometimes a clearer picture of exactly what is going on for them.  Even if we don't provide an illuminating reflection, we at least gain their trust and sense that we are supporting them.
  • We can put our judgements and beliefs aside.
  • We can let the person know that they are not alone in these feelings and that we understand how difficult it must be when both sides have a strong pull.
  • We can help them brainstorm all the options - including the crazy ones as well as the sensible ones.  This is a time to ask, "If anything were possible, what could happen?"
  • We can help them sort out which are the options that have value.
  • By choosing the next action in an option, we break down the change to manageable pieces, knowing that these may be experiments.  If it doesn't work, then there are alternatives to try.  All is not lost, plans can be changed!
  • The person with the dilemma needs to recognise that where they are might be exactly where they need to be - in a place of uncertainty with a lot of thinking to do!  Rushing a decision before you are ready could result in missing some essential considerations.
  • Take time to accept the uncomfortable place they're at; recognise that the feelings they have are steps forward in learning more about themselves and what they value; what is acceptable and what is not. 

Letting go of control of the outcome whether you are the person supporting or the person who is stuck is a difficult thing to do, but is the greatest strength builder if we can learn to do it at times. 

Perhaps it is best summed up by the ancient wisdom of the Serenity Prayer.  Know what when we can take action to create change and knowing what is outside of our power to change. When we can do that, we are really demonstrating the art of self-responsibility.

Can women say No?

International Women's Day gave me the opportunity to speak to a lovely group of ladies in Sydney around the topic of "Happy, Healthy Workplaces" which was a topic that is close to my heart. However, as the day was really focused on the girls, I did my best to find the areas that females might find more challenging than others. Now this went against the grain for me as I do believe that if we are to gain an even footing in the corporate world, then we have to be able to consider ourselves as equally equipped to handle the "job"! Yet, there are differences between the sexes that are hard to ignore. And they come from a long history of the role that women have played for centuries.

There is no getting away from the fact that women bear the children. Men can step in almost immediately once the baby appears but the pregnancy and strenuous job of bringing the child into the world rests wholly on Mum! Women are working for (on average) considerably lower wages and that is gradually changing. So we are bridging the gap in many ways.

But what about our innate nature as human beings? Women are generally relationship-focused caregivers. Not all, but many, have an instinctive drive to care for others and to provide the nurturing type of support that suits positions that may be an adjunct to a more senior male. With this comes the inevitability of having work handed down to us. And this can be where the problem lies.

Are women weaker than men when it comes to saying "No"? And by that I mean the ability to say, "Enough is enough", or perhaps, "I would love to help you but I am unable to do so at the present time". When I posed this question at the room, I sensed that there was a general agreement with my assumption!

So what is the effect of this habitual way of being in the world and what do we do to get around it? Without doubt this tendency is the cause of stress and burnout for women in the workplace. We move from board room to breastfeeding, from executive to soccer Mum, from housework to spreadsheet analysis apparently effortlessly. But it takes its toll. Instead of believing that we are masters (mistresses) of multi focusing, it's time we realised that NO ONE MULTI-TASKS WELL!

The need to be needed may keep us warm at night but the cost to our physical health (where does exercise fit in?) and our mental wellbeing can be enormous. When we lose ourselves in others, how can we possibly recognise our own needs?

I would love to hear from anyone with ideas of how to stop the trend of never saying "No".

The Tail of a Wild Dog

It's February!  How did that  happen we ask ourselves?  Weren't we just looking at the first page of our fresh and new diary, thinking what a glorious feeling it was that the year had yet to unfold and what possibilities lay ahead?

Then suddenly, it's February.  I asked a colleague how her week was going the other day.  She responded with, "I feel like I'm hanging on to the tail of a wild dog!" That made me smile as I recognised the feeling.  And I know for a fact that I am not alone.

So why is this one of the most often cited reasons for people feeling, well, less than perfectly in control?  This sense that life races ahead and unless we hang on tight, we get left behind. I have two Labradors. On our morning walk to the park, they are also like wild dogs. After a run, they are calm, well-behaved and willing to be gently led to the next activity.  I want my life to look like that. Calm, obedient, good looking and satisfying!

We could list the many reasons why life today is this chaotic and demanding.  Technology; expectations (our own and others), distractions and multiple roles to mention a few. We need to manage time better. Or do we? Perhaps managing priorities and even our energy is a better place to start?  

Priority Management

How often do people say, "I have no time to exercise"?  Of course, they do.  It's just that exercise is a lower priority than the other things in their life.  And we all have that choice.  If we ask ourselves the simple questions:

What do I want more of?

What do I want less of?

The answers will be revealing.  The things that get in the way will be competing priorities.  What counts is  how much you want that missing aspect of your life.  How  much do you value it?  Worth spending some time thinking about that.

Energy Management

Then there's this question of exhaustion, or simply feeling too flat to be bothered. Try asking:

  • What gives me energy and what drains me?

    When am I at my best? 

With a bit of careful planning it is possible to organise our day so that we play to our strengths. If you do you best thinking in the early morning make sure you have a way to record your ideas. If your energy is low in the mid afternoon, perhaps plan to do mundane tasks that don't require much thought. Or find a way of boosting it by slotting in exercise at a time that gives a flow on effect. Don't leave the things you hate doing for the time you feel the least motivation to do anything! Take time out to work out how your natural energy flows.

Time Management
We can't make 24 hours any longer than it is.  But what we can do is ensure that we get the maximum result from the time we spend on a task/project.

Mind Management

To do this we have to organise our mind rather than live to the clock.  Margaret Moore writes of the six Rules of Order in her latest book "Organising your Mind, Organising your Life" and she stresses the need for developing the ability to focus and cut out distractions at appropriate times.  On the flip side, we also need to cultivate the ability to switch tasks without getting flustered and annoyed.  Very often our emotional state prevents us from being at our best and neuroscience shows that our thoughts can in fact calm the pre-frontal cortex - the part of our brain that  produces emotions that can sweep us along in a positive, or sometimes negative way.  Panic, anxiety, frustration all work against our working in a  relaxed steady state.  If we can start to recognise what patterns we fall into that make that dog run (the one we are trying to hold onto), we can then begin to retrain our brains and regain control.

Wellness Coaching is a rapidly growing field

Contrary to what people think, poor lifestyle habits do not stop at what we ingest, whether we move enough and what tine we go to bed.   Instead we are working with people at a deeper level to help them be more better performers, have more peace of mind, improve the quality of their relationships etc.  Together we set not only physical goals, but mental ones as well.  Exercise, nutrition, managing thoughts and emotions become the tools to create change and much of our work focuses on helping people work out what they want and why they want it and then understanding  why it is difficult to achieve.

This realisation is spreading through the health, fitness and wellness industries and very quickly into the corporate world where the main measure of success has always been financial return on investment.  What is happening now is that companies are recognising that what goes into creating this success is a multitude of factors, many of them concerning the people who work in the organisation and their level of satisfaction or "wellness".  

If you think you can...

It's the start of a new year and the urge to write something inspirational about planning for a wonderful, goal-oriented 12 months is upon me.  January is a popular time for people to focus in on what outcomes they wish to achieve during the year and it is pretty common for weight loss goals, fitness goals and financial goals to top the list!  

Yet from our experience of working with people who are striving for change, these things come up but so too do aspirations around less measurable element.  Such as "peace", "contentment" or relaxation.  I believe that many of us are simply seeking to increase the amount of satisfaction and contentment we have with our lives. 

Whatever your desire, January seems to be a great place to contemplate what we really want and how we are going to go about getting it and making this year, even better the last year!  Yet I am sure that despite your intuitions to spend reflective time over the holiday period (clean out your inbox, sort out your office and spend more quality time with your live ones - worry free), some of you, like me, haven't quite managed those ambitious projects.  And somehow we find ourself on the 7th January wondering whether a holiday might be necessary to recover from the last one!!  Or perhaps not.  And you are relaxed and ready for anything.  We are where we are and as the saying goes, "onwards and upwards", we are very enthusiastic about planning our year ahead.  So what will make this year different from last year?  Is there something that you want to achieve last year that you didn't manage?  And if so, what got in the way?

This reminds me of a Sixty Minutes segment that I saw towards the end of 2012.  It was an amazing account of how certain patients were achieving incredible recoveries from operations or drug-treated conditions, by believing they were recipient of the treatment, whereas in fact they were given a placebo!  Now this isn't a new phenomenon but these really were exceptional cases.  Knee surgery was performed without the doctor actually doing things, and lo and behold the problem abated.  Of course this wouldn't work in every case, but the medical world were excited and curious to work out how they could use this "placebo effect" to cure more people.  Their intentions were honourable.  However, the results seemed to go hand in hand with what could really only be described as deception of one kind of another.  and what I was really impressed with was the evidence that the power of the mind was vastly under-rated.  Surely there would be a way of tapping into this self-belief without the need for pseudo treatment?!


Good old Henry Ford has been quoted so many times and in coaching, we remind people of this time-worn saying constantly.  Because it's true.  But how we do really change our self-belief to one of confidence and positivity instead of doubt and uncertainty that can destroy our chances of success?  No magic pill will do this - despite the research.  As behaviour change requires "doing" as well as "thinking". 

But there are ways that we can slowly build our self belief.  Some of the following tips might speak to you:

Secrets to Positive Change
Remember what you have done in the past that required effort and how you persevered and used your strengths.
Recognise your strengths and celebrate them.  Be proud that you are organised/dedication/creative/tenacious/brave.
Decide how important the change is and be sure that you really want it.  What else could change for the better?
Experiment.  All or nothing thinking can be our undoing.   Take small steps.  This approach can really work with perfectionists
Slow down and take time to think, plan and build self belief.
Never give up and take each set back as an opportunity to learn and grow.
When  you feel low in confidence, act as if you are quietly confident.  Fake it till you make it.
Our thoughts are our choice and what we focus on becomes our reality.  Is there a better way of looking at that situation?
Read everything you can that inspires you and lifts your spirits.  
Stop trying too hard.
Don't try to change everything.  Pick one or two things and start slowly.
Remember the smallest changes can make the biggest difference.
Now these ideas may not all work for you.  But perhaps one or two of them strike a chord.  Does your life reflect  your values are are you living in an atmosphere of growth?  (Read The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin if you want more on this.

I encourage the practice of gratitude in my clients, my colleagues and most of all myself!  (We teach best what we most need to learn.)  One of my biggest joys in life is that I work in the field of wellness coaching and with like-minded people who feel the same.  We are looking forward to a wonderful year of meeting many of you and spreading the word about coaching as a means of empowering others. Thanks to all of you who have written to use during last year telling us what you are doing with information we have shared.  

There are some fantastic stories.  

Happy New Year!

Reflections on a recent visit to Boston

Coaching in Medicine and Leadership” was the title of this year’s conference in Boston. I headed over - spurred on my memories of my last visit two years ago when I came away fired up with new ideas and learning. To be honest, I wasn’t sure that my last experience could be topped but I was about to be surprised.

After an informal catch up with the Wellcoaches fraternity I settled in for two days of intense listening and I wasn’t disappointed with the new insights the sessions gave me. Not only does the conference attract some of the best minds in  the fields of both coaching and leadership, but also the interesting thing was the way each session seemed to link into the others. 

You would think that by their very nature/definition, information on “leadership” might be somewhat different to information on “coaching.”  There is a long held belief that leaders are in charge and play a different role form an empowering, collaborative coach. Yet it was clear that times are changing and leadership in today’s world is different from what it was ten years ago.

The main reason for this seems to be the degree of uncertainty surrounding us all – not only in the economic climate but in the speed with which things are changing and developing across all industries. “The rules of the game are changing while the game is still being played” was one memorable comment made. 

So although I hope to draw on many of the wonderful sessions I attended and pass on some concepts – or my interpretation of them – in future newsletters, I will summarise what I feel were the main points presented at the conference.

  1. The models for leadership have undergone major re-modeling to take into account the business world of today. The four keystones of sense making, visioning relating and inventing, as presented by  Dr. Deborah Ancona  were strongly aligned to coaching terminology and indeed, principles.

  1. The importance of emotional intelligence in both coaching and in leadership were emphasized by Daniel Goleman (until now a name that I was familiar with from literature on EQ and whose ground-breaking ideas have long been respected by anyone working with people in coaching and counselling). He presented research that showed that EQ (emotional intelligence – put simply the ability to relate to people) rated far above “skills and knowledge” in making a good leader, an exceptional leader.

  1. The need for, and growing body of, research in health and wellness coaching is central to its growth yet the outcome measures of reduced morbidity will come after a long process of measuring things like confidence level, new behaviours, attainment of individual goals and life satisfaction.

  1. The frightening yet eloquent presentation by David Katz on just how bad the health of the US (and globe  brought the room to silence and then to its feet.  He brought it home to everyone that there was no such thing as “public”, just you and I and the other individuals affected by the lifestyle illnesses that abound.  He gave us hope that we could “sandbag the flood” and eventually turn the tide but it would take enormous and collective effort in changing culture. His speech should have been given for a presidential election campaign.  He would have won.  The issue he spoke of was one of the biggest problems the USA (and Australia) face.

  2. Neuroscience was a hot topic - not for its own sake but for the information it is giving us about the human brain.  The fact that our thinking brain and our feeling brain are so closely intertwined came up time  and again as did the notion that we are “wired for empathy” as our motor neurons fire in synch with the people we connect with.  And again, those many reminders that the body and how we fuel it, are inextricably linked with better brain power.

  1. The coaching “dance” is now being measured by comparing arousal of the sympathetic nervous system between coach and client as the session takes place. The clients that had the most parallel response to their coach, in physiological response, reported feelings of greater rapport.

  2. So many other great topics and speakers.  I came away,  if not feeling wiser and more effective by my attendance, with a feeling that I am so very lucky to work in a field that is gradually infiltrating many of the key professional areas.  Let’s face it,  if the key people in Leadership and Medicine are listening, who else could be?

Attending this conference also concreted my belief and understanding of  why the area of wellness coaching is suddenly getting greater attention from the corporate world.  In today’s environment, you simply cannot be a good leader without a) learning to coach,  and  b) taking a long, hard  look at your own personal wellness.  Gone are the days when the top people managed to ignore growing stress levels and enlarging girth measures; where work ruled and relationships came second.   We are all finally speaking the same language.

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