In this post I’ll show you how to help your coaching clients become more psychologically flexible through mindfulness.
In a recent post I discussed the six components of psychological flexibility. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and AC Coaching have found that there are six key factors called core processes that contribute to becoming more psychologically flexible ( Anstiss and Blonna (2014) .
- Valued living (defining valued directions).
- Contact with the Present Moment (mindfulness).
- Committed Action (commitment).
- Acceptance (acceptance).
- Observing Self (self-as-context).
- Disentanglement (cognitive defusion).
In this post I want to focus on what Contact With the present Moment (Mindfulness) means and how to help your clients become more mindful.
Mindfulness is best described as moment-by-moment awareness. There are four dimensions of mindful moments. They are (1) present centered, (2) non-judgmental, (3) non-verbal, and (4) non-conceptual.
Mindful moments always focus on the present, never the past or the future. Most thoughts are one step removed from the present moment because they focus on the past or future. Mindful moments always exist in the present space and time, a context often referred to as the “here and now.” Mindfulness revolves around being fully involved in the here and now. Mindful moments are not thinking moments where you try to figure something out or judge it. Mindful moments are non-conceptual because during them you merely note the occurrence of something and accept it for what it is.
When explaining this to your clients, tell them not to judge what they are experiencing, just accept it. The talking that goes on during mindful moments is self-talk. It is non-verbal and also known as sub-vocal speech. Essentially self-talk is what your clients say to themselves when thinking or feeling something. When they verbalize or write down self-talk messages it adds an additional layer of interpretation and distance from them. Mindfulness is developed through informal and formal training activities.
Informal mindfulness training revolves around the application of mindful behavior into daily experience. Informal mindfulness training involves teaching clients how to devote their full attention to every activity they are engaged in. There are two dimensions of informal mindfulness training; (1) becoming more mindful of one’s internal environment (thoughts, feelings, mental images), and (2) becoming more aware of one’s external environment (behavior and immediate physical surroundings).
Becoming more aware of their internal environment is the first step in having clients accept it and co-exist with it as they work towards accomplishing tasks and meeting their coaching goals. Being more mindful of the things going on in the internal environment is different from judging or evaluating them.
When clients are truly mindful of their thoughts, they notice them without judgment. It is as if they have stepped outside of their own minds and are looking at their thoughts and feelings as outside observers of them. When clients do this effectively they begin to notice that a lot of their thoughts and feelings are not very helpful in meeting their goals and living lives based on their values. A key to doing this is helping clients understand when their thoughts are not helpful because they are really judgments and evaluations instead of observations about the present moment.
Mindful eating is often used as a form of external mindfulness training. It focuses on clients’ eating behavior and the context in which it occurs. Mindful eating is often taught to clients with eating disorders to help them become more mindful of their eating behavior. When you eat mindfully you sit quietly at a table slowly pick up small pieces of food with your utensils, gradually lift the food off your plate and bring it to your mouth, and take slow bites chewing thoroughly. For clients engaged in the practice, they experience eating like never before. They are taught to pay attention to the presentation of the food before eating it—the color, shape, placement, aromas, etc. They begin to marvel at things like how the fingers, hands, and arms work in consort with their brain to pick the food up and bring it into the mouth, the process of chewing, the experience of tasting something anew. Here is a simple mindful eating activity you can use with your clients:
Informal Mindfulness Activity: Mindful Trail Mix Eating
Purpose: The primary purpose of this activity is to help clients stop, observe, and be aware of one concrete activity they engage in daily; eating. The way clients eat results in specific consequences such as indigestion, overeating, and not appreciating the taste and texture of the food they are eating.
- Purchase a package of trail mix from your local grocery or outdoor store.
- Pour a small amount of the trail mix into your hand.
- Put the trail mix in your mouth and eat it as you normally would.
- Now pour another small amount of the trail mix into your hand.
- Close your eyes and notice what the mixture feels like in your hand. Feel the texture, weight, temperature of the mix.
- Open your eyes and pick one of the items in the mix (a raisin, seed etc.).
- Notice the size, shape, and color of the item.
- Close your eyes, slowly bring the item to your nose, and then smell it. Notice any aromas emanating from the item.
- Open your eyes and notice what the item feels like. Rub it in between your fingers and the palm of your hand. Feel the texture and shape as you manipulate it with your fingers and hand.
- Close your eyes, slowly bring the item to your ear, and listen to it. Notice any sounds it makes as you roll it between your thumb and forefinger.
- With your eyes still closed put the item in your mouth. Let it rest on your tongue for a while. After a few moments chew the item slowly. Chew it at least 10 times before swallowing it.
- Perform steps 6-11 with each of the individual items in the trail mix.
- Compare the experience of eating the entire mix as a whole in one gulp to eating each item individually. What did you learn about the experience as a whole? What did you learn about one of the items in the mix.
You can perform mindful eating with any food item. It works particularly well with items, such as oranges, that have to be peeled before eaten. Peeling the item adds another thing about it to be mindful of.
Formal mindfulness training is a structured program of daily practice of mindfulness meditation sessions. These sessions are in addition to continuing informal mindfulness training through mindful eating, walking etc. Generally clients would begin by meditating for a few minutes three to four times a week. After a couple of weeks of this they would increase the duration of your sessions by five minutes and repeat this until you could meditate for 20-30 minutes at a time. I recommend meditating for at least 5 minutes with your clients at the start of every session.
When I was doing individual coaching i did this with both face-to-face clients and those working with me online. The time spent together meditating established a new connection between us and set the stage for more focused and effective coaching sessions .