WHAT IS MINDFULNESS?

Mindfulness as a psychological concept is the focusing of attention and awareness, based on the concept of mindfulness in Buddhist meditation and popularized in the West by Jon Kabat-Zinn. Mindfulness is the ability to pay deliberate attention to our experience from moment to moment, to what is going on in our mind, body and day-to-day life without judgment.

Bishop, Lau, and colleagues (2004) offered a two-component model of mindfulness:

  • The first component (of mindfulness) involves the self-regulation of attention so that it is maintained on immediate experience, thereby allowing for increased recognition of mental events in the present moment.
  • The second component involves adopting a particular orientation toward one’s experiences in the present moment, an orientation that is characterized by curiosity, openness, and acceptance.

Practicing mindfulness can help people to begin to recognize their habitual patterns of mind, which have developed out of awareness over time and this allows practitioners to respond in new rather than habitual ways to their life.

Mindfulness meditation is the practice of being aware of present-moment internal and external experience without trying to push it away or to over-engage with what is happening – just notice. Mindfulness helps train the mind to pay attention and notice, so that action can be taken with greater reflection and control.

WAYS TO BE MINDFUL

Physical sensations: You could apply mindfulness through exercise, dancing, walking or love-making

Sounds: Listening is a fantastic exercise in in mindfulness. Really focus on the sounds and vibration around you, the feelings that the sounds bring up within you, and other sensations that are happening in the moment, as you listen. Ideas: You could apply mindfulness to when travelling on public transport, in the street, listening to music, in the café, to others talking, the sounds of nature

Tasks: Whatever you’re doing, you can choose to totally focus on the task in hand. To bring mindfulness to a task, you first need to view it as a positive event, an exercise in self-understanding and stress relief, rather than simply as a task. Truly focus on all the aspects and use all your senses

Eating/drinking: One way of getting in touch with the present moment is through mindful eating. We often eat our food and take our drinks in quickly without even paying attention to the rich experience of the nourishment we’re taking in. Ideas: You could apply mindfulness through a glass of water, a hot drink, a snack, a meal

Observing your thoughts: Rather than working against the voice in your head, sit back and observe your thoughts, rather than becoming involved in them. As you observe them, you might find your mind quieting, and the thoughts becoming less stressful. Mindfulness can be used to take a step back from your thoughts and reduce their power to impact your life.

TIP: You can become mindful at any moment just by paying attention to your immediate experience. You can do it right now. What’s happening in this moment? What do you see, hear, smell? It doesn’t matter how it feels – pleasant or unpleasant, good or bad – you’re not judging it. If you notice your mind wandering, bring yourself back to the now.

Breathing: One of the simplest ways to experience mindfulness, which can be done as you go about your daily activities, is to focus on your breathing. Breathe from your belly rather than from your chest, breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. Focusing on the sound and rhythm of your breath, especially when you’re upset, can have a calming effect and help you stay grounded in the present moment.

TIP: Don’t set any goals for mindfulness. Setting a goal is future-orientated. Think this moment only. It is a matter of realizing where you already are.
A cartoon from The New Yorker sums it up: Two monks are sitting side by side, meditating. The younger one is giving the older one a quizzical look, to which the older one responds, “Nothing happens next. This is it.”

TIPS FOR BEING A MINDFUL COACH

Times have changed, and we’re currently witnessing something of a mindfulness revolution. Mindfulness is widely viewed as an approach suitable and adaptable within a wide range of secular settings, including education, healthcare, the workplace, even politics – and more recently, coaching. There hasn’t been a great deal of research yet on mindfulness in coaching, although plenty in other arenas with implications for coaching. We know, for example, that mindfulness helps us be more emotionally intelligent, more present, more creative, better able to make better decisions, better able to manage stress, and become more resilient. One coaching study (Spence et al, 2010) found that mindfulness training combined with solution-focused coaching helped clients attain their health goals. My own research, which included an online survey among 156 coaches from regions including the US and the UK, revealed the top reasons why coaches practice mindfulness: to help them live more in the moment (74%), be more self-aware (73%), manage/prevent stress (67%), and be more present for their clients (65%). And the main reasons they use mindfulness explicitly with clients: to help the clients become more self-aware (70%), be calmer/less anxious (59%), better manage stress/be more centered (55%) and better manage reactions/responses (51%). Liz Hall. Author of Mindful Coaching

*** Firstly you need to experience and integrate regular mindfulness as a personal practice into your life. You could undergo the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction programme. This is an eight-week workshop taught by certified trainers that entails weekly group meetings, homework, and instruction in three formal techniques: mindfulness meditation, body scanning and simple yoga postures. Practice mindfulness regularly.

*** Secondly for each coaching session you are engaged with:

  • Prepare mindfully
  • Create your coaching area with consideration (on or off-line)
  • Sit and pay attention to your breath for a few minutes
  • Sit with your client before you start to bring you both into the present

*** Thirdly attend to the present in the coaching interaction with:

  • Compassion. However frustrated you may feel in response to a client’s apparent negativity or unwillingness to change, be compassionate. Consider how your client may be feeling and what their mindset may be and how you can help them come from a better place.
  • Empathy. This means that you accurately understand the client’s thoughts, feelings, and meanings from their perspective. When you perceive what the world is like from the client’s point of view, it demonstrates not only that that view has value, but also that the client is being accepted.
  • Acceptance. This means that you accept the client unconditionally and non-judgmentally. The client is free to explore all thoughts and feelings, positive or negative, without danger of rejection or condemnation.
  • Openness. Allow yourself to be open to experience.
  • Curiousity. ‘Curiousity is the wick in the candle of learning’ (educator Dr William Arthur Ward). Let yourself experience the spirit of enquiry alongside your client.
  • Congruence. This means that you are authentic and genuine. You don’t present an aloof professional facade, but are present and transparent to the client. There is no air of authority or hidden knowledge, and the client does not have to speculate about what you are really like.
  • Awareness. Increase your awareness of thoughts, feelings and physical sensations and encourage similar awareness in your client.
  • Acknowledgement. Embrace the easy and the challenging within the session.
  • Detachment. Remain objective of outcome for the client – and for yourself.