No matter the life we’ve been able to build, no matter our level of functioning, we all have pockets of struggle and suffering. We all have places or chapters in which we wish we could feel better, do better, show up differently. This is why I love to spread the word about coaching and its power to transform any aspect of our well-being. This month I had the privilege of writing an article about coaching for the New Hampshire Bar News.
Here is the full article as published:
Coaching: A Powerful Tool for Well-Being
If there is a silver lining to be found in the disruption of recent years, it may be the heightened awareness of the importance of well-being and the recognition that mental health plays a critical role in our overall health. The cultural conversation has opened to the fact that no one is immune to psychological distress. More than ever, there is an interest in proactively cultivating well-being across multiple facets of our lives. In this pursuit, coaching has emerged as an effective tool.
Coaching is not therapy, and therefore not treatment for psychological disorders or active addictions impairing daily functioning. Human functioning exists on a continuum, and there is plenty of room for growth beyond baseline. To move from basic functioning in our work and our relationships to a place of thriving and well-being – there’s a lot of ground to be covered, skills to be learned and integrated.
The prevailing myth in our culture is that growth and development are relegated to the first quarter of our lifespan. There is an expectation that by the time we reach our mid-twenties, we will have completed our cognitive, emotional and relational growth. While we may have acquired the skills and knowledge to start a career by this age, the process of knowing and understanding ourselves and the world has only just begun. Throughout our lives change is constant: We are in the process of change, always. To evolve and grow through change requires attention, intention and awareness. Coaching creates a vehicle in which we can be more deliberate in this growth and evolvement.
No matter what our resume or Instagram feed indicates about our level of functioning, we all have pockets of struggle and suffering. Life happens to us despite our attempts to control it. We feel stuck between knowing what we should do and actually doing it. We see the gap between who we want to be in a given situation and how we actually show up. We default to our negative habit loops and reactive tendencies. We have places where we can’t get out of our own way.
Meanwhile, we are navigating a VUCA world with a human brain. VUCA, the acronym coined by military leaders in the eighties to describe the rapidly changing landscape of the late twentieth century, rings all the more true in 2023. Our world is more “Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous” than ever. Much of the human brain’s evolution occurred in a harsh world of physical danger: Its ability to scan the environment for threats was paramount. The human brain in our current reality, left to its own devices, can become ensnared in a never-ending cycle of stress, worry, and reactivity. We often attempt to escape this cycle through numbing agents such as food, alcohol, shopping, and online activities. Never in human history have there been more opportunities to escape negative emotions, and ironically, by buffering against our emotions, we feel worse than ever.
To disengage from this negative cycle and create what we truly want in our lives, we need tools and skills. We may know intellectually that yelling at our teenager isn’t effective, or we may have memorized the tactical steps to losing the last ten pounds, but until we are able to manage our own minds, we can’t make progress. This sense of failure often ushers in a stream of self-criticism, which is also not effective in creating what we want.
Coaching creates a space and perspective for us to step out of our default modes and examine our patterns. There are many frameworks and methods of coaching. Because it is an unregulated field, anyone can call themselves a coach; vetting and research is important before engaging in this work. The framework in which I was trained is grounded in cognitive behavioral theory and positive psychology research, distilling these disciplines into concrete, pragmatic tools. While therapy may often be past-focused, coaching centers on the present and the future, where current thoughts and emotions fuel behavior. Just as it is hard to count the coins in your pocket, it can be difficult for us to get enough distance from our own mind to see our thoughts as separate from us, to see our own consciousness as distinct from reality. Coaching is a conversation that allows this perspective, a space of heightened awareness from which we can examine the belief systems holding us back, the fears sabotaging our best intentions, and the inflection points to shift patterns no longer serving us.
Coaching can be helpful in navigating any kind of change, whether we are proactively pursuing a goal, changing career paths, or transitioning to a different phase of life. Our human brains have not evolved to embrace change. In any transition, coaching can help us focus on creating more of what we envision, value, and aspire to, rather than getting stuck in resistance or reactivity.
The mind is a formidable machine, one that requires maintenance and upkeep. The wear-and-tear of chronic stress takes its toll, and patterns of thinking and working that served us well earlier in life can calcify into an overdrive that we can no longer regulate. Burnout is a classic example. The mental toughness and admirable work ethic that elevates us to a certain point in our careers may eventually become a maladaptive cycle leading to exhaustion, cynicism and disempowerment. Coaching can be an ideal tool for unwinding from burnout, or any negative cycle – perfectionism, people pleasing, risk aversion, procrastination, and low-grade anxiety.
Our habitual patterns create, little by little, the lives we lead: Nothing could be more worthy of our attention. There are a wide variety of supports to assist in managing your mind, and coaching is one of many tools. Whatever tool you employ, taking charge of your own well-being is perhaps the most powerful thing you will ever do.
Penelope Perri, MSW, CEAP is a certified Life Coach with a practice in Concord. For the past fifteen years she was a counselor and Director of the Employee Assistance Program at Concord Hospital. Penni helps individuals with life transitions and has created a program to help professionals overcome burnout.
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