Recently I was asked to deliver a webinar on entitled ‘Self-coaching for self-care’ to an audience of staff working in the health and social care sector in Scotland. To get my thinking in some sort of order I did some writing that helped me to bring to life my understanding of both self-coaching and self-care and whether the former might indeed support in being better at the latter. Even by my standards the length of my writing turned out to be rather long! It was like one of those times when you start work, look up two hours later, and find that you have several pages of tightly printed prose in front of you! Better than a blank page! Anyway, I have decided to break it into two parts which I will offer to you separately. The first was about self-care, this second is about growing the reach of coaching and how self-coaching might contribute to this. This writing does not constitute a script but it certainly did help me put my thoughts in order so I was able to deliver something worthwhile to a wonderful community of health and social care professionals.
If you did not get to read Part 1 you can find it through this link.
Growing the reach of coaching
I’m a professional coach on a bit of a mission. I want to make sure that the benefits of coaching reach more widely than they do at the moment. I want to continue to ensure that coaching value is experienced by those already in leadership positions and I want to coach people who are yet to become leaders. Those at the end of the formal education, at the beginning of their careers, or at the point of taking on their first team member. The benefits of a good coaching partnership can be diverse, its impact profound. The word cloud below captures the impact noted by my clients in Alpamayo Coaching Ltd. It’s the diversity and profundity that always stands out for me in this list.
Scaling of coaching is certainly happening by virtue of so many more people coaching these days. This is good news for sharing the benefits of coaching more widely although I would add a note of caution in your selection of a coach. Check out both their professional background and their coaching credentials. If the are not recognised by a professional body that examines the standard their coaching practice you might want to think carefully if they are right for you.
Another change in coaching provision is the move towards digital rather than face-to-face (F2F) coaching. A personal interest in the use of technology as an enabler to coaching was something that brought me into the orbit of Know You More (KYM). I enjoyed their mission to harness technology as a means of bringing together coach and client in a partnership facilitated digitally while being built through a very human connection. I have written elsewhere about my experiences of digital coaching and how powerful it can be so will not repeat that here. What the digital approach does in terms of scaling coaching is clear. People have been able engage with my coaching through digital means when physical co-location is not a practical or cost-effective option.
Many coaches and coaching organisations were on a journey towards doing more digital coaching before the onset of COVID-19. The virus has clearly accelerated that journey by virtue of removing the possibility of F2F coaching pretty much entirely! What coaches and their clients can now reflect on based on current experience is just how different F2F and digital coaching. They undoubtedly both have their merits but maybe being starved of the F2F option we can be clearer about when one option offers benefits over another. One possible challenge about an only digitaI connection world are the unknown consequences of virtual connection fatigue?!
More coaches and easier digital access to them certainly makes coaching more available. It’s not quite what I am about though. My ideal is that everyone engages with coaching as I believe that we all have the capability to do a little bit of coaching for ourselves. Likewise, we all have the potential to adopt a coaching approach in our interactions with each other. Having explored self-coaching and supported others in trusting dialogue we may then be in a position of getting the most from working with a professional coach. That’s what I call scaling up and I capture my sense of it under the heading of ‘Thinking about your Thinking (TAYT)’, summarised in the graphic below.
TAYT is based on the belief that all of us to have some capacity to self-coach if we are supported by some light touch awareness raising and accessible resources. We all have the capacity to challenge and support each other in what I call ‘peer coaching’ in the graphic but which might be more effectively described as a ‘coaching style conversation with a trusted other’. Support for this is about growing awareness of what a coaching approach looks like within small and large organisations. Alongside training the most important element of this is the consistent and public role modelling of a coaching approach by all those in leadership positions in contact with all their stakeholder groups. Everyone does that though, right?!
Coaching and self-coaching
To return to self-coaching, at least in a moment. First the International Coach Federation (ICF), my professional body, definition of coaching: ‘ICF defines coaching as partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.’ I absolutely buy into this definition and bring it to life with all the clients I partner with. The core techniques underlying good coaching practice and listening and enquiring (I tend to avoid the phrase asking questions as many of the best enquiries lack a question mark at the end, for example making a statement that invites discussion or, perhaps most challenging of all, silence!).
By definition self-coaching cannot be about partnering. More on this later although I will raise a note of caution right now, given its importance. It is critical that trying out self-coaching does not result in your withdrawal from discussions with others around about what you are thinking and feeling. Whatever the merits of self-coaching they will only be realised if used in association with your engagement with friends, family and, where necessary, medical professionals.
What self-coaching involves is listening to your own thinking and noticing your feeling as you replay your response to a given stimulus. It includes an element of mindfulness to ensure that you focus your attention on that thinking and feeling. An important skill for me is noticing. What’s the use in listening if there is no noticing? In some ways noticing is the doorway through which something we have heard enters our consciousness. Becoming conscious of something is the necessary precursor to being curious about it. Curiosity is the basis of the second coaching skill that applies in self coaching which is enquiry. We can challenge ourselves with questions. We can make an observation and sit with it to see if any productive line of enquiry comes to our attention. We can hold that silence in our mind and be interested in the things that float to the surface as we do so.
Having found something of interest we can think about the assumptions we are making. What impact are they having on our thinking and the way we are feeling? We can test our confidence in the evidence supporting our assumptions. If there is none, we can choose to reject them. We can pay attention to our language and see how our thinking and feeling responds to reframing it. How amazing is when you realise that your processing power has been focussed on ‘reasons I can’t do X’ and to note the release of energy with the simple reframing to ‘reasons I can do X’. We can think of our values and how they play out in the various roles that we have. Can our ‘outside-of-work self’ offer some advice to our ‘at-work self’ for example? A solution often arises when you engage with the ‘whole of you’ rather than only trying to be creative within a role where you feel under-resourced. Finally, there is thinking about your immediate and longer term purpose.
There are two powerful questions to ask yourself (i) what is my purpose right now? (ii) how does my proposed action help me achieve my purpose?
None of this is easy. Self-coaching is both art and science, offering insight you may find useful in coping with any challenge you are facing. These insights can lead to learning which you can use to help you choose a course of action to meet your challenge. You might also be curious (again!) to see whether your learning might be usefully applied more generally.
I realise as I reach this point that the implication is that this is going on all in your head. You may be able to work this way but for most of us that is a challenge too far. Sitting down with pens and paper and writing and drawing your thinking is an incredibly powerful way to support your consciousness of what is going on. If you are comfortable you can think out loud. Most certainly when you reach a conclusion say it to yourself out loud. Something like a mantra. Somehow saying something out loud or writing it down codifies your thinking, gives it substance, perhaps authority.
You don’t need to start with a blank canvas either. There are coaching tools out there to help with capturing your thinking. One such example is hosted on the National Digital Wellbeing Hub in Scotland: The KYM Self-Care in a Crisis resource. It’s a great resource to support all forms of coaching conversations.
Bringing it all together
I started off being honest about my concern about sharing my views. Am I right to advocate self-coaching and self-care. Yes, I believe I am, provided that they are not both interpreted as a call to resolve a personal challenge in isolation. We all benefit from connectivity within our social and professional networks. Much of the burden of challenge, particularly in a crisis situation, is shouldered by our shared experience with others. Engaging with others, having them listen to our thinking and feeling will always be important. As is the opportunity to provide that same support back to them. With that caveat in mind though self-coaching is something that can offer a benefit to individuals which is the ultimate upscaling of the availability of coaching. Perhaps relatively small gains yet a large population who may benefit. After all, to borrow a metaphor that has been used extensively recently, we are all on our very own front line of meeting our own unique combination of challenges. No harm in seeking to harness our internal resource to the full then in all modes of coaching: self-coaching or coaching with a trusted thinking partner, whether through digital connection or face to face.
To conclude then, some words that are important in self-coaching. Think of it as my mantra!
Purpose. Values. Attention. Noticing. Curiosity. Language. Assumptions. Choice. Learning. Action.
If you are interested in the webinar itself you can find it through this link. It was hosted by NHS Education for Scotland (www.nes.scot.nhs.uk/) and Project Lift (www.projectlift.scot/). I was representing Know You More (www.knowyoumore.com) who are digital coaching partners with Project Lift and how are also providing digital coaching services to health and social care practitioners through the National Wellbeing Hub Scotland (www.promis.scot).