Living with uncertainty is a theme that comes up again and again in coaching sessions, both from an individual perspective and within a wider social context. The current political climate has shaken us out of a comfortable place of complacency and into a turbulent storm of conflict, change and division. Never has there been a greater need for the coaching tools of shifting perspective, taking a metaview and thinking creatively.
But what else will support us and our clients as we navigate change and uncertainty? How do we keep ourselves mentally ‘match fit’ – resilient, adaptable and able to access our creative problem solving?
As coaches, we are, in theory, well-practiced in emotional agility. We trained to notice what our clients may not yet be aware of. We meet our clients where they are, work with what they bring to a session and empower them to see their bigger potential. Many clients describe coaching as a ‘mental workout’, and the very best coaching goes to uncomfortable places in the same way a challenging run pushes our bodies. Coaches have to be able to maintain that level of focus and connection through multiple sessions with different clients throughout the day. The challenge of maintaining mental fitness is a very real one.
However, even coaches can get stuck in a rut – repeating the same formula or exercises; working with the same topics over and over. While consistency is important, it’s also vital that we keep expanding our range, both within our coaching and outside.
In her TED talk, The Gift and Power of Emotional Courage, Elizabeth David shares her experience of moving out of emotional rigidity into a place where she was able to fully accept the challenging emotions she felt after the death of her father – an experience she describes as ‘life-saving’. Her research shows that our ability to move through a full range of emotions is vital for a fulfilling life. Only when we give ourselves permission to feel what we feel and to have the vocabulary to describe it accurately are we able to choose appropriate action based on that emotion. Never has it been more important to educate our clients in the language of emotional range so that they too can be confident and agile as they move through different emotional states.
Dr Rahul Jandial, a brain surgeon and neuroscientist and author of ‘Neurofitness’, expanded on his definition of emotional agility in the Feel Better, Live More podcast. His top tips for mental fitness included the well-documented triad of rest, nutrition – a mediterranean plant based diet – and movement, but also some less known areas such as the importance of loving relationships and lifelong learning. But perhaps his most interesting recommendation was to engage in variety – of experiences, environments and social interactions. He recommends switching off the satnav and using maps and brainpower to navigate a new route in order to reconnect to our working memory muscle. He is clear that a level of challenge is good for mental fitness, and to use the old adage, if we don’t use all the different muscles of our brain, we lose them.
As we navigate change alongside our clients, paying attention to our own mental fitness and emotional agility is more vital than ever for a sustainable coaching career.