How to Choose a Life Coach

The International Coach Federation (ICF) has 36,000 members and estimates 53,000 coaches in the world. Whilst this still equates to an unattainable 147,000 clients per coach if you agree that everyone could benefit from one, it does mean that there are a few to choose from. So how do you go about choosing the right life coach for you? You’re in the right place! Let’s do this in 5 easy questions…

  1. Why do I want a Coach?
  2. What are their Credentials?
  3. How do they Work?
  4. What is the Investment?
  5. Do we have Chemistry?

Q1: Why do I want a Coach?

Once you have decided that coaching is right for you and that you are ready for change, it’s time to focus on the reason why. This will help you determine whether or not is important to find a Coach who works within a specific niche, or one who has experience or skills in a specific area.

For example, if you want to change your relationship with money, you might work with a Coach who promotes money mindset results. There are Coaches who specialise in specific areas (e.g. wellbeing, leadership, careers) and Coaches who work with a specific client base (e.g. entrepreneurs, LGBTQ+, women over 50).

Q2: What are their Credentials?

Life Coaching is an unregulated profession, which means it is possible to use the title ‘Life Coach’ without undergoing training. However there are several bodies leading the way in coaching self-regulation, training and best-practice. The largest and most respected of these is the International Coach Federation (ICF), followed by the European Mentoring and Coaching Council (EMCC) and Association for Coaching (AC)

For assurance, you may wish to seek a Coach with accreditation or membership of one or more of these bodies. There are however many successful and talented Coaches who have never received professional training. Finding out about a Coach’s credentials can also mean finding out about their experience and exploring any testimonials. Choosing a Life Coach isn’t about finding the right Coach; it’s about finding the right Coach for you.

So this isn’t just about Coaching accreditation. Perhaps other skills, qualifications or interests are important to you. Find out whether the Coach you are considering working with has any other professional interests, past or present, that may be relevant.

Q3. How do they Work?

Rather than give you the answers, a Coach will guide you forwards as you discover your own. Consider whether you would prefer a direct or softer style, how far you would like to be challenged and whether you would like your Coach to bring in different techniques. Some Coaches are trained in NLP, hypnotherapy or mindfulness, for example. This may be offered as an additional service.

Your Coach may offer a structured programme, the option to tailor a package, or provided coaching on a session-by-session basis. Find out how many sessions are on offer, over what time period and what this might look like for you.

We have become very accustomed to meeting and working virtually, but if you would rather meet face-to-face, check if this is an option with your Coach. Coaching style, tools, methodology and success measures are all important considerations when finding the right coach for you.

Q4. What is the Investment?

The resources you allocate to Coaching are an investment toward your future. Your money, as well as your time and effort during and in between sessions, are part of your commitment to achieving long-term gain.

I will take a guess and say that you are not looking to work with a Life Coach because you are only interested in short-term change. Investment into a life coaching programme is an investment to your future, whether that means changing how your life looks, feels or continues to grow. Consider this when choosing your Life Coach and deciding how much you can afford. You may wish to discuss programme options and any payment plans.

Q5: Do we have Chemistry?

Your initial consultation with a Coach is really important. In fact, I’d say it’s the most important question here. The consultation is a two-way discussion and the opportunity to find out if this relationship really could work.

Use the time to tell your Coach where you are right now, where you want to be and what you need from a Coach (if you’re unsure, say this too!). Find out what they can offer you, how they work and what you can expect from them. Ask why they became a Coach, what motivates them to support others and what they will bring to your journey.

Chemistry with your Coach is essential, so do follow your intuition on this one. To get the most out of Coaching, you will need to be open and vulnerable, so work with someone you feel you can trust and be in a safe space with.

Finally, Some Coaching Warning Signs…

As much as it is important to consider what you do want from a Coach, it can also be worthwhile to consider what you don’t want. Here are some of my own warning signs that would lead me to question a Coach’s credibility.

A Coach who…

  • has never received coaching before
  • shows signs of bad-mouthing other coaches
  • is unable to talk about the reasons why they coach
  • cannot share the results they have achieved in their own life
  • attempts to direct, advise or tell (this isn’t coaching)
  • is disengaged or appears distracted
  • doesn’t have a clean exit clause!

Have you ever worked with a Life Coach, or perhaps you are a Life Coach yourself? Please let me know what you think of these 5 questions to ask when choosing a Life Coach and if you have any more you would add. All the best in your coaching journey!

Stevie Barnes is a Personal and Professional Coach, working with ambitious people who have been held back by fear or limiting beliefs. Following 13 years supporting growth in corporate HR roles, Stevie switched careers in 2020 pre-lockdown to start up her own Coaching Practice and Talent Consultancy. She is now an ICF Approved Coach and works with amazing people who want to explore life outside of their comfort zone.

“What just happened…?!” My Q2 Review

It can be far too easy to focus on what we have not done. This seems to be especially true when reflecting on the second quarter of 2020, that already-hazy period in the last three months spent in various stages of COVID-19 driven lockdown…

In an experience I’m sure familiar to many, working consistent (or adequate!) hours was not an option for me, as I instead juggled a makeshift version of homeschooling and the various at-risk factors of those around me. I barely left the house, experimented with stay-at-home fitness routines and replaced my social life with reluctant zoom gatherings.

But, oh BUT… we spent endless hours together as a family, I danced, gardened, learned a new language, actually relaxed in the sunshine and somehow – despite everything – managed to continue building my coaching practice. It is easy to focus on what hasn’t happened, but I realise looking back how much did happen. This post is about my reflections, my gratitude and getting ready to switch up for the next phase…

What I Achieved

I’ll be honest, it feels awkward to list my achievements. It’s terribly un-British, but I’m tired of feeling like an imposter and this is the year I start taking pride in my success. So with that, my key professional milestones during Q2 were:

  • Completing my training with Full Circle Global and becoming an International Coaching Federation (ICF) Approved Coach
  • Continuing my CPD by learning alongside international clinical practitioners and exploring the latest research at the National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine (NICABM)
  • Providing full-programme pro bono coaching to several new clients during the period of uncertainty in my ‘Lockdown Coaching’ offer
  • Growing my presence on social media, including starting my first YouTube channel, having my first trending post on LinkedIn and building both my brand and network on Instagram
  • Completing a ’10 Day Challenge’ publicly on YouTube to address my own fear: video!
  • Designing 3 new personal coaching programmes, based on the experience, training, feedback and research I have been so grateful for in the past 6 months
  • Making the switch from a company name for my practice to using my own name, a sign of my growing confidence in my ability and choices
  • Surpassing my own progress expectations by exceeding every single one of my monthly targets

When I worked in the corporate world, formal coaching was a far-off dream for me and something that I was almost intimidated by. Receiving amazing feedback in my final assignment and having a badge from the gold-standard in coaching is hugely significant for me: it crushes that imposter feeling I’m now leaving in the past.

I hadn’t expected to be able to coach during lockdown. As the early weeks past, I read and heard more and more about rising anxiety and fear levels. I wasn’t focused on building my business; I just wanted to help. So I offered pro bono Lockdown Coaching on social media, unsure if anyone would respond. The response was fantastic. I have met and worked with some wonderfully inspiring clients through this initiative, all of whom are working with me on a 6 session programme.

2020 has been a big step outside of my comfort zone, involving significant changes to my career and life. Embracing vulnerability for growth is becoming a habit: in a long overdue and rather bold move, I set up my first YouTube channel and embarked on a “10 Day Challenge” to face my fear of video. I desperately wanted to be able to use the medium, but felt petrified by it. Yet, I have faced many fears and dedicated my career to helping other people face theirs. There was only one way forward! Here is my video on Failure:

Day 6 of my uncomfortable, embarrassing and incredibly rewarding ’10 Day Challenge’

What I Learned

Has anyone else felt like lockdown has been one big learning experience? I don’t necessarily mean for new skills or knowledge, but for learning about ourselves, what we value, need and… what we’re capable of! Many people I’ve spoken with have agreed that it has been a time for reflection. Perhaps we don’t usually get enough of that.

It has allowed me to realise how adaptable, resilient and patient I am. These aren’t words I would usually grab to describe myself, but I’ll take them now!

It’s important for me to develop my expertise and keep up to date with research. Aside from the courses I have taken, I have found moments to read books and listen to audio books. More recently, I have set myself a daily habit to read and this is really helping me to be more productive.

I have learned that starting a new business is hard, although I don’t think anyone ever said it wasn’t! COVID-19 has added to that challenge, but it has also shown how determined I am to pursue my vision. Acquiring new marketing, sales and finance skills alongside a new appreciation of an exceptional work/life balance has required me to push through and beyond my own comfort zone.

Developing my money mindset has been an uncomfortable and important learning this quarter. I am not particularly money motivated and have always worked in roles where my ‘worth’ has been largely dictated for me. This has meant that moving to self-employment, in a role I have taken on because I want to support others, has been difficult for me to monetize. Alas, I cannot continue to coach if I do not earn! Whilst getting paid to coach began as an awkward experience for me, it has allowed me to accept both my new status and career.

This has also been a period for new ways of working. Many of us have been forced into the unknown, so it takes some compassionate experimentation to make it work. I mentioned earlier that I have recently introduced some daily habits. These are alongside weekly goals, which break down my monthly goals. It all leads to my big, grand affirmation for 5 years time! I have found a system that works for me, but it’s not for everyone. It has really helped me to be accountable, consistent and focused. I don’t always complete the weekly actions, when I don’t, there are lessons learned!

I love coaching. I never said that about HR. I have been so fortunate to have worked with a good number of clients during this last quarter. It has enabled me to be certain that this is exactly where I want to be.

What’s Next

There is balance to be had. My biggest challenge has been time! Despite all I have achieved and all the fun I’ve had, I feel like I’ve barely worked. I miss it. I know what it’s like to spend too long commuting to a corporate job that zaps my sleep. Now I also know what it’s like to be at home with my family all the time. I’m ready to create that happy medium, for all of us.

There have been times of self-doubt in the last 3 months, but I have pushed through them and I am so glad I did. I am in a place now where I am committed to being a Coach, to self-employment, to building my brand and my business. I want to make a positive difference and I know how I want to do it.

There are topics I want to explore. I have a platform, a voice now and I want to use that. Being open and vulnerable has worked for me and I want to keep that space. I also want to develop my money mindset, to grow a profitable business to ensure that the vision and support I provide is sustainable.

But it’s time to get serious. Lockdown restrictions continue to ease, which means excuses continue to dwindle. Time is a problem for me, so I will learn to make the most of it. As I reach the end of Q2, I have new programmes, strategies and plans to move forward with. All of this is based on everything I have learned, listened to and experienced. My words for this quarter: Enriching, Expanding, Incredible. What would yours be?

We are not Fearless… We are Brave

It can lead us to run, to fight. It can paralyze us, but it can also protect us and keep us safe from harm. Fear is powerful, but sometimes it makes us feel anything but.

Then there are the times when we are bold, courageous and strong. We can reach greater heights, explore what we are capable of. Yet, we are not fearless. We are brave.

Let’s explore this distinction. The end goal isn’t to live a life without fear. There is strength in it, but there is weakness when it holds us back. To prevent this limitation, we can learn to leverage fear. I’ve written this blog post to explain why, although I specialise in fear, I don’t specialise in being fearless.

Feeling Fearless

Feeling fearless is different to being fearless. It is when you feel free from fears that were otherwise controlling you and you can embrace life ahead. You may still have fears that you haven’t leveraged, but they are not getting in the way of your direction. These are the ones that will keep you safe when the time comes, but they are not controlling your decisions.

Being fearless would be to have no fears at all. It would lead us to to put ourselves in dangerous situations and unable to weigh up risk. In reality, we don’t ever completely lose all our fears; being fearless is both an unrealistic and unattractive aspiration.

Fear has it’s benefits and whilst being fearless isn’t the goal, we also don’t want to walk around feeling fearful. We want to feel free, so we leverage the fears that become our barriers.

Knowing when to leverage Fear

There are some questions you can ask yourself to know if fear is holding you back:

  • do I want more from my life, career or relationships?
  • do I feel held back from achieving my goals?
  • do I feel like I am just ‘getting by’ or ‘making do’ in life?
  • do my dreams feel impossible, unlikely or unreachable?
  • do I ever wish I could ‘just do it’?

If you answered ‘yes’ to all – or at least most – of these questions, there is a strong chance you are being held back by fear. This is when fear is going beyond just keeping you safe from harm. The next question to ask is:

  • what is stopping me from achieving more?

Answering this question takes time. Often, our first answers are people, deadlines, commitments or other external factors. We give a way a lot of our own control when faced with fear.

If you are scared that you might get it wrong, lose out, look bad or make a mistake, that is fear. It is controlling your decision making.

Taking back ownership

Looking at every one of the external factors getting in the way, think about what you could do to have a positive impact. If you don’t have enough time, could you be more productive (if you really wanted to)? If balancing your partner’s commitments is a priority, could you discuss options with them? Work out where you have made excuses and where real barriers exist.

Then look at what you can change. This is often when bravery kicks in, because this is when we make a move or take a risk, despite all of the excuses we have given ourselves. Despite the worry, nervousness, or fear. When facing a fear, whether it be related to failure, image or loss, for example, the best way to leverage it is to face it.

ABC of Being Brave

For me, bravery is about accepting that fear exists and knowing when to leverage it. Accepting and admitting fear can be a vulnerable and uncomfortable experience. Remember that there is strength in vulnerability and also opportunities for personal growth by improving your own self-awareness.

So when fear starts to control your decisions, replace the expectation of being fearless with these 3 steps:

  • Acknowledge that the fear exists and is holding you back
  • Be Brave by taking steps outside of your comfort zone
  • Gradually take back Control of your decisions

You don’t have to be fearless to achieve your dreams, so replace that expectation with one of bravery. You can and will be brave. It has already got you this far.

If you know that fear is holding you back, you have already taken the first step toward leveraging it by recognising and acknowledging it. Rather than fight against it, you can choose to be brave and move toward it. It is bravery and not the denial of fear, that will enable you to be you and do all of things you want to do. For we are not fearless, we are brave.

Our Search for Validation

Have you ever wondered how much of your own journey is spent seeking validation for your thoughts, feelings or achievements from others?

This post is inspired by a childhood favourite of mine, The Wizard of Oz. It is a movie that likely inspired my own desire to dream beyond the rainbow, to live in multicolour and to wear fantastic shoes. Or, perhaps my interest in those things are why the movie resonated so much! Watching it as adult, my focus was less on Dorothy’s journey and her realisation that there is in fact no place like home, but more on the pursuits of her lovable sidekicks: Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion.

We all know the story (spoiler alert! Skip this paragraph if you don’t and are not ready to). They joined Dorothy on her quest to find the Wizard so they could find what was missing for them. Whether it be a brain, heart or courage, it turned out they had each gift within them all along. Was that enough? No, knowing that they had what they had always dreamed of wasn’t enough. They were happiest when the Wizard rewarded them with validation. For the scarecrow, he received a diploma to certify his intelligence. The Tin Man gained a testimonial of his heart and the Lion, a medal to honour his courage.

So today, I ask this question:

Are you merely seeking that which you seek, or validation of it?

Read it back again and take a moment to reflect.

I will share my own reflections. Most of what we seek falls into the four desires sought by the characters in the film: brain, heart, courage, home. I relate to the recognition for intelligence. It was the reason I went to University, as I knew a degree would stand me in good stead to become a journalist (my earlier career choice). When my higher education was interrupted due to the onset of epilepsy, I felt like a failure. I sought to reclaim that by eventually taking up other courses. I have done so ever since, yet my most fantastic learnings have not been through a text book or course. When I’m able to stand back objectively, I can see a certificate validates my brain less than putting into practice what I know.

I seek validation of my heart. I love my family deeply and my career is dedicated to supporting others, but I need to know that I am doing a good job. I think if that validation was written down I would move forward with more confidence. Likewise, I have done many courageous acts in my life, but I have not realised my bravery until this has been recognised by others. Yet the validation does not affect my ability as a parent, coach or consultant, nor does it determine how brave or courageous I am.

Perhaps some of this resonates with you, or you are starting to think of how your own actions and feelings have been influenced by the need for validation from others. By now you may be wondering where this all comes from.

Why we crave validation

Our search for validation is the result of being fed it from the moment we entered the world. It’s a loop we get stuck in. If this validation is for achievements rather than for our self, we naturally grow to believe we must achieve to be validated. Praise and recognition make us feel good from an early age and we continue to seek that boost. Without it, we have a gap that needs to be filled. So we fill that gap with feelings of low self-worth. It’s the logic our brain creates: “I am not being praised for this, therefore I must not be good at it”.

It’s not the validation itself that means we are good at something. We could be doing something amazing, but if nobody tells us, sometimes we don’t even know ourselves. It’s starting to sound illogical now, isn’t it?

Why it’s a problem

It is easy to get trapped in the loop of enjoying validation and seeking your next fix, often at the detriment to being true to yourself. We all know that social media heightens the awareness of what others are doing and so therefore the potential to compare, imitate and seek validation. When this either fuels an insecurity or becomes an addiction, it can lead to lead to anxiety, depression and low self-esteem.

Validation from others is a short-term fix, but it does not heal the longer-term human desires for happiness, purpose and fulfillment. Relying on validation for a boost is one thing, but relying on it as a source of happiness is likely to leave you unfulfilled.

Relying on other people means you are allowing others to dictate your worth. Your worth is not determined by anyone else but you, so to reclaim that you need to break the loop.

How to break the loop

That gap, if not filled with validation from elsewhere, will remain. If we don’t fill it with feelings of low self-worth, we can fill it with something that’s going to feel more motivating. This means we need to create our own validation source. Enter self-validation.

We are not going to solve self-validation in a blog post, but we can start to appreciate it’s power.

Self-validation is about being able to determine your own self-worth, to understand your strengths, accept your limitations and celebrate your successes. It is about listening to and acknowledging who you are, without needing anyone else to validate that for you.

Seeking external validation is often the result of years of subliminal practice, so it’s going to take some work to build new habits. We can do this by repeating these 4 steps every time we feel the need for validation: recognise, listen, reflect, and accept .

  1. Recognise when you are seeking validation and take action against it, whether that be to take time away from social media, not to ask someone for validation or to actively take time to be mindful
  2. Listen to your self whenever you think or feel something that you are ready to dismiss, instead noticing and accepting it. Start to understand what motivates you and demotivates you, taking ownership for your own thoughts and feelings.
  3. Reflect on your emotions and experience using facts and kindness. Self-criticism is not welcome here. Know that having an emotion does not mean that you are the emotion (i.e. being sad is a response and does not mean you are a sad person)
  4. Accept that what you have felt or experienced is normal and it is part of who you are. Applying logic to your emotions will enable you to understand the process that got you there.

Recognising habits associated with seeking validation will set you on track to consciously step outside of your comfort zone and replace them with new habits, which will in turn have a more positive impact on how you feel. As you develop your self-awareness, you will be able to look inward when you need a boost, rather than seeking validation from others.

We are not the sum of our approvals, but we are the sum of our experiences, thoughts and feelings. The switch to self-validation requires us to look a bit deeper, to accept who we are and be able to move forward with that. Validation from others will always be there to give us a boost, but it doesn’t have to be what defines us and ultimately holds us back.

A mantra to end this blog post: “I feel good when you recognise that I have done well, but I am motivated by my acceptance of my own expectations, feelings and achievements toward my own success.”

What would yours be?

10 Ways to be True to Yourself

Living up to other people’s expectations can be exhausting. Yet many of us unconsciously choose a life of second-guessing, people-pleasing and fearing failure over a life of empowerment, freedom and happiness. This is the difference between being who you think you should be, versus who you really, truly are.

Being the best version of yourself leads to a far more fulfilling life than being a second-rate version of someone else, yet it doesn’t always come naturally and old habits can be difficult to break. I often work with my coaching clients to explore what it would mean to them if they were true to themselves. This is something profoundly unique and means something different to each and every person.

In this article, I look at how to be true to yourself. Here are 10 ways in which you can start being true to yourself today:

  1. Identify and live by your own personal values, by thinking about what really matters to you.
  2. Let the true you be known in the choices you make, from how you dress to your hobbies, interests and opinions.
  3. Be honest with how you feel when you talk to friends and family.
  4. Let go of the opinions of others, if these opinions are detracting you from being who you are or doing what you want.
  5. Think about and celebrate your personal strengths. Ask others to help if needed.
  6. Surround yourself with like-minded people. These are people who make you feel good, not the ones who bring you down.
  7. Do what makes you happy: the things you care about and that bring you joy.
  8. Remember what interested you when growing up. Do these things still interest you now? Consider reigniting any passions and interests you let go of.
  9. Forgive yourself for your failures and mistakes; let go of shame and guilt.
  10. Take responsibility for your own life, both for what has happened and what happens next.

Being yourself isn’t always easy, I know that. At least, it isn’t at first. It’s a brave thing to do. Bravery requires us to step outside of our comfort zone.

Being true to ourselves enables us to be authentic and discover more about ourselves. It also helps us to grow, discover and enjoy. Listen to yourself once in a while. Whether it be to the voice in your head or your gut, letting your instinct guide you is the first step toward being truly, madly, deeply… you. ❤️

Hidden signs that uncertainty is affecting your mental health… and how to manage it

Another blog post about uncertainty? I know. How very 2020. I wrote this one because, despite all of the advice available to us right now, this is one I haven’t read yet (bear with me!)…

When faced with any kind of threat to our safety, our brain chooses one of three responses: fight, flight or freeze. These reactions are our body’s natural way of alerting us to fear or danger, putting us straight into action. So it might feel like you want to escape, or you just can’t move, but that is your body keeping you safe. That’s reassuring, right?

This way of our body protecting us does mean that we naturally avoid uncertainty for fear of a negative outcome. Instead we have to find ways to cope with our responses to it. As soon as our brain finds uncertainty, it reacts to it. Without developing new thought patterns to challenge this, our brains will continue to jump to defence mode. This means in times of increased uncertainty, there is the potential for this response to also increase, having a noticeable affect on our mental health.

We are managing and coping with a lot of uncertainty at the moment. It is accepted that this is not easy, but how do you know when uncertainty is having an adverse impact on your mental health, even if it isn’t obvious? Here are some less-obvious signs to be aware of:

  • Second guessing: constantly trying to imagine what might happen next to make up for a lack of certainty can increase stress, pressure and anxiety levels
  • Over-planning: being more prepared than usual, or re-arranging and re-forming new plans in an attempt to be prepared for any eventuality in an attempt to minimise uncertainty can also lead to stress, anxiety and depression if expectations are not met
  • Interrogating: a pro-active and aggressive quest for answers can be a natural ‘fight’ response to fear, but can increase stress levels if answers are not found
  • Blaming: this is a usual reaction to change, but pro-longed periods being angry or resistant to change can develop negative thought patterns and habits

We can train our brain to stop going into full fight-flight-freeze mode when faced with uncertainty by removing the association with a negative outcome. What that means, is that we need to embrace uncertainty in order to be able to accept it.

Well that doesn’t sound much fun, I hear you say! Stepping outside of our comfort zones is not known for being immediately fun, no, but it is the most rewarding route to personal growth.

The good thing is that stress and fear are adaptive. In short, this means that there are different ways in which we can utilise them. Whilst both often have negative connotations, they exist for our benefit (to protect us!). The key thing to remember here is that feeling fear or stress can have a positive outcome.

When faced with uncertainty, our brains do what they can to avoid it. Once you know your cues (it could be anything from sweaty palms, feeling flushed to running in the opposite direction) and if you’re ready, you can challenge it and break free from old ways of thinking. Try these 3 steps, as one way to do just that:

  1. Stop and question the perceived threat: what is the worst case scenario here? Is it really that bad? Can I maintain personal safety if I don’t react to the fear?
  2. Take control of your physiological responses: force your brain into a calmer state through deep breathing, in an anti-flight-or-flight response, disassociating stress with uncertainty.
  3. Give yourself direction: how do you want to feel, act and react? Focusing on where you want to be, not what you are uncertain about, can shift your responses.

These steps repeated can help you change the inner beliefs you hold about uncertainty and the habits you have formed that shape how you manage it.

What this effectively enables us to do, is to train our brains to increase our ‘optimism bias’ (which enables us to focus on the positive) and balance out all of that ‘negativity bias’. It brings our brains to a more neutral state, so we are able to more effectively manage uncertainty when faced with it

Here are some bonuses you will get from developing your tolerance of uncertainty:

  • a growth, rather than fixed mindset, which brings long-term benefits when adapting to change and uncertainty
  • increased resilience, enabling you to continue to face and manage challenges
  • improved performance, as a result of being able to react more neutrally
  • greater self-awareness, as you explore what you are capable of

There is a lot of advice available to us about how to manage uncertainty, but ultimately the benefit is found in how we manage our reactions. The uncertainty itself is something we can and will learn to accept, if we work on it. It is not always easy to spot the impact of change and sometimes it is even harder to get out of it, but in time, positive action does lead to positive results.

Talking Kindness

2020 will be remembered like no other year in our lifetime. We will share our experiences of when the COVID-19 global pandemic hit, how we suffered and how we grew, alone and together. Throughout the challenges, one of the things we are likely to look back on with fond memories is, of course, the kindness of others.

Perhaps kindness is something that was often taken for granted before. Now it is something we express our gratitude for, clapping for our carers every Thursday evening and sharing inspirational stories on social media. During COVID-19, kindness has radiated as we share hellos with the people we pass on our daily walks, fundraise for good causes and donate PPE to health and social care workers. Together we are helping the vulnerable, those in job uncertainty and those who cannot attend school. It is no surprise that the Mental Health Foundation have chosen Kindness as this year’s theme for Mental Health Awareness Week.

The Value in Kindness

In a time when fear and anxiety levels are rising, there has never been a more important time to spread kindness. Being compassionate and generous offers a positive message of hope. It is also known to:

  • reduce stress
  • improve emotional wellbeing
  • strengthen relationships
  • build trust and safety in communities

In the post, I will share with you the ways in which we can all continue to share and spread kindness, this week and beyond. The first step involves being kind to number one…

Think Kind Thoughts

Kindness starts with how we treat ourselves. How you think about yourself affects how you act and behave, which then influences the perception others have of you.

Be kind to yourself. This may involve changing your inner narrative, describing your actions in a more positive way. It may mean giving yourself a break once in a while, or acknowledging your successes. Remember you deserve kindness too.

Smile

A smile can hugely influence how you feel and are perceived. Share those kind thoughts with a kind smile. It is the most simple way to share kindness and is a way to be kind to yourself and others.

When you don’t feel confident or brave, start with a smile. It will send those worrying thoughts off course and you’ll start to feel more relaxed.

When people smile, we perceive them as friendly, warm and approachable. Share the positive feelings and it is likely the person you smile at will be able to share the smile too.

Share Acts of Kindness

Opportunities for kindness are everywhere. Doing good things will make you feel good and they will they make the other person feel good, increasing the chances of you both going on to have a good day and be kind to others. Yes, there is scientific research that points towards kind people being happier!

From helping out a neighbour, paying someone a compliment or celebrating their success, to sharing your skills or knowledge, a simple act of kindness can go a long way.

Acknowledge Kindness

By acknowledging kindness, we show our gratitude to the person and appreciation of the act itself, increasing the chance of more kindness and its benefits.

Saying ‘Thank You’ is an act of kindness is in itself, so the next time you recognise a good deed, consider sharing your genuine appreciation.

Let Kindness Spread

A small change can make a bigger change happen: kindness spreads and the effect can ripple, just like the flutter of a butterfly’s wings.

By being kind to yourself, smiling, sharing acts of kindness and acknowledging kindness along the way, you are making the world a kinder place.

Kindness isn’t just something to be grateful for during times of crisis. It doesn’t only matter during Mental Health Awareness week and it isn’t something that is weak or easy.

Kindness is powerful. It can change lives and it can save lives.

Why am I writing about kindness as a coach? I support others toward personal growth and quite simply, kindness matters. To find out what we are capable of, to overcome fears and to believe that we can achieve our goals, we need to look inward before we can grow outwardly. Being kind to ourselves enables us able to explore opportunities; being kind to others builds our connections with others for continued growth. Sending positivity, smiles and focus to every one of you this week and beyond…

Navigating the Change Curve

The only constant in life is change. It was Heraclitus who first shared this nugget of wisdom and it seems, in this respect at least, the world hasn’t changed so much since the era of the Ancient Greeks.

Despite centuries of constant flux, we have only just started talking about how to best manage change in the last 50 years. How to lead and adapt through change remains a debated topic in organisations, whilst individuals are continuing to battle through uncertainty. So why, if change is so normal, can it continue to feel anything but?

Understanding change

When we first experience change, we don’t experience the whole change. Instead we are hit hard with a single, often strong, emotion which we don’t always connect to the process that lies ahead. The process is one that can and often will end with us accepting the change and moving forward. To be able to better navigate change, we first need to understand and embrace the uncertainty before it overwhelms us.

Enter the change curve. You may be familiar with this model, especially if you have ever attended workplace training on management or change. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross created the five stages of grief in the 1960s to explain how we deal with personal loss and it has evolved to become the acknowledged framework for predicting and managing change ever since.

Kübler-Ross used the curve to explain human reactions to major losses, adding that not everyone will go through all five stages and that the order is fluid. One person’s experience could move from right to left on the curve, or re-visit an emotion more than once, for example. What is important in navigating change, is that experiencing any or all of these emotions is expected. Here is what they might feel like:

Denial: this is when defenses kick in and we look for evidence to refute reality. We are least productive, out of touch and looking for any way to not accept the change.

Anger or Resistance: as the change begins to feel real, fear of what might happen can lead us to look for faults, find blame and seek out ways to hold on to what was before.

Depression: this is a dark and often hopeless state, when we can feel upset, demotivated and sad. We may push others away or act reclusive as we lose faith in a positive outcome.

Bargaining: as we move toward a more hopeful mindset, we explore ways for a positive outcome, starting to generate ideas, take risks and offer assistance.

Acceptance or Commitment: when we are ready to move forward with the change, we have moved on from comparisons with the past and as a consequence feel more in control.

The human brain likes equilibrium. It’s called homeostasis. So when we are thrown out of routine or what we deem as ‘normal’, we jump on board the emotions curve in response to the disruption our brain is experiencing. Non-homeostasis – survival mode – serves to protects us and bring us back to equilibrium.

Using the change curve

The purpose of understanding the change curve is not to avoid it, but instead to help us manage our own expectations and therefore navigate through any uncertainty we are experiencing. Some people never reach the right side of the curve, continuing to suffer change rather than to benefit from it. By acknowledging when you are going through a period of transition and recognising the impact it is having on you, you will be better placed to control how you react and navigate the change more smoothly.

Change is rarely easy, so be kind to yourself and don’t feel the need to force progress. Being open to the change and your emotions can help you to replace fears with opportunity. Take positive steps toward accepting change by first accepting your experience.

When change is positive

I have mainly focused on times when change feels challenging, but often change is welcomed. Have you noticed people who seem to be able to take on all that life throws at them? Whilst perceptions do not always reflect reality, it is likely that these people have learned to navigate change, often through their own experiences of adapting and learning.

We can turn around our experience of change (credit: Daniel Roe @ Unsplash)

When you are able to not automatically see change as a negative, you will be able to appreciate the opportunities as well as the learning experience.

Here are some ways to turn any negative thinking around when something is changing in your life:

  1. Believe that some good will come from this change, whatever happens
  2. Tell yourself that you can handle it. Say it out loud every day if you need to
  3. Accept that you will experience different emotions and this is normal – ride the change curve
  4. Involve others in your experience, whether that means talking about the change you are going through or the emotions you are experiencing

The effective navigator

There is no right or wrong way to experience change, but it is accepted that we can ride a rollercoaster of emotions. If you are finding it challenging to accept change in your life, allow yourself time and appreciate the emotions that you are going through. Distinguishing between the change itself and our experience of a change can be difficult, but to effectively navigate change it helps to acknowledge and validate the emotions we are likely to experience as we move toward a place of acceptance.

If you are experiencing significant change yourself, use the change curve and explanations to help identify your experience, then allow yourself to be kind and patient with yourself as you continue to grow and learn through this journey.

Coaching, Counselling, Mentoring… which is for me?

It’s good to talk. Fortunately there are so many people out there who are ready (and trained!) to listen to you and offer support when you are ready for change. But how do you know if it is a coach, counsellor or mentor who will provide you with the guidance you need? In this post, I have simplified some of the types of support available to you based on where you are right now, looking at how they can help you create change in your life.

I need to find a way to cope…

If you are seeking support with how you cope on a day-to-day basis, counselling may be a suitable option for you. Counsellors create a safe environment in which to explore how you are feeling and help you find ways to manage these emotions, which might be in a one-to-one, group, family or couples setting.

Find out more (UK): Counselling Directory

I want to understand why I feel like this…

Psychotherapists are trained to help their clients understand the root cause of problems, supporting a range of concerns from emotional difficulties to psychiatric disorders. Whilst the terms psychotherapist and counsellor are often used interchangeably, a psychotherapist can help you recognise and solve problems in your life, looking back at your past to understand how it has shaped you.

Find out more (UK): UK Council for Psychotherapists

I want to learn from an expert in my field…

The change you want to see may require you to look ahead, rather than to the past. If you are keen to develop and want to learn from someone who has followed a similar path before you, finding a mentor could help you build confidence and expand your own expertise. Mentors use their experiences, knowledge or skills to direct mentees forward in their journey.

LinkedIn, mentoring apps and your own network are a great place to start!

I want to focus on creating my future…

If moving forward is your focus, but you want to be able to take ownership for your goals, coaching may be the solution for you. Coaches offer encouragement, guidance and challenge in equal measure, empowering clients to develop their self-awareness and create long-term, positive change in their lives.

Find out more (Global): International Coach Federation (ICF)

I want to learn new skills…

If you are looking for new skills or knowledge, you may find that a suitable Trainer is best suited to your needs. Training enables a facilitator to share knowledge and skills, so you can then use them in a way that is relevant for you.

Search google for courses and workshops online and near you in your chose subject.

This list is by no means exhaustive! Being a mental health advocate but not a mental health professional, I am keen to make the distinction between support that is focused on addressing problems (such as therapy and counselling) and that which is focused on personal growth or development. It is also important to make the distinction between coaching, mentoring and training, all of which can help guide you forwards.

You may look at this list and realise you would benefit from one, none or a combination of the types of support listed. It is common to talk to one professional about your past and another about your future. You will know what feels right for you, right now. To find out more, make the most of the resources available online or speak to specialists. Coaching is my specialism, but I also have experience in mentoring and training, so can help with questions you may have on support for personal and professional development. If this post has helped you or you have further thoughts, please let me know in the comments below or by contacting me directly.

Finding Strength in Vulnerability

Putting yourself in a place of vulnerability is not easy; it is courageous and brave. It’s time to challenge the definition of vulnerability that focuses on being exposed to attack or harm. It’s one that encourages us to dwell on negative consequences, on the wounds and shame we fear, rather than to embrace the strength that vulnerability can lead us to.

I used to fear vulnerability, without even realising it. I thought I was strong and independent by keeping my emotions close to my chest, but looking back I now know that I was weaker for being afraid of expressing my inner challenges. Putting on a brave face isn’t the same as being brave; keeping feelings locked away isn’t a way to stay strong, it’s a way to mask shame. There’s still room for me to grow, but I am now stronger, braver and more confident than I have ever been. I’m also more open and I know when to be vulnerable. I want to share with you how vulnerability doesn’t expose weakness, but instead creates strength.

Why we fear vulnerability

Being vulnerable can hurt because, at first, we need to expose the wound. We naturally defend ourselves against our fears. Renowned psychotherapist Joseph Burgo has identified four types of shame, which he says influence these defenses. These are:

  1. Unrequited love
  2. Unwanted exposure
  3. Disappointed expectation
  4. Exclusion

Have you ever felt like a failure because you didn’t achieve what you set out to do? That’s #3. Or felt rejected because you weren’t invited to a social event? #4. Perhaps you know what it is like to love someone who doesn’t love you back (#1), or have been humiliated when a mistake you made was shared at work (#2). We don’t like how these feel, so we do what we can to avoid them. We avoid shame, so we avoid vulnerability.

Where those fears come from

Feelings of shame often begin in childhood. Something as simple as hearing “don’t be silly” or “stop crying” when you’re upset can have a significant lasting effect if repeated frequently. Having emotions belittled or punished can create shame and this often comes from a place where the adults you spent time with when you were younger struggled to talk about or process emotions themselves. There is a need to break this shame cycle, to address these fears. The way to do it is to allow ourselves to be vulnerable.

it’s time to break the shame cycle

What we gain from vulnerability

“Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage.”

Brene Brown

In the past, I’ve blogged about what depression, perfectionism and epilepsy have all meant to me. Earlier this year, I took vulnerability a step further by sharing with a group of people I had met that day my insecurities and hopes for personal growth (it was a coaching demo and I was the client!). These moments have taken me far outside of my comfort zone, but that liberated feeling I get from stretching myself has been far more fulfilling than staying in my own head.

From what I understand about vulnerability, this is what we have to gain from being vulnerable in the right moments:

  • greater self-confidence
  • reduced anxiety
  • deeper connections with others
  • improved self-awareness
  • renewed focus on goals
  • increased resilience

Embracing vulnerability

step outside of your comfort zone

Finding strength through vulnerability takes time and practice. It is not something that will happen in a single event, but through opportunity, habit and openness, you will continue to gain from the experiences.

There is no right or wrong way forward, but these are 4 steps that will take you toward embracing vulnerability:

  1. Recognise what vulnerability looks like for you
  2. Accept that shame is a normal emotion
  3. Challenge yourself not to give into the fear
  4. Know when the time is right

We don’t need to be vulnerable all the time and with everyone to find strength from it. Choose to be open with those closest to you, those who can provide confidential support, or those you want to build closer relationships with. These steps are not straightforward, so take time to understand what vulnerability means to you. It can help to talk to a friend, relative, coach or therapist. We need to be able to trust and that doesn’t just mean in others.

Remember, it’s not weak to ask for help, to struggle, to not know where you’re going or to not understand your emotions. Feeling weak doesn’t mean we can’t use our strengths, nor is it something to be ashamed of. Being able to express what is going on for you and accepting what you’re going through are signs of strength.

If there is one thing you do, switch the words “weak” and “vulnerable” for “strong”, “courageous” and “brave”. Change the way you think about yourself… and change the way you experience the world.