I thought to myself, “I’m going to knock this health coaching course out of the park, I just know it. After all, I’m a professional communicator. I have almost three decades of communications experience, a master’s degree in mass communication, and many years as a corporate trainer and college instructor. Plus, I have lots of experience as a fitness instructor and energy worker. So I know how to communicate, how to motivate, and how to help people create change. I’m a natural-born coach!”
A Few Weeks Later:
“I’m not sure this is for me; it’s difficult and doesn’t come naturally. I really want to help people, but this is all so new to me. Help! At first, training to be a health coach felt like emotional boot camp: You don a new uniform of complete empathy, strap on a heavy pack of motivational interviewing skills, hike through miles of wilderness with your client as your compass, and finally make it to a hidden beach where you do endless hours of strength training for your most important, yet weakest, muscles. Those would be your listening muscles.”
I’ve learned that you sweat through countless role-playing exercises, practice conversations, and frank feedback, then tromp back to your barracks exhausted, with buzzwords like “be present” and “two reflections, one question” on a permanent loop in your brain. You collapse on your bunk. Sleep. Wake up. Repeat. I was worried I would wash out of boot camp. See, my challenge wasn’t that I couldn’t communicate. I was skilled at telling students and groups best practices and recommendations for their brands and their careers; I was brimming with ideas on exercise, drinking more water, and increasing confidence, and I couldn’t wait to tell my clients. It turns out that’s not coaching. Coaching means I’m not the expert; my client is. Thus my challenge was to mute myself and completely tune in to my clients. My challenge was to stop fixing and start listening.
This was lovingly yet glaringly evident during my first session with my mentor. “How did it feel, coaching a client?” she asked. My answers came out in a rush; I didn’t hold back my overwhelming insecurity and doubt. I was frustrated and confessed to the truckload of inadequacies I was sure she was about to point out. She just listened. And waited. So I blurted out more details, more ways I’d failed my client. I ranted about all my shortcomings, then made a complete about-face and started trying to convince her that I really could do this. I was just having an off day, that’s all. Again, she listened. Waited. And after a pause, she quietly asked, “What did you learn from that?” And that’s when I realized what she was doing. She was modelling with me — and for me — exactly how I should be with my clients. It was the most effective and nonjudgmental way to teach me to be quiet, be present, and listen. She could have just said, “You need to be patient and listen more,” but that’s not coaching. The Pack Health family lives and breathes the spirit of coaching in everything they do. Compassion and judgment-free listening are not just techniques for an occupation; they are a lifestyle. And when you’re the recipient of them, you suddenly understand how powerful they can be. And so, boot camp continues. My uniform is starting to fit a little better, my pack feels a bit lighter, and I’m finding small paths through the wilderness I couldn’t see before. My ear muscles have a lot more training ahead of them, but they get stronger every day. And the mantra my mentor gave me to remember is the same one she uses with me: Be patient and listen. I can do this.
Post written by: Trudi Mullins