The Power of Coaching
I began working with a professional coach approximately 10 years ago. At the time, I was a newly divorced mom of a young daughter, a practicing physician, a new medical director, and a student in an executive MBA program. Not to mention, a daughter, a friend, a sister, and many other hats! I wasn’t sure how, exactly, coaching would help me, but I knew that it would.
What is coaching? The International Coaching Federation defines coaching in this way –
“….partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential. The process of coaching often unlocks previously untapped sources of imagination, productivity and leadership.” www.coachingfederation.org
My coach began our very first conversation by letting me know that she was in my corner. She provided a psychologically safe space for me to discuss any concerns with her. She assured confidentiality and she embodied presence with me. Through her reflections and questioning, my confidence as a multi-hyphenate (mom-physician-leader-student-etc.) expanded beyond my imagination. She empowered me to see possibilities I couldn’t have seen for myself. She pushed me beyond my comfort zone – all in a caring and safe environment.
Her impact on me, and my growing desire to serve my fellow physicians, inspired me to become a certified coach. I’ve had the opportunity to coach a number of physicians, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants and am constantly in awe of the power and the impact of coaching. The ability to identify thoughts that are not serving me, and reframing them into thoughts that move me forward AND are in alignment with my values, is nothing short of magical.
I’ll share with you a couple of examples from my clinician clients – as well as from my own experience.
The first time I meet with a clinician to discuss the coaching process, I ask them to set short term (1-3 month) goals to work towards as part of my program. One physician told me that one of her goals was to feel “done” at the end of a long day of seeing patients. She was struggling to understand why she never felt this sense of “doneness,” despite her working diligently to complete all of her necessary clinical tasks. I had a hunch that she hadn’t yet identified what it truly meant to be “done for the day.” I asked her to define “done” and together we crafted the ideal of “doneness” for her to feel less guilt in the evenings with her family. Now she had something she could work towards instead of constantly feeling like she wasn’t living up to her expectations. Until she had defined the term – and clearly understood what it meant – she was frustrated.
A client who is a nurse practitioner told me she wants to finish reading a book to feel a sense of accomplishment, because (her words) “I start things and then I don’t finish them.” Another hunch told me that wasn’t completely true. I asked her about times in her life when she HAS finished something that she started- and she named several. I added several more- including her medical training- for which she wasn’t crediting herself.
She had a pervasive thought that wasn’t serving her. This happens ALL THE TIME.
We questioned the thought and she turned it into a thought that served her better- “I finish what I set my mind to do.” She left the coaching session feeling more confident and accomplished.
Have you ever had a thought like…
I want to (insert goal)… but I don’t have the time.
I wish I could pick up my hobby again.
After my kids are older, I’ll have time for…..
Everyone else has resources to do what they want to do, but not me.
Are those thoughts serving you? NO
How are they making you feel? GUILTY, UNPRODUCTIVE, ANXIOUS
A good coach will pick up on those thoughts and help you to question them, and reframe them into thoughts that actually change how you feel and move you in the direction you want to go.
I’ll make the time for what’s important.
I can do what I want to do NOW.
I deserve to prioritize what’s important to me.
How do those thoughts make you feel? WORTHY, VALUED, PRODUCTIVE
It’s so powerful!
Recently my family and I moved into a new home. The process of moving can be incredibly stressful. The feeling created in me by the chaos and clutter was a complete loss of control.
I like to feel in control of my surroundings and environment. And I often really do think that I am in control. In reality, there is so little in my life that is actually within my control.
What can I control? My behaviors, my thoughts, my attitude, my responses to people and things around me.
What can’t I control? EVERYTHING ELSE!!
Feeling in control of our environment is related to feeling safe from harm. When we feel out of control, our primitive brains will often go to extreme lengths to regain some semblance of control, usually in a different area of our life.
When I was studying for my MBA, I clearly remember sitting in my comfy leather chair, curled up with a book and my dog in my lap. I knew that I needed to study for my exam the following day. My primitive brain – which can get very loud and intrusive!! – convinced me that that exact moment was the perfect time to clean out the refrigerator. (My primitive brain won that round – I did clean out a few shelves – but my prefrontal cortex won the match and I was able to get back to studying rather quickly.)
That desire to clean (or any other procrastinating activity) when feeling anxious is the brain trying to grab onto control! It’s a normal and human response and sometimes can help us process overwhelm or trauma. The key is to be aware of the desire for control, to recognize it, and to have compassion for ourselves when we succumb to it (because we all will).
Coaching has increased my ability to notice my unhelpful thoughts and reframe them into thoughts that will spur me into right action. I highly recommend anyone who is in a position of leadership – in any environment (parenthood counts!) – to reach out to a coach to discuss how coaching can help you uncover your best self. It’s been a game-changer for me and has empowered me to flourish in my own life and my own career.
Laura Suttin, MD, MBA, MCPDC