A Mindful Approach to Coaching

I find mindfulness to be very useful component of my performance coaching work and I’d like to share a little about using it to greatly increase our chances of successful coaching outcomes.

Flow State

We can probably all remember times when we were totally absorbed in something, perhaps eating a particularly delicious meal or being completely fascinated by an exciting novel which we found so difficult to put down.

For years I really enjoyed running and I, like many runners, found myself getting into a state of absorbed exhilaration where I felt, once I had overcome the pain threshold, as if I could just keep on running. This is often described as being in the flow. Artists will usually be familiar with flow state and it won’t be very hard for them to focus on the choreography of a ballet in which they are dancing or a sculpture which they are creating. However, in our lives generally, it is not so easy to remain in present focus when engaged in our ordinary, everyday activities. Isn’t it all too simple to slip into worrying about future events or feel guilty or stressed about something in the past, instead of allowing ourselves to truly appreciate or enjoy our present activity.

How can mindfulness be an effective part of coaching?


As a performance coach a good dose of curiosity can achieve wonders at times. It can be argued that one of the key skills of coaches is to be able to somehow get our clients to think! – and to think in a creative way ‘outside the box’. That’s why ‘GROW’ model options questions like ‘what other options do you think you have?’ and ‘if anything were possible, what would you do?’ and even perhaps when things are getting stuck, ‘if you did know the answer, what would it be?!’, can be most helpful in developing ‘way forward’ options.

Mindfulness can help us to develop curiosity particularly with a kind of non-judgemental reflection. Have you noticed how, when you reflect on something that you have written, maybe your journal or notes for some forthcoming event, in a fairly quiet, distraction free (almost meditative) state that real inspiration can come to mind?

The essence of curiosity can be found in ‘enquiry’ type ‘powerful’ questions in coaching. The sort of questions that, the answer to which, may have a real impact on the coaching issue. The answer to these sort of questions, such as ‘how can you identify what is really holding you back?’ may not immediately find an answer at a conscious level. The client may need to reflect and let it settle quietly before an answer comes to mind. The mindfulness body scan exercise, mentioned earlier can be helpful here.

Beginner’s mind

One of the most quoted attitudes/principles of mindfulness is known as beginner’s mind. Rather than responding to events in the way we always have before – rather than thinking and doing in the way we always have before, just supposing we were able to see things as if we were looking through a completely new pair of eyes.

In a coaching exercise I was carrying out with a female client, she (let’s call her Gill) had been struggling to come to terms with a very troubling relationship, over many years, with her only sister. Gill described their relationship as close, an intense struggle of willpower and, in Gill’s opinion, a desire by her sister to be dominant over Gill.

In one of our coaching sessions Gill wanted to focus on reality and what this meant in her relationship. I asked Gill to carry out a gestalt – empty chair drama exercise with her talking to the empty chair and imagining she was talking to her sister and then take the empty chair herself, imagining that she was her sister and talking back to her (Gill). This is a useful and sometimes powerful way of gaining clarification on core values.

Gill really struggled to respond in the role of her sister and I suggested a shift in emphasis with Gill immersing herself in a gentle meditative exercise with something I adapted from the ‘loving kindness’ meditation. I got Gill to start by focussing on her breathing and then direct positive feelings towards herself, making some positive affirmations such as ‘May I be well and happy’,’ May I gain clarification and understanding’ and ‘May my sister and I be happy’. Gill chose the affirmations. After this she directed positive feelings towards her sister, again with affirmations of a similar nature. Lastly Gill directed positive feeling towards herself and her sister with affirmations such as ‘May my sister and I be well and happy’, May we gain understanding of each other’ and ‘May we understand each other’s needs’.

Through the course of this exercise, which took over 30 minutes, Gill found that she started to develop much more positive feelings about resolving her relationship problems. We then went back into the gestalt, empty chair process and this time Gill found it much easier to answer, in the role of her sister, her concerns over their relationship. This proved to be a defining moment in Gill being able to resolve her difficulties with her sister.


Our presence in the coaching relationship may be considered as one of coaching’s core competencies. Just how genuinely present are we in that relationship? What does being present mean?

Staying present really means letting go of our awareness of ourselves so that we become more aware of our client. Conversely if we start to become more aware of ourselves, within the coaching conversation, perhaps thinking about how we look, how we are sounding, letting any of our own personal thoughts intrude, then we decrease our awareness of our client. When this happens then we start to listen less effectively and we are less likely to perceive non-verbal information so we are unable to check out congruence in communication. We actually become less conscious of the whole coaching process.

So, presence may be thought of as something which all of us in our profession believe we have a natural aptitude for, rather like an ability to build rapport. That doesn’t mean to say however that we can’t become even more effective if we work at it.

Being truly present is actually a very joyful state to be in. When we feel we are at one in the moment but at the same time unattached to the outcome, it is as if we are somehow connected to some kind of source of inspiration. We can truly be in a state of ‘flow’ where everything seems effortless, and where we are open to all possibilities.

Mindfulness, although it sounds very similar to presence, is in fact the way to achieve it, in my opinion. Our mindfulness practice can help us to feel centred and whole. It can help us to be fully aware of ourselves, mentally and physically and to then let go of that awareness. The body scan meditation can provide a wonderfully detached/dissociated feeling that is ideal practice for being present in coaching.

Becoming a Mindfulness Teacher

Thinking of becoming a mindfulness teacher?

Why would we want to?

The rapid growth in mindfulness based interventions (MBIs) in recent years has created a healthy demand for teachers of mindfulness. John Kabat Zinn’s 1991 book ‘Full Catastrophe Living’ documented the birth of the Stress Reduction Clinic at The University of Massachusetts Medical Centre and the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) programme which is one of many MBIs taught world-wide. The book made the principles and methods of clinical mindfulness accessible to a very wide public audience.

Kabat Zinn’s work was given a substantial boost when he, and his MBSR programme were featured on the Bill Moyers ‘Healing and the Mind’ USA television series in 1993, which was subsequently syndicated word-wide. From that point on, interest in the therapeutic use of mindfulness grew dramatically amongst healthcare professionals, creating a demand for teachers.

The interest has showed no sign of waning and the huge amounts of positive publicity which mindfulness has received in recent years, along with the wealth of scientific studies supporting its use, combined with an endorsement by NICE, has meant an increased demand for mindfulness teaching, and therefore, for qualified teachers.

How can we learn?

Mindfulness has been taken up by higher academic institutions in the UK and in consequence, a number of universities, including Oxford and The University of Wales, in Bangor offer higher academic, post-graduate, Master’s Degree / post graduate programmes. This traditional, long-term qualification route, comprehensive and excellent though it is, is not only outside the reach of many who wish to teach others mindfulness, but may also not provide the practical skills for everyday teaching. Other (vocational) training providers, including the UK College of Mindfulness Meditation, offer brief, externally accredited courses which combine intensive practical training with the provision of underpinning knowledge, assessed via case study work and written assignments.

What Makes an Excellent Mindfulness Teacher?

In our mindfulness teacher training courses I’m often asked this question and here I endeavour to give my brief views on some of the qualities that make the difference between just being a mindfulness teacher, and being an outstanding one, as well as providing some pointers for ongoing success.

The reasons why we wish to become a mindfulness teacher may give us a useful pointer – the most valid perhaps being a passion for our own sustained mindfulness practice and a strong’ heartfelt desire to share it with others, when our natural enthusiasm may well shine through and transmit itself to our learners.

Perhaps we might start to examine our teaching practice, if we are already doing that, and elicit from our clients / learners how they feel about learning from us. That way we at least stand a chance of getting better by our old age! Mindfulness teaching should, of course be assessed and a standard, client-administered assessment such as Bristol University’s MYMOP gives us a chance to gain data which can help construct our own evidence base.

Be yourself – don’t try and be someone else

At times I’ve sat with a teacher who has appeared to be trying to get into a role; in other words, trying to be their role model. To me this never comes over in an authentic way. If you try and be someone else, people will see through you and may well not respect you. I’ve learned from some of the world’s most respected mindfulness teachers, but I’m not them. I’d like to think that I bring by own unique experience and perspective, and you will do this also.

Be warm and engaging

Developing rapport between you and your clients / learners is something which it pays giving close attention to. Those who are drawn to mindfulness and mindfulness teaching are likely to be the kind of people who have a natural warmth and empathy with others. There is evidence that people respond to those teachers and therapists who they like and who they believe are open to them, as opposed to coming across as cold and indifferent. The interesting thing is that even if the skills of the less engaging teacher are superior to the more engaging one, the more engaging teacher will be perceived as being superior and effective. So be nice!

Be humble – you don’t have all the answers

One of my personal heroes in field of personal development is the Canadian, Brian Tracy who has been right at the top of his field for many years. He has positively influenced many thousands of people, world-wide’ through his training courses, on-line videos and books. Despite all his wisdom he is one of the modest people who I have met. He is always happy to admit that he does not have all the answers and he suggests that rather than telling people that you are right, it may be more helpful to say to them ‘I may be wrong – I often am’!

I’ve borrowed this phrase along the way and it seems to work well for me, in fact so much so that my wife Carmel who has heard me say it so often, now sometimes uses it against me by saying ‘you may be wrong – you often are’! I can’t win can I!

Keep it simple – stupid (KISS)

I’m sure that I won’t be alone in sometimes sitting in a class where the teacher (and yes I am deliberately using simple language here) uses language which appears to be more designed to complicate and confuse, rather than make clear. Perhaps using words which may be unfamiliar to the audience, without any explanation – presumably to boost the speaker’s own ego. If you find you are doing this, then in the words of Bob Newhart, in his Comedy Club therapy sketch video, just ‘STOP IT’!. Remember the NLP presupposition, ‘the meaning of the communication is the response it gets’. If you are not getting the response that you want then only you can take responsibility and you may need to look at clarifying, or simplifying your language. – ‘simples!’

Encourage discussion and inclusivity

Well, we can’t make our learners talk and neither should we. If attendees wish to quietly participate then of course they may do that. In our groups we hand out an information form inviting participants to talk separately to any of the teachers if they wish, and also as a way of requesting feedback in a very unpressured way. However, it may be that some attendees would really like to talk within the group but feel a little too shy. Sometimes we will have one or two who tend to ‘dominate’ the conversation, if we let them!

It is a real shame for anyone in the group to feel excluded and I think that something which sets aside a really good mindfulness teacher, is the ability to include each attendee through openness and warmth, as well as gentle and subtle eye contact with everyone.

So there you have it – to become a mindfulness teacher and perhaps even a really effective one, needs motivation, positive attitude, warmth, and learnable skills. At The UK College, our student feedback and completed assignments tells us that that on almost all occasions we manage to achieve that. If you are interested and would like to see the feedback from all our former students – just let us know.

To learn more, or to arrange an informal chat, please contact me (Nick) or any of the Mindfulness Now team at the UK College on 0121 444 1110 or email info@mindfulnessnow.org.uk