How mindfulness and coaching help us stay present in the moment?

Posted On Sep 04, 2021 |

Mindfulness, another buzzword? What does it mean to you? Does this practice contribute to your mental wellbeing and can you see any connection with coaching? To try to demystify mindfulness we asked our colleagues, coaches and mindfulness practitioners to share their views.

Marko Radivojevic, psychologist, who has written a master thesis about this topic says that mindfulness is a 21st century buzzword and, indeed, the word itself has an echo to it. In the following lines, he talked about the origins of mindfulness practice and its application within the context of Western helping professions, especially in the field of coaching psychology.

The word mindfulness appears for the first time in the 19th century as a translation of the word sati, which in Pali language – spoken by early Buddhists in the northern parts of India – signifies “memory, recollection, calling-to-mind, being-aware-of, certain specified facts”. A little while later, the phrase “bare attention” was added to characterizations of mindfulness, which expanded the meaning of the word, with mindfulness now being recognized as a specific relational experience with respect to the world around (and within) us. In short, through the word sati, early Buddhists left us a legacy of practice which should enable us to understand the very nature of all phenomena (the aforementioned certain specified facts) by transcending our symbolic relationship with the world through language and, by contrast, witnessing it firsthand through bare attention.

Surely, you won’t disagree that these sorts of goals seem somewhat far fetched for contemporary people. The pace of today’s world and the constant and sometimes overwhelming lack of time prevents us from pondering the depths of reality or engaging with the world first-hand. Generally speaking, this is why John Kabat-Zinn, widely regarded as the man who introduced the concept of mindfulness to Western audiences, took the opportunity to strip mindfulness of its cultural and religious roots while preserving the practical aspects of mindfulness experience and all the beneficial effects that come with it. Working within the Western medical settings, Kabat-Zinn basically rebranded mindfulness as “self-regulation of attention” , making it more accessible not only to his clients, but also to scientists who demanded more clarity and called for an operational definition of the concept. Practicing mindfulness became “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” Soon, evidence of beneficial effects of mindfulness practice followed. It was found that practicing mindfulness benefits both cognitive and emotional functioning by (de)activating certain neurological pathways, leading to better regulation of behavioral responses, e.g. improved ability to adapt to challenging circumstances, ability to avoid (or break) potentially harmful habitual patterns (including addictions), greater success in dealing with work-related tasks, and, generally, higher productivity in the workplace.

Naturally, mindfulness as a form of self-regulation of attention, with all the neuropsychological and behavioural benefits, easily found its footing in a range of helping professions, from medicine to coaching. As opposed to Buddhist tradition, where mindfulness was an integral part of meditative practice which could last for hours, Western mindfulness practice is short, practical and efficient. Techniques such as 3-5 minute breathing exercise (focus on breath) and body scan (focus on bodily sensations) yield immediate results, e.g. successful affect regulation, improved task focus, better productivity. 

Our Tijana Karaklic, besides being one of Koucing centar trainers and certified coaches is also a yoga instructor and mindfulness practitioner continues the conversation adding on theory of coaching her own experience.

“I got into mindfulness whilst on a search for tools that will calm me down, help keep me focused and support me on the path of becoming more conscious. The underlying root cause of this quest for peace, I might even say "off course", was burnout and overall overload of all multitasking life imposed and I had embraced for double digit years...

For me, mindfulness is a set of simple tools that help us stay in the present moment, focus on how we feel NOW and support us in changing our current state in case it does not suit us. That is the biggest benefit it has brought to me - its simplicity, scientific base while delivery of mindfulness techniques being very "down to earth", easily understood and naturally embedded in everyday life”, shares Tijana.

Connection between mindfulness and coaching

Mindfulness is an excellent addition to coaching practices around the world. Not only is it important for clients to become steadier, more open and, in general, better adapted to their surroundings, but it is also important for coaches to be present during coaching sessions, aware of clients’ sensations and needs, and able to monitor their own processes with ease. Marko presented three areas within the context of coaching where mindfulness can be introduced:

  1. In-session productivity – sometimes, clients enter the session experiencing acute anxiety, and it is necessary for coaches to calm them down in order to restore their focus and guide them back to the task at hand. Coaches can use one of the techniques together with their clients, bringing the attention away from the cause of anxiety and back to the present moment. Furthermore, mindfulness is particularly useful when reflecting on client’s progress within the coaching process. One of the most important aspects of coaching is change. There are points in the process when clients experience this change, often in the form of becoming aware of their current position and some (or all) of the alternate possibilities that lie ahead. In these moments, coaches may encourage clients to pause and reflect on their thoughts, feelings and sensations, thus mapping this point of change and using it as an anchor for change that is yet to come. By applying mindfulness within the session, not only do clients become more aware of their present experience and avenues for possible change, but also they become more connected with themselves and their coaches, tuning into each other on a path to attaining their goals.  
  2. Benefits for clients – come as a result of educating clients on how to use mindfulness in their everyday lives - outside the session and after the coaching process ends. Clients thus receive an important tool for maintaining their wellbeing once coaching process is over and, in the long run, increase the likelihood of attaining (and expanding on) the goals set during the coaching process. Marko adds that coaches need to be formally certified as mindfulness trainers if they are to use mindfulness techniques within sessions or to educate clients on how to use them in their everyday lives.
  3. Benefits for coaches – to experience benefits from incorporating mindfulness in their professional and private lives, coaches don’t need to be formally trained in mindfulness practice – they just need to be active practitioners. Firstly, practicing mindfulness helps coaches be better prepared for sessions. Since coaches are also human (believe it or not), they might carry a bit of their own burden into the session. Being mindful helps alleviate that burden and refocus or reset for this particular session and this particular client. Furthermore, mindfulness practice improves coaches’ focus within sessions. This feature is particularly important when working with demanding clients, with whom coaches’ attention and vigilance are key in understanding the goals of coaching. Finally, practicing mindfulness is beneficial for affecting regulation. Although this ability to regulate emotional states is universally useful, it is particularly valuable in the field of coaching (and other helping professions). Mindfulness helps coaches to recognize emotions, both their clients’ and their own, and accept them non-judgmentally, without letting them dictate their actions, thus compromising the coaching process. An important feature of coaching – empathy – is rooted in the ability of coaches to stay connected to their clients’ emotions, without the danger of being flooded in the process.

For Tijana, the biggest commonality between mindfulness and coaching is presence: “Mindfulness techniques support us to easily stay in the moment and feel it fully. Staying present during a coaching session is, I might say,  one of most critical qualities and one most easily noticeable by clients if not sustained. That is where mindfulness can support”. 

“Another common thread in both methodologies is that yes, there are numerous tools which support the process, but most important is the underlying value - the principles. In coaching there are main competencies to be embraced, like creating trust, partnering, the ethics and values... and without them, no tool is of much use.  Same in mindfulness - underlying notion is that there is only the present moment, that no sadness or regret about the past will change what has happened nor will worrying about the unknown future make it less likely to happen. Once this is accepted, mindfulness tools help us "just" get back on track once we go a little off track’, thinks Tijana. 

Taken together, these observations suggest a universal relation between mindfulness – or self-regulation of attention – and wellbeing (of self and others). Somehow, being present, aware of our thoughts, feelings and sensations, and accepting of our own imperfections allows us to be better at what we do and feel better about it. Incorporating mindfulness into helping practices and our everyday lives seems like a natural step in attaining a common goal – preservation of our health.