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Integrative Health Coaching
Personal, Practical Support

by Leila Finn

A coach will remind you to continually evaluate your goals by asking the following questions:

• Are you confident that this plan of action will work?

• How specific can you be in your planning? Visualize, for example, packing your lunch or making healthy choices at the cafeteria.

• Did your plan work? What got in the way?

• What can you do in the future to avoid or overcome the obstacles you’ve encountered? How might you approach your goal differently?

• What value does this change hold for you? What will happen if you do nothing?

Key coaching skills
A good coach possesses several skills that are key to helping others realize their health goals. These include fostering mindful awareness, or helping a person to pay attention to the present moment. They also include listening actively and withholding judgment; a coach is there to help, not to blame or give advice. A coach should know how to ask questions that help you clarify your goals and priorities. By asking the right questions, he should be able to facilitate a change in perspective, so that you can find new motivation, especially when you feel stuck. (You can learn to do this on your own, too.) A coach should support and encourage a positive approach, knowing that positive self-talk leads to self-improvement. And a coach should acknowledge both your successes and your perseverance even when you’re not successful.

To help Susan formulate an action plan to meet her goals, her coach asks her to make a list of what really stresses her out. For Susan, the list includes remembering to check her blood glucose level after meals, driving in traffic, making dinner when she gets home late, and not having any time to herself.

Susan’s coach then asks her to consider what she can do to reduce stress in each of these areas. What steps can she take right away? Susan can’t change her commute, but she decides to turn off the local news and traffic report and listen to music instead. She decides that some meals could be made simpler, like “breakfast for dinner.” And at her request, her husband agrees to cook once or twice a week. Instead of checking messages on her smartphone constantly, she decides to try checking them just twice a day, and never before 8 AM. If she doesn’t check her e-mail in the morning, Susan has time for 15–20 minutes of meditation; she remembers how rejuvenating meditation used to be for her. Finally, she decides to set an alarm on her phone to vibrate after dinner to remind her to check her blood glucose, so that she won’t be thinking about it throughout dinner.

Creative solutions are unique to you — for Susan, it was breakfast for dinner and a timer to keep her from worrying about checking her blood glucose. A coach should help you explore what works for you, keeping in mind that you have your own values, habits, strengths, and weaknesses.

Often one of the biggest stumbling blocks, where a coach can be critical, is prioritizing your goal. Habits are often comfortable even if they are unhealthful. Reminding yourself of the value a lifestyle change has for you — such as not developing diabetes complications, maintaining your independence, being happier, or having more energy — will help you stay on course. A good coach can help you create an action plan that relies more on positive motivations than on sheer willpower.

Coaching yourself
If you’re not ready to sign up with an integrative health coach right now, try going through the coaching process with yourself. Consider the areas of your life that most affect your health and well-being. What is your vision of where you would like to be? Where are you now? In what way do you feel ready to act?

For the area in which you feel ready to act — for example, changing your eating habits, learning to use an insulin pump, tracking your blood glucose more closely, reducing stress, or exercising more — define some SMART goals: specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic, and time-based.

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