Be specific. In addition to having a specific goal (“I want to exercise five days a week”), make a specific plan. Schedule your workouts in your calendar. Visualize driving to the gym after work, putting on your workout clothes, and feeling good about yourself afterward on the drive home.
Identify obstacles. What might get in the way of your planned actions? How can you get around these barriers? Be creative, and withhold judgment. If your plan didn’t work, that’s OK. What else might work? How might you avoid the obstacles next time?
Acknowledge your successes. Even as you identify the parts of your plan that aren’t working, take some time to praise yourself for what you’re doing right — even if you’re tempted to think that it’s not very much. Practice positive self-talk, replacing negative thoughts with positive ones. Remember that it takes three positive thoughts to counter every negative one; that’s how powerful negativity is.
Be mindful. Practice being present in the moment. Pay attention to your feelings in relation to your body. When you are stressed or anxious, do you tense up? Try relaxing your shoulders and taking a few deep breaths, and notice how your mood can change. Take the time to cultivate a sense of mindfulness by taking a meditation class, trying a guided meditation CD, or looking up some of the books listed in “Resources.”
How to pick a coach
There is currently no national certification for health coaching. The National Consortium for Credentialing Health and Wellness Coaches (http://ncchwc.org) has been formed by major stakeholders in health and wellness coaching to develop a national standard for certification programs.
Integrative health coaches are trained and certified by Duke Integrative Medicine at Duke University. Coaches certified by Duke Integrative Medicine pass an oral and written exam and must have completed a minimum of 100 coaching hours. Uncertified integrative health coaches will have finished the foundation class but not the certification requirements. Some health coach programs require similar training, but many do not.
Look for health and wellness coaches who have had formal training. Ask if a coach’s program is recognized by the International Coaching Federation; this group identifies programs that have agreed to follow their code of ethics. Check online to see what the coach’s program involved. Some programs are offered online and some, like Duke’s, require classroom time. Ask about the program’s or the coach’s coaching philosophy. Duke, for example, stresses mindfulness and a whole-person approach. Other programs or coaches may focus on one area, such as nutrition or exercise.
Health and wellness coaching is a new field, but do ask about experience. In a new or potential coach, watch out for advice-giving; advice-giving is not coaching. Is the coach listening to what you want to accomplish, or does he have his own agenda? Does the coach offer a free introductory coaching session? Remember that since coaching can be done in person or by phone, you do not have to limit yourself to coaches who are geographically close to you. Sometimes the personality or style of a coach just isn’t a match, and if that’s the case, try another coach. There has to be trust in the coach–client relationship; you should feel comfortable with your coach.
Some corporations are beginning to offer health or wellness coaching. Tracy Gaudet, the former director of Duke Integrative Medicine, is now Director of Patient Centered Care and Cultural Transformation at the Department of Veterans Affairs. The VA will be integrating health coaching into its health-care system, and insurance companies and health-care networks are also employing health coaches. The YMCA also offers a diabetes prevention program based on health coaching (www.ymca.net/diabetes-prevention). Keep watching; more health coaches will be coming your way soon!