Mindfulness in Coaching

Mindfulness is all around us these days, and its link to Coaching is no exception. The practice of the coach can be enhanced through using mindfulness as a preparation tool and during coaching sessions. Coaching clients can benefit from mindfulness practice in things like cementing agreed follow through from sessions, in managing stress and contributing towards improved performance.

Mindfulness is the gentle effort to be continuously present with experience. Jon Kabat-Zinn (a well know teacher of mindfulness) defines it like this: “mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non judgmentally.”

Some of the ways mindfulness can be used in coaching are:

  • Practice mindfulness meditation regularly as a Coach
  • Approach coaching (and life in general) with non-judgement; openness; curiosity, and compassion
  • Share mindfulness practices within coaching sessions with clients and as ‘homework’ where useful and appropriate for the client
  • Attend to the present in all coaching interactions (thoughts, emotions, bodily sensations)- both on the part of the Coach and on the part of the client

MIndfulness for the client

We know about the benefits of mindfulness in relation to many aspects of how we live: managing stress and regulating our emotions, being able to step back and be objective in most situations, and the ability to relate to others and oneself with kindness, acceptance and self compassion. This can either be through formal practice like 10-15 minutes a day listening to some mindfulness practice or aiming to be mindful whilst getting on with our daily lives.

Where I have found it especially helpful for clients is in two ways;

  • To use mindfulness practice where a client is struggling with stress and anxiety
  • The other way is to help reinforce some of the key principles agreed from the session in a brief mindfulness recording to help them internalise into their day to day practice. This has helped clients working on varied on aspects from self care through to prioritisation in a working week
  • This only works with some clients and as ever with any coaching approach I only ever suggest it if the client is open to the idea and we both think something like that would work.

Mindfulness for the Coach

Douglas Riddle, a well known Leadership Coach argues that good Coaches have “quiet minds” and help create in the conversation with the client a sense of open, reflective exploration. He argues that mindful coaching is better coaching, and mindfulness practices have shown benefits for clients in health, decision-making and leadership.

Mindful Coaches perfect a form of conscious and comfortable simultaneous attention to themselves, their client, the relationship between them, and the mental, emotional, and relational dynamics occurring in the moment. There are three aspects of mindfulness that have particular pertinence to coaching:

An empty mind: for the coach, mindfulness is characterized by an empty mind, a stilling of the persistent chatter and the cognitive ticker-tape of commentary. This is a challenge for most Westerners because of our devotion to activity and terror of being alone with ourselves. An empty mind is key to letting something happen in someone else. It is the essence of coaching.

Non-reactivity: meditation and quiet thoughtfulness help coaches sense that, as they work, they are operating in a vast mental and emotional space with clients. A reaction is not always  required, no matter what the provocation. Instead, coaches are free to perceive the needs of their clients and respond – without escalating the emotional content or misinterpreting any intent. Still, fostering a non-judgmental attitude as a coach does not mean surrendering judgment. Mindfulness in fact leads to wiser judgment about what’s important and what is not.

“Permissive attention”: a mindful coach can draw a person into a moment of connection in which all distractions disappear. It doesn’t matter whether the distractions are in the room or in the street outside or in unbidden thoughts or feelings from within the client. The ultimate challenge for most people is staying focused for more than a moment on any serious line of thinking, perceiving, judging or acting. The coach is repeatedly able to draw the attention of the client to those things of importance to him/her and return the attention to it without coercion. Modern brain research has shown that we move in and out of various states of focused or unfocused attention throughout our day. Coaching allows someone to stay on a line of thought until it yields new perspectives and answers.

Mindfulness Practices

I have started to put mindfulness recordings together for clients, some generic and some specific to their work:

  1. Giving yourself permission to feel your fear:

This mindfulness practice is based on the work of Bruce Tift and is focussed on giving yourself permission to feel your fear:

2. The “SAFE” Practice

This is a 4 step compassion practice to sooth difficult emotions and connect with a sense of safety:


General resources

Dan Siegel “wheel of awareness”; various meditation exercises using the metaphor

Mindfulness; A Practical Guide to Peace in a Frantic World; a really good book and CD on mindfulness

Can you challenge yourself to spend an hour with a Mindfulness overview and training with John Kabatt-Zinn?