Flossing the mind

For many coaches, recording coaching sessions to submit to the ICF can bring up anxiety and stress-filled thoughts, and scary feelings of inadequacy. This is ‘normal’; we are exposed to school exams in childhood, and we are either an A student, B, C or…. There are labels, and judgments associated with exams. We’re being critiqued and assessed. We take on messages of what it means about us, if we don’t measure up to an external standard.

This article is for coaches:
* Preparing recordings to submit for their ICF MCC, PCC or ACC credential application, and
* Who desire to be more present with their clients, honing their ability to work with their own, or their client ‘mind noise.’

For those with chronic anxiety or fears, please seek out professional help.

How Anxious Thoughts Physically Affect Us

Fearful thoughts and self-induced anxiety greatly affect us on many levels. This was made very obvious to me recently when I witnessed a motorcyclist skid sideways and go to the ground right in front of me, without any vehicles touching him. He misjudged how much room there was between cars, was going too fast, and had to brake heavily, in order to avoid hitting the car in front of me. I am so thankful I was driving slow enough I was able to avoid him. I called 911, and he was taken away by ambulance with what he reported were some broken ribs. There was no blood, and it could have been a whole lot worse.

Five days later, I was at my doctor’s office and the nurse I knew asked me how I was. I said I was still a bit traumatized by this event and described the event as I did above. At that moment, she took my blood pressure and said, “Whoa! Your blood pressure is off the charts!” I said, “Well I did just tell you I was still feeling traumatized!” We both laughed. She then took my blood pressure again 10 minutes later and it was normal.

What an amazingly clear indicator of how just thinking about something traumatic (or self-induced anxiety) had a major negative impact on my physical self! 

When your dog feels your anxiety!

A similar thing happened with an individual mentoring client I was speaking with, who described how anxious she was feeling about recording herself coaching. As she said she was feeling anxious, her otherwise quiet dog started barking. My intuition said her dog sensed her heart rate (and blood pressure) spike, and immediately reacted to her changed physical condition.

We have such power depending on how we use our minds, and what we say to ourselves, and others. Now, to channel that power to support and build our immune and nervous systems.

Mind noise is ‘normal’

We’re all human. We have thoughts that pass through our mind about people, and what we think about their behavior, including attitude, beliefs, etc. We can’t turn these thoughts off, yet we can choose what we pay attention to, and for how long.

One of the most challenging things to become aware of ourselves, are words and emotions we are identified with, and use to describe ourselves. In my group mentor coaching sessions, after one the coaches has coached the client, the client leaves. We then do a debrief, and I start by asking the coach how they are feeling. This allows them to get some relief from the pressure they may have felt to coach ‘right’ in front of their peers.

When I ask, “How are you feeling?” often the coach will talk about what they perceive they did wrong. They may be identified with certain beliefs about themselves. So the next thing is we give evidence of what the coach did well in the coaching session, and acknowledge that. We spend quite a bit of time on this, as our brains need to hear what we did well, so our body can also calm.

Some coaches I mentor just want to hear what to improve, or what they did ‘wrong.’ However, I feel it’s important to know what you did well, so you can keep doing that. Then build on that, with upgrades. I deliberately use the word ‘upgrade’ as it has a very different energy than talking about weaknesses. One of my beliefs is we can all upgrade something, for the rest of our lives. It’s part of a learner mindset, where we never become the ‘fully cooked’ expert. We are always in the process of becoming, while recognizing and being okay with where we are now in our development.

Flossing the Mind

There is not just one way to bring yourself back to equilibrium, nor can we avoid being human and feeling anxiety or fear. To deny we’re feeling something can be worse, and create more trauma, emotionally and physically.

Here are a few tips, based on an idea I’ve heard Bikram Yoga teachers use and I’m adapting here. The idea of flossing the mind, which I’m interpreting as cleaning out the bits and pieces of thoughts that are like those bits of food stuck between your teeth!

Breathe Consciously

We have this incredibly powerful built-in ‘tool’ called the breath. When I take one breath consciously, I’m present. I’m back in my body, rather than being in my head. I feel more grounded; others notice I’m more grounded. I have more access to how I’m feeling, which is not my go-to place. I start with thinking, and yet that is limiting.

Breathing in and out slowly, counting slowly as you do it, is a very basic ‘mindful breathing’ practice. Our breath is healing and nurturing to our heart, lowers blood pressure, and calms our nervous system.

Speak Kind Words to Yourself

I start every day, before I get out of bed, having a nurturing conversation with myself. I say kind things to myself, including that I’m loving, I’m kind, I’m compassionate, I have empathy. I imagine my day going well, often rehearsing parts of my day, and imagining it go well, bringing forward good feelings and supportive self-talk.

Acknowledge that you feel anxious, or afraid

Rather than pretending anxiety doesn’t exist, be present to self-induced anxious thoughts. An ICF Core Competency is “Coaching Presence.” As coaches who are always moving toward mastery of our craft, it’s good to be present to our own thoughts and feelings and how that impacts our ability to be present. By acknowledging self-induced anxiety, it often loses power over us. If we pretend we’re not feeling anxious, we often stay disconnected and distant. We may use humor or become withdrawn, or overly speak, as a means to cope with how we feel. And in the meantime, our blood pressure is elevated, our nervous and immune systems are weakened.

Engage with “Tools” to Support You

Some people journal, others talk to a trusted friend. I’ll often speak with my husband, who is a masterful coach, a very good listener, and non-judgmental. He can hear me, and let me speak without trying to change me, or how I feel. This helps me to begin to turn my self-judgment into self-observation. More on that in a moment.

I may also do some “Tapping” (also called Emotional Freedom Technique). I took Level 1 & 2 EFT training late in 2017, so that I had another resource to self-support my nervous system to ‘calm down.’ I’ve found EFT to be an incredibly useful tool, and use it daily, when I first rise, as well as when there is something emotionally traumatic I’m aware is present for me.

Depending on how anxious I feel, there are other tools I may use including those my husband, Michael Stratford, MCC has developed, called Emotional Agility Response System (E.A.R.S.). I may also go to my Chiropractic Kinesthesiologist to help calm my nervous system (this modality has been incredibly effective support for me over many decades).

Most importantly, I examine my self-talk and continually turn self-judgment into self-observation. Is what I’m saying to myself a kind voice, or is it a berating voice? This is something we have control of, although it may take intention, effort and continued practice to speak kind words to ourselves.

I say to my mentoring clients that when they record coaching sessions, to remember they don’t need to give that recording to anyone else to listen to, unless they want to. So play the mind game with themselves that I’m only recording this for myself, for my learning. And to record a lot, so that it becomes part of the background, rather than making it a self-imposed foreground concern.

In closing…

When we put ourselves in a process that involves being graded, it’s useful to acknowledge to ourselves what feelings that brings up. Then engage in as many approaches and tools as is necessary to pass through those feelings. And to remember that whether we pass or fail an exam, to bring attention to what we make that mean about ourselves. To some, it’s life threatening (emotionally speaking). To others, it’s just a minor hiccup and a chance to keep learning and growing. It’s all a choice of how we talk to ourselves.


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