Category Archives: Emotional Health

Mindful Coaching: A Dress Rehearsal for Life


Nine girls between the ages of 10 and 12 hung on my every word as they stared at me intently.  
The very idea of that makes me laugh; if you’ve ever been around a gaggle of girls this age, then you know that they almost never hang on your every word. You’re lucky if they catch every other sentence. Besides, even if one of them is listening intently, certainly all of them are not.  Its not their fault; they’re kids.  Maintaining attention is a skill they are still developing.

In this instance, with these particular girls, I definitely did not have their undivided attention and it was especially challenging.  We were standing inside an enormous gym where 5 volleyball courts were all going at the same time.  In the background were whistles, cheering, balls bouncing, and fans and families moving about.   These girls were about to play in the final tournament of their season.  Their eyes were wide and their ears were attempting to filter the loud environment.  They could barely see me in the midst of the overwhelming scene, let alone hear me. It was my job to somehow help them focus, de-stress, and get ready to play; but I had my own stress going on. Every rule, guideline and schedule that I was told before the tournament started had been changed or eliminated completely.  Therefore, much of what I had done to prepare my girls for the tournament was no longer relevant and I was dealing with a completely different setup than I expected. I was near my last nerve and the tournament hadn’t even begun.  Yet, if I let that tension show or I took it out on my players, it would only add to their stress.  They would have started their first match at a mental disadvantage.  I didn’t need a plan to manage the situation; I needed to manage myself.

You wouldn’t be wrong to think that this all seems rather insignificant.  A youth volleyball league, a loud gym, a season tournament. These are all fairly routine moments of childhood on the big stage of life.  And yet, it’s not.  I once heard one of my teachers say “how you do one thing is how you do everything.”  This means that if I have a habit of contracting, tensing up, or losing perspective in one moment of pressure, then I’m likely to do it in other situations as well.  Is coaching a youth team very different from dealing with an ailing relative, running a business, or hearing about current events?  While the settings and situations may be different, the circumstances and mood are not.

Mindfulness can be likened to a muscle we train.  Its a habit. Mindfulness is the ability to observe yourself in the moment with some degree of perspective, thus allowing for some self-control while we wait for our higher skills and better selves to come on line.  There is a learning theory that I particularly like that applies well here. It describes four stages of competency with respect to a given skill or knowledge.  It goes like this:

  • Stage 1: we are unconsciously incompetent
  • Stage 2: we are consciously incompetent
  • Stage 3: we become consciously competent
  • Stage 4: we become unconsciously competent.

If I were to apply this 4-stage learning theory to my coaching, in stage 1 I would not even notice a habit of reactivity.  At the start of the season it could include me shouting at the players for not paying attention as if it is nothing; I probably would not even notice whether it had an impact on them. At this point, I would be unconsciously incompetent at communicating with them.  In stage 2, I might notice that I yell at my players and although I am now aware of it, I’m still doing it (consciously incompetent).  In stage 3, I might be working toward developing a higher level skill of pausing before I yell, choosing my message, and deciding how I want to deal with the situation (consciously competent).  Presumably, with time, I would eventually arrive at stage 4 in which I routinely communicate with my players in a constructive way that gets my message, rather than my mood, across to them.  At this stage, I become unconsciously competent. My deliberate development of a habit would have taken root and it would begin to bear fruit in the form of positive practices and good experiences between myself and the players.

I really liked this learning theory when I first read it.  Probably because it heavily relies upon awareness (AKA mindfulness) in order to be effective.  For me, mindfulness practice comes in the form of meditation, yoga and informal mindfulness, which refers to moment by moment noticing of everyday situations. These days, I probably use informal mindfulness the most, as it helps me recalibrate in any given situation.  Yet, the informal tools have only come about because I used my formal practice of seated meditation and mindful movement and breathing (AKA yoga) to establish a foundation.  I was first introduced to these practices over 20 years ago and I have been a student and practitioner ever since.  I consider them to be my dress rehearsal for life; when I can bear witness to my mind, heart and inner reactivity during a seated practice, during a tense conversation with a family member, or while I watch the world go by, I am preparing myself to show up skillfully when its needed. Non-reactive.  Deliberate. Intentional.

I often tell my clients to use their mindfulness skills when they don’t need them so that they are there for them when they do.  I believe we can all benefit from developing this habit.  This summer, Positively Yoga will host a Six-week Introductory Training (S.I.T.) in mindfulness, led by New Mindful Life’s founder and director, Rochelle Voth Calvert.  I will be there, to strengthen my mindfulness muscles and I hope you’ll consider doing the same if you feel you could benefit from building your own positive habits.  In this way, we can all become consciously competent of our skills of awareness, together.

All that said, here’s what I did in that moment with my players in that loud, chaotic and overwhelming scene.  I caught myself before my tension rose and I said to them, “This is a really loud and big place.  We’ve never played here before. There’s a lot to take in.  Why don’t you all look around and get familiar with it?  Take your time.”  At that point they all relaxed and did just that.  They oriented themselves to the moment, with my permission, and my acknowledgement of their states of mind.  Several moments later, I asked them to join me in our team meeting. And that is when I actually did have 9 girls, between the ages of 10 and 12, mindfully paying attention to me and hanging on my every word.  Four matches later, they took second place in their division and went home with a medal that they earned.  BONUS: they had a lot of fun doing it.

 

The Effects of Stress – Brought to us by TedEd

Chronic stress is hazardous to your health.  Life (the primary source of stress) can be hard, but the cumulative effect of it on our health can make it even harder.  Stress wears down the body and brains functional centers that we would otherwise use to cope with challenging events.  Yet we all have access to simple techniques that are antidotes to the harm of chronic stress.  These tools require no equipment, no gym membership or fancy trainers.  Using a combination of breath and awareness at a minimum, we can recover our emotional and physical balance on a moment by moment basis.  Our well being is at within our reach and the tools to access it are hidden in plain sight.  Just breathe.

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So for those of you who have heard me talk about this at length, here’s the same information, delivered in a very helpful and easily digestible way.  But beware – if you are or have been under intense pressure and you are struggling, be sure to watch all the way to the end.  That is when you learn that its not all bad news and what one can do to overcome the harmful effects of chronic stress.

In good health.

-Gretchen

 

In other words….

Don’t be surprised by postpartum depression | BabyCenter.

I frequently write about or concentrate on postpartum depression or anxiety. But because its such a complicated and surprising experience for most, I feel its best captured by a multitude of voices.  Hence, here are some ‘other words’, courtesy of BabyCenter.com, summarizing the basic facts of postpartum depression, what the risk factors are and some ways to prevent or manage the onset.

Prenatal Anxiety and Depression

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Prenatal Anxiety and Depression: Diagnosing the Problem and Getting Help.

Do you have questions about anxiety or depression during pregnancy?  Listen to this online radio program in which I discuss this very issue with panelists and show host Sunny Gault.

Postpartum Perspective – Research Report

When I consult on cases in which a caregiver is experiencing postpartum depression, I frequently find myself advocating for the parents to seek out quality and reliable  child care for some part of the week.  The goal in this recommendation is so that the parents can give themselves time to recover, participate in treatment, or do other inner-strength building activities while they ensure that the child is in a stimulating and enriching environment.

A new research report verifies that group care can be protective against long term effects of exposure to postpartum depression in young children.  (Health News – Group-based child care is linked to reduced emotional problems in preschool children of depressed mothers.)

If this solution is an option for you, then here are a few key principles to keep in mind as you seek out this solution:

A – seek out a child care environment that is sensitive and developmentally appropriate.  You don’t want your solution to cause you more problems by ending up with an inconsistent or problematic caregiver, which will only require you to interrupt the care by looking for another provider, or feel like the solution failed.

B – use a consistent child care schedule, even if it is only one, two or three days a week.  This helps everyone in the family adjust to the routine and eventually helps the infant or young child develop a sense of mastery and security in the situation.

C – watch for self-criticism.  Parents often feel they are inadequate or ‘less than’ if they can’t parent their child 100% of the time. This criticism will only set you back in your recovery.  Most wise societies recognize that caregiving is a big job that requires a team of people (It takes a village).  You are invoking your need for a team of other supports out of wisdom that this is necessary to your health and recovery.

D – keep it up. After you begin to feel like yourself, consider maintaining the childcare arrangement so that you can continue to act on this ideal of self care and balance. Whether the childcare allows you to work, visit with friends, or exercise, all of this is essential to your overall balance as a parent.  Of course financial realities may not allow for this. If that is the case, you might consider a babysitting co-op, the local YMCA child watch, or something else that allows you breaks.

No one should enter the biggest job of their life feeling worn down and depleted.  Parenting is no different.  You deserve the support.