Executive business coach

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  • Alan Ball

Positive Psychology Coaching - Life Changing Interventions


When combining the strengths of intuition and accountability in coaching and the research-backed solutions of positive psychology, clients can achieve powerful growth that neither field would provide individually.


For example, one powerful tenet of coaching is that awareness breeds useful change. By raising your own awareness of your unconscious habits and patterns and learning to see your life from a more objective perspective, you can then choose how you wish to live your life.

However, people often hit a roadblock as they may not like what they learn about themselves and will get in the way of their own awareness. This is where the introduction of positive psychology can be useful.


There are exercises, such as a self-compassion letter, which allow a person to learn to silence their own inner critic and motivate themselves without constant criticism. By developing their own self-compassion through positive psychology exercises, clients can often reach higher levels of awareness without any further instruction.


Whether your interest stems from a desire to help yourself or others, a search for a career change, or just curiosity, both coaching and positive psychology are powerful tools for personal growth.


So how does it differ from regular coaching?


On the surface, it might not look or feel much different to a client. However, what is different is that the positive psychology (PP) coach continues his or her life-long learning in the field of positive psychology by staying engaged with the research, the literature, the researchers and other PP professionals.


The PP coach also adjusts his or her coaching techniques, methodologies, etc, accordingly when new findings are discovered. “Regular” coaches may not be as tied to the empirical evidence and research findings, and so their techniques and methodologies may change only as a function of their own experiences, from attending conferences where they learn from other coaches’ anecdotal experiences, or they may not change substantially at all.


How does a PP coach differ from a life or business coach that applies the principles of PP?


The “principles” of positive psychology are not quite the same as the “research” of positive psychology. If I reflect on my recent degree in PP coaching, a definition that stuck with me was:


“Positive Psychology is the scientific study of the strengths that enable individuals and communities to thrive. The field is founded on the belief that people want to lead meaningful and fulfilling lives, to cultivate what is best within themselves, and to enhance their experiences of love, work, and play.”


In order to be a PP coach then, you would also have to believe “that people want to lead meaningful and fulfilling lives, to cultivate what is best within themselves, and to enhance their experiences of love, work, and play.”


However, it is my experience that most, if not all, coaches who are properly trained in the field hold these beliefs. Before I knew about PP, I was taught as a coach to believe that people are creative, resourceful and whole . I would say that these principles are consistent with PP principles.


Perhaps the one thing that is different, as I alluded to above, is that the PP coach also believes in staying close to the science and adjusting his or her approach (etc) accordingly. Coaches that are getting their PP from mass media books only are not getting the full richness and subtleties that are inherent in positive psychology research.


How does PP coaching work? What does the process look like?


This will differ from coach to coach. There is no prescribed process for positive psychology coaching.


What makes you a PP coach and what qualifications should people look for in their positive psychology coach?


I am a certified coach through the Master of Applied Positive Psychology Coaching Psychology program at the University of East London.


When clients are seeking a PP coach, they should ask questions about those three areas.

1) What is your training and certification to be a coach?

2) What makes you qualified to call yourself a “positive psychology” coach?

3) How do you stay on top of the new findings in the world of positive psychology?


And, of course, clients should go through other questions to ensure a “good fit” with their coach.


Some further guidance on how to do that can be found on the ICF (International Coach Federation) site, of which I am an active member.


What is the process for seeking out and engaging a PP coach?


There are several options for you to find a PP coach.

You can use the directory at a coach training institution, such as those mentioned above.


What are the potential benefits of PP coaching?


The potential benefits of PP coaching are much the same as regular coaching – personal and professional growth, moving closer to your important goals, self-awareness and so on. The ICF has a good page that outlines why people would engage with a coach.


Additionally, the benefits of working with a PP coach who is well-trained and qualified are that you will be drawing on a valid body of research (as opposed to just intuition and that individual’s personal coaching experience) and that your coach will know the why and wherefore of the practices, rather than just guessing that things might work for you.


What are the potential downsides of PP coaching?


This is a fabulous question, because there are downsides to everything. One potential downside is that the research findings from PP apply to an “average” person within the tested population. You, as a very individual client, may not fit that “average” – it’s important to realise that nothing works for everyone, even if that intervention or activity is empirically-based.


For example, a very famous positive psychology intervention is the gratitude journal where you write things down for which you are grateful and why. This intervention can be changed up a number of different ways, not all of which have been thoroughly tested – for example, how many things do you write down for each entry?


When do you write the journal (morning, evening)? Do you have to do it every day or more or less frequently? Do you have to hand-write it or will an app work as well? What are the components of a highly successful gratitude journal?


And even after nailing down all of those details, it turns out that a gratitude journal still won’t work for everyone. There are cultural differences about what gratitude means, gender differences, age differences, value differences, etc, and all of those combinations and permutations have not been thoroughly tested.


All this means is that your PP coach might mention that you could benefit from doing a gratitude journal, and it might not work because you just aren’t a “gratitude journal” type of person. And that’s totally fine.


Another downside to PP coaching is the belief that positive psychology is about happiness. Let me say quite clearly that it’s not. But many believe that it is. If you’re about happiness, get a coach who is clearly about happiness. It’s a life goal and some people have it and if it’s yours, then get someone who will help you with it. (But be aware that, according to recent research, the pursuit of happiness can make you unhappy and placing too much value on happiness can make you unhappy too.)


There is nothing in positive psychology that has ever said to ignore the downs of life or to turn a blind eye to its vicissitudes. A savvy PP client knows this and so does the well-trained PP coach. It’s not all about only ever experiencing positive emotions.


I’m a big fan of PP coaching – I have a clear bias on this because I do coaching and I do use PP findings to inform my coaching and help my clients move towards their goals. However, both coach and client need to be very aware of what PP is and isn’t, just like they need to be aware of what coaching is and isn’t so that they don’t fall into these traps and downsides.

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