Five things to know about life coaching and how it might help in dentistry

life coachAlina Grossman explains what a life coach does and how they can help the dental profession achieve its goals.

Triggered by the challenges of the pandemic, particularly the unprecedented pressures experienced across the health sector, a renewed focus on wellness is leading more and more of us to reflect on the way we live.

Whether our careers, relationships, interests, or long-held dreams – we’re increasingly seeking to make aspects of our lives more meaningful, and our time really count.

Many of us are craving change and are keen to prioritise the things that really matter to us. But it is difficult to know where to start, how to go about it, or even define what it is that we actually want.

If you’re in that position, life coaching is a useful option to consider. Evidence shows it supports goal attainment, happiness and wellbeing (Spence and Grant, 2007; Green, Oades and Grant, 2006; Style and Boniwell, 2019).

In the context of healthcare professionals and trainees, life coaching is also growing in recognition as a means of facilitating career progression, reducing stress and tackling burnout (Aboalshamat et al, 2020; Cameron et al, 2019; Deiorio et al, 2016; Gazelle, Liebschutz and Riess, 2015; Williamson, 2009; Hawksley, 2007).

But what exactly is life coaching and how does it work? Here are five common questions – answered in brief from my experience as both a life coach and a coachee.

1. What is life coaching?

Life coaching is a self-empowering and dynamic personal development process. It enables you to maximise your potential by finding an authentic path towards the life you want to live. It aims to help you clarify a goal, then bring about sustained changes in your thinking and behaviour that facilitate attainment of that goal.

Life coaching is a transformative and holistic way of improving life on your terms. It is aligned with your values and using your unique strengths to your advantage.

A life coach is a neutral thinking partner. They provide the challenge, cheerleading and accountability you need to inspire action.

2. How does the coaching process work?

Life coaching is based on the premise that you already have the potential to find your own solutions to life’s challenges and achieve your goals. It just needs tapping into.

A coach supports this by asking you insightful questions. They give you space to identify the way forward through your answers.

This helps you to: gain clarity; challenge your thinking and any self-defeating beliefs; evaluate your situation; address barriers to change; explore your options and choices; and plan and commit to action.

Being asked questions means you discover what you genuinely want. And provides a realistic strategy for change that you own and are willing to action. This is often much more powerful than being told or taught what to do.

In between coaching sessions you put the practical work in to actually make and live the changes you’ve discussed during coaching conversations.

The process is backed by neuroscience. Put simply, a coachee is rewiring their brain. They’re creating new neural pathways through the intentional exploration of new thinking and action steps, which strengthen with time, repetition and practice to become habitual – to disrupt the old thought and behaviour patterns that have not served them, and promote those that will (O’Connor and Lages, 2019; Boyatzis and Jack, 2018; Brann, 2017; Lally et al, 2010).

Moreover, the ‘a-ha!’ moments of sudden realisation or of deep understanding often evoked through the process have been found to promote sustained behaviour change (Robinson, Morrow and Miller, 2018, Longhurst, 2006).

3. Why might you consider life coaching?

You may want to make a life-enhancing change in a very particular area. Or take a broader view to improve life more generally. Examples of where life coaching could play a role include:

  • Taking steps towards a specific life goal (eg that book you’ve not got around to writing; the gap year trip you never took)
  • Finding clarity when you’re feeling lost
  • Improving health and wellbeing and reducing stress and burnout
  • Making rewarding career choices and re-establishing work/life balance
  • Making time for self-care and the people you care about
  • Identifying your values to bring about more joy and fulfilment
  • Exploring your life purpose
  • Addressing behaviours such as procrastination, perfectionism or people-pleasing when they’re holding you back
  • Building confidence and a positive mindset.

The actions you commit to don’t always have to be big or complex to make a difference; often the most impactful change comes from persisting with, or the cumulative effect of, smaller simpler actions.

4. How does life coaching differ from mentoring or therapy?

A mentor shares their own learning, advice and experience with people in a similar field to help them develop. Coaching does not involve advice. Instead it helps people to find their own solutions from within by expanding their awareness and provoking new thinking.

Therapy tends to focus on healing from the past. It’s looking back to explore the reasons and events behind why people think, act or feel the way that they do.

In comparison, life coaching is future focused, action oriented and aims to support people get ‘unstuck’ and make changes towards their goals.

Unlike therapists, coaches are not trained to help people address specific mental health needs or conditions. Though coaching may support improvements in mental health and wellbeing.

5. Are there different types of life coaches and coaching?

Different life coaches operate in different ways, using a variety of styles, approaches, theories, tools and techniques.

Many will have a ‘niche’, for example: focusing on a certain life area (eg career, wellbeing); working with particular groups of people (eg professional groups, parents); or supporting during specific life situations or challenges (eg confidence coaching, restoring work/life balance, navigating major life transitions).

Different people may find a particular type of coach or coaching more effective for their unique circumstances and aspirations.

So, if you’ve been waiting to kickstart positive changes in your life, why not find a coach to work with who can give you the motivation, support and accountability you need?

References

Aboalshamat K, Al-Zaidi D, Jawa D, Al-Harbi H, Alharbi, R and Al-Otaibi S (2020) The effect of life coaching on psychological distress among dental students: interventional study. BMC Psychology 8(1): 106

Boyatzis RE and Jack AI (2018) The neuroscience of coaching. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research 70(1): 11-27

Brann A (2017) Neuroscience for coaches: how to use the latest insights for the benefits of your clients (2nd ed) Kogan Page

Cameron D, Dromerick LJ, Ahn J and Dromerick AW (2019) Executive/life coaching for first year medical students: a prospective study. BMC Medical Education 19(1): 163

Deiorio NM, Carney PA, Kahl LE, Bonura EM and Juve AM (2016) Coaching: a new model for academic and career achievement. Medical Education Online 21(1): 33480

Gazelle G, Liebschutz JM and Riess H (2015) Physician burnout: coaching a way out. Journal of General Internal Medicine 30(4): 508-13

Green LS, Oades LG and Grant AM (2006) Cognitive-behavioral, solution-focused life coaching: Enhancing goal striving, well-being, and hope. The Journal of Positive Psychology 1(3): 142-9

Hawksley B (2007) Work-related stress, work/life balance and personal life coaching. British Journal of Community Nursing 12(1): 34-6

Lally P, van Jaarsveld CHM, Potts HWW and Wardle J (2010) How are habits formed: modelling habit formation in the real world. European Journal of Social Psychology 40(6): 998-1001

Longhurst L (2006) The ‘aha’ moment in co-active coaching and its effects on belief and behavioural changes. International Journal of Evidence Based Coaching and Mentoring 4(2): 61-73

O’Connor J and Lages A (2019) Coaching the brain: practical applications of neuroscience to coaching (1st ed) Routledge

Robinson T, Morrow D and Miller MR (2018) From Aha to Ta-dah: insights during life coaching and the link to behaviour change. Coaching: An International Journal of Theory, Research and Practice 11(1): 3-15

Spence GB and Grant AM (2007) Professional and peer life coaching and the enhancement of goal striving and well-being: an exploratory study. The Journal of Positive Psychology 2(3): 185-94

Style C and Boniwell I (2019) The effect of group-based life coaching on happiness and well-being. Groupwork 20(3): 51-72

Williamson C (2009) Using life coaching techniques to enhance leadership skills in nursing. Nursing Times 105(8): 20-3

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