Coaching Case Study By Matthew Heim
(Transformation Coach, UNITED STATES)
This research paper uses the case study approach to explore the possibilities of using visualization techniques in the client transformation process. The focus of this research was then narrowed down to the use of the application of visualization in a pure coaching situation, and to assess whether or not guided visualization can lead to a positive outcome towards the client’s goal, without the coach leading or advising the client.
After framing the research question, and then a brief background on the client and her current situation, the research takes the reader through the breakdown of the actual coaching engagement. The outcomes are then discussed, and an evidence-based response to the research question is provided.
This research was conducted under strict confidentiality (the client name is not revealed), and with permission granted by the client to use the coaching session, as well as background information and follow-up discussions, for the case.
The Research Question
The research in this paper focuses on the application of visualization techniques in the transformation coaching process. The following question will anchor the direction of this research paper:
Can the use of visualization be an effective tool in a pure coaching environment to effectively support the transition from extreme overwhelm and lack of clarity to a state of clarity and aspiration?
The Client Background and The Coaching Session sections of this paper will be used to explore and analyze the situation, the process, and the outcome against the posed question, to determine the efficacy of visualization in a pure coaching environment.
The client is a woman in her mid-fifties, who is in the process of reinventing her life, after years of high-stress work in the culinary industry. She owned three highly successful restaurants, which required her to work 14 hour days, six days a week, with another six hours of food ordering, cleaning, and inventory work on her one free day. Needless to say, she eventually reached a point of feeling burned out, which she sustained for another several years before finding the opportunity to exit the business.
After selling the restaurants she took some time to “deflate” from her years of constant hard work, and began to seek new meaning in her life, and began to journal and take comprehensive notes on her journey of self-development and personal growth. She wanted to find new meaning in her life, and a new meaningful career, but one that would allow her to be independent and not cause another high-stress situation. Her process of journaling, exploring, and learning lasted more than two years, and she ended up with a total of 14 notebooks fully filled, as well as piles of other meaningful information that supported her journey of self-discovery.
Although I had been coaching her throughout this period of growth, the topic discussed in this specific case had never before been discussed. In one of our coaching sessions, she expressed her feelings of overwhelm, confusion, and lack of clarity, despite working for over two years to discover just the opposite. She described the multi-year discovery process, and how she could not see through the vast data and information swimming around in her mind. In fact, she indicated that the more she sought clarity, the more confused she became, and that she was starting to feel paralyzed, and unable to find her next steps in life. She also expressed that her money was running out and that she needed to do something soon, but reiterated her desire not to end up in the situation she was in before, living a fast-paced, high-stress life.
Having used visualization techniques in a variety of coaching and planning applications, and knowing that my client was a highly visual person (i.e., through previous discussions and coaching sessions), I asked her if she would be open to using visualization to explore a possible new future for herself, and she agreed.
The Coaching Session
The coaching session described below is the recollection of a single two-hour session with the client, following the GROW model for coaching, with an embedded visualization exercise.
The goal of the coaching session was expressed and confirmed by the client as follows:
“To find a way to organize years of accumulated research in a way that could help identify and develop a new service-based occupation.”
The goal was then played back by the coach, and confirmed by the client.
After articulating the goal, she expressed how overwhelmed she was with all of the information, and how she was beginning to feel confused about how she could move forward with her life. The essence of her feelings was expressed as a lack of clarity, confusion, paralysis, and overwhelm. At one point she mentioned that she thought about giving up on her endeavor, but that her passion for the subject matter and the hopes of transitioning into a more “enlightened” career is what has kept her going. She wanted to move forward, but felt “…like somebody stuck in a swamp when the holy grail was right there.”
The client agreed to go through a guided visualization exercise to explore new possibilities or options for her future. I then guided her into a meditative state, and walked her through the visualization process with the following questions, providing ample time between each question to allow her to explore that aspect of her vision:
- Imagining that you could create a new reality, and see it unfold right before your eyes, where do you find yourself in this new place and time?
- Seeing all of your new knowledge and wisdom collected over the past years channel into your new life, what does your new livelihood look like?
- How is all of your knowledge and wisdom put to use in this new place and time?
- Who are the people around you that make you feel good about this situation?
- What else do you see, hear, smell, feel in this place?
- How does this make you feel?
Then, after allowing her time to explore her vision, I followed up with the following questions designed to reflect back on the vision, and explore the structure that was needed to enable her new reality:
- Looking back at your new life and new livelihood that you created, how was your accumulated knowledge put to use?
- What did you have to do to enable this new life?
- In what way did you show up differently that enabled this new life?
- What did you have to let go of in order for this to happen?
- What about this new reality is bringing the most joy in your life?
More time was then given to allow the client to further explore the changes in her “new life” that enabled the vision, after which the coaching session commenced.
Immediately after inviting my client to return from her meditative vision state, I asked her to articulate her vision for the future, and how she envisioned her new livelihood. She appeared to be highly animated, energized, and excited. She expressed the fact that she could see patterns of all of her work falling into place, including her previous work as a chef and restaurant owner. She said that she also could actually see the sequence of things unfolding, and the themes that arose from her years of hard work. “It is now crystal clear what I am going to do,” she said, and I followed up with the following questions to guide her into action, with the momentum she was riding on at that time:
- That’s great that you know what you are going to do. Would you like to share that?
- What will you do first?
- What will you need to support you in your journey as you develop these into action?
The client explained each step of her work in becoming an online presence, offering healthy meal preparation for people on special diets, and adapting each diet to the recommendations of her new clients’ physicians. She would make the doctor-recommended diet into an enjoyable experience, using healthy food options, and very tasty recipes. She went on to explain how she wanted to create a new experience for her future clients, showing them how to have fun in the process of cooking and eating, using whimsical videos of her cooking and enjoying the food she would prepare for different diet types.
Her immediate need was to download an app like OneNote, that would allow her to organize all of her recipes, dietary guidelines, taglines, and other important information upon which she would build her new service offering.
She then created a high-level, time-based to-do list of the main milestones she had to achieve to build the business, and committed to continue refining her plan and to begin taking action by organizing her notes. At the end of the session, she agreed to have a follow-up session to discuss steps she would have taken after the visioning, and to provide feedback on the coaching session.
Follow Up Session and Feedback
One week after the visualization exercise, I met with my client, and immediately noticed that she appeared to have the same level of excitement and enthusiasm she had when we left the previous session. I noticed Post-It notes all over her wall, organized into clusters (themes), with open notebooks laying across her coffee table. She explained to me how the visioning session triggered an “instant release” insider her, and that she was able to see her new career, backed by her expertise in specialized dietary knowledge coupled with her unique culinary skills. She also explained her longer-term plans for developing a series of branded tools to support her new path, which included:
- A book about her personal journey
- A series of cookbooks for different dietary needs
- A series of webinars that could be downloaded from her website
It is worth mentioning that my client had begun outlining her first book, and organizing the information and knowledge that she collected over the past two years that would support each chapter.
Returning to the research question posed at the beginning of this paper, my conclusions are that the visualization process can, in fact, support the transition from extreme overwhelm and lack of clarity to a state of clarity and aspiration. As I have witnessed with my client, this is possible. However, because this is an isolated case study, I would like to include the following caveats:
The visualization process had proven to be effective with a person known to be highly visual in her learning behaviors.
The visualization exercise can be more effective when a person is in a relaxed, or even meditative state, with the least amount of preoccupation possible.
More research is recommended to examine the efficacy of visualization in pure coaching with a broader test population.
Despite these caveats, there is ample research that demonstrates the efficacy of various visualization exercises when applied to sports, music, health, performing arts, and business planning (see Suggested Readings below). When a person visualizes an occurrence, they are actually creating cellular memory, and the body’s response memory cannot distinguish experience from an actual event from a visualized event, leaving the person with a strong belief and conviction that it can be achieved, because it had already been achieved in their vision.
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Learning strategies in physical education: Self-talk, imagery, and goal-setting. Journal of Physical Education Recreation & Dance, 68, 30–35.
Bricker, R. (1982, February 1). Psychologist Barbara Kolonay helps athletes train themselves to overcome the clutch. People, 33-33.
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Cooper, K., &Stollings, S. (2009, January 1). Center to advance palliative care. Retrieved March 30, 2015, from imagery-anxiety/
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2000). The contribution of flow to positive psychology. In M. E. P. Seligman& J. Gillham (Eds.), The science of optimism and hope (pp. 387–395). Philadelphia: Templeton Foundation Press.
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Eddy, K. A. T., &Mellalieu, S. D. (2003). Mental imagery in athletes with visual impairments. Adapted Physical Activity Quarterly, 20(4), 347–368. DOI:10.1177/089801002237591