Research Paper By Kyle Anderson
(Executive Coach, UNITED STATES)
A Journey to Coaching
A trillium is a three parted lily. It is a triad of three leaves, three petals and three septals. The white trillium is a symbol of healing and its roots were used by Native Americans for medicinal purposes. It is often called a birthroot. It is a perennial, which means it comes back year after year, without having to be replanted. It is resilient. The trillium is built on threes. For these reasons, the trillium represents my call to coaching. The three parts of my practice are my nutrition degrees, my ability to educate and of course, coaching. This last, very important, petal was missing for many years. Below is the account of how I found my trillium.
The call to coach can come from many places. Sometimes the call is quite unexpected . . .
This is my unexpected journey to coaching. Throughout the document, I have inserted various coaching skills in italics. They are inserted where I used coaching skills (quite by accident!) before reaching ICA or where I learned and used them along the way.
As an eighteen year old undergraduate studying nutrition, I knew something was missing. I was learning the science of the human body, the biochemistry of metabolism as well as a long list of disease states. I was also learning how to educate future patients and clients. I learned that there are different kinds of learners and that as a dietitian; I should provide education based on my patients’ learning style. These two parts, the science and education, were critical parts of the knowledge I needed to help my patients in my career as a Registered Dietitian. Yet, even before I was working in my field, I knew that there must be more. How was I to motivate an unmotivated patient? How was I to address the deeper issues that a weight loss patient, a newly diagnosed diabetic patient or any other patient might have? Where was I supposed to learn these skills?
As I entered into my internship and Master’s Degree program, I was sure I would learn the additional skills I was craving. I learned more science, gained more education skills and had the opportunity to practice my skills with actual patients. This was a valuable learning experience, but further reinforced the fact that a major part of my education was still missing. To my disappointment, I realized that not only was part of my education was missing; I didn’t even know what the missing “part” was. More importantly, none of the professionals in my field seemed to know something was missing!
I moved on to practice in my field working primarily with patients who had diabetes and were receiving dialysis treatments. The diet is very restricted for these patients and challenging to comply with. Patients who struggled with the diet and fluid restrictions were labeled “non-compliant” and viewed to have a lack of will power by many members of the health care team. At first, I shared this opinion. Then, one of the best lessons of my career as a dietitian came from one of the “non-compliant” patients. He taught me to release judgment by challenging me to follow his diet and fluid restrictions for one week. The diet was low phosphorus, low sodium, low potassium, 1500 calorie diabetic, 40 oz of fluid. Yikes! This exercise completely reframed my perspective about how difficult the diet was. Every one of my 100 patients knew I was following the diet. This created an enormous amount of trust and allowed me to better understand my patients. It was the first example of learning from the ones we are there to serve. As I would later learn as a coach, this happens every day!
During this time, I also served as the President of the El Paso Dietetics Association. My mission for my term was to provide nutrition education to as many people as possible. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was creating my professional voice. I was leading and I was encouraging others in my field to give of their time and knowledge. To this day, I donate coaching hours to various organizations and provide coaching pro bono in certain situations.
I began working with a wider variety of patients – weight loss, patients on cardiac diets, and children. Again, that “something” was still missing. How was I to get to the bottom of what was holding these people back? I knew that so much more progress was possible, but how? I wanted to dig deeper, go beyond the medical issues, but what questions would I ask and what would I do with the answers? After several years of this frustration, I left the world of nutrition counseling and began teaching for a university. This was safe. I knew what questions to ask and I knew the answers because I was the instructor.
During my time teaching, I had a friend who told me she had a life coach. A what? My immediate thought was, “Wow, I thought she had it together. Who hires a life coach? Can’t people figure out their lives on their own?” Of course, I didn’t realize it at the time, but this thought was in line with one of my underlying beliefs that those who ask for help instead of working it themselves are weak.
Later that year, another friend asked a favor of me. She had a friend visiting from Denmark and her friend would like to give a Life Coaching workshop for 8-10 people and use my living room as the venue. After much convincing, and the promise of an amazing catered dinner for the workshop, I agreed. I attended only because the workshop was at my home. I went in with a closed, very skeptical mind. At the end of the three hours, I had learned more about myself than I had known for the first 42 years and this was in a group setting. I could only imagine the progress that could be made with one-on-one sessions! Ironically, I still had no idea I wanted to be a life coach, but I did know that this woman had changed my life and the lives of the others in the room that night. She had done an amazing job of creating awareness with a group of women who also there primarily for the wonderful food!
After taking many of the steps (creating action) that I committed to at the workshop, it hit me. This was the piece that had been missing from my education for all these years. I didn’t need to get an advanced degree in social work or psychology as I had contemplated. I needed to become a coach! I committed to a self-development plan of becoming a certified coach.
I immediately began researching programs and within two weeks, enrolled in ICA. I began reading and attending classes and soaking up as much information as I could. After so many years of feeling my education (two degrees, 6 years and a lot of money) had left me unprepared, I was taking control and I was going to make the career I used to love work for me and my clients (responsibility vs. blame).
The idea of a wellness coaching career began to grow. This career fit beautifully with my values and life purpose. I wanted to work in a “helping” career, but have enough flexibility so that my family, especially my two young daughters, could be my primary focus. I created structure to support my success in the ICA program. I set my calendar and asked for support from my family. When I was frustrated or felt the work was overwhelming (or frightening), I called on the self-management module and reminded myself of how grateful I was to have found coaching. I also visualized my ideal coaching practice and office in a beautiful old building downtown. I visualized the exposed brick walls, the furniture, a booked calendar and still being able to pick my daughters up from school each day. Both of these activities kept me motivated and focused.
As I learned, I began creating tools for my future clients to use. I created a wellness/food diary to give clients an accountability tool. This tool helps clients create awareness about their daily choices and encourages them to acknowledge themselves for a job well done and to build on these successes. I also wrote a mindfulness exercise for clients to use while enjoying a meal.
Before training to become a coach, when working with a new client, I gathered data about the client (height/weight/age) and calculated their “ideal weight” according to medical calculations. I never considered what the client might think or feel that their goal weight should be. I relied only on science to TELL my client what they needed. Then, I educated the client. I asked very few questions. Instead, I did almost all the talking. Then, at the next appointment, I wondered why the client hadn’t followed the plan I had written for them. Hadn’t I made it clear?
As I started working with clients in this new capacity of wellness coach, I watched and listened as the concepts I was learning in the tele classes unfolded in front of me. I worked with clients who were trying to lose weight, but who were actually committed to their old habits and beliefs that they would never succeed. (Commitment vs. trying) Of course, I had worked with clients like this before, but now I had an amazing new set of skills and our sessions were so much more effective. The changes were dramatic.
After coach training, I began asking powerful questions like:
- What does “wellness” mean to you?
- What are your health goals and how are they important to you?
- How do you expect to feel when you reach your weight?
- What type of information would be the most helpful to you?
- What are you doing now that is working for you? Your strengths and how can we build on that? Appreciative Inquiry
- How would you like me to hold you accountable?
I also began to use power listening. I heard what the clients were NOT saying. I heard the hesitation, the emotion and the opening for another question. I waited for five seconds after a client stopped talking. These skills led to deeper work with the client and amazing progress. I finally felt like I was offering my clients what they were looking for – all three critical parts of a wellness plan. I was offering my science knowledge, a solid education on nutrition and wellness concepts and the coaching skills to make it all work! It was a blended coaching approach and it was working not only for my clients, but for me. I had finally found the missing piece that made my career more effective more my clients, and incredibly satisfying for me.
While doing the reading and taking the tele classes on “Managing Difficult Clients”, I thought back to clients I worked with before coach training -the clients who repeatedly missed appointments, the clients that didn’t pay their bills. How I wish I had the skills learned in these tele classes years ago. I was fearful of having the difficult conversations, so I allowed these clients and even a few of my college students to take advantage of me. It created uncomfortable situations for both the client and for me. During a particularly insightful call on the topic, I was able to write out responses to several situations that I might encounter with clients in the future. This call and this “script” virtually eliminated my apprehension about encountering these situations with clients in the future. (Thank you Bill Turpin!)
Now that I have this valuable training and experience through ICA and can see firsthand how it can make such an impact on patient/client progress, I wondered how I could share this knowledge with others in the field of nutrition and healthcare. There are of course, so many options. The one I will pursue first is to write an e-book guide and webinar for dietitians and nutritionists. I plan to offer it at a nominal fee, because I truly believe the learning will result in great progress with client/patients of those who apply the information. This circles back to the professional voice I began to cultivate early in my career. I want to earn a good living, however I also believe in giving back. If I can help educate of health workers about the benefits of incorporating coaching techniques into their practice, I believe that the end result is healthier patients. What could be more rewarding that not only helping your own clients, but helping others to help theirs?
Thank you Mette Zebel, Danish Life Coach and ICA for creating an awareness of how I could get back to my true calling of working with clients on health issues and showing me the path to complete my Trillium. I am forever grateful!