Research Paper By Bethany Winsor
(Transformational Coach, UNITED STATES)
This paper seeks to explore mindfulness and its coaching application. It details what is mindfulness, the difference between mindfulness and meditation, relevant studies on mindfulness, and how mindfulness can be applied in a coaching practice.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the state of paying attention in the present moment. Mindfulness generally focuses on regulating attention through the observation of thoughts, emotions, or body states. The formal definition is:
- the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something
- a mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique
People have been using mindfulness for thousands of years, whether on its own or part of a larger tradition. Many Westerners learned about mindfulness from the Buddhist and Hindu traditions. Hinduism has a rich history of mindfulness throughout its years, but mindfulness is more prominently displayed in Buddhism as it is the first step toward enlightenment or Sati. While the Western history of mindfulness can mainly be traced to Buddhist and Hindu traditions, some people argue that mindfulness also has roots in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam (Selva, 2020).
Additionally, academics and other popular figures have contributed to the rise in popularity of mindfulness in the West. This melding of academics and mindfulness has birthed Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) as well as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction programs (Selva, 2020). It has also led to empirical studies to better understand the benefits of mindfulness and related practices.
Difference between Mindfulness and Meditation
Mindfulness and meditation are interrelated, but not the same. Mindfulness is not a set of practices, but a quality or a state. Meditation is a practice, and through this practice, one can develop different qualities, including mindfulness. John Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as “the awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally” (Schultz, 2020). Whereas meditation is a practice where people use certain techniques to become mentally clear and emotionally calm.
It is important to note that mindfulness can be used in a treatment that does not include meditation. There are techniques such as Dialectic Behavioral Therapy that uses mindfulness without requiring a client to meditate formally. While mindfulness can be practiced both informally and formally, it is only one aspect of meditation practices.
Studies on Mindfulness
Over the past 2 decades, the amount of academic research on mindfulness has increased, producing interesting conclusions about the benefits of mindfulness in our lives. In general, research on mindfulness has detailed the following benefits:
- Improved ability to manage stress
- Improved ability to pay attention, focus, and concentrate
- Improved emotional regulation and impulsiveness
- Increased resilience and ability to overcome challenges
- Improved well-being, creativity, and physical activity
Several studies have shown that mindfulness reduces rumination. One study asked 20 novice meditators to participate in a 10-day intensive mindfulness meditation retreat. After the retreat, the meditation group had significantly higher self-reported mindfulness and experienced fewer depressive symptoms and less rumination. Also, they had a significantly better working memory and attention capacity compared to the control group (Chambers, 2008).
In a study in 2010, participants were randomly assigned to an eight-week mindfulness-based stress reduction group were compared with controls on self-reported measures of depression, anxiety, and psychopathology, and on neural reactivity, as measured by fMRI while watching sad films. The researchers found that the participants who experienced mindfulness-based stress reduction had significantly less anxiety, depression, and somatic distress. The fMRI analysis indicated that the mindfulness group had less neural reactivity when they were exposed to the films and had distinctly different neural responses while watching the films after the mindfulness training. This research suggests that mindfulness training teaches the brain to regulate and experience emotions selectively and that the emotions experienced may be processed differently in the brain (Farb, 2010).
Researchers Moore and Malinowski discovered that mindfulness meditation impacts a person’s ability to focus attention and suppress distractions. In their study, mindfulness meditation practice and self-reported mindfulness were correlated directly with cognitive flexibility and attentional functioning (Moore, 2009). A few older studies suggest a person’s ability to be mindful can help predict relationship satisfaction — the ability to respond well to relationship stress and the skill in communicating one’s emotions to a partner. Empirical evidence suggests that mindfulness protects against the emotionally stressful effects of relationship conflict and predicts relationship satisfaction (Barnes, 2007).
Application to Coaching
Mindfulness can benefit coaches as well as clients. As a coach, being in a mindful state can help ensure that non-judgment and presence are displayed with every session. Mindfulness also helps cultivate empathy. Being empathic creates a support structure necessary for the client to feel the presence, the support, and the understanding of the coach. Being empathic also focuses the attention of the coach on the client’s needs and away from their own perception of them. For coaches, mindfulness also helps ensure that the coach can detach from what has taken place so far and enter the session with fresh eyes and a free mind (Passmore, 2007).
For coaches, it can help in preparing for coaching, maintaining focus in the session, remaining emotionally detached, and teaching mindfulness techniques to the client. Sometimes the focus is on getting from session to session and it is hard to remain in a fresh perspective going into each new coaching session. Incorporating a mindfulness exercise around breathing and scanning your body can help create awareness for the coach about what they are bringing or not bringing with them into the session. It can also help set the stage for the intense focus that is required to be in an active listening state and fully present for the client. During the session, if your mind starts to wander, the same mindfulness techniques can be used to help bring you back to focus. Another benefit of mindfulness for a coach is that it helps support being emotionally detached. The coach needs to both experience the emotions being felt by their client, but not to be flooded by them to the point where these emotions prevent the coach from helping the client to move forward (Passmore, 2007).
Lastly, when a coach understands mindfulness and uses practices in their life to enhance their coaching, they can also support a client in wanting to do the same in their lives. Only through their own practice and understanding will a coach be able to guide their client (Passmore, 2007).
Based on the research, mindfulness has benefits to anyone who attempts to make it a part of their life. In a coaching context, mindfulness is useful to clients to help them gain new perspectives or shift a current perspective. It also benefits coaches to reflect on mindfulness to support themselves in being excellent coaches.
Barnes, Sean, et al. “The Role of Mindfulness in Romantic Relationship Satisfaction and Responses to Relationship Stress.” Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, vol. 33, no. 4, Oct. 2007, pp. 482–500.
Chambers, Richard, et al. “The Impact of Intensive Mindfulness Training on Attentional Control, Cognitive Style, and Affect.” Cognitive Therapy and Research, vol. 32, no. 3, June 2008, pp. 303–322.
Farb, Norman A. S., et al. “Minding One’s Emotions: Mindfulness Training Alters the Neural Expression of Sadness.” Emotion, vol. 10, no. 1, Feb. 2010, pp. 25–33.
Moore, Adam, and Peter Malinowski. “Meditation, Mindfulness, and Cognitive Flexibility.” Consciousness and Cognition: An International Journal, vol. 18, no. 1, Mar. 2009, pp. 176–186.
Passmore, Jonathan, and Oberdan Marianetti. “The Role of Mindfulness in Coaching.” The Coaching Psychologist, vol. 3, no. 3, Dec. 2007, pp. 131–137.
Selva, Joaquin. “History of Mindfulness: From East to West and Religion to Science,” PositivePsychology.com, January 9, 2020. https://positivepsychology.com/history-of-mindfulness/
Schultz, Joshua. “5 Differences Between Mindfulness and Meditation,” PositivePsychology.com, January 9, 2020. https://positivepsychology.com/differences-between-mindfulness-meditation/