Research Paper By Juli Hychko
(Life Coach, Small Business Stylist Coach, UNITED STATES)
Do we as Coaches need to address our Client’s living spaces before beginning deep and meaningful self-work?
When the confirmed coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic (COVID-19) first began spreading in the United States around February 2020, there was a wide range of confusion, concern, and nervousness about what would happen in America if COVID-19 were to hit the country as it did in China and Europe. Further, US citizens began to prepare for a nationwide lockdown similar to when Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced an Italy-wide lockdown in March 2020 where restrictions were put into place, not allowing Italians to leave their homes unless preapproved by the government, even to purchase necessities such as groceries or medications (Picheta, Di Donato, & Reynolds, 2020).
Although Americans began “prepping” and buying so much toilet paper that none was available for some time almost nationwide, there was little focus on how the majority of citizens would fare psychologically and physically spending increased time at home (Blumer, 2020). Coaches were now facing new and uncharted client needs as individuals were now faced with previously unfathomable choices, lifestyle changes, and work concerns, whilst spending increased time in their home spaces. As more and more Americans began self-quarantining and social media sites such as Instagram began worldwide campaigns telling the populace to stay home and practice “social distancing” for the foreseeable future, it raised the question: should coaches all along be focusing on client home& workspaces before beginning work on other items of interest? (Instagram, 2020)
With a worldwide newfound focus on home life, there was quickly a realization that there was a dearth of information available in one cohesive& simple document that reviewed this idea of whether coaches should tackle fixing & creating ideal physical spaces for clients before delving into “higher needs” items such as relationships and potential fulfillment topics.
Due to this lack of a comprehensive document tailored to coaches, this paper is built to first provide resources and background on the research behind physical home and workspaces, and why it is so important for clients to have a safe and secure location before beginning coaching work on the less physical matters.
This paper first explores the fundamental principles of Coaching per the International Coach Federation (ICF) and then delves into scientific research relating to both human needs and the importance of having a safe and clean environment to live and work from. Finally, the paper concludes in providing different ways for coaches to apply known research to their clients’ lives and ways ahead for the coaching community to dig into the home spaces of clients and the necessities thereof.
Coaching Defined by the International Coach Federation (ICF)
As a scene-setter, the ICF defines coaching as “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential”(International Coach Federation, 2019). Essentially, the number one priority for coaches is to support and guide clients on their path towards a greater and more in-line goal (s) for themselves. To be able to accomplish this lofty objective often means delving into areas of client’s lives that are no longer serving them, as well as partnering with clients to pursue and find solutions in those areas. This begs the question of if a coach can address issues in a client’s life before solving basic needs and home life elements of their client’s current state.
As a baseline to understand the question of whether coaches should first team with clients to address their physical home and workspaces before conducting work in other areas of client lives, one begins with a quick look at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Saul McLeod, a psychology professor at The University of Manchester describes Maslow’s hierarchy of needs as “a motivational theory in psychology comprising a five-tier model of human needs, often depicted as hierarchical levels within a pyramid” (Mcleod, 2020). How the pyramid works is that needs “lower down in the hierarchy must be satisfied before individuals can attend to needs higher up. From the bottom of the hierarchy upwards, the needs are physiological, safety, love and belonging, esteem, and self-actualization” (Mcleod, 2020).
Below is a visual depiction of Maslow’s hierarchy, showing how the base-level needs are related to physiological needs which typically include things that are required for human survival, such as air, food, water, shelter & clothing. According to Maslow, if physiological needs are “not satisfied, the human body cannot function optimally. Maslow considered physiological needs the most important as all the other needs become secondary until these needs are met.” (Mcleod, 2020).
Oftentimes coaches and psychology professionals forget this basic pyramid and move straight to esteem needs or even belongingness needs, instead of focusing on basic needs and coaching clients through simple items such as workspaces and home life. Maslow’s hierarchy easily shows coaches that our relationships with clients should first begin by checking if our clients’ basic needs (physiological and safety) are met. So often a client wants help to boost business or to create a new lifestyle for themselves, and coaches move straight to upper level needs instead of possibly addressing root causes held at the basic needs level. We must, as coaches, partner with clients to address areas that hold clients back and foster creative solutions for those problems. That said, coaches must remember to first address basic human needs, specifically home spaces, to ensure that clients’ home environments are conducive to creating an improved space that fosters life changes.
There is a large amount of scientific research on the effects of clutter and messiness on the human brain, however, I have pulled multiple different research studies that describe the effects of a less than ideal home and workspace on the human psyche& physical body. All in all, the predominance of information points to the fact that our physical environments drastically impact not only our brains and reasoning but also impact our emotions and behaviors. The science is clear: coaches should be recommended to first focus on optimizing the physical spaces of their clients to be able to fully support the client in reaching their future goals. If the basic needs of a client are not met, how can coaches hope to support clients through to self-actualizing goals?
Visual Clutter &Its’ Effects on Our Brains
Our human brains enjoy putting things in order. Disorganized spaces often drain us and can result in brain overload and can also reduce our ability to think clearly. A study completed at the Princeton Neuroscience Institute discovered that “multiple stimuli present in the visual field at the same time compete for neural representation by mutually suppressing their evoked activity throughout visual cortex, providing a neural correlate for the limited processing capacity of the visual system”, which means that if there are a bunch of visual inputs competing for your attention, it causes your brain to not think as clearly or efficiently(Mcmains & Kastner, 2011) Further, the researchers found that “the strength of attentional modulation in the visual system is constrained by the degree to which competitive interactions have been resolved by bottom-up processes related to the segmentation of scenes into candidate objects”, which means that if we segment things in our visual space (think: putting things back into place, books on bookshelves, organizing drawers), we can think clearer (Mcmains & Kastner, 2011).
Essentially, the neuroscience researchers found that clearing mess from spaces resulted in an increased ability to process information & increased productivity.
Impacts of Mess on Human Mental & Physical Health
A disorganized space often makes humans feel stressed and overwhelmed. Although this seems logical to most, this has been proven time and time again in reputable research studies. For example, researchers from Cornell & Syracuse University found through a study of 101 female students that the stress hormone cortisol was higher in those individuals whose environment was “chaotic” (Vartanian, Kernan, & Wansink, 2016). Further, the researchers found that the participants in a chaotic space consumed more food items (in the study they used cookies funny enough) than the participants who were in an “in-control mindset condition”, showing that a chaotic environment can actually “create a vulnerability to making unhealthy food choices” (Vartanian, Kernan, & Wansink, 2016).
Even further, a cluttered home environment has shown to increase a stress hormone called cortisol in those who feel that their home is cluttered or chaotic. Researchers from UCLA in California found that “the way people describe their homes may reflect whether their time at home feels restorative or stressful” (Saxbe & Repetti, 2009). The researchers found that “wives with higher stressful home scores had flatter diurnal slopes of cortisol, a profile associated with adverse health outcomes, whereas women with higher restorative home scores had steeper cortisol slopes” (Saxbe & Repetti, 2009). Even more interesting, the researchers found that “women with higher stressful home scores had increased depressed mood over the day, whereas women with higher restorative home scores had decreased depressed mood over the day” (Saxbe & Repetti, 2009).
What the UCLA research points to is that being in a home that feels stressful can directly impact not only our physical health as high levels of cortisol can lead to heart disease and weight gain, but also our mental health as it can lead to anxiety and depression, trouble sleeping, and memory and concentration problems (Chang, 2018) A poor home environment affects our mental and physical health and taking into account Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, coaches must first ensure that client’s homes are conducive to personal growth. Based on the aforementioned studies, coaches should aim to partner with clients to first improve and create a living space that supports higher echelons of self-care and creative thought.
It is established that a calm and decluttered environment is critical to mental &physical health, and more positively, according to research from a survey of 338 office workers at 20 companies, results indicate there is a direct relationship between a company’s “personalization policy and organizational wellbeing” (Wells, 2000). Taking care of one’s space in a personal and meaningful way can serve to increase and improve the wellbeing of the mind and emotions.
A different research study focusing on 898 mothers and their 6- to 8-year-old children, found that “mothers who provided better quality home environments had higher levels of education, intelligence, and self-esteem”(Baharudin & Luster, 1998). Further, the quality of the home environment that mothers provided was related to their children’s achievement(Baharudin & Luster, 1998). All science aside, a calm, nurturing, and nourishing home environment can reap rewards far beyond what meets the eye.
What is unfortunate, is coaches so often delve right into fixing relationships or topics regarding fulfilling a client’s full potential, when based off hordes of research studies on the matter, should likely be focusing first on their client’s home and workspaces, ensuring they are conducive to self-growth.
Start with Cleaning a Room
Canadian Psychiatrist Dr. Jordan Peterson outlines in his book “12 Rules for Life” a simple, direct suggestion by which to start the process of self-improvement, and the principle all centers on the idea of one first “cleaning their room”.
In a podcast by Joe Rogan, Peterson further develops the life improvement method in the explanation below:
If you can’t even clean up your own room, who the hell are you to give advice to the world? … My sense is that if you want to change the world, you start with yourself and work outward because you build your competence that way. I don’t know how you can go out and protest the structure of the entire economic system if you can’t keep your room organized. (Rogan & Peterson, 2017).
The intriguing suggestion is expanded on by author Derek Beres, who outlines that “Peterson suggests displaying your competence locally, managing what you can control, before championing larger causes predominantly out of reach” (Beres, 2019). Peterson notes that “not taking care of yourself with attention and skill” paves the road to “self-disgust, self-contempt, shame, and self-consciousness”(Rogan & Peterson, 2017).
Per the overarching guidance from the ICF, coaches are charged with partnering with clients to reach their fullest potential. To reach the full capability of any one person, taking a cue from Dr. Jordan Peterson and the research that points to the importance of healthy home life, coaches must first take care of a basic need: that is, creating a home and workspace that allows clients to reach their goals. If the focus is placed elsewhere at first, clients will undoubtedly fall back into previous habits of behavior, resulting in the negative consequences referenced earlier by Peterson, such as depression, self-contempt, and stress. Cleaning a room may seem simple, however, it is a quick step coaches can utilize with their clients to see if there are blockages related to one’s physical space.
The Marie Kondo Craze
To expand on the method to initially supporting the client’s basic needs of creating a healthy living environment, one can look to the decluttering craze is led by Japanese tidying aficionado Marie Kondo, author of a New York Times bestseller and Netflix show Tidying Up. (Sander, 2019). Charity groups such as “St Vincent de Paul are reporting a 38% increase in donations” as the KonMari craze continues to sweep households as individuals continue to get rid of items that no longer “spark joy” or have a place in peoples’ futures (Sander, 2019).
Coaches can partner with clients to use tools such as the KonMari method, or by simply just encouraging clients to clean and improve their spaces. Clutter, messiness, and dissatisfaction with living and work areas can affect anxiety levels and mental productivity. Participants in Marie Kondo’s Netflix show Tidying Up report that “her decluttering method changes their lives for the better”(Sander, 2019). Homes are often just thought of a place in which to live, but often are so much more: spaces which hold experiences and situations that shape our lives and the lives of those around us.
Coaching Applications & Ways Ahead
Based on multiple research findings that home and work environments can have a direct impact on not only physical and mental health but also the ability to think critically and effectively, Coaches must begin to utilize their preferred techniques to address physical spaces to support clientele.
When coaching, I suggest first exploring initial goals with the client, but focusing on basic principles related to home and workspaces before delving into relationships and other self-actualization goals. This can be accomplished in a myriad of ways, but a common element must be powerful questions that enlighten clients to think outside the box and creatively about their spaces. Some examples are as follows:
- In your ideal world, what does your office/kitchen/bedroom/etc? look like?
- What feelings do you have when you walk into your home?
- How is your space serving you at this time?
- What would you like for your space to facilitate in your life?
- What is currently in your home that is not serving you?
- What resources or barriers do you have that might affect your space?
Along with powerful questioning like the examples provided above, I strongly encourage coaches to utilize vision boards and journaling techniques with their clients to facilitate what their dream space could look like or feel like.
Although I am not calling for a full remodel of a home, I do suggest that even a movement of preexisting furniture, the opening of a window, or decluttering an area can have profound effects on the psyche of an individual. If a coach wishes to partner with a client on the optimization of their home/work environment to serve the client’s greater goals, coaches can easily research methods like KonMari or Four Box Method to support clients.
The greater goal however of home and workspace optimization is for clients to be able to utilize a space that supports their overall goals and move forward to a more desirable lifestyle. Coaches must partner with clients at the beginning of coaching relationships to ensure that clients’ living spaces allow them to grow and cultivate lives that are in line with their values and desires.
In conclusion, due to COVID-19, there will likely be an increased pressure on coaches worldwide as clients are facing new and unforeseen challenges as populations begin to work from home and exist in their living spaces 24/7. If living space is not serving an individual well, it will likely become quickly apparent during the current pandemic. Coaches can utilize some of the tools mentioned above, or even simple powerful questions to support clients in exploring what areas could be modified in their spaces. Even after the pandemic has passed, however, coaches are still recommended to partner with clients early on to discuss how a change or slight modifications in their homes could support new growth undoubtedly brought about by a healthy and meaningful coaching relationship.
Baharudin, R., & Luster, T. (1998). Factors Related to the Quality of the Home Environment and Children’s Achievement. Journal of Family Issues, 19(4), 375–403. DOI: 10.1177/019251398019004002
Beres, D. (2019, February 22). Jordan Peterson on why you need to clean your room. Retrieved March 30, 2020, from https://bigthink.com/personal-growth/jordan-peterson-clean-your-room
Blumer, R. (2020, March 27). Perspective | Our only good news: Toilet paper won’t run out. Retrieved March 30, 2020, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2020/03/27/our-only-good-news-toilet-paper-wont-run-out/
Chang, L. (2018, December 22). Cortisol: What It Does & How To Regulate Cortisol Levels. Retrieved March 30, 2020, from https://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/what-is-cortisol
Instagram. (2020, March 24). COVID-19 Announcement: Instagram: Official Blog. Retrieved March 30, 2020, from https://about.instagram.com/blog/announcements/coronavirus-keeping-people-safe-informed-and-supported-on-instagram
International Coach Federation. (2019, December 10). Core Competencies. Retrieved March 30, 2020, from https://coachfederation.org/core-competencies
Mcleod, S. (2020, March 20). Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Retrieved March 30, 2020, from https://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html
Mcmains, S., & Kastner, S. (2011). Interactions of Top-Down and Bottom-Up Mechanisms in Human Visual Cortex. Journal of Neuroscience, 31(2), 587–597. DOI: 10.1523/jneurosci.3766-10.2011
Picheta, R., Di Donato, V., & Reynolds, E. (2020, March 13). All of Italy is in lockdown as coronavirus cases rise. Retrieved March 30, 2020, from https://www.cnn.com/2020/03/09/europe/coronavirus-italy-lockdown-intl/index.html
Rogan, J., & Peterson, J. (2017, May 22). Jordan Peterson on Cleaning Your Room – The Joe Rogan Experience. Retrieved March 30, 2020, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z8_gUmt0k8o&feature=youtu.be
Sander, L. (2019, November 5). Time for a Kondo clean-out? Here’s what clutter does to your brain and body. Retrieved March 30, 2020, from http://theconversation.com/time-for-a-kondo-clean-out-heres-what-clutter-does-to-your-brain-and-body-109947
Saxbe, D. E., & Repetti, R. (2009). No Place Like Home: Home Tours Correlate With Daily Patterns of Mood and Cortisol. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 36(1), 71–81. DOI: 10.1177/0146167209352864
Vartanian, L. R., Kernan, K., & Wansink, B. (2016). Clutter, Chaos, and Overconsumption: The Role of Mind-Set in Stressful and Chaotic Food Environments. Environment and Behavior. DOI: 10.2139/ssrn.2711870
Wells, M. M. (2000). Office Clutter Or Meaningful Personal Displays: The Role Of Office Personalization In Employee And Organizational Well-Being. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 20(3), 239–255. DOI: 10.1006/jevp.1999.0166