Coaching is designed to help a person move forward to identify and work towards achieving a goal that is personally meaningful. There is much agreement on the processes that effective coaches follow, most coaches work within a framework that helps a client assess their situation, establish a goal, develop awareness and insight, select options, define action steps, maintain accountability and evaluate progress.
Positive psychology offers the added benefit of an evidence-based foundation for coaches and focuses on how and why people thrive instead of concentrating on problems and neuroses. So when we apply the concept of Positive Psychology to coaching the session looks, sounds and feels quite different.
The concepts that we most often draw on in positive coaching include: positive emotion, positive relationships, engagement, strengths and meaning. Importantly, scientific research has confirmed that these theories are highly effective in the coaching conversation, meaning that the effectiveness of suggested exercises and interventions are validated.
Carol Kauffman, Harvard psychologist and founding director of Harvard Coaching Institute says, “at the core of positive psychology coaching is a belief in the power of science to elucidate the best approaches for positively transforming clients’ lives.”
We often first focus on the negative of a situation, we’ve been conditioned to think, “what can I do better”, “what didn’t work”, “what are my weaknesses?” This deficit-based approach alters our physiology and therefore the quality of our thinking. Hundreds of studies have reported a relationship between positive emotion and measurable benefits such as improved physical health, higher wages, creativity, big-picture thinking, and work engagement. Coach’s help clients evoke positive emotion by recalling past positive experiences, or imagining a positive outcome can help clients achieve goals, overcome challenges, and perform more effectively.
There are enormous amounts of research in this area show that people who regularly use their strengths are more engaged and happier at work, and we know that this leads directly to better business metrics. In a positive coaching session the coach will ask the client to draw on their strengths to address challenges or increase achievement toward their goals. Leveraging strengths is powerful because it enables the client to build confidence and improve performance by generating that feeling we all get when we are doing something we are good at. Typical strengths based questions might include: “What strengths might you use to think about different ways to reach your goal”, or “How might you apply that strength to this situation?” or they might suggest a client uses one strength in a new way for a week to build confidence and motivation.
The research tells us that pursuing personally meaningful goals leads to greater self-esteem, sense of purpose and ability to deal with challenges. Helping a client to identify intrinsically motivated goals (goals that are motivated by internal factors such as autonomy, competency and relatedness) and work through a process to move toward them is part of the coaching process. The language we use around our goals is important also, “approach” goals generate a greater impact on our wellbeing and happiness, as opposed to “avoid” goals.
Research suggests that an optimistic outlook limits negative thinking and enhances performance. Positive psychology coaching helps clients to take a growth mindset approach to their goals, embracing possibilities and seeing challenges as opportunities to learn.
Positive psychology coaching combines the best of coaching methodology and scientific research to transform the lives of coaching clients by improving their belief in their abilities and building confidence to move forward toward their goals.
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