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Kathy Whelan

Posted on September 28, 2023

In an ideal world, a customized how-to manual would be available whenever we wanted to make a change in our health. In the real world, we know (or are told) we should change but have no idea how to do it within a life as unique as we are. Doing what other people do doesn’t always work, or not for long. The need to fill this gap – between what we want to do (or feel we should) and creating lasting habits – has given rise to health coaching.

With a fundamental belief in their clients’ ability to change, health coaches help reduce the discrepancy between where clients are currently and where they would like to be. Within a supportive, non-judgmental relationship where the client is the expert on his or her own life, coach and client work together to find that person’s own path to success.

Finding a highly qualified health coach has become easier since the National Board for Health & Wellness Coaching (NBHWC) joined with the National Board of Medical Examiners in 2016 to create standardized credentials and a certification exam. The NBHWC website contains a list of board-certified coaches, many of whom offer a free consultation.

Here is what you can expect from a certified health and wellness coach:

• A broad view of health. Coaches consider the full scope of whole health – mind, body and spirit – enabling the client to see all the areas of life that impact how they feel. Some clients are surprised by the breadth of whole health until they see that aspects of life like relationships and communication, stress management practices, and spirituality impact their wellness just as sleep, nutrition and exercise do.

• A vision to work toward. Coaches elicit a picture of how the client would like their health to be several years in the future. A coach might ask these questions about this imagined state of personal ideal health: What do you look and feel like? What are you able to do? Who are you with and where? Identifying what’s important to the client about being in this state of health provides intrinsic motivation, the “why” behind the “what” they will be doing to make their vision a reality.

• A look at readiness. The starting point is where the client is right now, including the psychological aspect of readiness to change. Despite considering change a good idea, a client may not be prepared to make the necessary trade-offs. Coaches help clients weigh pros and cons and decide whether now is the right time. Discussing personal strengths and successes in other areas of life can help when confidence is low. With permission, coaches offer helpful resources and engage in brainstorming about ways to make the desired change.

• A narrowed focus. By zeroing in on one or two areas of health at first, clients are more apt to feel successful than they would by tackling many areas at once. Other closely related areas of health can be drawn in once traction is gained in the initial area(s).

• Specific, measurable goals. When goals are expressed in vague terms like “eating healthier” or “exercising more,” coaches guide clients toward exactly what they will do and when. With more concrete goals, clients can better track progress and pinpoint success.

• Backup plans. Every road to success has speedbumps. Looking at what could get in the way and designing alternative strategies can help clients prepare for their journey.

• Incremental change. Frustrating though it can seem at first, small steps yield big impacts: for example, establishing two healthy dinners a week rather than revamping an entire diet or meditating ten minutes a day instead of forty-five. One small step will lead to another, then another and another over the course of several months. Because this approach is based on the neuroscience of habit change, it leads to sustainable, rather than fleeting, results.

• A focus on learning. There is no “failure” in coaching. An undesired outcome is instead a partial success when it becomes a learning experience. Accountability does not require perfection. Figuring out how something could be done differently the next time boosts confidence and keeps motivation alive.

• Empathy and acceptance. By understanding and respecting where the client is coming from, coaches help clients develop self-compassion, which will support them through the challenges that growth entails.

Do you feel confused, frustrated, or apprehensive about making a lifestyle change for better health? Consider the evidence-based practice of health coaching and make the seemingly impossible become possible at last.

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