Coaching outdoors: navigation with C-MAPS

Coaching outdoors, when it is right for the client, can bring depth and creativity to coaching outcomes. The attentional effect of nature and the abundant metaphors of an outdoor space provide the client with insight and knowledge which it can be difficult to find in an office or classroom. Outdoor spaces enable clients to explore systems and relationships and draw connections between their physical and mental understanding. Being coached outdoors is powerful and the results really do stick.

“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” – Albert Einstein

Beginnings

When I was first putting together my website several years ago, I wrote in the ‘About me’ section, ‘I am privileged to live on the doorstep of the High Peak yet close to the bright lights of Manchester. I’m a mum (and have found coaching as a parent can be hugely powerful), a lover of the outdoors and a glutton for books’.

And it’s still true. And what I notice now is that I’ve incorporated how I live my life into how I work with my coaching clients.

I’ve been coaching outdoors now, both in cities and more rural settings, for several years and I know from client feedback and my own  experience that there’s something intrinsic in the process which brings benefit.

Working outdoors can deepen a coachee’s understanding and help them identify creative and courageous ways forward.

What’s the evidence?

I began to look for research to support my own positive outdoor experiences and it turns out the evidence is scarce. More common is literature about outdoor space used in a therapeutic context, and of course, there are some overlaps with coaching. There are some key differences too. Coaching is about personal growth and the future. It’s about learning and potential. Definitions of therapy focus on illness, healing and treatment of conditions. Of course, there are underpinning commonalities for the practitioner (building relationships with clients, listening, unconditional positive regard and so on), yet the purpose and outcomes are clearly different. So, while a coach working outdoors may draw on the literature from therapy, I think there is a need to develop a perspective and an approach which is unique and specific.

My intention

This article brings together the elements which I believe contribute to effective coaching outdoors and some of the benefits. It’s not exhaustive (it could have been a book!) and it’s based on my own learning and experience. It’s a work in progress too. I recognise there is more to learn and experience, that there are greater depths and wider perspectives. I’ve tried to leave enough space for coaches to bring their own tools and approaches to outdoor coaching too, so have kept things general without too much reference to specific techniques or models.

A model for coaching outdoors: C-MAPS

The following model encapsulates my approach to working outdoors with coaching clients:

  • Connection: working outdoors requires and enables the coach to connect with their own state, for example, through mindfulness; with the client through rapport and a robust contract; with the environment; and with the wider systems
  • Metaphor: working outdoors provides clients with an abundance of natural metaphors to stimulate deep exploration of their issues, barriers, options and solutions and to help those solutions stick.
  • Attention: the attentional effect of nature is strong and helps clients to connect with ‘what is’
  • Pace: being mindful of the environment and slowing down
  • Space: match the space to the needs of the client; notice the impact of the space on you as the coach and be flexible. Somatically, an outdoor space helps coachees ‘get out of their head’ and listen to other sources of knowledge.

Connection: self, client, environment, system

Coaching outdoors requires and enables the coach to pay particular attention to connections. These include connecting with their own state perhaps through mindfulness practice or yoga; connecting with the client through rapport and a shared contract; and connecting with the systems within which both parties operate. These include the coach’s own physical and mental/emotional systems, the environment in which they are working and the wider systems of the client and the coach. Being outdoors can heighten awareness of systems and provides a real and metaphorical context for the coaching takes place. More about this later.

Outdoor state

As a coach, you are using yourself as an instrument in the service of your client, so being aware of the impact the outdoors has on your own practice is crucial to being effective for your clients. Tuning in to how you feel in particular environments and weathers at different times will affect your state and how your show up for your coachees. Just because you may relish the opportunity to walk high up on the cliffs, does not mean the same is true for your client; your comfort zones may map very differently. Taking note and supervision around this is a powerful way to ensure you remain effective and in service of your client.

Contracting for coaching outdoors

Working outdoors requires an additional level of contracting for the coach and the client. It’s not everyone’s first choice of approach and for this reason, I would always work outdoors after an initial indoor meeting to define how we will work together. You can then move to discuss the practicalities of being outside: what will you do if you meet someone one of you knows? How do you both feel about dogs off leads (it can be an issue)! How will you decide which space to use and what’s appropriate? There are other practical things to consider too like the good old British weather, loo stops and tea! And even with all that robust and in place, there can still be times when what works best for the client in the moment is stillness and to receive your full attention, face-to-face. Be prepared to change your plans and assumptions in service of your clients. Understanding what they need each time you meet is crucial if trust between you is to be maintained, which of course means that deep listening and connection are what matter first and foremost.

The magic of metaphor

Metaphors are everywhere. We use them all the time in everyday language: ‘I was waiting for the penny to drop’; ‘the elephant in the room’; ‘he really got under my skin’; ‘stuck between a rock and a hard place’. In fact, Judy Rees, coach and co-author of ‘Clean Language: Revealing Metaphors and Opening Minds’[1], suggests that we can’t not think in metaphors; metaphors are the native language of the unconscious mind. They are part of what makes us human.

Working outdoors provides clients with an abundance of natural metaphors to stimulate deep exploration of their issues, barriers, options and solutions. One client used the outdoor space we were working in to find a metaphor for her leadership role. Looking from a stone bridge across the river, she recognized that, “I’m the river bank, shoring up and directing the flow of work for the team’’. She went on to describe the consequences for her team if she were not there (water/work flowing in torrents, unguided and destructive; or as something shallow and stagnant). Clients have found that trees can help them map and explore relationships; natural objects can be used as ‘constellations’[2] to understand systems and ideas. The tools and techniques you use as a coach can be applied and adapted to the outdoor environment where often, they will be enhanced and complemented.

Another beautiful thing about metaphors is that they stick. Unlike management reports or business jargon, metaphors communicate with us at an unconscious level, invoking a visceral, somatic reaction as well as a cerebral one. Notice how you react physically to the metaphor ‘fly in the ointment’ or ‘light at the end of the tunnel’, for example). Metaphors bring into the conscious mind nebulous ideas or feelings so they can be looked at with curiosity and objectivity. They can be shared and adapted as a way of finding a way forward. Metaphors are unique for each us and powerful ways for people to discover the things they didn’t know they didn’t know!

The power of attention

What is evident from the literature is that being outside is good for our mental health and general wellbeing. Studies are also beginning to show that the attentional effect of nature is so strong it could help those with ADHD, who have been found to concentrate better after just 20 minutes in a park. (Environment and Behavior, 1991; Journal of Environmental Psychology, 1995 (2); Journal of Attention Disorders, 2008)

In coaching, helping clients pay attention and fully appreciate what is, both psychologically and somatically, is the starting point for change. Being away from the office takes people away from the conscious problem-solving processes in which issues may well be rooted, into a more connected, natural state where they can slow down and ‘know’ things differently. They are alerted to a plethora of sounds, smells, sensations and sights – the breeze on their skin, birdsong, rustling leaves, food cooking – some they notice consciously while others seep into their unconscious, perhaps to re-sensitise them in a more general way. They can ‘know’ things differently, get out of their heads and trust their intuition and what their other senses might be telling them. Clean Space methodology is an approach I have used successfully with clients outdoors to help them ‘know’ more about their desired outcome (see www.cleanlanguage.co.uk/CleanSpace.html).

Setting the pace

I’ve been a ‘Street Wizard’ for a while now! It’s a wonderful privilege and fits well into the coaching I do outdoors. One of the key aspects of Street Wisdom is ‘slowing down’, inviting participants to ‘tune-in’ to their environment before exploring a question which has meaning for them. I am often told that slowing down is something people rarely do and yet adds so much to their ability to think and to know. By slowing down physically, we increase our awareness and our ability to be present, which of course have a positive impact on our understanding. If you’d like to find more information about Street Wisdom or becoming a Street Wizard yourself, go to www.streetwisdom.org

A sense of space

I mentioned in the introduction that I am a glutton for books and it seems to me that the human relationship with the natural world is deeply rooted in literature. I love in King Lear the ‘storm on the heath’, where Lear is driven out into the night as a tumultuous storm is raging. This storm mirrors perfectly the mental state of the King and shows the powerful connection of people to the natural world. The Romantic Poets too hailed nature as the ‘Great universal Teacher!’ (S.T. Colderidge, Frost at Midnight) and Wordsworth in The Prelude suggests that:

One impulse from the vernal wood

Can teach you more of man,

Of moral evil and good,

Than all sages can.

The outdoor space in coaching must reflect the needs of the client in order that it can present a place for them to learn and develop. For example, an open space may work well for a client wishing to explore possibilities from a position of stability; a woodland space may offer safety and containment for a client wishing to build resilience from a more emotionally vulnerable place. Weather too seems to have an impact: rain can be ‘holding’ while wind or cold can lead us to tense and contract physically, potentially impacting the choices we make.

There is mental space too. Being outside seems to provide space for clients to explore and think things through without the need for as many coaching questions. The environment and the physical space are acting almost like a second coach.

Next steps

Join me for coaching outdoors in practice

CMAPS Model

I am facilitating a Rural Retreat for Coaches and Facilitators on 27th and 28th September at the beautiful Forrest Hills, Lancaster where we will explore working outdoors. For more information and to book, go to https://clairembradshaw.co.uk/2018/07/08/rural-retreat-for-coaches-and-facilitators/

[1] Sullivan, W and Rees, J (2008) Clean Language: Revealing Metaphors and Opening Minds Crown House Publishing

[2] Whittington, J (2016) Systemic Coaching and Constellations: 2nd Editions. Kogan Page

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Rural Retreat for Coaches and Facilitators

I’m delighted to be launching in September my first rural retreat for coaches and facilitators wishing to explore working outdoors. We’ll explore space and connection and discover techniques which can help us find new ways of thinking and knowing. There will be plenty of time for reflection, creativity and exploration, slowing down and tuning in to ourselves through our environment. To find out more, download a flyer or get in touch.

The retreat will take place in the tranquil surroundings of Forrest Hills near Lancaster, where you’ll find shady groves, open spaces, water and wildlife: www.forresthills.co.uk/forrest-hills-map/ 

To book your place, contact jane@clairembradshaw.co.uk. Looking forward to you joining me!

 

 

Spring…

Sarah Millington Photography - The Bradshaw Family 31I changed my coat this morning… because it feels like spring is finally here. No more the quilted cover of hibernation, with fur around the hood and a button up collar. Now a lighter, green affair, enabling me to open up, stretch and cast off the weight of winter. Liberated! Optimistic. Pushing eagerly forward. What a difference!

What does Spring mean to you? What are the words and images which come to mind? Light? Clarity? Colour? Freshness? Warming? Cheer? Potential? Growth? What are your words?

How will what you do now reflect your images of spring?
If you are in need of energy, growth aspring flowers2nd direction after a ‘dormant’ period either at home or at work, how will you find that energy? Who can help you generate it? What will bring you cheer? How will you fulfil your potential this year?

What seeds will you plant to flourish later?
If you’re thinking of a change – of job, of career, a house-move, of direction –  what will you do now to prepare for later in the year?

How will you keep the shoots watered and fed?
As what you’ve planted begins to grow, how will you keep the momentum and the initial enthusiasm? Who will help you keep going in those moments of doubt? What will nourish you and keep you strong? How can you keep hold of your vision when the shoots haven’t yet begun to push through?

What will you ‘spring clean’?
What is there that you’d like to leave behind and let go of? Or what will you re-visit and dust off; with what or with whom will you re-engage?

And if you’re still in your winter coat…
…that’s OK too. Each in our time. Perhaps focusing on three things are you grateful for today will provide a gentle, positive shift. Or connecting with a friend or a simple act of kindness, for yourself or someone else.

A spring poem

poem for every day of the yearI’ve been sharing a lot of poems from this book recently with my little boy.

Each poem reflects a significant date in history or the season. It’s connected me again with lots of  other poems I’ve enjoyed over the years. Here’s one which I think perfectly sums up days like today.

Early Spring – by Rainer Maria Rilke

Harshness vanished. A sudden softness
has replaced the meadows’ wintry grey.
Little rivulets of water changed
their singing accents. Tendernesses,

hesitantly, reach toward the earth
from space, and country lanes are showing
these unexpected subtle risings
that find expression in the empty trees.

 

 

 

 

Coaching outdoors

Shhhh….the secret!

nature in a frameHave you ever tied yourself up in knots with an issue because of over-thinking? Or experienced ‘analysis-paralysis’ where you’re unable to move forwards with your plans? And have you ever noticed that just by adopting a new perspective, we can unlock possibilities and find our way to excellent results?

The beauty of working outdoors is that our surroundings can help us re-frame and unlock our thoughts. We broaden and deepen our understanding and become more creative; we see things which previously might have been hidden and step beyond the things which made us feel stuck. We feel able to go further than we did before or become more courageous. And, because our senses are stimulated by our surroundings, become more attuned to what is really going on within ourselves.

Coaching outdoors can make a real difference to the quality of our thinking and to the outcomes we choose.

What to expect

There are fabulous opportunities for working with the metaphors an outdoor space presents to us, whether that’s the trees, water, sounds, sensations, the flowers or the paths. Expect to draw on what is around you to enhance how you work; nature may well become a second coach!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEqually, urban settings present countless opportunities to draw inspiration from signs, settings, colour, buildings and street furniture. We will walk gently, sit, stop – whatever works best for you. And you’ll know during the coaching session what is going to work best. There are lots of possibilities – close to where you live or work. Have a think before the session what appeals – do you want openness or the protection of trees, for example? From there, we can find a suitable location.

Beforehand

_20170427_103102Like all coaching sessions, it is useful to consider beforehand what you’d like to gain from the session. What has changed since last time we met? How are you moving towards your goals? What would you like to get from the session? What will be different when it has gone well? Do you have any health needs it would be useful for me to know about?

What to bring

Bring sturdy shoes/boots and warm clothing. It can be colder than you think being outdoors for an hour or more! A notebook, pen or similar may also be useful. And money for the café if you intend to treat yourself to cake at the end!

DSC_1387

Locations

There are lots of opportunities for outdoor coaching in Greater Manchester, from city parks to country walks to hills, reservoirs or more urban settings. We’ll work together to find somewhere that will enhance your coaching experience and make a real impact for you.

Finding confidence from the stories we tell ourselves

confidenceBeginnings

I’ve been struck recently by the number of women and men I’ve been working with who have expressed a need to ‘feel more confident’, whether that be about their decisions, their leadership, the way they appear, how they feel in a group, a new experience.

And this got me wondering…what is it about this feeling or this state of ‘confidence’ that we believe will unlock our potential and help us lead happier more courageous lives? And how can we invite it in?

The stories we tell ourselves

Our need to feel confident can be fuelled by feelings of not being good enough, a fear of failure and by over-thinking. We tell ourselves stories (and often they are stories, carefully constructed to substantiate a belief we may have held for a long time, suitably lacking in solid, recent evidence): ‘they don’t really think I did a good job; they’re just being nice’ or ‘they haven’t answered my email yet. That’s because they aren’t interested in my idea’. We tell ourselves these stories so frequently and so eloquently that they become our reality, the version of ourselves we hold to be true. These stories shape who we are and who we become.

But what if we were to edit the stories or even re-writestories-reading them? What if we could discover those stories which would, rather than stopping us doing things or getting in the way, nourish us and enable us to do the things we really want to achieve. What would that be like?

Confidence is….

Confidence is like…’standing tall; it’s shiny and purple; it’s grounded and strong; it’s like sparkly new shoes which are bouncy and light; it’s energy; it’s knowing it’s right; confidence is trust in yourself; it’s honouring who you are’. Just a few responses to the question, ‘what is confidence like’? Close your eyes. Breathe in deep. Think of a time when you’ve felt confident, at home, with friends, at work….what is confidence like for you?

The first step to re-shaping our stories and therefore ourselves is to understand exactly what it is we are telling ourselves. What beliefs am I holding on to which limit me? And then….what will I believe instead which will empower me, to be confident and at my best? And finally….to really believe it…it’s no longer a story but a truth. It’s who you are.

The Mind-Body connection

Our experience may tell us that feeling confident can help us do things we might ordinarily shy away from, that presentation at the annual meeting, for example. It may tell us that how we feel can affect our behaviour and our performance. Amy Cuddy, Harvard Business School Professor, social psychologist and presenter of one of the most viewed TED talks of all time, ‘Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are’, asserts that if we manage our physical selves we can influence our thinking and therefore our confidence levels. In other words, our minds and our bodies are interconnected; a change in one will affect a change in the other. Try it for yourself. Find a quiet space where you won’t be interrupted. Close in your body, lower your head, make yourself small. Stay like that for a moment or two. What is that like? What are your thoughts? How is your confidence? Now, slowly open up, stretch, reach upward, make yourself really big. Stay in that position for a few moments. Notice what that is like. What has happened to your facial expression, to your breathing? What are your thoughts now? How confident do you feel?

Cuddy’s research shows that by managing our posture we generate hormonal responses, increasing levels of testosterone (that which can make us feel powerful) and decreasing levels of cortisol (that which can make us feel stressed). And these play into our thoughts and our actions. That presentation becomes more achievable, that difficult conversation much easier. Have a look at the TED talk – it certainly changed things for me.

The next chapter

How we are in the world can impact on the stories we tell ourselves. And the language we choose to narrate our stories is vital to our sense of self and to how confident we feel.

By noticing our stories and learning to create them afresh, we can narrate for ourselves a different outcome, a different reality, a different truth.

didsbury-house-hotelThe Didsbury House Hotel is the setting for ‘Insights: steps to success‘, an opportunity to discover your own story and feel more confident. The lovely Lisa Jeskins and I will be working together to deliver this on 30th June 2017 with more workshops over the course of next year. Please  click here to book your place. We look forward to seeing you there. Thank you.

5 Ways to Build Resilience and Why It Matters

resilience flowerHave you ever had something difficult to manage – a tricky relationship or a sticky negotiation? Or have you handled a significant change such as a bereavement or redundancy? If you have, you’ll know there are times when the challenges we face can feel overwhelming and insurmountable.

You’ll also know that sometimes we feel like we could take on the world unscathed regardless of how little sleep we’ve had or how our boss treated us this morning.

So what is it that makes us feel like we could take on the world one week and dissolve into a pool of despair the next?

Well, resilience is what enables us to cope with the things life throws at us. It is our capacity to maintain high levels of performance and positive well-being, even when the chips are down. Building resilience can improve our health and well-being and have a positive impact on our relationships. It can enable us to do a good job, to make good decisions and to live a life true to ourselves. And the fantastic news is that while resilience is partly attributable to our personality, it is also a skill which can be learned and developed. So, with just a few simple techniques, we can all influence how easily we recover from difficulties or misfortune.

5 Tips for Building Resilience

1. Finding a resilient role model can help us understand how to deal with difficult situations. Who do you know who is resilient? Can you identify their characteristics? Are there patterns of behaviour or thought you could emulate? Could you consult with them if needed?

2. Become aware of your strong sense of purpose and use it to help you make decisions. Think about the things which drive you, the things you’d be prepared to take a stand on. What’s most important to you?

3. Recognise and use your strengths every day. Strengths could be skills or qualities or part of your overall personality.  Notice what you’re good at and what you’re recognised for and find opportunities to do more of it.

4. Try new things and seek out opportunities to learn. Resilient people stretch their comfort zone regularly so when a really difficult situation arises, they are well practiced to deal with it.

5. Think positive! Our beliefs and values drive our behaviour. Challenging the beliefs which drive our negative actions can build our resilience and improve our well-being.

Working with others to build resilience is a fun and creative way to embed positive steps into our lives for the long term. For more information, please contact me: clairembradshaw@yahoo.co.uk