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#24: Communication: Awakening Affirmations

Welcome

Hi there! I’m Dr. Moira.  Welcome to a new episode and a new week with the Coaching Hive.  If you are new, welcome, and if have been listening since the beginning or somewhere in between thank you my friend.  It is always a pleasure to have you here with me.

As we continue to journey through our Coaching Toolkit Communication Basics this week, I’d like to quickly recap last week’s episode.  We talked about crafting “Quite a Question” and I’m curious.  How did it go?  What resulted in your successes and what is still feeling complicated?  What are your plans for continuing to practice? Let me know.  Reach out to me on social media and send me a DM.

If you have studied Miller and Rollnick’s Motivational Interviewing framework, you are familiar with OARS and recognize how that our month is focused on honing our skills with OARS.  Last week was all about questions and it makes sense that this week would focus on Affirmation.  If Motivational Interviewing, or MI, is new to you I highly recommend reading the MI In Nutrition and Fitness by Clifford and Curtis and Motivational Interviewing, 3rd edition by Miller and Rollnick.  Our OARS, the focus of this month’s podcasts, stands for open-ended questions, affirmations, reflections, and summaries.

When working with health coaches I have noticed something interesting in the questions I receive about affirmations.  The first is to find out WHY they are so important and the second is HOW to make them easier.  Let’s tackle those questions one at a time.

Introduction

To start, lets consider what an affirmation is.  According to Miller and Rollnick, affirmations are designed to highlight client strengths and acknowledge their effort.  Why are affirmations so important?  The way I think about it is that a client needs to know their strengths in order to get through the difficult times or challenges that they encounter on the change journey.  For example, if you have a client working to increase activity and stay consistent we know they are going to have challenges along the way.  One day they might be sore, they might strain something that requires rest, or they might get sick and need to take it easy for a week.  These all break that consistency cycle.  

Imagine that this client has a coach who tells them, “Good job!” each week when they share their weekly success.  What will happen when the client hits that bump in the road?  Likely they will think back and recognize they were successful in the past, but not have any idea of what they did other than a, “good job!”.  That doesn’t necessarily help them troubleshoot the challenge and get back on track.

Now imagine this same client has a coach who tells them, “You persisted even when you were sore this week.  You were determined to make progress.”  Now when the client hit a bump in the road they will remember that they are persistent and determined.  In applying those strengths to their story, the client now changes their thinking and knows that they have done this in the past.

Same client, same situation, two different coach responses.  Two different outcomes.

That is the power of affirmations.  They are often forgotten, but so very powerful.

Awakening Affirmations

If you are ready to awaken your affirmations and invite them to the coaching conversation lets talk about a few simple techniques for incorporating them seamlessly, or at least a little easier.

The first step to crafting quality affirmations is to put the attention on the client using a “You” statement.  In fact, that is one of the key components that Rosengren included in a 2009 practitioner workbook on MI.  In fact, lets walk through Rosengren’s key components right now before going any further:

  • Focus on specific behaviors instead attitudes, decisions, and goals. 
  • Avoid using the word “I.”
  • Focus on descriptions and not evaluations.
  • Attend to nonproblem areas rather than problem areas. 
  • Think of affirmations as attributing interesting qualities to clients. 
  • Nurture a competent instead of a deficit worldview of clients. 

In other words, affirmations help the client think about the possibilities instead of dwelling in what wasn’t successful.  It helps the client become clearer on the qualities they possess that will allow for success.  Since this is the case, as coaches, we need enhance our vocabulary of qualities that the clients is exhibiting.  There are certainly strengths survey that a client can complete, like the Clifton Strengths Finder, but you also want to be highlighting strengths and qualities that arise each week outside of those specific core strengths.

I think about it like filling someone’s bucket.  You are helping them to recognize that they not only have strengths, they have a variety of strengths.  If you don’t have tip of the tongue ready qualities that you can name, there are many ways to still offer quality affirmations.  You might consider reviewing the list of 100 characteristics of successful changers found in the MI 3rd edition book or the PDF linked in the resource notes for this episode.  By using this list you and your client can more easily identified what allowed them to be successful in their goals.  You aren’t expected to have all of these words at the tip of your tongue any more than you would expect someone giving a speech to have every little detail and sentence memorized.  You would expect them to use notes or a teleprompter.  The same is true here.  You can even show this sheet to your client and offer to let them select characteristics that they think helped them throughout the week.  By creating this open conversation they are staying active and are even more likely to remember the strengths identified.  The bucket is getting filled and you are awakening the client to the power of their strengths to guide them through the change process.

If you end a session and realize that you missed an incredible opportunity to affirm the client you can always add this to your between session check in or even to your opening summary in the next session.  Although an opportunity might be missed, there are other avenues for sharing that affirmation in the future.

As you are listening to this, you may be wondering what happens when the week feels like it has fallen apart for the client?  I can’t just ignore that without being insensitive.  And you are right.  You have to acknowledge the challenges and the difficult parts, and that is where reflections and summaries come into play. 

Your mind may be drifting back to the why affirmations are important that we discussed at the beginning of this episode and wondering if you can combine praise and affirmations.  The answer to that is maybe sometimes.  It shouldn’t be your go to, though.  Praise won’t keep the client warm at night and puts the focus on you as the coach.  “I am happy to hear that you exercised and were persistent in your effort,” is about me as the coach at the beginning and may be al that the client hears.  My happiness is tied to the client’s actions and now the client is working to make me happy rather than working to achieve their own goals.  This does not create sustainable change.  Instead if we just focus on the strengths of the client, this welcomes sustainable progress and is not dependent on the coach.

Summary

Ultimately the goal of using all of our OARS, open-ended questions, affirmations, reflections, and summaries is to help the client make sustainable change.  Having a balance of OARS that includes quality affirmations will make this process easier.  With practice, affirmations are not only easier to offer, they are genuinely uplifting and fun to incorporate for everyone involved.

Conclusions

If you started this episode in the camp of “affirmations are impossible,” remember that is that were true we wouldn’t even talk about affirmations as part of the coaching conversation.  We wouldn’t have had this conversation today.  If you were in the camp of, “I like affirmations, but they are still challenging,” I encourage you to look each day for someone to affirm, even if it is your dog, cat, or iguana.  Finally, if this episode enhanced your confidence and courage to pursue affirmations in your coaching conversations, I’ll say you are wise to recognize the importance and value of affirmations.

I look forward to hearing the affirmations you try this week and in the coming weeks as you work to incorporate them seamlessly into your conversations.  If you had an a-ha moment, I invite you to share that moment in a review on Apple Podcasts so that we can reach even more listeners. I hope your confidence grows and your creativity blossoms as you awaken more affirmations this week.   As always, thank you so much for listening and I’ll see you back here next week for another episode of the Coaching Hive podcast.

~Moira

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