In his poem ‘Leisure’ (1911) the Welsh poet William Henry Davies, beautifully describes how the pace of modern life leaves little time for reflection, especially in nature;
“What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.”
The theme of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Month (May 1-31) was ‘Nature’ and the campaign echoed Davies’ prose; focusing on the importance of our relationship with nature – how much we notice, think about and appreciate our natural surroundings – to keeping us emotionally, psychologically and physically healthy.
In the current world of ‘blended’ coaching, where the majority of our client meetings are still online, a coaching session might feel more intense. There is a certain sense that you should maintain eye contact at all times when communicating via a screen; to be one hundred percent focused on, and engaged with, the person in front of you. However, taking regular breaks is just as essential to the online coaching process as if we were chatting in-person, and something we actively encourage. We ask our clients to go and get a drink, to sit quietly outside for a few minutes and listen to the sounds of nature, or perhaps take a quick walk in the fresh air if they’re able to.
Finding the time to ‘stand and stare’ can hugely benefit our ability to consider and process information; to generate ideas and solutions. As coaches working with exceptional people in often large and dynamic organisations, we’re always aware of those micro-behaviours which show that a client is, whether they’re aware of it or not, allowing their brain some brief downtime to defocus and refocus. It might be a stare out of the window or an absent-minded doodle, but having the freedom to be able to gaze away from the screen as and when they need to; to provide the space for them to ‘stand and stare’ for a few moments helps the client’s brain to relax and recalibrate.
Some might call this day-dreaming, but whatever the terminology, it’s good for us and a highly-underrated self-help tool. Psychologists estimate that we spend up to half of our mental activity on daydreams, and that daydreaming provides a practical mechanism for helping us realise our goals, rehearse new situations and to review and learn from past experiences. In an article ‘What your daydreams reveal about you’ (Psychologies, March 2018) the writer Judith Woods quotes psychologist Eric Klinger, Professor of Psychology at the University of Minnesota, who says, “Paradoxical though it sounds, daydreaming is what makes us organised. We think of daydreams as scatterbrained and unfocused, but one of the functions of daydreaming is to keep your life’s agenda in front of you; it reminds you of what’s coming up; it rehearses new situations, plans for the future and scans past experiences so you can learn from them.”
We have learnt so much about the value of online coaching during this prolonged period of upheaval; how it can work just as effectively for our clients, and possibly improve their experience when the constraints of travel time and costs are removed A good deal of our coaching will stay online in the future for this very reason, but our ability to listen to and observe the nuanced micro behaviours of those we work with; the physical actions that tell us so much about how a client is processing and absorbing information, remain and are becoming ever more highly-tuned.