By Irina Costea, Transformational & NeuroMindfulness© Coach at Costea Coaching, Mentor in SIM’s Community
More than a year and a half ago, I was buried very deep in my suicidal postpartum depression, and I did not see a way out. My head was spinning on a daily basis, ruminating about how awful my life was at the moment.
Why is everything happening to me? Why can’t something good happen for me?
I had support from my husband, I was going to therapy for more than 5 years at the moment, and still, I could not manage to keep my head above the water.
At a certain (low) point of that depression, I discovered coaching. It was my last resort, and it was the last attempt that I was going to have to get better.
And looking back, I really believe that coaching saved my life.
With coaching, I started to question everything I knew about my reality. About my belief systems, about my models of reality, about what I thought was wrong and right, and about how this world should work.
I soon discovered that I had a calling for coaching, that from my wounds, I could help other people heal. And I enrolled in a coaching school, and everything changed. I discovered a new universe. A universe in which not only I was seen and heard, but I was valued, and people would help me rise and heal.
It took me a while to define what kind of coaching I would like to pursue, but the more I coached, the more it became clear.
Transformation (healing) is one of the most important processes a human can ever go through. In the Transformational & NeuroMindfulness® Coaching process, we use neuroscience-based tools and practices of mindfulness that sustain the transformation and its new habits.
If I review my steps towards transformation, I can see clear patterns with my clients also, and it helps a lot with holding the space for them because I was them.
As we go through these steps, I will explain which mindfulness practices suit each step and why, especially from a neuroscience point of view.
First Step: Awakening
Or better said, the stage in which you become aware, when you stop ignoring the “elephant” in the room, when you stop dissociating from your feelings and emotions when you start sitting with your wounds and accept them.
In this part of the coaching process, we start to expand the (judgment-free) awareness. We become observers of our patterns, of our triggers, and we become curious. Not judging, but curious.
This is the stage in which I recommend clients to start a mediation practice for 10 minutes a day (guided meditations are awesome for beginners) for a minimum of 30 days. When people start to question things and become aware that something is going on, they often feel anxious, disoriented, depressed, and overwhelmed. Why? Because our brain is not keen on changes. Our brain has evolved in order to keep us safe, and the unknown fires all the red flags. Meditation is one of the greatest tools that can help us counteract all these “side effects”. How?
Meditation reduces the activity of the Default Mode Network (responsible for mind-wandering), and it trains our presence, concentration, meta attention (free from the bondage of thoughts and emotions; you make space in your mind).
When you start observing your thoughts without being attached to them, you start to understand that you are not your thoughts. The nature of the thought is to come and go. And anxiety often appears when we get a hold of a certain thought, and we start to ruminate it again and again.
Second Step: Discovering Your Character Strengths
When you become aware of the fact that you are not your thoughts, you start to understand that your inner voice might be telling you some not-so-true things about yourself.
Over 80% of the clients that I have are not in touch with their own authenticity, meaning that they don’t really know what their character (natural) strengths are.
Why does this happen? If I look at my 3 years old son, he is raw and authentic and not afraid to step up for himself whenever he needs to. But if I look around me, I see a lot of grown-ups that are afraid to even admit they are good at something. This happens as a result of our experiences (when it was not emotionally safe for us to be ourselves, so we started to detach from who we really are in order to fit in) or as a result of the environment (we were told – I know I was – to not be “too proud”, to not “show off” because of what people will think about us).
In order to reach your goals, you need to know what you bring to the table. So then, you will know in each situation or challenge what skills or character strengths will help you navigate through your growth opportunities.
In this stage, it is helpful to start a journaling practice (5 minutes/day). You can let your coach guide your journaling questions, you can write freely, or you can use a mindfulness journal. Whatever you choose, journaling for 5 minutes/day along with 10 minutes of meditation (they don’t have to happen in the same moment of the day, even though the journaling practice is boosted after a meditation), will help you have clarity, observe patterns and make space in your mind. This space allows you to have new insights, make connections, and understand yourself more. And this leads us to the next step.
Third Step: Mapping Fears And Blockages
As a Transformational Coach, I am particularly focused on fears and blockages because behind every challenge lies a dormant skill that we can cultivate or express. At the coaching school that I graduated from, Dave Buck (the CEO of CoachVille) said something that stuck with me:
“your fears are the road map to your superpowers.”
Fear is a very useful emotion. It helped us through the evolution process by keeping us safe.
The thing is, the brain doesn’t make a difference between emotional survival and physical survival. That is why we have “irrational” fears. They are not irrational. They are trying to protect us from being hurt, even though sometimes it means to have a difficult conversation, to express ourselves, or anything else that is not classified as “a real danger”.
For example, when I worked as a recruiter when I had to make “cold calls” to potential candidates, my hands froze, my throat dried, and I was feeling punched in the stomach.
Because my brain recognized a pattern, at some point, I experienced bullying, and that left deep traces in my body. Strong emotions leave physical traces that our brain and body use in order to signal us not to come near that kind of threat again.
So when you start listening to your body (meditation and journaling set a solid foundation for this step), you will observe patterns of when your brain thinks something is wrong.
In this stage, we start using some powerful visualization tools combined with emotional body scans. It takes a lot of practice and awareness to be able to go beyond the self-preservation zone (comfort zone), as Dave Buck calls it, and this is why usually these visualizations are guided by the coach.
When strong emotions are not processed, they leave traces in our bodies. Whenever we come near similar situations that trigger those emotions, our bodies send us signals. The visualizations and the body scans help us process that emotion in a safe space, and we basically rewire the neural paths, so the brain understands that now we are safe to act or to express ourselves.
Fourth Step: Mastering Self-Confidence
As Mel Robbins once said,
self-confidence is “the decision to try”
Because when you are self-confident, you are able to look at yourself as you really are, with no exaggeration. You can own your strengths, and you can look at your growth opportunities without feeling like a failure. You are not defined by your failures, as you are not defined by your wins. You just are.
Failure is an important topic in coaching because the way we look at it sets the foundation for our mindset. If we identify ourselves with our beliefs, with our failures, we have a fixed mindset (as Carol Dweck states in her book “Mindset”). If we are flexible, if we are willing to learn from our failures, and if we use them as stepping stones, these are strong indicators of a growth mindset.
The thing that I came to realize in my own transformation journey, is that self-confidence is not loud. It whispers. And you have to have a clear mind, to be focused, in order to be able to listen to it. We are biologically wired to look for negative things because this kind of mindset is the one that kept us safe through the millions of years of evolution.
“The amygdala (the part of the brain that has the “fear response” job) reacts by default to negative thoughts, but it can react to positive triggers if primed to do so.” (Arnaud Complainville, founder of the NeuroMindfulness ® Institute).
In this particular stage, we prime the brain to look for positive aspects of our lives, to rearrange our lives around our strengths, through a gratitude practice. We learn how to appreciate and see the small details that make our lives better, because the truth is, most events and days in our lives are actually positive.
And I am not talking about toxic positivity, and I am talking about emotional resilience.
Fifth Step: Freedom
This is the most challenging of all stages because it requires you to never stop growing. It requires you to keep your awareness sharp, to be present as much as you can, and the most important, to be able to have self-compassion when you fall back into old patterns.
We are only humans, and we will, at times, fall back into what our brain likes the most: familiarity and safety.
In this stage, we cultivate self-compassion, self-love, and authenticity. Because this is what I like most about neuroscience: it brings the power back into the hands of the people. When you are driven by unknown processes, you don’t have influence over them.
When you understand the neuroscience behind your behaviors, triggers, and self-defense mechanisms, you have to power to act upon them.
In a way, neuroscience brought me what I needed most: self-compassion. Because I understood that nothing is wrong with me. My patterns are the way in which my brain is trying to protect me. My triggers are my allies because they show me where to look for growth opportunities. My behaviors point me to the road that I need to follow in order to heal.
Change can be temporary. Transformation is an irreversible process. Once you become aware of your patterns, triggers, and self-defense mechanisms, you cannot ignore them. And this is why the coaching process is so powerful. It puts a mirror from which you cannot look away. Sometimes it’s painful, uncomfortable, frustrating, but it’s worthwhile.