The Compassionate Coaching Approach
"There are many paths to enlightenment. Be sure to take one with a heart."
Why Take a Compassionate Approach to Creating Change?
A compassionate approach to change is often the last thing we think of when trying to create change. We are programmed to habitually 'try harder' - for example we might work longer hours and beat ourselves up for failing. The radically different approach tends to be used as a last resort - when we have kept 'trying harder' with some success, but it no longer works. In some cases, not only has it stopped working, the 'try harder' approach has led to stress, illness, anxiety, depression and self-loathing. Quite a price to pay.
The compassionate approach uses a different brain area to create change - one that doesn't create suffering and doesn't carry the inherent risks of overworking. Instead of trying to overcome problems by fighting them, compassion is used to understand the reasons why the difficulties exist, and how they come to hold such immovable power over us. Most importantly, it allows us to discover how to unhook from the destructive thoughts and behaviours, and so change.
Non-compassionate Approaches Just Don't Work in the Long Term
All of us know the concept of 'fighting' our problematic thoughts and behaviours. Examples are
• dieters who "battle against the bulge" - and lose. Most gain weight after each diet, it simply isn't an effective approach.
• addicts - research shows that "struggling against addiction" using willpower doesn't work either.
• And the "war against terrorism". War and violence leads to ever increasing war and violence. US Army research showed the war in Iraq led to increased radicalism and global terrorism.
And the same is true of our personal demons and enemies. Fighting them leads to self hatred and doesn't succeed. Instead we need to pay attention to what we repress, fear and deny in ourselves. This requires a radically different perspective, one that taps into an incredibly effective innate human capacity - that of compassion or kindness.
The Scientific Basis for Developing a Compassionate Approach to Change
The premise behind applying a compassionate approach to change is that it accesses the mammalian care giving (limbic) part of the brain. This is the part that involves affection, love, warmth, and that takes care of our family members, friends and pets. Generally we're pretty good at applying it in the service of others, however we need to learn some new strategies to bring it to mind to help ourselves. As I mentioned, our default means of getting something or changing something tends to be 'trying harder', so an approach that involves less striving and more care-giving, kindness and self-soothing is going to take some practice in order for it to become the new default.
The Good News
The good news is that it's such a successful method, especially for creating change when all else seems to have failed, that we can quickly become incentivised to keep using it. Also, it doesn't cause pain in the way that self criticism does, and improves health rather than causing harm.
There is hard science behind the advocacy for using a compassionate approach to change, and I'm passionate about bringing clients' awareness to this underused skill which we all have. Please get in touch if you would like to know more about how the approach is so effective, and how we could work with it.
Why we need to develop our Compassion
Below is a very engaging 30 minute video in which the very wonderful Professor Paul Gilbert introduces the 'Empathy & Compassion in Society Conference 2012'. Professor Gilbert explains the importance of Compassion in Society and some of the psychology and neuroscience behind his compelling arguement.
My Coaching Approach
I've been fortunate enough to undertake trainings with some of the leading compassionate mindfulness innovators. You can learn more about their approaches by clicking the below links, and by reading their excellent and accessible books.
Professor Paul Gilbert - Psychologist, University of Derby, creator of Compassion Focused Therapy, author of The Compassionate Mind and Founder of The Compassionate Mind Foundation
Choden - Buddhist Teacher at The Mindfulness Association and Kagyu Samye Ling and co-author with Paul Gilbert of Mindful Compassion
Chris Germer, PhD - Clinical Psychologist and author of The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion
Dr Kristin Neff - Associate Professor at University of Texas at Austin and author of Self-Compassion