It was my honor to deliver the Sjogren’s National Patient Conference speech “How a Coach can help you live your best life”. As a patient, I have spent a decade researching and practicing life-hacks so I can live a good life with the complexities of Sjogren’s. And one of my favorite life-hacks is hiring a Certified Coach. You can always tell when I get really excited about something because I dive in headfirst and become certified. I am now a certified yoga instructor and a certified coach because I believe in the power of both of these disciplines to help me and you live well with chronic illness. This post highlights 5 ways a coach can help patients live their best lives.
It all starts with the stories we tell ourselves…
The Stories We Tell Ourselves
If you’ve spent much time reading my blog or have seen me speak, you know that I cover a lot of the emotional/mental aspects of living with chronic illness. You see, I am a big believer in the power that our mind has over our lives. In fact, we can tell ourselves all sorts of stories (whether they are true or not). And what we tell ourselves has the most significant impact on how we choose to live.
Have you ever said any of these things to yourself:
- I’m too tired to go to my best friend’s house for dinner?
- If I go on that trip, I know I’ll get a flare, so why spend the money?
- I can’t go on a hike, my joints hurt too much.
- I’m not going to ask my friend for help, he’ll think I’m whining or weak.
- I’m too old to start a new career.
- I can’t get a new job that I’d love, the jobs I’d love are too demanding with Sjogren’s.
- Why date? What man wants an ill partner?
- Why go to that party? I’ve lost my ability to be a good conversationalist. I’m pretty boring now.
These are some stories that I’ve been stuck in. I say “stuck” because, much of the time, they weren’t true. But what was true, was that I stopped myself from living up to my potential. Some of the stories I created because of Sjogren’s and some of the stories came from other parts of my life. However, all of these stories amounted to me narrowing my life. And I have always wanted a very big life!
So what stories are telling yourself?
Coaching Helps Separate Our Stories from Our Truth
In the Coaching world, we call these stories Limiting Beliefs and Assumptions. Some stories are so deep-rooted that we call them Gremlins. A coach is trained to help you examine the stories to understand what may be true and what you’ve added to protect yourself. I have included other life-hacks into my daily practice (like Yoga and Meditation) and finally came to coaching because I believe strongly in the neuroscience behind it. Coaching is big in my business industry (technology) and I have seen the impact it has had on peers. I believe in the process so much that I became a certified coach (as I mentioned earlier). And one thing I know for sure is that if I had hired a certified coach for myself earlier in my Sjogren’s journey, I would have saved several years of mental rumination and living too small.
But why do we tell ourselves stories in the first place? It’s human nature. In fact, every human does this! The brain loves a complete story and in the absence of data, the brain fills in the missing pieces to complete the story in our minds. Often, the human mind fills in the blanks with fear-based data as a self-protection mechanism. We are hard-wired to avoid danger, so our brain completes the story with a worst-case scenario. This way, we are avoiding any harm or need to fight, take flight, or freeze. However, living in our stories is certainly a form of “freeze”. As patents, we do have a need to protect ourselves from a major flare, so it takes practice and awareness to strike a balance of self-protection with self-expression.
So a coach helps you tease out the story from your amygdala into your prefrontal cortex where you can use executive function to analyze and assess the truth of your situation and make a plan that serves you best. Just like a physical coach helps you build strength in your muscles, a life coach helps you build the strength of your mind.
The Truth of Chronic Illness
Now, there are stories and there is reality. We live with Sjogren’s, RA, Lupus (and more) and this is not a story! Sjögren’s can alter how we show up in the world. We have a lot to contend with daily and even more when we’re in a flare. And our grief cycle can have us bounce around emotionally. Not only do we have our symptoms, but we need to contend with:
- Job changes and job security
- Social relationships and feelings of isolation
- Physical capabilities and diminished stamina
- Environmental tolerance and discomfort
- Anxiety about money and how we’re going to care for our selves
- And added anxiety with world events (such as Covid-19).
- Loss of self-esteem and confidence….and sometimes depression lands upon us.
To clarify, I’m not talking about the times when you are feeling very ill and you truly can not go to a friend’s house. I am talking about the times when you have become so used to the impact of the above issues that you tell yourself that you are too ill when you are not.
My best personal example is that I did have a period where I was so used to being isolated, that I thought I didn’t have the energy to go to a friend’s house for dinner or go to a party. On the occasions I forced myself, I not only had a great time but I gained a lot of energy! It took several examples like this to remind me that I’m an extrovert and so getting used to isolation was actually creating more fatigue. I now can tell the difference when I should not attend a function because of true illness versus a story that I’m too tired. And this has lead to a much happier life! If you are naturally an introvert, this example may be one that would create more fatigue.
Whatever story you are telling yourself, it’s worth the self-examination! How are you trying to protect yourself? Is it serving you well?
5 Ways a Coach Can Help Patients Live Their Best Lives
So how can a coach really help? A coach:
- Helps you clarify and create awareness so you can MOVE FORWARD to achieve what you want while living with chronic illness. They help to dislodge those stories so you can create your new vision of your life. They help you get out of your own head.
- Partners with you to facilitate learning and results based on your uniqueness. They already believe you have potential and are ready to spread your wings. Otherwise, why would you hire a coach? They trust that the answers are inside of you, and it is their job to help you uncover the best inside yourself. Sometimes with illness, we feel like we lose a bit of ourselves and what makes us special. We have lost some health, but we are all functioning humans with dreams and purpose. A coach believes this to be the truth, otherwise, they would not have become a coach!
- Offers a safe space where there is no judgment. Sometimes our friends do not understand why we can’t “buck-up” or “push through” and these attitudes present a lot of judgment. Your coach does not care that you are ill and they did not know you before your illness. They see you as a person with strengths, weaknesses, and a desire to get what you want in life. If your coach does not have a chronic illness, they will learn from you and will trust what you say. They may challenge you to unlock stories, but you will be able to clarify for them where the truth stops and where the story begins.
- Brings new tools and questions that help you rediscover and learn anew what is important to you. They can also help you discover your own purpose (or reframe your purpose if illness has altered it).
- Helps you design clear and actionable plans along with an accountability system so you can see success. Plans might apply to any aspect of your life that you wish to strengthen: work, spiritual, social, emotional, or physical areas of your life.
Really, there is an infinite number of ways a coach can help patients because each patient is unique, but those are some key areas!
How to Find a Coach
Finding the right coach for you takes effort. Ask friends or people in your network if they’ve worked with a coach or know anyone that has. Get a name and number and have an introductory call or session. Most coaches do this session free of charge because they know that chemistry between coach and client is important. You can also get an idea if they are open to understanding how chronic illness can impact your life daily. What they will likely want to hear in your voice is that you are willing to make changes and try to grow.
Although I have met good (business) coaches that do not have formal training and certification, I suggest finding a coach that is certified from a good school. These schools teach specific techniques as well as require a certain amount of time dedicated to learning and actual coaching. Top schools can be found on the International Coach Federation. If you have a coach that was credentialed from one of the schools on the ICF site, then they have been well-trained. You can also find a coach on this site as they have a database of coaches that are certified as well as credentialed by ICF. Not all certified coaches are ICF certified and you can find good coaches outside of this organization.
Another good place to find a coach is LinkedIn. Just look around and hunt for coaches that speak to you. Most coaching is done on the phone or a Zoom call so it is not necessary to look for a local person.
If you are interested in what coaching can do for you and you’d like to discuss it with me, just jot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ve had several people suggest I conduct a group coaching program and I’m open to the idea. I’m interested in designing more ways that a coach can help patients. If this is of interest to you, please do let me know!