I asked about topics for blogs a while ago and I thank Karen Walters who proposed I share something about nature as a facilitator for transformational coaching.
I’m a total muppet not to have thought of this for myself, it’s the coaching tool I am most passionate about and the key ingredient for my purpose.
And It’s not a tool.
At least, not just a tool.
It’s a healthy space and place.
Being outside does something to us, let me elaborate. Multiple studies are now proving what walkers and forest bathers have been enjoying and celebrating for millennia. Spending time in nature helps with overcoming mental fatigue, it reduces feelings of anxiety and alleviates low mood.
Japanese scientists among others have collected clinical data indicating a reduction in blood pressure and increased alpha brain waves (related to creativity) along with the release of serotonin, the happy hormone, after 30 minutes in a forest setting. Current research into chemicals (phytoncides) released by trees and hedgerows suggest an effect on the immune system similar to other compounds known to help our bodies fight infection.
It provides variety.
The terrain and the elements change season by season. The weather adds to the atmosphere. From a shady forest path, manicured arrangements of parkland to the big skies of moors and chalk downs the choice is more variable than the four walls of an office and significantly engage all of the senses. Virtual meetings are great of course, but they don’t do that.
It’s a source of metaphor.
Just last week, I likened myself to a dead tree – maybe I should explain that one.
It was a reflective supervision exercise to imagine yourself as a tree and describe it or find a picture. My mind went to a fallen hornbeam where I regularly walk and one I had often sheltered under during rain showers.
It is normal (for a tree) to offer support and shelter to birds, bugs and squirrels. When this fell victim to storm Dennis it was trimmed and chopped the trunk was left in a small wild area and the local authority was persuaded to leave it as a habitat (there was talk of it becoming a bench). Now it is different but nurtures a wider variety of life and growth than it did before.
My experience of being in one state in corporate life, experiencing a storm and then repurposing to nurture the growth of others was beautifully outlined through this true-life metaphor. It has also helped me to define and refine my purpose.
Our minds connect with stories and with nature. We are of this planet; we are essentially made of the same components. As hunter gatherers we would be elated to happen across fertile grounds with trees for shelter, berries, animals and water – we are hardwired still to be soothed and pleased by the same resources our ancestors were so reliant on.
It includes the physicality of being shoulder to shoulder
The action of walking side by side is powerful. When we are feeling anxious, threatened and concerned, it can be disconcerting to be eyeball to eyeball to talk about challenges and worries.
Coaches are great at putting their clients at ease, using tone and body language as an aide to rapport and are skilled at building and maintaining trust. This doesn’t change outdoors, it's enhanced.
The action of walking shoulder to shoulder feels more collaborative. Travelling together in the same direction acts as an unspoken agreement that the discussion will go somewhere and a feeling that a destination will be reached safely together.
When I am coached or supervised from my office, I take a little longer to think differently. I am surrounded by the sights, sounds and smells of the everyday. If a phone rings or the dogs bark, my train of thought is derailed and it is tricky to get it back. A new cognitive process has begun. I found the same in my corporate life when I coached, was coached or had everyday meetings in the office environment.
For me, it wasn’t conducive to breaking habits or creating new ones when I was surrounded by so much that was A: comfortable and familiar and B: where I had invested much time evolving as a professional.
I was the plant that existed and survived where I was, but didn’t really flower until I was moved to a more nourishing environment.
Research into attention restoration theory (Kaplan) indicates that the sights and sounds of nature also distract us (no surprises there then) what's interesting is that they rarely spark another cognitive process. Our train of thought may pause at the station for a moment but then t can continue with minimal disruption.
So, transformational coaching?
Quality coaching is transformational; anyone that has experienced it and reaped the benefits will tell you that.
When mental wellbeing, physical health and creativity are enhanced it can be sensational.
That’s why nature matters.