It was recently world mental health day, and I started thinking about how much my life has changed and how I got to where I am today. I’m so happy that currently I experience a lot less anxiety, depression and general low moods. I’m also happy that I no longer work in a toxic environment and actually feel safe in my job, something that hugely contributes to overall good mental health. But this didn’t happen by accident or overnight. For me the thing that has significantly impacted my mental health is coaching, and I wanted to share why.
How I got started with coaching
If you’ve watched some of my videos or been following this blog for a while then you will know that my journey with mental health has been a long one. I went to therapy when I was younger and definitely benefited from it. In fact for a while I viewed it as the only solution to my mental health issues. But in 2015 a friend of mine mentioned she had started coaching and I was curious. As it turned out, her coach was looking for other “guinea pig” clients and that’s how it all began!
What were my goals?
I had absolutely none to start with, that’s the honest truth! I wanted to know what coaching was all about and find out if perhaps I could become one some day. I told my coach that I was generally happy in life and there was nothing wrong, but that I felt like life was just happening to me and I wanted to be more in control of. I remember saying that I wasn’t one of those people with a 5 or 10 year plan and I felt like I was sort of just floating through life.
One of the first exercises we did (inspired by The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People) was to imagine what I would want people to say about me at my retirement party. From that we started to identify character traits of mine, or my aspirations, and further down the line my values. It helped me to start thinking more purposefully about the things that mattered to me in life, and those that gave me energy. I remember my coach telling me I was creative and I was really surprised by that at the time, whereas now it’s a no brainer for me.
Early phase and initial changes
There’s way too much to be said about this initial phase than will fit in a blog post, so I will try and keep it short. The most important thing to know about that time is that I was deeply unhappy in my job.
- I was extremely anxious
- Burning out frequently
- Deeply emotionally invested in my job
- A relentless perfectionist
- I had very weak boundaries
- I was still rebuilding my self confidence after the first 1.5 years of damage done by working on a particular project
Working with my coach over 3 years, I learned a lot of things about myself and how to cope with this harsh environment I was in. As an example, the way I am able to describe how I was represents things I learned through that process. It allowed me to open my eyes to just how emotionally invested I was, how I was beating myself up, how part of my burnouts were due to things I was doing to myself… There’s nothing like a bit of distance and awareness to help you realize what’s happening and how you can start to bring about change.
Eventually through this process I discovered my values and took steps to become more closely aligned with them. I learned how to distance myself from my job, not take things so personally, not beat myself up and let go of the things I couldn’t control. I think I became way more relaxed and laid back about life than I was before. Thanks to all of this I decided my time in Geneva was over and I was ready to start a new chapter of my life.
This particular part of my coaching journey is the one that helped me the most with my mental health. Thanks to everything I just described, my anxiety substantially decreased, my satisfaction increased and overall my quality of life improved.
Second coach, deeper layers of work
When I arrived in Amsterdam I was lucky to still be able to call on my first coach and I definitely needed his help. Moving to a new country where you don’t know anyone is destabilizing, not to mention everything happened very fast. The thing I had to adapt to most was no longer working in a toxic environment and realizing certain behaviours I’d learned weren’t serving me anymore. It was very unsettling and perhaps a little bit of an identity crisis. 😉
I wouldn’t say life in Amsterdam was plain sailing, I definitely went through my fair share of uncertainty. But I also felt ready to tackle a new topic: relationships. Something I hadn’t yet looked into but hadn’t had the head space for either. For this topic I decided to work with a new coach: a woman, because it felt more comfortable. That wasn’t the only reason though, my other coach had moved back to New Zealand and just like with a therapist, I felt it was time to be challenged by a different person who didn’t know me yet.
In this phase I continued to learn more about myself and go even deeper into the layers of my personality. Ok bear with me, I know that sounds whacky, woke, woowoo, whatever… But to be honest understanding how I behaved the way I did, unpicking old relationships and understanding the fears I had, had a lot to do with understanding my childhood behaviours and ideas I had learned. As with any coaching, this unlocked the doors to understanding my behaviours in general because everything we do is somehow related and connected.
Although the topic I had chosen was relationships, we also talked about other things going on in my life and situations I was navigating. For example being in lockdown with two room mates and the 3 of us having totally different opinions about Covid.Or my job and certain frustrations I had, or things I wanted to accomplish but wasn’t sure how to get there. For me the key thing in coaching is continuing to develop self-awareness and tools to help yourself move forward in life. Rather have someone else tell you what to do or focus on the events of your past, coaching helps you figure it out for yourself.
Third coach: coming full circle
At a certain point there were some topics around relationships I felt I needed to dive into even deeper. For that I decided to work with an amazing female empowerment coach whose entire focus is on helping women feel more confident, in touch with themselves and empowered. She actually used a mix of meditation, therapy, embodiment and coaching techniques.
I feel like I really peeled back the layers and healed some things that had been blocking me for a while. I also feel like I saw certain patterns and behaviours more clearly than ever before, and I could recognize how my past and certain parts of my childhood had really affected my behaviour. And just like with my previous coach, just because we focused on relationships doesn’t mean to say this didn’t have an impact on the rest of my life. On the contrary, behaviours learned through childhood have a deep impact on all aspects of our lives.
Coaching adventure: what next?
My coaching journey isn’t over, I still see it as a tool I can use and people I can call upon to help me navigate certain areas of my life or challenges I am experiencing at any given time. At the moment I don’t feel the need but I will most definitely go back to it.
Most importantly over the years coaching has taught me:
- To know myself better
- Be more in touch with who I am and live more fully as that person
- Know what my values are and live in alignment with them
- To make decisions based on my values
- To feel in control of my life, empowered to make decisions that contribute to my happiness
For example the fact that today I have a job I like, in an environment where I feel safe and supported contributes massively to the fact that my mental health is generally stable. But it all happened thanks to the work I’ve been doing since 2016. Every step I took and decision I made lead me to that moment. I know that sounds crazy and might be difficult to believe but that’s the truth. Today I feel enabled to live my best life, and constantly make small decisions that contribute to my overall happiness.
I have experienced many things and situations where I cannot believe this is happening to me, pinch me moments! I love my life and the best thing is: I created it! If I look at the things I’ve been able to do such as buy my own home, travel extensively, attend amazing events and continue to pursue my passion with dance: nowadays most of that is a direct result of my experience with coaching. Thinking back to the person I was when I started coaching, I would never have been able to achieve all of this. It’s only the personal growth that made it possible!
Thank you to my amazing coaches
Please reach out to them if you’re interested in working with them:
- John Dyer based in New Zealand
- Jacinta Noonan based in the Netherlands
- Asti Maree based in Australia