Written by: Kevin Cann
I am always striving to learn more or be a better coach. I am constantly reading research, textbooks, and asking my fellow coaches questions. I learn everything I can about my field (movement science and nutrition). I also try to learn as much as possible about ways to get this knowledge across to clients to make them buy in and actually be successful in my science based programs.
We can learn a lot from our clients about what works and what does not. One of my clients happens to be a coach and a pretty smart dude. We have quite a few conversations about successful coaching. Recently he told me about appreciative inquiry (AI). After hearing his explanation I felt like this was worth digging into.
AI is a model of creating behavioral change, specifically organizational behavior. It was developed in 1987 by David Cooperrider and Suresh Srivastva. They felt the current solutions to problem solving was inadequate due to its primary focus being on the problem.
AI is a system that focuses on creating higher potential by focusing on the positive instead of the problem. This is how it was explained to me; say we have a client instituting major changes in their lifestyle. This can include a nutritional plan and exercise program. Instead of focusing on the problem that may hold them back and coming up on a solution, we ask them what they have done in the past that is similar and how did they go about accomplishing the change.
This makes sense to me as many people respond more favorably to positive reinforcement. By tapping into past positive experiences you can give rise to an increase in intrinsic motivation. The client can begin to truly believe that they can conquer their goals.
There are 5 principles in the AI model:
1. The constructionist principle- This principle states that what we believe ultimately leads to what we do. AI attempts to stimulate new ideas and beliefs to generate more positive outcomes.
2. The principle of simultaneity- This principle explains the importance of the very first questions asked. It is important that these questions bring out people’s passion because with passion comes greater discussion.
3. The poetic principle- This principle explains that people’s stories build the organizational environment by tapping into everyone’s emotions. Words and topics chosen should be those that inspire people and draw on the positive emotions.
4. The anticipatory principle- This principle states that what we do today is guided by our thoughts about the future. AI uses positive imagery to help make those future outcomes look like something worth working hard for in the present.
5. The positive principle- This principle focuses on the belief that sustainable change requires positive momentum.
After reading these principles and digesting the information a bit, I can relate to the majority of these. I have been in negative environments where everyone in the entire group fed off of one another’s negativity. I have convinced myself not to do something in the present because it would not change my future outcomes when I did not know that for sure.
Even if AI does not work to create sustainable change, we are more likely to have the tools to think more positively and not let the negative drag us down. There are a lot of positives that come from this type of thinking in terms of our health and wellness.
AI argues that this positive thinking is beneficial in a large setting as well. They argue that the focus on problems and solving them can lead to a negative environment over time. Basically, always focusing on negative things makes everyone negative.
I have seen this to be true from an individual perspective, so it makes sense to me to be true on a larger scale. Ever have those negative thoughts that just continually race through your mind and negatively affect your sleep and mood?
Our main job as coaches is to set people up for success. Many of my clients are overweight and have negative feelings about themselves and their ability to obtain the success that they truly want. Perhaps a switch in focus to more positive imagery and emotions can help increase their ability to say no to that processed junk food that will entice them at some point during the change.
Instead of thinking “Oh well I should just eat this because I fail all of the time” they can be thinking about the things that they will be able to accomplish by being more healthy. Currently I tell them not to harp on it and pick it up at the next meal. Basically, just move on. Perhaps if I approach the client differently from the start they can have greater success in saying no.
The continued push for positive thinking may help people get away from using food as an emotional crutch. Let’s face it, if we are always negative we are going to be more apt to reach for that favorite treat of ours.
Now when a client says that change will be hard and I am not sure I will be able to do it, I am going to change my approach with them. I will ask them about another tough situation in their life that they were able to get through with hard work. I will make sure when they check in that I focus on the positive things that they have achieved, no matter how small, and I will give them the tools to seek out and/or create more positive environments.
Hopefully this leads to greater long term success for my clients as well as makes me a better coach.