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In coaching settings, it can be extremely helpful to work from a theoretical framework or model. These can be used to guide clients through their thought process and to explore the various aspects of the model and how they relate to the client’s experience, which leads to deeper insights and a more focused approach.
Making the transition from theory to practice, however, is not always easy, so this article offers three hands-on suggestions for using a key model from positive psychology in life coaching.
Most positive psychology enthusiasts will know the key ingredients to happiness and subjective well-being. In his book Flourish (2011), Martin Seligman’s PERMA model describes five factors that have been shown to be particularly important: Positive Emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, and Accomplishment. This is a theory of well-being, an evolution of Seligmann’s (2002) theory of Authentic Happiness.
So how can this particular model be used in a coaching context? Three ideas come to mind.
(1) Clarify the coaching topic
The first step of a coaching process, particularly in systemic coaching, is to define the coaching topic. Often when clients come to a life coaching session, they have a general idea of what they want to work on or improve, but the specifics are unclear.
The coach needs to have an exploratory conversation with the client. This is where a model such as PERMA can be useful. After a short introduction to the model, the client can talk about or visualize which areas of the model they are satisfied with, and which areas they feel they need to work on.
(2) Develop coaching questions
Coaching questions to guide the conversation can be derived from the PERMA model.
For instance, it could be helpful for the client to consider their position on a ten-point scale for each of the five factors. Coaching success can be measured by asking the client to rate each factor again after discussing each topic.
The coach could also ask questions relating to each of the five areas, for example:
“To what extent do you currently experience positive emotions?” “What activities give you pleasure in life/make you feel good?”
“During which activities do you lose track of time?”
“To what extent are you doing things today that are valuable and worthwhile to you?”
“What activity would you pursue even if you didn’t win/earn/succeed in it?” “What do you enjoy doing just for the sake of it?”
“How would you describe your relationships with other people?” “Which are your most important relationships and why?”
Of course, depending on the phase of the coaching process, questions would initially be more exploratory and then more solution-oriented later on.
(3) Use supplementary PP exercises
At all points of the process, additional exercises from positive psychology relating to PERMA can support and further deepen the learning while supporting the change experience. For example, gratitude exercises can act as a self-reinforcing tool for positive emotions. Taking the VIA survey allows clients to better understand their signature strengths and help them develop flow and meaning in their lives. The kindness exercise (an unexpected act of kindness makes the “giver” and the receiver feel good) can help increase positive relationship experiences.
To summarize, working within the framework of a tried and tested, research-based model such as PERMA can enhance the quality of a coaching session in various ways.
What PP models do you use in your daily work as a PP practitioner?
We’d love to hear from you in the comments section below.
This article was written by Sarah Battey.
Sarah left a corporate career in Human Resources last year to pursue her dream of helping others develop themselves and their unique talents.
Today Sarah works as an independent coach, trainer, and consultant at www.all-about-talent.net.
Along the way she discovered her passion for Positive Psychology and is thrilled to be able to integrate tools & knowledge from PP research into her everyday work to the benefit of her clients.
Seligmann, M. (2011): Flourish. New York: Free PressSeligmann, M. (2002): Authentic Happiness. New York: Free Press