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Using Positive and Negative Emotional Attractors in Your Coaching Model

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How to Use Positive and Negative Emotional Attractors With Your Coaching Clients

Personal visions have a long history in coaching and form the backbone of our work done with clients. For a client to reach holistic goals, there has to be a clear vision, and yet holism itself implies more than a single facet of our client. But getting to our client’s vision is so coveted, that it is a model used in other health, fitness, and wellness settings.

The Importance of Your Client’s Vision

When a personal trainer works with a client, is it even possible to reach an ideal fitness outcome without a vision? Yet only recently has the coaching industry explored new ways to get at a client’s vision. Modern coaching models resolve this. Therefore, our coaching model requires that we build upon our personal vision while coaching with our clients.

Many coaches currently in practice already know the importance of vision. For our client, it’s everything. Their dreams, their goals, and even their wellness. We also need to see what the client sees in themselves and how they see themselves viewed by others. We ask clients to look ahead at their ‘ideal self” and describe it, visually. In fact, the virtual reality and augmented reality fields are taking the aspect of vision and using it as a model for how the two can be applied in coaching.

Until we have such incredible technology everywhere, we will look at fusing the art of coaching with a little science and the tried and true method of conversation with our clients to learn all we can about them. Remember, we champion their strengths and minimize discussion of their weaknesses or shortcomings.

Positive Emotional Attractor vs Negative Emotional Attractor

Now it is time for us to introduce a theoretical perspective to coaching and our coaching model of actions that acknowledge the existence of two different states in which a client may find themselves when engaging in the creation of a personal vision: the Positive Emotional Attractor (PEA) and the Negative Emotional Attractor (NEA).

The use of the term attractor needs to be defined.

As coaches, we talk to clients and formulate goals. When we’re in the process of doing this, we often ask clients questions to draw out a vision of what they see – or what they’d like to see. Vision also gives the client a manner in which to communicate what they are thinking or maybe want to state – but in visual form. Vision is a significant part of health, fitness, and wellness coaching, as there is usually an aesthetic component to a goal; for goals decidedly less physical (personal goals), vision contributes in a couple of ways. We can try to learn what our client “sees” in their vision; we can also create a vision to aspire toward.

Consider the same personal trainer we described previously, asking a client to describe what their end goals and “ideal self” would look like. It’s powerful for the connection it creates between the coach and client; it’s also powerful for the client, as it allows them to visualize an aspect of their life they may have never envisioned. When done properly, a client could easily find that they are saying things for the first time. This is the level of intensity and interaction that we want with each client.

In this process of vision, we also have to find out two very important parts of the holistic puzzle:

What is most important to the client? What does this important item mean to the client?

The client may come to a coach in crisis, needing help with a health issue; they may use the coach to define ways to live healthily or, more healthily. While this is important, it is not enough. We also have to know what the client means by “living healthy”.

When we explore these two puzzle pieces, we typically saw that our client cites an influence on their priorities and decisions (importance) on a leader, mentor, or simply a parent. It could be an instructor or a coach. In the examples used, your client is most likely going to recall people who may have invoked change in the client previously, creating aspirations for what they see as their ideal self and these pieces come together to create one’s personal vision.

Another example a client might cite as influential is a person who believed in them trusted them and supported them. This person may have also instilled certain confidence in our client, and if maintained at a balanced level (not over-confident) then these too, are seen as positive attractors.

For your client, this attractor is influential, invoking thoughts, instilling beliefs, and influencing behaviors. When positive, they become a type of endorsement for our clients by building up the client’s strengths.

The combination of invoking the part of a vision and acknowledging our client’s strengths in the process of activating or arousing positive emotional attractors using AI. This is one way to resolve the problem seen in coaching whereby our client fails to change a health habit toward a holistic lifestyle. Have we successfully engaged our clients to acknowledge their own personal strengths (power), curiosity, and imagination? We never want to impose our often well-meaning will upon our clients. We think “why can’t they just change?”

At times offering facts and expert advice, coaches using this model are not fostering change or self-development. This creates other problems in the coaching dynamic; it doesn’t allow for the client to own their own goals and it usually makes the coach feel more responsible for the change effort. It also implies that the coach can “fix” the client and when approached from this perspective, the results are rarely positive.

So we build our clients up, and we boost their self-esteem, confidence, and worth by keeping the approach positive. But let us define things one step further: the difference between the Positive and Negative Emotional Attractors is that they are two very different states and when our client is in a positive flow, their parasympathetic nervous system is dominating in the following ways:

While we are working toward building positive attributes within your client, we have to sometimes work around obstacles and barriers. We might consider these Negative Emotional Attractors. Awareness of these NEAs is useful to know about in the earlier stages of coaching, allowing you to plan or strategize around them.

These two primary states are unique in that as attractors, each is then characterized by three dimensions:

  1. Positive vs. Negative Emotional Arousal
  2. Endocrine arousal of the parasympathetic nervous system versus the sympathetic nervous system.
  3. Neurological activation of the default mode network versus the task-positive network.

What does all of this mean? This is really all of the science we will discuss – but it is required for us to know the roots of the Positive and Negative Emotional Attractor states. For coaches who are trying to extract information (perhaps about the client’s vision), arousing the PEA is critical when creating or affirming a personal vision.

Examples to appreciate within your client include a sense of one’s purpose and ideal self; both are congruent with PEA. Therefore, we now look to advance our coaching model forward by learning the practical implications of the theory. In other words, this act of mining or fishing for client ‘positives’ will be a better frame for what comes next – the challenge of transforming oneself holistically.

For a couple of decades, the coaching profession has realized the need to master helping clients to create a vision; this also has been shown to motivate clients to action and inspires them to reach beyond their current state or maintain the status quo.

In therapeutic settings, a counselor might search for antecedents and consequences of vision, but since these are more elusive components, we can focus simply more on what the vision is. Not what created it, not what influenced it. We go with the thinking that “it is what it is”. It would help our profession if we all agreed upon the definition and even the concept of vision; we do not fully understand all the underlying mechanisms that influence how a client arrives at an effective and meaningful vision. As coaches, we have to understand the importance and impact of a personal and shared vision.

Repowering Your Coaching Strategy

Coaches can re-power their coaching strategies by becoming aware of both the existence and critical role of these two fascinating psycho-physiological states (positive and negative emotional attractors) which appear to be intricately involved in the creation and realization of a personal vision for your client.

The Positive and Negative Emotional Attractors concept we are exploring is one of the first theories that allow us to bring together, and integrate, early work from health professionals and coaches on emotions and the self with recent advances in physiological measurement and neurological activity. In this manner, we can no longer simply say “the art of coaching,” but we must add “the art and science of coaching.”

But there is more, as this scientific perspective reveals the underlying mechanism of the visioning process itself and sheds light on how elements of the process of arriving at a vision consequently impact the content of the vision. We also know from existing research that all of this impacts the effectiveness of that vision becoming reality for your client.

In our holistic model, there are three coachable facets of vision, the first being that a personal vision based on an ideal self is required if the vision is to lead to sustained and desired change. For our client to create a personal vision based on an ideal self, a person must be dominant in the PEAs.  Lastly, the NEA is required to move a client from vision to action, a client must spend significantly more time in the PEA mode in order to achieve sustained desired change.

Vision and Positive and Negative Attractors – Contents and Process of Vision

Our client’s visions are generally developed to create motivation so that there can be movement or transition from one’s current state to the desired end state and ideal outcome. One theory rooted in psychological thought is the Regulatory Focus Theory, which proposes two different ways in which a person may approach an ideal state – either through a “promotion focus” or, a “prevention focus”. We are looking at a time in our client’s life when they are faced with a discrepancy between a current state and an ideal state; some have proposed that this could be ‘gap coaching’. We want to recognize where our client presents themselves. Generally, a client with a promotion focus will be motivated to make changes based on concerns with advancement, growth, and accomplishment. Alternatively, a client with a prevention focus will be motivated to approach the desired end state based on concerns related to protection, safety, and responsibility and to avoid risks and danger. Your client who presents with a promotion focus experiences pleasure and pain as a result of the presence or absence of positive outcomes; individuals with a prevention focus experience pleasure and pain as a result of the presence or absence of negative outcomes.

Some health professionals have theorized that state behavior is more fluid within different individuals – and now some have proposed theories as to why they believe in this fluid nature of such an important human psychological determinant. One’s state can change but how it does so is just one complicating factor in understanding behaviors. We do not analyze, we do not treat or intervene on such a deep level. What we will do instead is apply the understanding of the two dimensions.

The client who regulates their state using a promotion focus is aroused by a focus on nurturance, strong ideals, and “gain/no-gain” situations can be contrasted with one that focuses on security needs, strong “oughts” (explained upcoming), and “non-loss/loss” situations arouse a prevention focus. Based on this, visions that are founded on nurturance needs, strong ideals, and “gain/no-gain” situations will elicit a promotion focus while visions founded on security needs; strong “ought’s,” and “non-loss/loss” situations will elicit a prevention focus. Thus, the basis of a vision becomes a critical variable in influencing the regulatory state that will drive the individual toward their vision.

Getting at our Client’s True Self

For best results with your client understand that an ideal self and the ought self are important factors that have to be sorted out within our clients’ states to be successful as their coach. It is also the pathway that best supports the idea that a vision is needed to reach and sustain desired change.  To tap into the powerful client strengths, coaches would need to elicit a promotion focus. This occurs more easily when client states are based on an ideal self rather than an ought self when developing a personal vision.

At the core of our concept of vision is that the desired images of the future, or a hoped-for future, help create, or remind us about their sense of purpose. The two dimensions work together. Deeper than goals or strategies, vision can provide a sense of mission, and best of all, it is determined by your client. This sense of purpose has been shown to help with supporting a vision toward a desired positive outcome as well. Furthermore, coaches are beginning to see great value in assessing our client’s sense of purpose, overall. When viewed as part of a personal vision, or ideal self, coaches see one’s perspectives and sense of purpose have become significant predictors of client engagement and commitment.

We really need to work hard as coaches to get this right; to understand the science, to apply it to our client and to use everything we know to make our coaching delivery. Powerful coaching strategies can be deployed to help clients find direction and purpose through vision. A leader emphasizing vision elicits more adaptability and openness in the coach/client relationship. For example, aspiring to help others and promoting health can be an inspiring vision for those who practice in our complementary sector, Holistic medicine.

Invoking the Desired Image in Your Client’s Future

Most clients will need to do some work before getting a clear vision. We have to pull it from them with good questions and rapport.

As a side note, it’s important to remember the difference between our client’s vision(s) being different than their goals.  Think of it this way: some healthcare providers claim that their desire is to provide the best healthcare possible, but this turns out to really be more of a goal than a vision.  The steps to the client’s vision include the goal to bring the client forward into a holistic lifestyle. The goals bring our clients to their vision.

The Contents of Visions: Ideal Self Versus Ought Self

This is where things get a little deep; the ideal self that we will now explore is not concerned with negative possible selves, but rather a version of a future self that is consistent with our client’s core values, aspirations, and also inspiration. The focus is on the ‘ideal’ rather than the ‘probable.’ In this regard, the ideal self as we see it is perhaps an imagined self that represents a variety of conscious and unconscious desired states, aspirations,  and values. However, one major theoretical distinction between Positive and Negative Emotional Attractors and the promotion/ prevention focus we’ve described is that we do not consider “goals” a part of the PEA state.

Distinguishing between Ideal and Ought Self

For the purpose of this lesson, we will define the ideal self as a psychological component of the self that is partially conscious and partially unconscious and is both privately conceptualized and socially influenced.

Our client’s ideal self is comprised of three main components:

An image of the desired future that is emotionally fueled by hope, and a reflection of one’s core. The manifestation of the ideal self is a personal vision that articulates a person’s dreams, aspirations, and fantasies.

The deep and fundamental alignment of the ideal self with a client’s core identity, values, goals, and aspirations enables the arousal of hope and efficacy, without which positive emotion would not be manifested and a person would not be in the PEA.

The ought self is someone else’s desire or interpretation of what a person’s ideal self should be. While it is possible that a person’s ought self and ideal self are not in conflict, our experience suggests that this is a rare occurrence. Many coaches believe that working toward an ought self will lead to feelings of betrayal, frustration, and anger as a result of realizing that time and energy were wasted in pursuit of dreams and expectations that our client was maybe never passionate about. As a client’s core identity changes in the proper way, the ought self aligns with the ideal self, reconciling any conflict between the two. We start to believe in the ought self. While This complex situation is a rare occurrence, but it does highlight the intricate relationship between ideal and ought selves and the difficulty that many coaches and clients experience when trying to separate the two.

The Ideal Self and a Personal Vision

As coaches, we are our best when we orchestrate the elements of that special relationship that help us work closely with others to engage in a desired change or change.  How we help our client move through this part of the process is what helps our client with the sustainable portion of the desired change.  In coaching dialogues with clients, we continue to ask questions about what helps us move our clients from one state to the other. With good questions, we come to see the client’s two states (Positive and Negative Emotional Attractor) and the “tipping points“ between the two. This might be seen as a ‘gap’; it could also be seen as an area of unexplored territory for the client. Maybe they’ve never been guided by a coach in this manner before. We have to use caution to remember how powerful we are as coaches during this time.

If we don’t bring forward the tipping points that move our client toward positive emotional attractors, we may end up draining the client of the energy needed for the client to move forward. We have to get our clients aligned with positive emotional attractors as the dominant sense or feeling they have during your conversations.  With experience, you will see that you can also help your client to open up by getting into the negative emotional attractors and then cycling back to PEA mode as we prepare for the client to make changes to support a holistic lifestyle.

Another stage of discovery in our client – the real self – relates to how we come across to others. This is not easy for our clients to see because people around them may provide cues to the different “selves” that they have come to know. This is akin to how people feed off of each other‘s energy. But the truth is, we all have multiple “selves“. Think about all of the different roles we play in life; you could have a client who is a mother, or a director of believes in the vision, mission, goals, and hopes of the client but self-confidence taken to an extreme can become arrogance.

Some holistic coaches have become interested in coaching due to personal experiences – successful attempts – and this propels them to want to now help others. This is a great situation, it is a lot like someone who loses weight and feels that they have something to offer another person trying to do the same thing. So some of us have “been there” so to speak. What this also implies is that during this process of being successful in their own transformations, there is a constant state of assessment occurring. You evaluate yourself, you reflect on what’s working and you map tour strategies out to a successful outcome. Now, you feel you can do this for a client. But the assessments you put yourself through are now what you will do with your client. Now, try to understand that this was just one strategy – and you will probably not use the same coaching plans twice as a holistic coach. You will assess the client for your own coach work with them, which is not to be shaped by your own changes. Your client is also coached to assess themselves as part of the coaching process.

This can be done by questionnaire, conversation, or when applicable, online via Skype, Zoom, or  FaceTime. Any coaching skills you already know can be used but they most likely need to be modified to be relevant for your client. As you coach your clients ask yourself “are we on the right track with our goals and vision in mind?”. This is an informal assessment of your coach/client strategies and really, even your relationship with the client.

If your client has no physical needs as part of their coaching strategy, online sessions may be an option for both parties to explore. Obviously, if strategies like bodywork are used, this requires an in-person presence.

Meanwhile, we work to develop a personal vision based on an ideal self results in a promotion focus, thus individuals are motivated to approach situations that are congruent with their personal vision and avoid those that are not.  The ideal self is concerned with growth, ideals, hope, and congruence in harmony with one’s values – the three variables attributed to a promotion focus, with the exception of goals and ambition. In contrast, personal visions that are based on an individual’s ought self are based on security needs and non-loss situations.

In contrast, those coaching around the NEA (which we later propose is a likely consequence of an ought self-vision) might present an ‘attentive-alert’ state, indicative of the vigilant avoidance state of a prevention orientation. This is not where we want our clients to be, we have to work to keep them from going toward their NEA sensibilities. The relevance of the prevention and promotion focus is that in order for a vision to be effective – that is, lead to sustained and desired change – it must be based on an ideal self rather than an ought self. We can not emphasize this point enough.

While a prevention focus might spur a client to action to achieve short-term outcomes, any behavioral change approached from a loss/non-loss situation is unlikely to be maintained in the long term. It seems ironic that change actually requires a willingness to ‘lose’ a current state in order to move to a new,  desired state.  In other words, if we approach holistic change with a prevention focus, at best we will help a client to maintain the ‘good’ but we will not move them beyond it.

One key enabler of the motivation gained from the ideal self is efficacy and hope. Efficacy is derived from the fundamental alignment of the person’s core identity with their ideal self and manifest vision. This could also be termed the ‘internalization’ of the vision. This core and fundamental alignment do not occur when a vision is based on an ought self, as the ought self is reflective of someone else’s perception of your client’s identity and values rather than their actual identity and values. Without the fundamental motivational drivers of efficacy and hope, a vision is unlikely to lead to sustained and desired change.

Where Can You Learn More?

Spencer Institute and NESTA are here to guide each step of the process. Be sure you take advantage of our course, programs, CEUs, and career training opportunities.

Be on the lookout for future articles about more ways to get an endless stream of clients for your training or coaching business. You will also want to search through the archives of our blog because there are many other articles that go into great depth about dozens of other ways to get clients. Here are a few for you to checkout now:

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