Karen Nathan by Karen Nathan

I love my career as a health coach, but it’s not always smooth sailing. As with anything in life, some days are better than others, but exactly what makes the difference between a satisfying and a disappointing day?

A satisfying day is one that is well-paced with clients and filled with transformative conversations about health-behavior change. Those days are fulfilling, but not overscheduled. My clients come to their appointments ready to talk about and plan for lifestyle improvements, such as weight management or smoking cessation.

A disappointing day might include an afternoon lost to last-minute cancellations, clients seemingly resistant to what I believe to be reasonable advice, a sense that I’m working harder than a client on his or her stated health goals, or perhaps receiving a bill for a marketing campaign that yielded lackluster results.

I have many more satisfying days than disappointing ones, but this doesn’t happen by accident. Following the advice I give to clients, I must be consistently willing to reflect on my challenges and experiment with possible improvements.

Here are my secrets for a satisfying work day as a health coach:

Be fully present with each client. 

For me, this means allowing enough time between clients to clear my head, complete a few administrative tasks and prepare for the next appointment. Early in my career, this might have taken 30 minutes, and now it’s closer to 10 minutes. I silence my office phone and other electronic devices, and I ask my clients to do the same. By reducing the distractions of modern technology, we prioritize the conversation and strengthen the coach-client rapport.

Work as hard, but not harder than, your client. 

If you’re noticing that you care more about a particular lifestyle modification than your clients do, this is a clue that the aspiration for a particular behavior change is more yours than theirs. As much as possible, allow your client to lead the discussion. Over time and with practice, I’ve learned to keep the client focused, while also giving him or her an opportunity to articulate how to carry out a stated health goal. I discovered that when I back off, the client ends up being more creative and solution-oriented.

Secure your own oxygen mask before helping others with theirs. 

In my case, this might mean taking time during the day to go for a walk with a friend, attend my favorite exercise class at the gym, or go food shopping so that I can cook a nutritious dinner at the end of the day. Early in my career I might have sacrificed the workout or trip to the market, but this can lead to feelings of resentment or burnout. I want to keep coaching for the long term, so I must prioritize my personal needs, when necessary.

Accept business mistakes as part of building a business. 

I don’t expect my clients to cruise smoothly toward weight loss or freedom from nicotine addiction. Having ups and downs is a normal and expected part of the process. I remind myself that a thriving health-coaching practice includes bumpy moments, too. Although I might feel discouraged, I must pick myself up and try again. When my advertising campaign in a local newspaper scarcely created any interest, I developed a new strategy. This time, I spent my marketing dollars on a full-color postcard that area physicians could hand to their patients, a strategy that resulted in both increased awareness of my services and new clients.

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