Mindfulness training for coaches: enabling self-regulation and agency in coaching

Mindfulness training for coaches: enabling self-regulation and agency in coaching

dandelion seeds

26 May 2023

Eike Tischer, a member of the Coaching Psychology Special Interest Group and a qualified mindfulness teacher, shares key findings from her master’s dissertation.

In my previous two posts, I discussed how mindfulness practice can support coaches in focusing their attention and in creating mindful awareness in coaching. These aspects have the potential to positively affect coaches’ competencies, such as presence, client rapport and attunement, and their active listening skills. As a result, mindfulness can not only enhance the coaching interactions but also the coaching outcomes.

This post highlights how the cultivation of mindful awareness with mindful attitudes can enable self-regulation and agency in coaching. The presented information is based on published research and my own study, which explored the impact of mindfulness training on coaches and their coaching practice.

Mindful awareness as an enabler of self-regulation and agency in coaching

My research demonstrates that mindfulness practice supports coaches in noticing more about their own mental and physical processes, and also in observing more details about their coachees. This awareness can be helpful in identifying distractions, as well as unhelpful thoughts or sensory reactions that may negatively impact the coaching relationship.

According to my study, greater self-awareness allowed the coaches to observe mental distractions, which one referred to as the ‘monkey mind’. For example, the coaches were distracted by impatiently thinking ahead to the next question, or by their desire to interrupt their coachee and offer advice. This is something most of us experience from time to time. By noticing these mental habits, we have a chance to self-regulate by focusing our attention and responding mindfully to these urges.

The coaches also observed assumptive or judgmental thoughts about their coachees. These can be accompanied by adverse physical reactions, such as a sense of discomfort in the presence of a coachee. These reactions could be based on deep underlying biases and socio-cultural stereotyping, which many of us may have encountered before. Recognising them is the first step in regulating habitual responses and subconscious processes such as projection or countertransference. By choosing an open and non-judgmental coaching approach, we can provide a safe and inclusive space for our coachees, which is particularly important for the exploration of sensitive topics.

The study findings illustrate that greater sensory awareness also enabled the coaches to regulate emotional responses to their coachee’s issues. In their feedback, some coaches explained that instead of being ‘carried away’ by someone’s distress, they were ‘holding the space’ by allowing present moment experience to naturally unfold, while also setting self-protective emotional boundaries. This enabled their coachees to take more ownership of the session agenda and outcomes.

As such, greater awareness is a pre-condition for mental, emotional and physical self-regulation. It provides the coach with an opportunity to consciously change their own behaviour, and create space for their coachee’s agency and autonomy. These effects are further enhanced by the application of mindful attitudes.

Cultivating mindful attitudes in coaching

Mindful attitudes are an integral part of mindful awareness and determine how coaches pay attention, and how they deal with their present moment experiences. These attitudes are similar to coaching qualities such as openness, curiosity and non-judgment (Hall, 2013). For example, being present in coaching is not simply a physical presence but an intentional encounter with the attitudes of openness and non-judging (Geller and Greenberg, 2002). While these attitudes seem self-explanatory, I would like to draw attention to the meaning of openness and non-judgment.

When talking about being open to an experience, mindfulness scholars (Kabat-Zinn, 1990) refer to the ‘beginner’s mind’. This involves recognising that we often bring so many beliefs and assumptions to present moment experience that we can’t see things or people for what they are. By considering ourselves as experts we leave no room for novelty and possibilities. In coaching, the beginner’s mind has transformative qualities as it allows coaches to be genuinely open for their coachees, which makes them feel seen and understood.

Non-judgment is an important and also challenging attitude. By paying attention to our minds, we may notice a constant stream of judgments. Most experiences are readily labelled with good or bad, like or dislike, want or don’t want. Being non-judgmental firstly means becoming aware of these opinions, and how they may put a filter on present moment experiences. This understanding is important for coaches as it can enable them to better discern their judgments from reality, leading to more authentic and inclusive coaching.

While most of us have a good theoretical understanding of these attitudes, my study findings show that we don’t always intentionally use them in coaching. For example, after attending the mindfulness training, several coaches mentioned that they were more aware of being assumptive about their coachees, and others noticed their own impatient or judgmental behaviour. The latter was not only directed towards their coachees but also towards themselves. The mindfulness training allowed them to consciously apply mindful attitudes in experiential practice: before and during each meditation they were reminded to bring attitudes of openness, curiosity and non-judgment to their experiences.

These experiential practices helped the coaches to consciously cultivate mindful attitudes and apply them more frequently in coaching. For example, when becoming aware of mental or physical reactions relating to a coachee, they were better able to respond with openness and curiosity. As a result, the coaches felt they were more ‘aware of difficult things in a non-judgmental way’ and learnt to be in a challenging coaching situation by ‘just allowing it’.

The study findings suggest that the intentional use of mindful attitudes can positively affect the coach, coaching interaction and also the coachee. Personally, I also recognise the value of experiential learning to support the adoption of mindful attitudes. Theoretical knowledge is simply not enough. Concurrently, Segal, Williams, and Teasdale (2013) explain that intellectual knowledge may be helpful but insist that mindfulness skills and attitudes can only be acquired through experiential practice. If you would like to learn more about mindful attitudes and how to apply them, I recommend Jon Kabat-Zinn’s inspirational talk, 9 Attitudes.


Mindfulness is well known for its ability to increase focus and awareness, which are important qualities in coaching. By becoming more aware of our self and others, we can notice mental processes and physical reactions that could be detrimental in the coaching process. Greater awareness therefore provides an opportunity for self-regulation and change. Deeply ingrained habitual patterns and subconscious processes can be interrupted and re-evaluated, and more skilful responses chosen. The application of mindful attitudes is imperative in this process of self-regulation and can contribute to a more open, non-judgmental and thereby inclusive coaching space.

For us coaches, experiential practices are an important tool in obtaining these mindfulness skills and an integration of such learning in coaching education and continuous professional development is recommended.

Blog series

Eike Tischer is sharing specific results from her research into coaching and mindfulness in a series of blog posts: Mindfulness training for coaches. Find the other posts below:

Taking control of the wandering mind (April 2023)
Raising mindful awareness of body and mind (May 2023)
Enabling self-regulation and agency (June 2023)
The importance of self-care and self-compassion (July 2023)

Eike Tischer

About Eike Tischer

Eike is a freelance business consultant, coach and co-founder of Oxford Coaching Partners. She supports her clients during times of uncertainty and change in their professional and/or personal life. Eike has a passion for wellbeing and regularly facilitates experiential coaching workshops and mindfulness training. She has a master’s degree in Coaching and Mentoring Practice, is an accredited EMCC senior practitioner, a licensed career counsellor and a qualified mindfulness teacher.

For further information about mindfulness programmes or workshops please contact: [email protected] or visit her LinkedIn profile, or find her at Oxford Coaching Partners.


Geller, S. M., & Greenberg, S. T. (2002). Therapeutic Presence: Therapists' experience of presence in the psychotherapy encounter. Person-Centred and Experiential Psychotherapies, 1, 71-85.

Hall, L. (2013) Mindful coaching : how mindfulness can transform coaching practice. London: Kogan Page Limited.

Kabat-Zinn, J. (1990) Full Catastrophe Living: how to cope with stress, pain and illness using mindfulness meditation. London: Piatkus Publishers.

Kabat-Zinn, J. (2015), 9 attitudes. Available at: https://youtu.be/2n7FOBFMvXg (Accessed: 18/05/2023).

Segal, Z. V., Williams, J. M. G. and Teasdale, J. D. (2013) Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for depression. 2nd edn. New York: Guilford Press.

Image by Herbert Goetsch on Unsplash