Exploring Appreciative Inquiry

In this episode, Lumia Coaching co-founders John Kim and Noelle Cordeaux discuss the science of appreciative inquiry as a coaching framework.

The Everything Life Coaching Podcast, featuring Lumia Coaching founders John Kim and Noelle Cordeaux, is a deep dive into the experience and business of being a life coach. Subscribe to get new episodes weekly!

Appreciative Inquiry for Coaches

Episode Transcript

John: Hi, I want to remind you if you enjoy our conversation to subscribe so you’ll be notified when new episodes come out. Today Noelle Cordeaux and I are going to talk about…

Noelle: We’re talking about appreciative inquiry and how to coach people towards happiness.

John: Wow. What does appreciative inquiry even mean? Those are big words.

Noelle: It is. Appreciative inquiry is one of the foundational concepts that we cover in our Catalyst Life Coaching Intensive and it is one of the oldest, most tried and true coaching techniques out there. It’s one of my personal favorites. It’s one that I love to work with. And it’s a technique that centers around discovering what is the best of someone’s life. What is their life force? What is life giving? And what fuels that person in a truly, truly authentic way?

John: So does that overlap positive psychology?

Noelle: It can. It does certainly, and that was where I was gonna go with it today, because as you know, that’s my jam.

John: Yes.

Noelle: But there’s a really beautiful metaphor that I think I’ve repeated a couple times over the last week because it’s just really stuck with me—that the same life force that causes new shoots of spring grass to pop out of the ground with green color also courses through every human. So however you define that—whether it’s God, or spirit, or just being, or existence—we all have this aspect to us that is an authentic life force.

John: Is that life force—does it need to be fed or it diminishes?

Noelle: Well what do you think?

John: I think it does because I think in some people I sense that force radiating—and I don’t know how much of it is actually personality or this thing that you’re talking about. And I think for many—and this is me included back in the day—it was very dim. At the most it was a pilot light when I was not happy.

Noelle: Yeah, 100%. And so why do people live in the negative? How does that work? From a brain functioning perspective, I would posit that if someone is living in the negative, if someone is always looking at what’s wrong in their life, that’s due to a couple different factors. So number one, there’s this thing called negativity bias, which is our evolutionary bent towards focusing on the negative aspects of life. And it’s actually really important, because the reason that we’re all alive today is our ancestors were really good at avoiding danger. So our brains and bodies are just naturally attuned to it, and then that triggers your nervous system, when you sense danger. So if you’re always looking at what’s wrong then you’re sending all these little signals to your brain of “danger, unhappiness, danger, unhappiness”, you’re just shooting cortisol everywhere and you’re literally creating a pessimistic lens through which you see the world.

John: Yeah, the invention of debt. Credit card debt has actually made people activate this worry and dread in our lifetime.

Noelle: Credit card debt. If you look at news cycles, billboards—everything around us actually mirrors negativity bias. The way the world is set up mirrors this evolutionary capacity.

John: Right.

Noelle: The good news is that whether credit card debt is something that you worry about or not, you have a very large degree of control of how you experience your lens. And the credit card debt could still exist, but you could have a completely different experience of life alongside of it.

John: And that’s where the power is, right?

Noelle: That’s where the power is. That is exactly where the power is.

John: So how would one do that?

Noelle: So I mean that really gets into okay what is life force? What is life-giving? How does this work? And it comes in a couple different directions. Of course, it’s really uniquely personal for every human, but there are some things that we just know to be true. So for example, negative emotions are really rapid and fast-acting. They course through your body very quickly and so they’re very noticeable.

John: Very reactive.

Noelle: Very reactive. Positive emotions are very slow moving. It’s almost like a pulsing, and that comes from your endocrine system. So it’s this slow pulsing of feel good hormones that are less noticeable nut they’re much longer-lasting over time. Why is that important? It’s important because when you consciously induce positive emotions—which is that which is life-giving—over time it builds almost a force field, a resiliency in your brain, and you actually change your lens from pessimistic to optimistic.

John: So this is something that has to be practiced right? This is like a muscle that has to be exercised.

Noelle: Mhmm. Yes, and I’m glad you brought up exercise, because there are so many different ways to induce these different brain chemicals. Exercise is literally one of them.

John: Yeah, I’m a huge believer in exercise and kind of going through that door to elevate mood. I think it’s the fastest way to kind of get out of your head and connect with your body. And also, exercise has exploded—in the 50’s and 60’s there was a lot of PT and stuff, but people weren’t exercising as a way of life.

Noelle: Absolutely, so exercise is one of the things that we call an applied positive intervention. So the goal of these applied positive interventions is to cause the endocrine system to start pumping and getting all these hormones to flood your body. So when you look at your credit card debt—so this is exactly how it works—you just talked about the feeling of credit card debt causing a sinking feeling, depression, despair, worry, whatever. That’s all true, but what we’re working against here is the impact of it. So you could look at your credit card debt and have a momentary sinking feeling of like, “Oh shit that sucks,” or it could tank your day, your week, your month. It could put you in a foul mood, disrupt your sleep, disrupt your relationships. And nothing has changed except for your outlook.

John: Yeah, absolutely. So a lot of people—I mean that’s what I call sinking. So it’s something like a credit card debt, or a breakup, or something happens in their life and instead of—you have to acknowledge it you can’t ignore it—but a lot of people allow that to be the beginning of them sinking into quicksand.

Noelle: Exactly. And so when we work on consistently producing positive emotions or positive interventions as a practice, as a habit, we change our brain chemistry so that we are more equipped to deal with the unpleasant things that just happen as part of life.

John: So do you think this is also why gratitude is so powerful?

Noelle: Yes. So gratitude is one of the positive emotions that has specific associated outcomes. So when you consistently induce gratitude, what it does is it strengthens social bonds and it strengthens your skill set for loving other humans.

John: How much of you think people that worry and their default is usually pessimism and hopelessness—how much of that do you think is from upbringing? How much is from maybe parents being that way?

Noelle: So, from a social constructionist perspective, it could be anything. We know that social contagion, we know that you take on the thoughts, feelings, and affects of those around you. So if you were raised in a family or raised in a household where everything is always terrible, there’s always a crisis, that’s gonna be your mode of operation.

John: Yeah, I mean I personally grew up in a household where it was always about—how much did we sell? How are we gonna pay? We always had hundreds of thousands of dollars in credit card debt. There was never any conversations about “How was your day?” or “Wasn’t it a beautiful day?”—it was always about this doom, and worry, and we have to survive, and we have to make x amount of money, and what are we gonna do? And I think as a 9, 10, 11 year old, that has like seeped into my skin. And so as an adult, I was a worry wart. Always.

Noelle: Yeah, yeah. Do you mind if I live coach you a little bit on this?

John: No, because I still am sometimes.

Noelle: Okay, one of the funny things is when you first said the question is “How much did we make?,” the first thing that I thought of, John, was me. That sounds like me week in and week out with our company, right?

John: Yeah, of course.

Noelle: But it’s a completely different experience, because my affect is light, and happy, and friendly.

John: Right.

Noelle: So what you just described with your family situation—and thank you for your vulnerability and sharing with our listeners, that’s really awesome of you to open up—is what a really fabulous example of the strength that your family has in your ancestral lineage of being survivors.

John: Ooh, so you are taking that situation and seeing the positive in it.

Noelle: 100%, because we just said that the negativity bias has an evolutionary purpose. The purpose of it is to keep us alive. So your family was freaking great at it.

John: Yeah, if you look at—they came here with $500 and didn’t speak English and just had to survive.

Noelle: Exactly. I mean hell yes—that’s like strength and bravery, courage, smart.

John: Sure.

Noelle: Survivorship in every single direction. So what you are made of is some really seriously strong stuff.

John: Okay, I love that.

Noelle: And when you’re in survival mode, it’s appropriate to be looking at the bottom line, to be looking at the scarcity, to be looking at how do we change this. Probably your parents, you, your family growing up would have also very much benefited from inducing positive emotions to bring more of the things that certainly existed, but maybe were a little less noticeable. So, as I was talking about how positive emotions are softer, they’re pulsing, they’re less noticeable.

John: Mhmm.

Noelle: Those were there, and accessible the whole time, but because the negative emotions are harder and fast-acting, that’s just what drew attention.

John: Mmm, right. Negative emotions also, if you’re not aware of them, can just become the knee-jerk. And then it creates a pattern and then that pattern deepens. So what you just did was you saw the positive in that, pulled out the strengths, and then after that what do you do? What’s the practice after that?

Noelle: What I did was I pulled on appreciative inquiry. So this is one of the big juxtapositions between coaching and therapy. So, if you were sitting in therapy right now and you gave that scenario to your therapist, that therapist might say “Let’s talk about your feelings. Let’s assess it. Let’s talk about what that was like for you as a child.” As a coach, I don’t wanna go there. I love you so much, but I don’t wanna hear about that.

John: Right.

Noelle: So I needed to get you into a strength space positive mindset.

John: Right.

Noelle: I needed for you to feel a sense of pride about your family, and I needed you to see that there was purpose there.

John: Right.

Noelle: And that even though it was a negative experience, in some way it was life-giving.

John: So then once you—and that was very helpful by the way—once you do that, then what do you do?

Noelle: Yeah, so you pull forward into the future what you need. So looking back with the positive reframe and everything that we talked about—about how strong your family was, how resilient, how brave, how capable—what from that do you want to take and carry with you into the future?

John: Okay, so like resiliency?

Noelle: Mhmm.

John: The knowing that with that mindset and how far they’ve come or what they’ve built with the little they had reassures me that I will be okay.

Noelle: Yes. So that’s hope right there. You just induced the positive emotion of hope. And that has a really specific associated emotional outcome. Do you know what it is? Resilience.

John: Resilience, okay got it.

Noelle: Resilience. So you just tapped down, looked back in time, pulled forward what you want to carry with you into the future. You induced a feeling of hope, and now the outcome that you will experience if you consistently induce hope is that you will build your emotional muscle with resilience.

John: You know I just had a thought—if people can learn this tool and then apply it to the people they love around them, what an amazing gift it would be.

Noelle: John I hate to break it to you, but we built a life coaching company to do just that.

John: Oh, perfect. Well now we don’t have to talk about it.

Noelle: I love you so much. That’s what we do, yeah.

John: Noelle, I just set you up. I threw you the ball and you hit that shit out of the park.

Noelle: I mean that’s the truth. So these are the coaching techniques that you learn in life coach training that you bring out into the world to serve yourself, others, your family, your friends. Let’s talk more about positive emotions and what we can do and how we can induce them, because this is good stuff.

John: Noelle’s laughing at me because she knows I was just stumbling into it, that that was by intention. But that’s okay, that’s how I roll. Yes, let’s talk a little more about it, because this is—you know what’s so great about this is just how practical it is. It’s not like “woo woo” stuff—it’s practical, it’s great.

Noelle: Yeah, so in relationships, it’s really important for each person—you have your containers theory right—it’s important for each person to have their own solid container. And part of that is for each partner in a relationship, or partners in a relationship or triad or constellation, to have their own interests and engagements out there in the world.

John: Mhmm.

Noelle: To have their own friends, to have their own sets of being, to have their own life. When you don’t have those things, on the negative sides of things, going into therapy land, that’s when enmeshment, that’s when there’s codependence.

John: Sure.

Noelle: That’s when there’s clinginess. So now looking at what do you want to bring forward into the future, interest and engagement actually triggers in our brains and bodies a desire to explore, and as an outcome, when you consistently induce interest and engagement, you gain knowledge and energy.

John: Yeah, that’s awesome. Interest and engagement—you mean when we’re talking about engaging with each other, correct?

Noelle: Interest and engagement in outside hobbies—being your own person.

John: Oh, right. Right, got it.

Noelle: Yeah, so many people—

John: I mean that’s just called living.

Noelle: You know it is called living, but when you really break it down, how many adults that you talk to are just like, “Oh god, I’m so tired”?

John: Because they just go work and then they come home and watch TV and go to sleep and go to work. They don’t participate in a lot of interests or they don’t engage.

Noelle: Exactly. So, if you up your interest and engagement, the outcome will be energy.

John: I love it. Ladies and gentlemen, positive inquiry, correct?

Noelle: No, appreciative.

John: Oh sorry. Appreciative inquiry. I like positive inquiry, but okay it’s called appreciative inquiry.

Noelle: We can start a new thing?

John: Like we always do. And also another reason to come ride with us and join the Catalyst Life Coaching Intensive, not only to be a life coach, but also start to live this way, start to rewire yourself and your brain, so your quality of life goes up.

Noelle: Yep. Do you want more life hacks with this stuff?

John: Let’s do one more.

Noelle: One more, okay. So, since I have been laughing and enjoying our time together so much today, amusement is a positive emotion that you can induce. Banter, play, laughter.

John: Yes.

Noelle: And when you can consistently create an emotional atmosphere where amusement comes to live with you, you build your capacity for friendship and creativity.

John: Yes, I love that. And I just want to add—instead of seeing the lack of amusement and how someone is not having these abilities or tools, practice them yourself because it can be contagious. Because the more that you are this way, the more people see that and they also choose to be.

Noelle: 100%, 100%.

John: And that is what happened to me this morning as Noelle is laughing and I’m taking her energy and I’m gonna carry that throughout the day.  

Noelle: Awesome.

John: Alright guys, be well.

Noelle: Take care.

John: Bye bye.

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