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!
The Psychology of Self Care for Coaches and Leaders
How do leaders show up for themselves? In this episode, Lumia co-founders John Kim and Noelle Cordeaux discuss psychology, brain chemistry, and more -- all about self-care!
John: Today we’re going to talk about something that every life coach needs to work on, and it’s something that my partner struggles with. Noelle Cordeaux, we’re talking about self-care.
Noelle: Yes. Good morning, hello.
John: So why do you struggle with self-care? Give us your self care history and what does self care mean?
Noelle: So, my self care history and self care strategies…
John: By the way, I wanna say thank you for being honest and thank you for being vulnerable and I think as life coaches there’s this expectation to portray our lives as perfect, and we take care of ourselves so well, blah blah blah. I love that you are saying that you know what, this is something I struggle with.
Noelle: It’s something I struggle with, and I’ve been—this last week—I’ve been really trying to show myself and show my vulnerability and not try to pretend that everything‘s fine and everything’s okay, because I think it’s important, especially as a leader and somebody who our coaches look at me and say “wow you know Noelle does all this stuff, she has such a cool life”. And I can kind of say “yeah and I’m also completely human and every so often I get the winds knocked out of my sails and here’s what it happens, here’s what it feels like”. It’s been an exercise in vulnerability for days, literally. So, your question—what is my self-care history?
John: Yeah, so have you always struggled with self care or was there a time in your life where self-care was not a problem at all and it was more like the entrepreneurship, and business, and taxes, and stress, and all that that made it difficult?
Noelle: Yeah, I think that I had a really brief window in my late teens and early 20’s when I engaged in my own version of self-care through community. I belonged to a really awesome community of music fans, and we would all tour and go see shows together, and those were very close friendships. It was a lot of people taking care of each other—cooking food, providing housing and shelter if people needed it—just really help each other out. And for me, that was nourishing and I remember those years as just so distinctly beautiful and having had lots of energy and having friends in my house and just people in and out and there were always people doing life together.
Noelle: And then I grew up.
John: Did you live in a commune? It sounds amazing actually.
Noelle: No, I mean I guess so. I love communal living and the direction that I would like to go in in my life is actually to live in a commune, and so I have some dear friends that were very actively talking about what it would be like to own a property, and everybody have their own little house on it, and as we age, we don’t have kids—you know take care of each other and kind of go off into the sunset that way. So I’m huge on communal living. It is amazing. It wasn’t a commune, it was a collection of friends that were local, and from all over the country, and it was a time in all of our lives where we were all very mobile, so friends would flow in and out of each other’s homes with consistency and regularity. It was really fun and I, at the time, I owned a three-story townhouse and I had lots of different folks who lived with me over the years, and it was really beautiful.
John: So what’s interesting about self-care is that you’re not supposed to do it by yourself.
Noelle: Yep, no.
John: The word self should not be there.
John: Just care, communal care.
Noelle: Just care, communal care, yeah.
John: Which goes back to this whole find your tribe thing that we talk about a lot.
John: So what happens, because most people actually don’t have that, you know you’re very fortunate to have that in your 20’s. Most people do the grind on their own—they may have a partner or they may have some friends, but we don’t have this surrounding tribe that we come home to that’s going to notice when we’re falling down and all that.
Noelle: Absolutely, and you know if you pull the veil back a little bit further, that’s so much pressure on one partner to provide for the other, and you know this isn’t a judgment call, it’s just true—we live in a society that values binary relationships. And when I say binary, it typically means one man and one woman, and so you know couples are getting burnt out, young families are getting burnt out—humans are not built to shoulder the amount of isolation that we typically experience, and you can be in a partnered relationship and still be very isolated, and there’s a lot of pressure on folks to have their needs met by that one partner and that one partner only. So, it’s kind of not fair and you don’t really get care or self-care from that one person.
John: Yeah. So what does self care look like for you these days?
Noelle: Well for me right now, it’s about really tuning into my body, and especially—and this is something that’s new for me—is tuning in to my level of intellectual and psychological exhaustion. Because you literally—
John: So it’s an internal thing for you?
Noelle: It’s an internal clock and what we know about humans is that there is a positivity-to-negativity ratio. If you experience eleven negative things for every one positive thing, or if that’s the way your lens is crafted, at 11:1 a human being will experience break down.
Noelle: Period. Fact.
John: You mean it’s just a matter of time like if that’s happening daily or weekly?
Noelle: Exactly. If that’s happening daily or weekly and things are just piling and piling and piling.
John: So do you even with thoughts, you know people say we have 60,000-70,000 thoughts a day— if 40,000 of those are negative, do you think that alone, our thoughts can stumble us and bring us down?
Noelle: Yes. Probably not to the point where it’s causing a psychotic break, but if you think about it, when you engage your thoughts through a negative lens, you are dealing with your nervous system, which is your fight-or-flight response, which is very fast and rapid and you’re keeping your brain and your body in a state of fight-or-flight. So there’s damage on your cardiovascular system—you’re not giving your limbic system a break, it’s on overdrive, your endocrine system is on hold, and that’s the slow pulsing saying of oxytocin, dopamine, serotonin, and you're coursing your body with cortisol.
John: Wow. I love that you’re the science behind this, because everything you just said is Chinese to me, but I think our listeners appreciate the science behind all the stuff that we’re talking about, so thank you for that.
Noelle: Yeah. The irony is that I know it, but living it and doing it for myself is a whole different ballgame.
John: Yeah, and I gotta say, to any life coach listening, or to our Catalyst Life Coaches, one of the biggest misconceptions is that we have to have “perfect lives”, and that is not true and that’s something you need to let go of. I gotta admit, a lot of times I’m a lot of “do as I say not as I do”, and that’s because I’m not perfect and I fall short on a lot of things. Coaching someone is a different skill set than living a “perfect life”.
Noelle: I mean I tell all of our coaches all the time, you can still be having a shit week and be good at your job.
John: Right, exactly.
Noelle: Right. I mean being good at your job is being good at your job.
Noelle: You know what was a huge lesson for me this week that I’m so grateful for is there’s a woman who is become a mentor to me, and she’s pretty much, I look at her and her strength and her character and what she’s been able to do in this world and it’s really impressive and 15 years from now, that’s what I want. I want to have that level of courage and influence in the world, and I’ve been feeling really crappy about myself. I’ve been feeling like why can’t I “get it together”, why can’t I just emotionally regulate, and put my head down, and keep working at a furious pace. And yesterday she shot me an email, and we were supposed to have a call, and she said “Noelle I’m really down for the count. I got some crappy news yesterday, and it took the wind out of my sails, and I need to rest and recoup”. And that gave me pause because—
John: Oh, because you saw her as such a world-dominating kind of, and then she had a fall? Or why did that give you pause?
Noelle: Well, it was the juxtaposition of a really valid and reasonable emotional response to something bad that had happened, and then the need for rest afterwards. And the second part is where my self-care is lacking—that if I go through a very stressful situation, or things just kind of pile on, I might get to the point of emotional release or breaking—I might cry, I might acknowledge to everyone that I’m “having a hard time”. But what I don’t do is then rest.
Noelle: Recharge my batteries. And to have that modeled for me—it both gave me permission to say you know what, when I take a hit I take a hit, and that’s okay, and then I need to rest.
John: Yeah, and that’s what you struggle with, is the rest part?
Noelle: It almost came from naivety, where I’ve been feeling like what’s wrong with me? Why can’t I just get back up again? Why can’t I just bounce back? And in the Catalyst Intensive, one of the things that I teach is about nervous system response, and how zebras when they see a lion, they run, and then if they escape the lion, they take a nap immediately afterwards, and then they wake up, and they have a good meal, and they go on about their day, and they give their bodies a chance to recover from all of that adrenaline. Humans have the same systems as zebras, but modern life is not set up so that whenever we have a stress response we can go for a run to burn off that energy, take a nap, and have a good meal.
Noelle: How nice would it be if we could all do that?
John: We’re stuck at work answering more email, and the stress just builds and builds and builds.
John: So for me, self-help is actually, I’m actually good at it. The only part that I struggle with under self-help, or self-care is the sleeping part, and you know this. My sleep is horrible, and so last night, I also didn’t sleep well again. So, I go through stretches of good sleep and then stretches of bad sleep, but other than that, I don’t internalize much, and I don’t—I think I used to—but I don’t bash myself, I try to be kind to myself, all of that stuff. I do this thing where I think about these categories—so emotional space, having a need for that, doing something physical and active every day, which I have no problem doing that, or spiritual need, and that doesn’t necessarily mean religion, but kind of tapping into the spirit of who you are, and something greater than yourself, or sexual need, I think we’re all sexual beings, and this doesn’t mean just to have a lot of sex, although it can. It means to feel sexy—so whatever you are doing to fulfill that need to feel sexy, our intellectual need, feeding our brain—listen to a ton of podcasts and audio books and stuff—in our purpose and passion. And I feel like if I’m kind of hitting all of those things, and they don’t have to be in the same amount, I’m flowing, I’m doing okay, you know?
Noelle: So do you have like a Venn diagram on your bedroom wall?
John: No, because here’s the thing, they don’t have to all be perfectly like four things in each category, because that’s—I don’t really believe in balance, I believe in this like human equalizer. And everyone has their own treble, bass, and setting their equalizer to the pitch that works for you. I enjoy work, and by work I mean what I’m doing right now—producing content, I drown in it, I do it all day, I love it. So that is obviously a lot more, I spend a lot more time doing that than say fulfilling my emotional need or something. So it’s designing your life in a way that works for you, and it’s gonna be different for everyone. But I feel like all of that should be in there, most people they just focus on work—basically work and money. And I think there’s other things, like movement, like we should get up and move as much as you can every day, you know?
Noelle: Yeah, and I think too there’s an intuitive voice, like we all know it. I was supposed to take today off, I had it as a day off on the calendar, then the week unfolded and I said “oh you know I have work to do, I won’t take today off anymore”. And the way that I’m honestly intuitively feeling right now is I need to take the rest of the day off, and I need to clean my house, and I need to go for a long walk, and you know cook food and plug into my people, and just really disconnect from everything, to give myself that break, to give my pre-frontal cortex a break, to give my limbic system a break, and I think that’s where I have the hardest problem—I get so scared that I’m gonna let people down if I stop working for a second.
John: Yeah, that makes complete sense. I think it’s not just you, I think many can relate to that—the pressures of getting things done, not only for yourself, but for other people, especially if you work for someone or if you’re in some kind of corporate ladder job—you don’t even have that choice, it’s like you can’t leave, you know?
Noelle: Yeah and I think the world needs to change to accommodate that, because there are some days where you just have to walk away.
John: I agree.
Noelle: And take a step back.
John: I think you’re going to be more potent, more productive if you obviously take care of yourself. The other piece is the internal self-care, and this is really interesting. So, I was just talking about being kind to yourself when you screw up, to not go back and play it 5,000 times and what’s wrong with you. So the language, the way that you talk to yourself, I think sometimes the internal dialogue and the internal self-care is actually more important than the two-dimensional self-care like that I was just talking about, you know, the checklist.
Noelle: So, this is an interesting question, and I’ll frame this for you—do you think it’s different for women and men, the internal self-care?
John: Yes, I think it’s because of society. I don’t think it’s a biology thing—maybe it is, I don’t know.
Noelle: I don’t think it’s a biological thing, because you know, you made a really interesting observation. I sent you an email last week that I was just beating myself up over and wanted to know how you thought I came off, and you thought I was fine.
Noelle: And so what happened in my head…
John: I mean I thought you were direct, but I didn’t think you were mean, or crazy, or anything like that. Yeah, I think it was a normal email.
Noelle: So, for me, I’m a very direct person, and if you don’t know me, and don’t also know that that comes with a massive amount of kindness and empathy, I believe that I felt scared that my directness was like too much. And so that kind of goes into the whole self-care thing, right? I fired off this email, I don’t get a response, and then I go into a tailspin of like “what have I done?”, you know. And then I tank emotionally to the pits of sorrow, of like you know “I’m driving a company into the ground”. And then I come back up again and I’m exhausted and the show must go on. So if you’re coaching me knowing that this is my pattern, what’s the solution? How do I break this crazy ass habit?
John: Well, let me ask you this—you are very kind, and gentle, and compassionate to other people, I think it’s one of your gifts—but I wonder if you are like that to yourself?
Noelle: I’m getting a lot better at it, I’d say you for the most part, I’m pretty kind to myself. Where I’m not kind to myself—and I think this comes from a little bit of my upbringing—and both my parents are pretty tough folks, and my dad has a saying that I think is especially insane. He calls pushing through mental anguish to do hard things “running at the wall”. When I was growing up, he would describe “running at the wall”, and I would look at him and be like “you’re fucking crazy". Now that I am a grown-up, and I put myself in positions of self-sacrifice in order to “run at the wall”, I’m kind of taking a look at it and saying this isn’t good.
John: I mean I think part of self-care is standing up for yourself, and so I’m going back to that email—being firm, or being assertive and then saying “hey listen this is something I’m okay with and it’s not offensive and I’m just going to stand up for myself with this email and this is okay and I’m gonna send it, and I’m going to stand by it”. And if no one responds, then I get it, but that was my truth, and I’m willing to take whatever comes or doesn’t come from it. I think that’s part of self-care—being okay sometimes with doing things that may be out of your personality, or you know something that you may be a little bit afraid to do because it’s not usually you, but in this case it feels honest, and then if so, then you stick up for yourself.
Noelle: Yeah, so we’re giving everybody a phenomenal case study on coaching with the inner workings of my brain. So, what I go through, I think you guys as coaches will see in your clients so readily—folks who are second-guessing themselves, folks who are trying so hard to keep one million balls in the air, with their family, with their jobs, with their external relationships, folks who are just exhausted spiritually, psychologically, physically—I know that I’m not the only one who experiences this. In fact, I know that it’s pretty much epidemic.
John: People generally know that they’re not taking care of themselves, and they know what to do, they just can’t execute it.
Noelle: They can’t execute it, and that’s the nut that needs to be cracked in the context of coaching—is to build motivation for executing it. And if I were coaching myself, or if I put myself into the position of client, the thing that I think that I would say or offer up for examination is if you think about a series of paths that you could take at this moment—in what direction do you find relief? When you think about executing that path, where do you find immediate relief? And I think that’s always such a good signal—intuitive signal—to you as to what a good choice might be right now.
Noelle: So for me, if I think about taking the rest of the day off, I feel immediate relief.
John: Yes, I’m imagining a doughnut and I feel instant relief, but also lying with guilt, so that’s kind of confusing.
Noelle: It’s so confusing.
John: I think with the execution piece, just telling someone what to do is not gonna work, so as life coaches that isn’t your job—it’s more to find out what the barriers are. What are the speed bumps, why can’t you do this for yourself? And I think when you start asking those questions, it leads revelations—I can’t do this because I don’t feel like I deserve to, I can’t do this because when I was growing up you know XYZ, and all that. And then I think when we start to explore and kind of dissect, and dissolve a lot of the stuff on why we are the way we are, then we can create a new framework. You know then we can be like “okay I’m going to push myself to do this, it’s uncomfortable”, and then after they do it, then you’re like “how was that?” and you’re like “oh it wasn’t actually that bad, I went home two hours early from work, and usually I don’t because I’m terrified, and because I feel like I’m gonna get fired and all this, but the sky never fell, I took care of myself, I came home and I ordered a pizza and had a glass of wine, and it felt good”. And I think when you’re able to, as a life coach, give your client that experience, then and they’re like okay now I think I can do this again, and of course they’re exercising that muscle and self-care kind of becomes threaded into their life.
Noelle: It does, and you know the space for that kind of dialogue is what creates the movement. So, I know I can tell everybody that experientially, just in the past 20 minutes of having this conversation with John, I have been coming to my own realizations. I started going through a checklist in my head of all of the reasons why it would be okay for me to take the rest of the day off, and I was able to assess for myself that there really isn’t a threat or risk that I have to be concerned about right now. So if you guys are thinking about getting a coach to help you with your own stuff, it’s not a magical potion, it’s the space that exists between you and your coach to actually put this stuff out on the table and reason through it that provides the relief.
John: Yes, and I want to kind of end and remind people that getting a life coach is part of self-care. I think it’s so easy for us to get a personal trainer, or a nutritionist, or skin care, or whatever, but when it comes to life-coaching or therapy, we’re like “Oh, I don’t know, you know that’s extra”. And it’s not extra—that’s one way to take care of yourselves. I know Noelle has a therapist, I have a therapist, we both see life coaches—that’s self care.
Noelle: It is, and this was session today, so thank you.
John: Thank you. Guys go to www.lumiacoaching.com and we have amazing life coaches there. Take care of yourselves and be well.
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