By Christelle Pottinger, ICF Global member

‘What you do as a coach is a blessing to others’, said Maria Nemeth during a one-hour video conference to ICF members. Considering her wealth of experience, her age, and her achievements in the field of coaching, her words are powerful. How can we best support our clients to thrive in difficult times?    In the exceptional context of the global pandemic, Maria Nemeth shared three principles and a tool to reduce anxiety and feel gratitude.

When change happens, our brain goes on alert! It is an instinctive reaction steeped in the prehistorical times. For 100 000 years, the brain, as an organ, has remained the same. It is looking for threats, not rewards. It is trying to protect us. Welcome to a normal brain!


Principle #1: there is nothing wrong with you.

We have a brain, and we also have the capacity to change it.

©2020 Maria Nemeth & The Academy of Coaching Excellence


Principle #2 you are not your brain.

We have the power to modify how it functions, even how it looks. Research has found that people who regularly meditate for many years have a different brain than others. So, if the brain is naturally attracted to negative experiences (called the negative bias), we can train it to de-escalate anxiety by shifting its focus. One way to do this is the Gratitude Protocol.


Principle #3: you have the power to train your brain to focus where you want it to focus.

Imagine a dog, on a leash, barking loudly. It is agitated and despite its owner telling him to shush, it continues and yanks at the leach. Now visualise, on the opposite side of the street, another dog. This time, it is calm and following its owner, sniffing things here and there, but coming back to its master when called. Which dog is the happiest? We know that trained dogs are more contented.

Training our brain is much like training an animal. You teach it who is the master – so it takes cues from you on where to focus. The Gratitude Protocol is a simple practice to shift attention from anxious situations to grateful ones.

Take two pieces of paper. On one, write what you are anxious about. On the other, what you are grateful for. Now focus for 7 seconds on the ‘anxiety card’, followed by 17 seconds on the ‘gratitude card’. Repeat two more times. Do this 3 times per day. Gradually the stress power of the anxious situations will reduce, while the gratitude ones provide calm. Your brain will learn to follow you where you want it to focus.


Beyond the Grateful Protocol, Maria Nemeth shared a few more practical tips to reduce anxiety: go on information diet (limit your time to quiet the brain), practice sleep hygiene, find movies and short stories that make you laugh. The conference ended with a 5-minute video from Brother David Steindl-Rast as a reminder that each day is precious, and made of simple things we can be grateful for.