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Is There a Place for Catholic Mindset Coaching on Newman Catholic Campuses?

I find myself in a unique position, professionally coaching the hearts and minds of students entrusted to my formative care for a Newman Catholic college. My formal title is, “Academic Success Coach,” but really 70%  of my meetings are spent coaching on something other than academics. When a student struggles academically, often it’s because something else is going on under the surface – whether emotional, mental, physical, or circumstantial. These directly impact one’s academic success, but are not intrinsically academic. I’ve realized that I can provide a multitude of academic tools and resources to set a student up for success, but if there is a malformed mindset influencing one’s performance, fruits will not come to bear unless underlying thoughts are addressed. To think otherwise would be like addressing symptoms without treating the root cause. Behavioral fixes only last so long if the underlying thought that first led to that behavior is not brought to the surface.  

I’ve had a front row seat to the common struggles of college students. Students face not only a heavy and often stressful academic load, but also a heightened pressure to pursue worldly success. This puts me in an interesting place as their success coach. The goal of my job is to help students achieve success in all areas of life (especially academics) to retain them at the college. The objective of my role is to help them flourish and thrive now so that they are prepared for the practical reality awaiting them on the other end of college, which requires job security for living life. However, I find that often I’m coaching students on their fear of this reality, and a viral anti-Catholic mindset that believes, “I must pursue, produce, become, and achieve because success is my end.” This thinking leads to obsessing over achieving a certain GPA they’re convinced they need in order to have a successful and lucrative career because well, “this is why I am here.” But it’s not why we’re here. Not to mention, GPA has little influence on one’s career success.

I desire my students to build a life for themselves where work and rest are equally revered. The goal is not for them to further a culture of workaholism to the detriment of their spiritual and Vocational life.

Another struggle I see frequently among my students is an inability to embrace uncertainty. College is filled with uncertainty. Students know they are here usually for four years and then will be transitioning into an uncertain world. They spend this time racking up accolades to make their resume stand out upon graduation in the hopes of securing an unknown future. They do this all while comparing themselves to their peers, only furthering the mental burden. Common uncertainties fall under questions such as, “Is this the right major? What if I don’t get a good job after college? What if I never find work that I love? Am I with the right person? Will I ever get married? Does God really love me? Will God provide? Will I ever know what I want to do with my life? Will I be happy? How will I afford school? Am I at the right school? Is my GPA high enough?

To manage this uncertainty, students over-schedule and busy themselves so as to not think about their own thinking. I did this in college as a way of alleviating the anxiety I felt from uncertainty.

This overworked, high stress lifestyle led me to have a mental breakdown spring semester senior year. When students are distracted from their interior reality, there’s no room to manage their interior reality (thoughts), which can often lead to mental health crises. Our students deserve better than this.

At the root of these questions is a desire to know for sure that everything is going to work out. It’s fueled by a belief that, “I must know for certain.” As a spiritual mom, I want to reassure my students that it will, but we can’t really know that for certain, can we? To think otherwise would make ourselves out to be more than a creature of God. However, we can learn to become okay with not knowing, which requires thought work. This is where Catholic mindset coaching comes in.

On Newman Catholic campuses across the country, there is typically a place for spiritual direction, academic and career coaching, mental health counseling, campus ministry and student life. However, there isn’t a specific place for Catholic coaching. Many students not in need of therapy still deeply thirst for a trained person to talk with who can act as a mentor, guide, and formator. I know this from the countless office visits I receive that begin with, “Miss Eckels, I know this isn’t academic related, but can I talk with you about . . .” Students yearn for someone to be a source of security and stability during their time in college, a person they trust will be a constant in their formation.

Whereas a licensed clinical mental health counselor can work with those suffering with mental illness and make a dysfunction in a student’s life functional, a coach helps a student who already has something functional, but wants to make it optimal.

Whereas a spiritual director is limited to the spiritual dimension of the human person with the main focus and goal being a deepening of one’s relationship with God, Catholic coaching can be open to any kind of goal, usually within a niche.

There’s a common misconception that Catholic mindset coaching already takes place on Newman Catholic campuses. Many confuse everyday good Catholic people who offer sound advice or wisdom as coaches. Whereas their mentorship and guidance is invaluable, it is not trained Catholic mindset coaching. When looking at the coach training taught by Metanoia Catholic, very specific questions are part of a coaching model.

First, a coach identifies facts to find a clear circumstance. Then, they capture a student’s thought on their circumstance, understand the student’s associations and meaning of the words used in their thought. Next, they identify the emotion connected to their thought, the actions performed from that emotion. This allows the coach to help the client follow the outcome or trajectory of the thought by examining its results.

Additionally, a moral judgment is made on the thought, the coach prosecutes the thought to assess its validity, and guides the student to make a reasoned decision going forward. This process is learned through a training program where coaches extensively develop their skill set.  

As a college success coach, I see a great need for mindset coaching through a Catholoic worldview that treats the whole person. Students yearn for mind management where they become students of their interior (thought) life. In turn, this will direct the way they feel and act, influencing their success in college and beyond. So many students suffer from unhelpful thinking that takes up valuable mental real estate. And yet these thoughts live rent free in their mind. Catholic coaching would provide a space for students to carefully examine their thoughts, think about their own thinking, uproot thoughts not rooted in truth, and ascend to truthful thoughts that bear good fruit in their lives.

Success coaching goes far beyond one’s academic performance. Catholic coaching provides students with the tools they need to discover their unique call to sanctity, their primary purpose, and identify obstacles keeping them from living out God’s mission for their life, which leads to their ultimate success. Catholic coaching enables students to foster their God given potential and harness the success He created them for.

I want my students to be interiorly free. This interior freedom comes from thinking well so as to live an intentional life. Catholic coaching helps students manage their mind so as to act in accord with the plan of God. Catholic coaches are coaching for the end for which man is created – Beatitude (eternal happiness). This is our ultimate goal, aim, and success – Sainthood. The human transformation and process of being continually formed along the way is the goal, as we never arrive at who we are created to be fully this side of Heaven.

Unlike secular life coaching, Catholic coaching provides an objective analysis of what is going on in the interior life. It does this by bringing in the moral teachings of the Church and divinely revealed truth to address our greatest good. Secular coaching only addresses the material part of the mind, whereas Catholic coaching also addresses the immaterial part of the mind (the soul). Catholic mindset coaching looks at how the Church says our minds are designed by God. This coaching is aligned with a sound Catholic anthropology that includes Scripture and the Church’s teachings on grace, virtue, and repentance. Catholic coaching understands that there is someone outside of us directing our desires, pursuits, and goals.

Secular coaching goes to the action first to change the behavior without acknowledging the root cause of the behavior. We need to think about what we’re thinking about and assess how our thinking is leading to behavioral results we do not want. As Catholics, we know the intellect informs the will. Therefore, we need to be thinking truth in order to choose the good. The will, designed by God, is created to choose the good. Catholic mindset coaching does not say, “Will this new thought.” Rather, we bring in evidence to inform the intellect with thoughts that are true. People will not just choose a new thought, but they will choose a thought believed to be aligned with their greatest good. In order to do this we need to be purged of corrupted old thoughts, just as a garden must first be purged of corrupted soil. We cannot put fresh soil over weeds and hope they won’t keep growing. We need to pull the weeds up by their roots.

Catholic mindset coaching works in retaining college students. I’ve seen it firsthand with my own successful retention rates. This is because whether we are aware of it or not, we live out of the thoughts we choose. When a student is coached to have thoughts rooted in truth, they are able to ascent to that truth. For example, If a student comes to me who does not believe they are a good student, they will live out of this thought and the fruits of the thought will likely be poorer academic performance. However, if I can help a student believe the truth that they have what it takes to do well academically, they will live from this place of renewal instead. When a student can think about their future through eyes of truth, they live from a place of hope and expectation of the plans the Lord has for them.

The truth of the invaluable formation one receives at a Newman Catholic college is reason enough for students to want to stay enrolled. When students understand why they’re here, it motivates them to stay the course. Parents send their children to these colleges primarily for the faith and human formation they receive, and secondarily for the intellectual formation. More than learning subjects, students need to learn how to think and how to properly examine their own thinking through a Catholic lense. The mission of Newman Catholic colleges is not to just give students degrees, but rather through receiving a sound Catholic education, students will be equipped with the tools they need to live their faith well, become better people, and Christianize the world around them.

This is why Catholic mindset coaching is absolutely essential during college. Every student desires the tools needed to think well so as to structure and build their lives in a way that allows them to fulfill God’s plan. Metanoia, or “Being transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Romans 12:2) is conversion on a deep level. This transformation cannot happen apart from relationship – a co-creatorship between coach and student. If the aim of Newman Catholic colleges is to foster ongoing conversion in the lives of their students so as to form solid Catholics who will make disciples of all nations, it would behoove them to include Catholic mindset coaching as an available resource on their campuses.