Discussion between coach and coachee

What Is Savouring And How Is It Used In Coaching?

May 12, 2022

Posted by Alexandra Lamb


Coaching psychologists have adopted the research findings of positive psychology, specifically those related to the underlying processes that contribute to an individual's flourishing, and incorporate these findings into practical coaching techniques for individual development and well-being in the workplace and beyond. This includes research into the constructs of hope, creativity, resilience, love, flow, gratitude, altruism, tolerance, and curiosity among others, as well as related exercises and reflective practices that can benefit coachees. One important construct which has risen out of positive psychology to the benefit of coaching practices is that of savoring.

Understanding Savoring

While much attention has been paid by researchers to the ‘downregulation’ of negative emotions (e.g. reducing the experienced intensity of sadness, anger, loss etc.), there is comparatively less research into how individuals ‘upregulate’ or enhance positive emotions such as savoring. This has a significant impact for coaching, where the enhancement of subjective well-being (SWB) is paramount. The colloquial concept of savoring refers to how an individual heightens their appreciation of pleasurable life experiences, effectively putting a ‘spotlight’ on momentary sensory experiences to amplify enjoyment. This concept has been further defined in the academic literature as a form of emotion regulation that involves an individual accentuating the positive affect (PA) they feel by attending to, and purposefully appreciating positive experiences (e.g., Bryant, 1989). Bryant and Veroff (2006) further defined savoring to include:

  • (i) the ability to handle a negative experience (i.e. ‘coping’);
  • (ii) the process of enjoying; and
  • (iii) the appreciation of enjoyment.

In this definition, savoring is positioned as a response to a negative life event, as well as a resource or preventative act that individuals can undertake in everyday life.

Benefits of Savoring

Savoring has been demonstrated to enhance well-being, self-esteem, and perceived happiness, as well as reduce depression and impact physical health outcomes in multiple studies (Gregory et al., 2021; Hou et al., 2018; Irvin et al., 2020; and Lin et al., 2011). Savoring correlates with more pleasure in positive life events, as well as more perceived meaning in life and a greater ability to buffer against both mundane and severe stressors, such as PTSD experienced post-combat (Sytine et al., 2018), stress experienced by Doctoral students during the COVID-19 pandemic (Paucsik et al., 2022), and psychological well-being amongst cancer patients (Hou et al., 2018). These effects are believed to be related to the ‘broaden and build’ framework theory proposed by Fredrickson (2013), which purports that any positive emotional experience influences well-being over time by expanding an individual’s thought-action repertoire, widening their lens for attention, cognition, and action, and enhancing their physical, intellectual, social, environmental, and psychological resources as a consequence.

This expanded capacity, in turn, means the individual has more experiences and therefore more opportunities for ‘uplifts’ (or ostensibly enjoyable events (Josea et al., 2020), with more ability to focus attention and cognitively evaluate those events positively, creating an ‘upwards spiral’ of PA (Josea et al., 2020; Sytine et al., 2018). This capacity can also buffer the effects of negative life events as they occur, and increase the likelihood of a recovery to flourishing (Ford et al., 2016; and Josea et al., 2020). With such a strong base of evidence demonstrating the myriad of benefits of savoring practices within this framework in retrospective, present, and future tenses, the construct of savoring poses huge opportunities for coaching interventions. Specifically, such coaching interventions can focus on either optimizing existing savoring to increase fulfillment and life or work satisfaction in coachees or build capability to buffer against the effects of stress and depression.

Practical Applications of Savoring in Coaching

Savoring strategies that intensify positive emotions enable coachees to achieve a broader range of positive affect and hold huge potential for coachees who are already somewhat fulfilled to further increase their perceived satisfaction in life and work. For example, research conducted into the relationship between savoring art (i.e. an aesthetic experience), psychological well-being (PWB), and SWB demonstrated benefits for the general public. In a study of 144 non-artists, researchers found that savoring art correlated to higher levels of PWB and SWB as well as reduced biomarkers for inflammation and hypertension, indicating an additional benefit of savoring on physical health. Such findings substantiate the basis for a coaching intervention designed around art-savoring, demonstrating just one example of how the savoring research can have practical application for coaching. Borelli et al., (2020) has also explored the sub-construct of relational savoring (RS), which specifically outlines savoring within attachment relationships where the coachee has felt acceptance, security, protection, or adoration.

This type of savoring can specifically be built into reflection exercises through the coaching relationship to strengthen present-day interpersonal relationships. Another study conducted by Gregory et al., (2021) focused on the impact of perceptions of uncertainty on savoring and discovered that as coachees increasingly perceive the world as random, savoring is enhanced. This finding can be utilized by coaches through exercises built on acceptance of uncertainty. These types of coaching interventions can benefit an individual in both their work and home lives; however, as coaching often focuses on career goals and relationships, we should consider the role of optimizing savoring for fulfillment in the workplace specifically.

Savoring in the Workplace

Comparatively little research exists regarding savoring in the workplace, and this is an area that deserves further investigation. However, the research that does exist in this area has mostly centered on employee job satisfaction, as opposed to job performance. As organizations will be concerned with both employee satisfaction (as a predictive indicator for engagement and retention) as well as individual performance, it is important to have more research evidence into the latter. Lin et al., (2011) conducted a survey with 357 salespeople in the Taiwanese insurance industry and determined that savoring did indeed relate positively to perceived job performance, when high-savoring staff were paired with high-PA colleagues (Lin et al., 2011). Again, this research appears to lend further support to a coaching intervention whereby relational savoring is purposely deployed through dyads in an organization. Thoughtfully designed exercises such as these can be introduced by coaches in order to maximize both work satisfaction and performance in optimal conditions; however, they also have the potential to reinforce the individual in the face of stress.

Savouring in coaching can help coachees with depression, stress and anxiety

Savoring as a Buffer Against Stress and Depression

While the act of savoring can have huge upside potential for coachees who already have a propensity for PA, it may also have a protective benefit in its potential to buffer coachees against the interrelated effects of depression, stress, and anxiety, and play a role in building resilience. Research conducted by Ford et al., (2016) looked into the relationship between savoring and self-compassion as protective factors for depression amongst young adults (including 133 undergraduate students) and found a clear inverse relationship, with savoring demonstrating a stronger impact on depression scores over time than self-compassion. The authors cite the strong ‘undoing effects’ of depression through savoring interventions such as gratitude journaling and behavioral expression (i.e. purposeful smiling and laughing), even in the face of negative life events (Ford et al., 2016) which provides further evidence for coaches to build practical and personalized coaching exercises upon. The findings of this research did note that individuals who experience depression are challenged in activating savoring, and were consequently delayed in mood recovery following a negative event, which made them more vulnerable to stress and depression (Ford et al., 2016). In stressful situations, such as the experience of being a PhD candidate during the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers have shown that teaching savoring techniques had a greater impact on reducing depression and anxiety, and increasing program engagement, than self-compassion techniques did (Paucsik et al., 2022).

This again demonstrates great potential for coaching interventions, where savoring techniques can be deployed to counteract organizational change, with the goal of impacting well-being and engagement through periods of career stress; however, this will be most powerful where coaches can not only proactively deploy these techniques but also identify savor-dampening in coachees. Coaches should be trained to identify ‘down regulating’ savoring behaviors or dampening PA (Irvin et al., 2020). Gaining a comprehensive understanding of the emotion regulation process will enable coaches to identify dysregulation and therefore more accurately deploy savoring techniques such as reappraisal, emotional expression, and savoring journals to overcome dampening habits (Irvin et al., 2020). Researchers note, however, that as depression and anxiety have deep neurological roots, a ‘top-down’ effect of coaching interventions needs to be met with ‘bottom-up’ psychological support to address the state and trait-based reward-response system of the individual in order to see real impact on PA (Irvin et al., 2020). Here, it is important for a coach to remember the boundary they walk between professional coaching and mental health, and to ensure that while they build evidence-based interventions to proactively address depressive experiences with their coachees, they do not attempt to address depression when it is present, but instead open a referral conversation with the coachee to seek clinical support.

If you're interested in learning more about how BOLDLY can help your organisation, we invite you to explore our website or write to us at connect@boldly.app.

About the Author:

Alexandra Lamb is an accomplished organisational development practitioner, with experience across APAC, North America, and MENA. With 20+ years in professional practice, conglomerates, and startups, she has collaborated with rapid-growth companies and industry innovators to develop leaders and high-performance teams. She is particularly experienced in talent strategy as a driver for business growth. Drawing from her experience in the fields of talent management, psychology, coaching, product development, and human-centred design, Alex prides herself on using commercial acumen to design talent solutions with true impact.

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