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Mortality Coach

Use coaching that is anchored in awareness of our mortality to live each day well, so death can be okay for individuals and loved ones.

Photo of Jim Rosenberg
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Who is your idea designed for and how does it reimagine the end-of-life experience?

This concept is for any individual. It brings death back into our everyday lives to breakdown the distancing and compartmentalization of death. It helps people make satisfying choices throughout life and in their relationships, so regrets aren't at the heart of an end of life experience.

A great end of life experience starts with a great day-to-day life experience. How can we make life choices that leave us at the end of life perhaps feeling sad that it's over, but without regrets? How can we live with our community in a way that ensures, even after a sudden death, that our loved ones don't feel regrets about how we used our time together? What would it take to be more aware everyday that we are mortal, that we are impermanent, and use that knowledge to make great choices? 

Mortality coaches would provide the voice and perspective that individuals need to create an emotionally satisfying life. Much like career coaches, the mortality coach would help the person voice his or her values, explore options, set goals, and reflect on choices. The mortality coach would provide guidance on how to live with others in a way that makes those relationships richer and more present as well. And the coach would help with the practical stuff too -- life insurance, advance directives, end of life plans, and the like. Mortality coaching would tuck discussion of this topic that seems far off and to be avoided -- death -- inside conversation of the things people care about most -- connection, love, relationships, contribution, joy.

Mortality coaching would fit into the current market for therapy, mutual support, self-help, and spiritual guidance services that exist today. The mortality coaching initiative would engage social workers, guidance counselors, and social service professionals as well to extend the reach of coaching across all segments of society. The concept wouldn't require creation of a new army of coaches. It would be about creating a methodology, training and perhaps certification for the professionals already working in these markets. Mortality coaching would use many of the same approaches but be anchored in the question, "How do I live life in a way that will make death a great experience for me and my loved ones?" Coaches could work with people in person or via online and tele-health techniques.  

We live in a world with countless and seemingly never ending demands from work, family, school, etc. We live in a world with constant messages promoting wealth and aspirations. The mortality coach would help people navigate all those demands and provide a different voice about what is valuable in life. 

Design Questions to Resolve

The following are open design questions to resolve. I'll keep a running list as they come up in conversation with the community.

  1. What is the most effective name for this stream of coaching? What name opens the door to the most people while authentically bringing the topic of death into the work of everyday life? 

What early, lightweight experiment might you try out in your own community to find out if the idea will meet your expectations?

Create a 30 - 60 second description of the service. Ask 25 people for their reactions (appealing, off-putting, worth investment of their time and money...).

What skills, input or guidance from the OpenIDEO community would be most helpful in building out or refining your idea?

1) Reactions as potential consumers of mortality coaching
2) Reactions from (or connections to) people who work as life coaches today

This idea emerged from

  • An Individual

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Photo of Manal
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Great conversation around wording and significance! Question: how do we frame this coaching beyond just its title so that it is both appealing and imperative to people of all ages? How are we to convince young, healthy people that this coaching is necessary, and how do we communicate that? I agree that this is an entire culture change we're hoping to achieve, so how can we start? 

Look forward to updates before the Refinement phase comes to a close!

Photo of Nancy Shapiro Rapport
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Just reading this thread, Jim, and I'm on board! I agree that the more we normalize and talk about end of life issues, the more intentional we can be about day to day living. When I was working on my coach certification at the Hudson Institute of Coaching, my first "business" card I put together included "end of life" coaching as a niche. I've since removed that from my card, and I mention it only to acknowledge that it's something I've thought about for a couple of years. 

Photo of Jim Rosenberg
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Nancy -- Thanks for sharing your story. It's great to hear from a certified coach. If this idea moves forward to the next stage, I'd love to talk with you more about your coaching experience and what an end of life "curriculum" might include.

Photo of Nancy Shapiro Rapport
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Absolutely!

Photo of Laura
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A Mortality Coach is perhaps what I've always wanted to be when I grow up. but didn't know it.  I wholeheartedly endorse the idea of being clear that this is a new kind of coaching, as opposed to life coaching.  There is a special niche for helping people engage in their own mortality and take actions related to their own deaths that is not associated with "life coach". 

I am a member of a "mortality group" that was spontaneously formed among a group of friends and is informally structured around thematic gatherings.  I am 54 years old, but the majority of the members are young tech industry professionals in their 20's.  I feel like there is surprising momentum, even among young adults, toward acknowledging our own mortality, so I say, Embrace This! and make the name straightforward and clear.  I absolutely love "Mortality Coach".  Even if folks you talk to today don't respond well to it, I'll bet they soon will as this trend picks up steam. 

Photo of Jim Rosenberg
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Thanks Laura. This is a really helpful perspective from your direct experience. I'm really curious: what sparked your "mortality group" to form? What are some of the themes you cover? 

Photo of Steli
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Anne-Laure Fayard : How about also adding the name "End of Life Advisor" or "End of Life Planning Coach"? 

Photo of Anne-Laure Fayard
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Thanks Steli! In fact I tried with someone today (mid-40's) and while he thought the idea was interesting, none of the 3 names resonated. We  discussed "end of life coach"  as a 4th option but this did not click either. I think we might also want to clarify what we want this coaching to be about: Is it about making people live better in a carpe diem philosophy and / or is it about getting them to start planning, thinking of things that are easier to take care earlier? I also keep wondering why would someone go and see this kind of coach? What would be the trigger? and the needs that this coach would fulfill? Can't other coaches do this to? Is it really about a new occupation, or simply a new focus for already existing coaches?  

Photo of Steli
Team

Great that you ran this by someone..Hmmm, good points. I do wonder if any other coach can do this. 
I think this Mortality Coach could do all of the things you described and be there for people who want to make the most of life but also for those planning in advance for the day when they go. For some reason I think this coach would be most sought by people who know they are reaching the end (for example due to a sickness). I wonder who those people reach out to now when they do know the end is near. Is there a coach for that currently?  

Photo of Jim Rosenberg
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Ilija Steli Anne-Laure Fayard Bettina Fliegel Chris Lee I'll add "figure out the name" in the post as a design problem to be resolved (the first of many I'm sure). We do need to find the right language for this and I'm not sure what it is. I'm sensitive to the need to best engage people in the coaching. I'm also sensitive to the other side of the problem: our unwillingness in general to name death and be able to talk about it directly. Fortunately the challenge has a few more weeks to go, so you know, we have that to work with :-)

Photo of Anne-Laure Fayard
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Jim, I like the idea of having it as a design problem! I agree with you that finding the right language is important... and that there's a risk to again come up with a euphemism which would be going against what this idea is trying to address. 

Photo of Anne-Laure Fayard
Team

Jim Rosenberg agreed on finding the balance for the name. You are right to highlight the second part of the problem. I haven't had a chance to think much about it. Maybe one way would be to list a few names and share it with people and ask them what it evokes. Another would be to have the name:
Mortality coach: and then a quick definition of what this role / occupation would be
We could have 3 - 4 versions with different names and then ask people which one they would be more interested in engaging with and why. 
Still very rough but something along these lines. Jim Rosenberg Ilija Steli Bettina Fliegel Chris Lee Thoughts? 

Photo of Jim Rosenberg
Team

Anne-Laure. Thanks for the prototyping ideas, these are great. I think your right with this approach. It would be really interesting to test four or so different names in a few ways. One might be to put the name in front of people without any explanation and just ask for their reactions (what does it make them think of, how does it make them feel). Similar idea would be to put the four names in front at the same time and ask which they like best -- why, what think it is about, how does it make them feel, then explore reactions to the other three. We could do similar tests with the one sentence explanation included.

And I'll add these prototyping idea to the post too :-) Thanks for the ideas!

Photo of Anne-Laure Fayard
Team

Agreed on the 2 approaches.
I'll try at least one. In terms of names we have so far:
mortality coach, life coach,  lifecycle coach?  a 4th one?  any suggestions are welcome.

Photo of Helen Da Silva
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Hi Jim

I absolutely love this idea and the title 'Mortality Coach'.   We celebrate life, and avoid death.  Let's start embracing death.  "The more we can embrace the idea that we're going to die, the more we can really embrace the idea that we need to live" (author unknown).  A mortality coach can help facilitate the ideas of 'embracing death' and 'making death a great experience for all', as well as to help ease the fear of death by engaging in open discussions and conversations.

I am a healthy 48 year old female.  I tend to view my death in the abstract, not due to avoidance of death, but because of my current state of health ~ my perspective has slightly shifted, as detailed below.

I am a caregiver to an elderly parent, my mom Grace.  My mom nearly died a few months ago.  Being by her side and watching her nearing death, changed me and how I now live my life.  I am now filling my life with 'experiences'.   When I am on my deathbed, reflecting on my life  ~ I want to be able to smile as I release my last breath, for I have truly embraced living, as I lay dying.  As a mortality coach, I would encourage my clients to fill their lives with experiences.   Fully and actively participate in the experience of living, whatever this entails.  I would also encourage open discussions about death and dying with friends and family members.  Invite friends and family to also actively participate in life ~ sharing and enjoying the experience

Cheers,
Helen



  

Photo of Jim Rosenberg
Team

Thanks Helen. I've had (and see with others) that same experience, the way being engaged with death helps you pay attention and live more fully. Coaching people to prioritize experiences sounds perfect. 

Photo of Anne-Laure Fayard
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Helen,

thanks for sharing your experience, which resonates with me too. As mentioned in other comments, I really love Jim's concept and I think it can really have an impact. However, I also think we should think about the experience journey and when, and how, people decide to go and use a mortality coach (or whatever we call this service / occupation). Indeed, in most cases, people tend to avoid this kind of reflection.  Jim, have you thought about this? Helen, any idea on this? Cheers, al

Photo of Jim Rosenberg
Team

An experience journey for this service sounds like a great next step. I haven't done anything yet.

Photo of Anne-Laure Fayard
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Jim, happy to have a look at it. There are a lot of templates out there but I like this one https://s3.amazonaws.com/oi2-openideo-rwd-prod/attachments/2c911d636249657916fa23d17adb57358385faeb.pdf I used it in the past and found it useful.

Photo of James Senior
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Hi Jim, Thanks for this idea which seems to fit in with the current trend of coaching (life coaching, nutrition coaching etc.) You say "what would it take to be more aware everyday that we are mortal, that we are impermanent, and use that knowledge to make great choices?" I think so much of my choice making is fueled by my really undeveloped understanding of how desire works, and how strong of an effect it has on what I think I am in control of. Also how can I know what I will regret? One of my favorite personal themes is "How can I make this decision not come from a place of fear", and I definetely benefit from talking with friends, supporters, therapists about those kinds of choices.

Helping people make decisions *before* they are forced to make decisions seems to be a theme that is recurring in this challenge. This might be unrelated, but I recently found out that at Mayo Clinic we've just set up an Office of Decedent Affairs which helps both patients and their families think about issues like autopsies, death certificates, insurances, legal status (e.g. Power of Attorneys) as well as hospice, bereavement support and memory-making to this end. This is all inside the hopsital, but it makes me wonder if this kind of thing could be helpful generally. We don't really think autopsies and medical research while we are say, chatting over dinner or gardening, but could it be nudged into our conversation through coaching like this?

Coaching also seems to be about skill building, and I love the idea of a coach helping me improve my skills as understanding how desire, regret, fear and dying all work together. Bucket lists, FOMOs, anxious life narrative posting on SM, it all seems to be related to our lack of skilled understanding which a coach could improve. Who coaches the coaches though?

Photo of Jim Rosenberg
Team

James, thanks so much for your thoughts. Your decision-making filter really resonates with me: "How can I make this decision not come from a place of fear?" My version that (often) points me in the right direction is the question, "What thought am I afraid to have right now?" We can't know the future, can't be sure what we'll regret, can't even fully understand our desires. But I do believe that if we can make our decisions from love and compassion, from interest and curiosity, and not from fear we'll be on a much much better road.

At the heart of this coaching concept is the work to develop the methodologies that coaches would use. We could work with a mix of therapeutic and support experts to develop the curriculum and methodologies: spiritual leaders, therapists, palliative care physicians, end of life doulas, grief counselors and so forth. Teams like that at the new office at Mayo Clinic seem like great resources to tap too. We would then use these materials to teach the teachers (or coach the coaches). Hopefully we could develop a community of practice that would allow the coaching process to iterate forward and keep improving.  

Photo of James Takayesu
Team

I love this idea.  To engage people in the process, when death is expected, preferably early in diagnosis, is an essential part of health and well being.  Part of the expected/anticipated dying process is how we live our remaining days.  Having an independent voice to engage our memories could be inspirational to our final days and contribute to our experience.  Someone with expertise in facilitation could also help to address unresolved conflict and allow for a more peaceful and fulfilling end.  Thank you.

Photo of Jim Rosenberg
Team

Thanks James. It's funny, I was thinking more about how this coaching could engage us long before death is expected -- to help us live fuller lives by engaging with death. You've made me realize that there is also the more "acute" coaching need when death really is in front of you. You get specialized medical attention at that point but not specialized coaching to help through the full experience. I like thinking about coaching for both "everyday" and "acute" needs. I'll add this concept into the post.

Photo of Ilija
Team

A fascinating concept. Life is so fleeting and is taken up by so many inconveniences. It is very easy to lose perspective on your goals and wishes truly are. A coach could reaffirm and support the important things in life. I have seen people pass away with some regret regarding the life they lived. 
Definitely needs to be called something else though

Photo of Steli
Team

Sounds like an interesting and practical idea to me. I am not sure I like the word mortality in the name though. Probably this has to do with the stigma surrounding death (which is exactly what your idea is trying to break) but that is the reality we are in I guess. :) So in order to make this service more appealing I think we need a different word.  I don't have any ideas at this point unfortunately but maybe other people can contribute with some input on alternatives.

Photo of Jim Rosenberg
Team

Thanks Steli. You raise a great question: how do we start to change the way we talk about death when the words make so many people immediately uncomfortable and lead them to tune out?  Definitely more to think about there in introducing this style of coaching to the world.

Photo of Bettina Fliegel
Team

Hi Steli and Jim.
I agree with you Steli regarding the name - Mortality Coach.   I like the essence of the concept and I wonder if it might be served by incorporating it into existing psychology, social work and spiritual guidance services.  If the focus is on values and what is important about today, perhaps building end of life planning into existing frameworks can be seen as a positive proactive approach.   During end of life hopefully one can continue to have valuable experiences rather than spending time anxious, perhaps confused, unheard etc. if time and space has been shaped through thought, conversation and planning.    
 Maybe call it "lifecycle coaching?" - something like that?  

Photo of Anne-Laure Fayard
Team

Hi,

I agree with Steli and Bettina that while the idea (which as you noted Jim won't require creating a new occupation, but creating some tools to help focus on issues around our mortality) has a lot of potential, the name might not be appealing - although it does highlight what it would be about. I kind of like the idea of "lifecycle" suggested by Bettina as it suggests an end (with the cycle) but also highlight the life component.  

Photo of Chris Lee
Team

Hi Anne-Laure, Bettina, Steli,

That is a really good naming dilemma! :) 
Lifecycle sounds a bit sterile and overloaded with sustainability / green-tech overtones to my ear.
How about insisting on "life coach" in its logical full meaning instead of its more commonly used smaller meaning?
A life coach helps you consider your entire life (including what it means to face death) in your choices rather than the more common approach which seems to mean career and health in the immediate now.

Photo of Yue Liu
Team

It’s a great idea. It can train our spirit, our spirit will strong. And I thinking it cultivate the adaptation of death. That is helpful of reducing fear of death.

Photo of Jim Rosenberg
Team

Thanks! Very helpful to hear your views.

Photo of Usha Gowri
Team

I think it is a great idea.Loved it.

Photo of Jim Rosenberg
Team

Thanks Usha! It's great to hear the feedback.

Photo of Chris Lee
Team

Hi Jim,

I really like this idea. I was thinking of something similar. The (a) problem with death is that we seem to have come to view it as unnatural so we're not prepared  for it because we avoid it. How does one recast the story so that our daily living prepares us for death instead of puts us in opposition to it?
I like the idea of weaving the tools into the bigger narrative of life coaching - looking at the REALLY big arc. I.e. the context of all your other life decisions - heath, family, career is how you want to face your death.

Photo of Jim Rosenberg
Team

Thanks Chris. I can imagine a day -- or at least I would like to imagine a day -- when conversation about death would be a common part of thinking about life. Imagine being at a dinner party, sharing a new plan with a friend, and it being rather mundane for her to ask, "Do you think that will lead to a wonderful death?" Right now that sounds really strange to me, but I think questions like that are a powerful way to think about life.