In short: This brilliant little life coaching company set up by writer & psychologist Rosie Walford has helped people change career from finance to photographic art, extricate themselves from a negative relationship, accept a seat in the House of Lords and move from London to Scotland. Choose one-on-one stretch days with Rosie in London or on Waiheke Island in New Zealand, book one to one coaching with Rosie or another Stretch coach via email and Skype (an initial chat is free), or take an intensive fix on a life coaching holiday in Spain.
My experience: Caroline Slyger Jones writes, ’I went on a week-long life coaching holiday with The Big Stretch in Spain a few years ago to help me get back into my creative writing. I was lucky enough to have Rosie on my week, and found her a warm, vibrant and down-to-earth coach whose creative tricks got me thinking genuinely differently. I loved the balance of morning workshops and afternoon walking, and the holistic approach Rosie took to everything she did. Two months after the holiday, I received a postcard with my handwriting on it urging me to keep pursuing my dreams when back in the chaos of daily living. It was a very surreal experience that sent shivers down my spine, for I’ve forgotten we’d been asked to write ourselves notes, but it’s typical of Rosie’s creative approach. She is a mine of knowledge, whether she’s telling us how Walt Disney managed to come up with such whacky ideas or what her Indian friend advises her (‘hurrying, receiving, mutually exclusive’). The highlight for me was the group brainstorming, which is odd, as I didn’t think I was much of a group person. The creative ideas that everyone came up with for each other were illuminating, touching and most importantly, very useful, and I got my creative head back very quickly on return. This is a very human trip that will wake your brain up and get you going again’.
More about the coaching methods: The Big Stretch coaches use techniques to cut through the rational side of us that might ordinarily say ‘no’ to something, and to help us access our intuitive side instead. You’re encouraged to move outside your ‘comfort zone’ to rediscover what you feel passionate about, and to pay attention to habits you may have got yourself into which won’t serve you in the long term. Whatever your issue, you’ll explore your relationships, values, beliefs, health, money and job situation to get to the heart of it.
Creative problem-solving, lateral thinking and brainstorming exercises as well as classic life coaching tools also help you recognise your self-limiting beliefs and turn them around. Rosie trained in creative problem solving at the Creative Education Foundation in New York, and in coaching at Zenergy in New Zealand, has a background in advertising and management consultancy, and is a writer and photographer too, so she has masses of creative tricks up her sleeve to get you feeling motivated and thinking innovatively, and draws on everything she’s experienced, from meditation to medicine men.
You can also expect impromptu role-play exercises. You may be asked, for example, to close your eyes on a hillside and imagine meeting your future self at 70 years old – what was she like, and what did she say to you? Or you get to pretend you are at a cocktail party in five years time, a funny and very illuminating exercise – if you’re fantasising about a house in the country, a husband and a Harley Davidson but live on a beach in Thailand with two cats and a tuc tuc, you know you’re on the wrong track. On a holiday, your behaviour in the group is also monitored – a strong reaction to others is often a sign of something going on inside us. All of which means the process can be emotional, and reveal some unexpected things.
The follow up: Vitally, your coaching is seen as the beginning of a journey, not an end in itself, so you’re provided with all the tools you need to carry things forward – on return from a stretch holiday, for example, this included a list of ‘easy wins’ and harder things that need to be worked on over a longer period of time. You’re even coached in how to articulate what you’ve learnt to others, helping you keep up the commitment and momentum in your daily life and gather support from those around you.
The wider world: If you’re keen to make a difference to the wider world, The Big Stretch are particularly good at helping you decide what you want to do and which of your talents you can use to do it.
More about the life coaching holidays: After a spot of stretching and a decent breakfast, you usually spend the mornings in a group workshop, and the afternoons walking and doing some creative exercises to digest what you have learnt and let your subconscious do some work. The week is designed to help people pinpoint their values, overcome obstacles, identify a new vision for the future and come up with seriously practical ideas for change to take home.
Food & drink: You can expect lush local deli-style picnics up the mountains for your lunches, home cooked food most evenings, and one night out at a gastro restaurant, all of which is included in the price. The meals feature a lot of vegetables and fruits from the owner’s garden and local farmers, while other produce is locally sourced, including fresh fish from Malaga market. It’s a lush, tasty menu for the tastebuds rather than the waistline - a typical starter might be chestnut and sherry soup; a main course fillet of pork with almond and honey sauce; a dessert poached figs stuffed with pistachios and dark chocolate. Yum.
Fellow guests: The Big Stretch holidays attracts intelligent, professional, self-aware people usually in their 30s, 40s and 50s looking to make a real change in their lives, including leaders in all sorts of fields and business people. Most come from the UK, together with other Europeans, and everyone comes alone. My group was an important part of the process, and I was touched and inspired by their support. They included a high-flying business executive, the director of a homeless charity and a mobile phone company staffer who wanted to move to France and start her own deli. Though we were all very different, it was easy and fun to bond, because the exercises made us part of each other’s coaching process.
What’s queenly: Life coaching carried out by someone who doesn’t know what they are doing can be dodgy. At best, it’s an irritating waste of time, at worst, it’s a dangerous lurch in the wrong direction. The Big Stretch coaches know what they are doing, and it’s amazing how diverse the results can be – I’ve met people who have left being able to stand up to a bully, rethink a working partnership and create a better balance of work and play.
What’s lowly: Rosie doesn’t do all the coaching herself on the holidays, but she does hand-pick and train her fellow coaches carefully.
Sample costs: You can start your one-to-one coaching with a free discussion, then it’s £320 a month for two detailed sessions with a coach and structured assignments and e-mail support between. Big Stretch London days cost £1400 for preliminary chats and an intensive (and often life changing!) six hours with Rosie. Big Stretch holidays cost from £2250 per person for a week in Spain.
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