Life Coaching 101

Why do we dislike the movies we star in?

Who did you want to be when you were in grade school? An astronaut, a rock star, a doctor, or a scientist? Since early on in my life I wanted to be a pilot. For some strange reason, I took a break from that dream when I was 11. During much of the fifth grade I wanted to be a movie director. The year was 1981, and walking to and from school I would engage my friends in imagining the possibilities. As a movie director I would give out the assignments. Boys would agree to drive a crew bus, work camera and sound. Girls preferred acting.

This was a short-lived dream. One day, Maxim, my classmate, decided to take my spot. He wanted it so bad that we got in a fist fight. We called it a tie when both of us got bloody noses. We remained friends, but after the fight, he went back to his dream of becoming a policeman, and I went back to wanting to be a pilot.

It was not until 1991 when I had a chance to videotape my own action. I was shocked by the sound of my own voice. I also disliked my own facial expressions and body movements. My confidence hit rock bottom. “Do I really look and sound like that?” was all I could think. Many other video and audio recordings had followed. With time I got used to seeing and hearing myself the way the rest of the world does.

Thanks to the Internet, we now can quickly look up the reason we sound different on the recordings. It is due to the fact that vibrations from the voice box travel to ear canals through the skull as well as through the air. Vibrations that travel through the skull are of lower frequency than the vibrations that travel through air. In total, our voice sounds lower when we listen to ourselves. That’s the voice we are familiar with. When our voice is recorded, the vibrations travel through air only. When played back, our voice sounds higher and somewhat foreign. That’s the voice we dislike.           

Similarly, we like what we see in the mirror compared to what we see in photographs or videos. We grow up getting used to all of our asymmetries, spots, and other details as reflected in the mirror. When we see a photo or a video of ourselves, all of these tiny differences are in reverse. It looks unfamiliar to what we expect to see, so we dislike it.

These two examples illustrate how different the self-assessment of any skills may differ from the assessments of the others. Sometimes, we get what we consider a compliment. That would typically come from a family member or a close friend. Sometimes, we don’t like feedback we get. Performance review is a good example. The point is that the inside and outside perspectives hardly ever match! 

So What? Here are some possibilities.

  • Improve the skills that you think will add value to you personally or professionally. For example, you may consider taking classes in public speaking, singing, acting, or writing. Others may consider joining a gym, take up a cooking or a yoga class. The continuous improvement is one option.
  • Come to peace with things you don’t see a value in changing or what is beyond realistic. Accepting your own flaws, and the fact that life is not fair, is  also a valid option.

Many find themselves in between the two options. Delaying the action and, at the same time, not accepting themselves for who they are. This may cause job dissatisfaction, health and relationship issues. This is where coaching can help! 

Imagine a possibility of writing your own screenplay, becoming the director of your own movie, and enjoying every take you are in. 

          Our lives are full of outside influences and agendas. They compete for our time, attention, love, and money. When you give in too often, you are running the risk of living a life others want you to live. Fighting back, we get knocked down. If  this happens to you, get up, clean up, and get ready for the next take!

Confidence is like a checking account. Be aware of overdrafts!

One of the topics that surface frequently during life coaching session is confidence, or self-confidence. A healthy confidence allows us to have positive yet realistic views of ourselves and the situations. When we scan different areas of our lives, our degree of confidence may vary. For example, one may be confident analyzing complex data and writing comprehensive reports while a thought of giving a public speech may reveal a low level of confidence.  Low confidence can lead to negative thoughts and destructive actions. General lack of confidence can become a barrier for building relationships, both personal and professional.

As I have mentioned in previous posts, awareness is the first step towards a desired change. I have come to truly appreciate awareness while learning coaching through peer coaching, when I took on a role of a client. At one of the sessions a topic of my self-confidence arose. I shared with my coach that my confidence tend to fluctuate daily, and even within any giving day. Upon some further exploration, I have come up with a metaphor that confidence is like a checking account and that I should be aware of overdrafts. I have defined overdrafts as anything that caused my confidence level to drop below a certain level, resulting in feeling down and acting defensively.

What I have come to realize is that as I went through my day, there were activities and interactions that had three possible effects on my confidence. They have either added, subtracted, or had no effect on it. I have started to keep a daily journal where I would write down daily activities and the effect they had on my confidence. After a while, I have discovered, that similar activities may have affected my confidence either positively or negatively. At first, this did not make any sense. However, after some further digging, I have concluded that my own attitude going into the activity could largely determine the outcome! Eventually, I have come up with a system of thinking about my day the night before. I would look at the calendar and try to envision the day ahead. I would try to see the activities and interactions having only positive outcomes. This system really worked for me. More of the outcomes have either became positive, or had no effect on my confidence. Furthermore, I could now preserve and build on a positive momentum and carry higher level of confidence into an activity or interaction where I needed it the most.

As a coach I highly recommend keeping a journal around some specific areas my clients are looking to improve. Sometimes, I think of these journals as of check registers. In case of confidence, positive outcomes of interactions could be seen as deposits. Coaching also allows to build effective structures to minimize the withdrawals. It is intriguing how words “wealth” and “confidence” could be easily substituted in phrases like “wealth / confidence building” and “wealth / confidence preservation”. For some Wealth and Confidence has a causal relationship. How true is that for you? 

The script of your life will remain blank until you start writing

In search of the meaning of life we think that it is written somewhere and is hidden from us. Therefore, we are looking for it as if someday we are to find a little treasure chest. Inside that treasure chest there will be a script with our name on it and it will say something like “Dear Dmitry. The meaning of your life is…”

Thinking about the meaning of our lives brings about thoughts that are empowering as well as disempowering. Many like to focus on the disempowering, negative thoughts. Being a product of the negative bias, so prevalent in a Western society, we like to dwell on negativity and share it willingly.

Let me assure you that there is no treasure chest with a written script in it. Also, thinking negatively about your life and dwelling on the past will not speed up the process of finding its meaning. I will risk the criticism and say that scripting the meaning of your life is not that much different than writing your personal mission statement.

Personal mission statement writing forces us to think about our long term goals and who we want to become. It is a discovery process of our values and roles that brings together positive habits, character traits, and action in one positive, forward looking statement. Once written, personal mission statement is a road map to a more fulfilling, meaningful life.

Work that is required to write a mission statement cannot be done by someone else. You cannot have an outline of your mission statement and give it to someone to write a draft. Unless you start writing, all the great ideas floating inside your head will remain inside your head. Unless you start writing, the page will remain blank.

I know many people who have not written a mission statement. They do not keep a journal. Yet, these are great professionals, caring parents, and college students. They live happy lives and contribute to the well-being of their family and of their community. A written statement is not, by any means, a requirement. It is rather an exercise in times of uncertainty.

Life coaching can help you to get clarity around meaning of your life. The important aspect of life coaching is that when the coach asks you questions, there will be no right or wrong answers. The answers you provide are based on what you know at the moment and what are your current values. As you engage in a journey towards your new goals, the learning and discovery processes will bring forth what will be important for you and you will start looking at your actions from the stand point of an alignment to your values. You will start seeing a total picture like a bird flying thousands of feet above the ground. Imagine that!

The stronger the commitment, the higher is the ROI

Life coaching, or any other types of personal coaching including career and business coaching, is not free and you may be wondering if it is worth the time commitment and the financial investment on your part. The answer depends on many factors that are unique to you and your coach. However, holding everything else equal, the stronger is your commitment to stick to the plan and do the work during and in between the sessions, the higher will be the return on your investment, or the ROI.

Individual’s results may and will vary.  For some, it may take very little time to move to action. For others, the aspect of coaching that will be the most valuable will not necessary be action-oriented at all. Changes in perspectives, or a new way of thinking, can be just as rewarding because they will lead to new course of action in due time. Delay in action is not necessary a sign of a weakness. Sometimes, additional information and self-conviction is needed to take a first step in a new direction.

International Coach Federation has published statistical evidence of benefits of coaching. Some numbers shows the increases in productivity or the improvements in business management process. These could be easily measured in monetary terms. But how can someone assign monetary value to increases in confidence or improvements in relationships? For example, let’s consider your investment of $1,000 in career coaching. Let’s assume that as the result, you increased your level of confidence in your interviewing skills. After a few months, you landed a new job that pays $10,000 per year more. According to a standard formula, your ROI after the first year of employment equals (($10,000 – $1,000) / $1,000) or 900% . Furthermore, because of the new job, your confidence gets a boost and is now showing in other areas of life. Generally speaking, confident people are better equip to handle stress and set-backs. They have a more positive outlook on life. These traits often affect their relationships in a positive way. How will you measure the ROI in this case? Usually, the intangible benefits of coaching extend well beyond the first year, especially when clients continue to be engaged in a practice of self-learning and self-management once established during coaching.

What makes personal coaching different from other types of consulting is the fact that it is the client who decides what is important. Coaches recognize and hold in high regard the uniqueness of each client’s situations, their values and beliefs, and their goals. When a client experiences moments of clarity they often see things in a new light for a very brief moment. With the help of the coach, these discoveries are put in a more permanent state through an action plan. Just like with anything else, practice makes changes more sustainable. Often, the formation of new habits happen within the time-frame of coaching engagement. The dialog between the client and the coach helps to keep the commitment strong.

In not so distant past, a high-ticket executive coaching was the only option to experience personal coaching. While executive coaching is still at large, personal coaching arrangements have emerged. Today, tens of thousands of individuals who paid directly for their personal coaching have improved their lives in various ways. What keeps you from achieving your goals? What areas of your life can use improvement? Whatever your answer is, personal coaching can help!

Life Coaching has no documented negative side effects

If you were to do a keyword search for “side effect of” on Google, the first four words that will automatically be filled for you are Xanax, steroids, prednisone, and metformin. All are prescribed medications used to treat various medical conditions. Some conditions are more life- threatening then the others. If you were to do a keyword search for “negative side effects” on Google, the first four categories that will automatically be filled are weed, vaping, coffee, and caffeine. Search for “Top 10 negative side effects” on Google, the first four categories that will automatically be filled are smoking, steroids, energy drinks, and caffeine.

Looking at these search results, I have come to realize that people do care about negative side effects of substances that generate billions of dollars in revenue each year and, supposedly, should help with our physical, mental, and emotional health! By why things that are good for us are also bad for us? Why in an attempt to improve life we often get an opposite result?  Now, I dare you to search for “negative side effect of life coaching.” I stress the word “life” as there are other types of coaching, i.e. executive, corporate, or sport coaching. What negative side effect of life coaching did you find? Next, I dare you to examine these, documented by PricewaterhouseCoppers, tangible and intangible benefits of using a coach. Dare I ask what your next step is?

Everybody’s definitions of big words are as different as their perspectives on life

Recognizing the fact that each of us has unique life experiences is a fundamental aspect of life coaching. The experiences shape and reinforce the understanding of the world, the way we communicate, and even the words we choose. Coaches pay close attention to word choice, and the tone of voice. Often, even a slightest shift in tonality, may reveal a shift in the energy. The word choice could also be indicative of a certain personality traits. For example, starting sentences with, “I don’t know, but…” may be indicative of indecisiveness.

When a client uses words that are open to interpretation, a coach may ask for clarification, by asking them to visualize the word. Surprised? Yet, it is a great way for a client to share his or her perspective about the situation. For example, a client may say “…and I hate when this happens!” “You said hate. It is a strong word. How did hate look at the moment?” a coach may inquire. A client will either substitute a word with something lighter, or share things that do make her or him feel hateful. The latter will allow for a deeper dive, which may bring to the surface something new to be explored.

Perspectives are interpretations of circumstances. They may vary from one person to the next. Let’s say, a client got stuck in traffic. His perspective made him say, “…and I hate when this happens”. However, another person could have said, “…and I had time to catch with up my mom over the phone!” Traffic takes more time, for all involved, to move from points A to points B. However, not everyone will see the opportunity that comes from having more time. There is nothing we can do, if, due to traffic, we are running late to an important meeting, for instance. However, we can choose our perspective.

The word choice is a key to understanding the clients’ perspectives. If in working with the coach, the client determines that a certain perspective no longer supports the client’s goals, a new perspective will be sought after. When pursuing a new goal with a new perspective, some “big words” may get re-defined along the way. For example, and old definition of “happiness”, in terms of what it means to a client, will be re-defined with new attributes.

One of the reason I have become a coach was my fascination with the diversity of people’s inner worlds. These worlds encapsulate the people’s values and beliefs, perspectives, and emotions. To me, the diversity inside perspective means a diversity of behaviors. Thus, as a coach, I have a vast field of possibilities. To me, coaching can never get boring!

The difference between ‘I knew it!’ said with regret or with joy could be explained by whether or not you took action.

What drives our actions? Many things. Emotions, like fear, or love, reasons, like commitment. Whatever the driver may be, it carries a seed of knowledge of a most likely outcome. We are not right all the time, but, enough times to start noticing a pattern. Call it intuition, hunch, vision. Sometimes, we take chances when we rationalize, and think the odds are in our favor. Sometimes, we get stuck, and can’t act, even when we think we should.

Lack of action is still action. Inaction sounds like a combination of two words: “invisible” and “action”. The reason for inaction could be lack of information, to make a compelling case. Unfortunately, there are situations, where a compelling case represents the harsh reality. Examples are loss of health, or a loss in one’s professional life, or of business opportunities. The lost opportunity could have been avoided with actions taken preemptively. In that case, we say, “I knew it”, with regret.

Action for the sake of action is not a foolproof strategy. If action is taken against the prior knowledge of a negative outcome, the result is often negative. In that case, we also say, “I knew it”, with regret. To illustrate the point, I often use a power outlet analogy. No matter how optimistic the outlook we may psych ourselves up to be, every time we touch the exposed wires, it gives us a jolt!

Through live coaching, actions, or lack of thereof, are carefully examined for certain reasons. The reasons, in turn, are carefully examined, in order to understand what they represent in the client’s life. Acting out of a deeper meaning, or a purpose, is more desirable. For some, this will mean a slight change, while, for others, a longer journey, to establish new habits. Personally, I had to work hard with my coaches, to bring my actions in line with what my values and beliefs are. I had to do a lot of thinking and soul searching, before a vision of a new me would emerge. It was like putting a puzzle together. Once that happened, I knew what to do.

The true gift of being coached is the fact that now I have an awareness of what I am doing, and why. I am aware of what needs to be done, and why, and it is my responsibility to act. If I delay, I am now better at catching myself, and can come up with a good strategy to move things forward, or to take another moment to think, and not to pursue a certain path.

Old habits die hard, and change does not come easy. With the help of a life coach, we can train our way of thinking, and the emotional responses, to keep us on the straight and narrow. We can learn to a see a larger picture, and how not get caught in the moment.

“I knew it”, said with joy, is a goal of life coaching, along with other attributes of what you consider to be a magnificent life. It is never too late to start working toward your goals, at your own pace. With life coaching, there are no hard deadlines (compare that to the Olympics), while some flexibility is encouraged.

“The best way to understand coaching is to experience it”

This may sound self-explanatory, except for fear that may stop some from arranging for a complimentary session. The fear may come from not knowing what to say, or what the coach’s reaction may be. Thus, I think it is a good idea to talk about what exactly happens during the complimentary session.

One of the things that professional coaches are trained to do is to provide a judgment-free feedback. No matter what the client says, or how he/she feels about the self or a situation, the coach will carefully choose the words to avoid even a hint of judgment. Moreover, the coach will steer the client away from self-judgment, and more towards positive thinking. As simple as this may sound, the shift is very powerful, and opens a door to a happier state of mind. For some, this may be enough to see a path towards the goal, while, for others, more time is needed for exploration. In both cases, the clients will feel that they are being supported in a way that they have not been supported before. Having this experience during a complimentary session is a great way to understand how coaching feels.

The complimentary session is an example of a coaching conversation that takes place inside a coaching space. I am yet to come across a formal definition of the concept; thus, I will use my own understanding of it, as I explain it to you.

Think about a time you had a great conversation with a close friend or a relative. The conversation may have taken place in person, or over the phone. You may have had a question, or just started to talk, and the conversation went a bit deeper than usual. Suddenly, you felt an urge to share something, that, up until that moment, you kept only to yourself. The outcome was a relief, a greater clarity, or even the formation of an action plan.

Now, just like in a movie, freeze the frame, and rotate the shot, so that you can see yourself and the other party you are talking to at the same time. What does the space between you and the person you are talking to look like? What is the space filled with? The “filler” may be anything, from smells, to emotions, and certain states of mind. The concept of this space can also be applied to a space between the coach and the client.

Hopefully, the initial fear of unknown has subsided a bit, and a little visual exercise has helped to feel your way around coaching conversation. But, coaching is not just a great dialog. There will be homework which would involve some type of action. After all, coaching does mean practice time. The difference is that you are supported along the way. This support makes action possible, and gives it a relative meaning.

“Stop asking me how coaching works! It’s complicated!”

The reference to the “relationship status” on Facebook as well as 2009 romantic comedy It’s Complicated is here to add some lightness to the topic of life coaching. The way coaching works is not that complicated and if you were to ask me “how does the coaching work?” I’d reply “I am glad you’ve asked!”

The most important point to understand is that a client has to come to coaching with an idea about what he or she is trying to accomplish through life coaching. Many people are seeking the answers to the questions like “why is my boss unfair to me?” or “what is purpose of my life?” These questions are not for your life coach. Coaches do not provide answers. During a session the client shares information with the coach and addresses the area of concern. The coach is the one asking the questions for the client to think about and to reply to. Client talks 80%-90% of the time and not the other way around.

The “thinking through and talking through” process that client is actively involved provides valuable information to the coach. The coach listen intensely to every single word uttered by the client and may reply by asking a question or by commenting to what was said. The client replies again and the dialog continues. The content or agenda of each session is brought by the client, not the coach.  This may sound odd or even contradictory to what you know to be life coaching. Therefore, let me repeat these important points again. It is clients who bring their own agenda and do most of the talking, while coach is the one asking questions along the way. Any questions that clients may have could be restated in a form a specific goal. For example: “I am looking to improve my relationship with my boss” or “I am seeking for a meaning of my life”.

Every coach has its own unique style of coaching and subscribe to one or several of hundreds of coaching models. Looking up coaching models will, for the most part, confuse you. If you have ever tried to look up information about a prescription drug or illness you know what I am talking about. If you are looking for evidence of the benefits of coaching, I invite you to visit and look up “benefits of using a coach”.

In choosing life coach, some will rely on testimonials posted on coaches’ websites. Some testimonials will incorporate clients’ name, occupation, geographical location, and even clients’ pictures. Yet, the best way to get a feel for a coach is to have a conversation. Most will offer a complimentary session.

Trust is the essential for establishing the relationship between the coach and the client. Coaches must keep the content of coaching sessions in strict confidence. The deeper the level of trust and willingness to share, the more effective the outcome will be. Think about the time you shared your secrets with a stranger. What made you trust the stranger? How did you feel after the conversation?