How to be your own life coach
Everybody could benefit from working with a life coach from time to time to help navigate some of the bigger challenges and changes in life. For some, however, accessing a life coach isn’t always an option because of time, financial, geographical or other considerations.
When you work with a life coach, you quickly realise that part of what the coach does is teach you a number of essential life skills such as how to identify what’s really important to you, what you want and don’t want and, of course, how to set and achieve your goals.
Here are some of the foundational strategies and tools that life coaches use, which you can use to coach yourself.
The GROW model
This is the most important tool in the coach’s toolkit and forms the foundation for nearly every coaching conversation. GROW is the easy-to-remember acronym covering four core questions: What is the Goal you want to achieve? What is the current Reality for you, or in other words, what’s the story behind the goal and why do you want it? What Options do you see as available at this time and how are you measuring them? What can you do as your first step, or Way Forward, toward meeting your goal?
These four questions may sound fairly simple but the model works. It’s important to keep in mind that these questions are simply a starting point for further questioning and exploration. To gain more clarity about the goal, you could also ask some of the following questions:
- What are the goals you want to achieve? Write them down.
- What would you like to be different when you are done using this model to coach yourself?
- When do you want to achieve this goal?
- How challenging will it be to achieve your goal?
- How will you know when you have achieved your goal?
- What is happening now that indicates you have a problem?
- How do you know this is accurate?
- How often does this happen?
- What effect does this have?
- What have you tried so far to overcome the problem?
- What is happening now that is good and that you would like to keep happening?
- What is someone else’s perception of the situation?
- What have you tried so far?
- Do you know anyone who has achieved this goal?
- What can you learn from them?
- What obstacles are in your way that prevent you from reaching your goal?
- What five things could you do?
- What could you do as a first step?
- What alternatives are there to that approach?
- What else could you do?
- What would (your boss, your partner etc) suggest you do?
- What are the benefits and pitfalls of that option?
- Which option would you most like to act on?
- What would happen if you did nothing?
- What would you do if you had unlimited resources?
Wrap up/Way forward
- What is the next step?
- What actions will you take in order to achieve your goal?
- When will you do what?
- How long do you think that will take?
- What support might you need?
- How and when can you get that support?
- What obstacles do you expect to face?
- How will you overcome them?
A point to remember about the GROW model is that although you may start off well, as you continue through the series of questions you may discover the real goal is something different from what you started with. This is absolutely fine and likely to happen to you on more than one occasion.
The reason for this is that as you explore the issue you might you need to focus in with more detail or break down the issue into smaller, more manageable goals; or conversely, go broader, to look at the bigger picture.
It is also important to use this model to work on just one goal at a time. You can work at your own pace and when you have a “way forward” action plan, then you can apply the model to the next goal. Three goals or less is a manageable number for most people, as any more can be overwhelming, resulting in nothing getting done.
Values and Beliefs
A major focus in all coaching conversations is to zero in on what’s important to the individual. This may begin with identifying what your values are and how these impact your beliefs, decisions and behaviours. Examples of values include honesty, integrity, respect, success, acknowledgement, family, joy, professionalism, citizenship and, of course, love.
Challenge yourself to write a list of your top 10 values. You actually have hundreds of values, but which are the most important things in your life? Which, when they are fulfilled, bring you the most happiness?
The next step may seem like a bit of work but it is likely to change your entire outlook. For each value, consider the following questions (and you may want write your thoughts down in a journal).
Values and Beliefs Exploration
- Where did this value come from?
- Who taught it to you?
- When did you first believe it was important?
- What makes it important to you now?
- When you are living up to this value yourself, what are the benefits to you and others?
- When you are not living up to this value, what are the consequences to you and to others?
- When others in your life live up to this value, what are the benefits to you?
- When others do not live up to this value, what consequences does that mean for you?
- How do you respond when you’re not living up to this value?
- How do you respond when others in your life do not live up to this value?
- What role does this value play when you’re making important life decisions?
- What conditions do you have for this value? For example, if the value is “Giving”, do you have conditions about when you’ll give, to whom and in what circumstances? There is no judgement in this question; just be honest about what your rules and conditions are.
- If there’s anything about this value you want to change, including your own behaviour and/or how you respond to other people’s behaviour, what do you want to change?
- What are you committing to?
- List the benefits of achieving the goal (inspiration).
- List the risks if you don’t (motivation).
- List three obstacles that might get in the way of success.
- Identify two solutions for each obstacle now so that you’re prepared in case the obstacle occurs.
- Develop either an inspiration or motivation (your choice, but inspiration typically works better) strategy to keep you on track with your goal.
- Identify your resources. What values will support you? What skills and strengths do you have to help you achieve your objective? What information do you need to collect? What support do you need to recruit, such as someone to keep you accountable?
- What’s the first step you’ll take in the next 24 hours?
- What are the various steps, in order, after that?
- What are the milestones along the way toward your final achievement and how will you celebrate those?
- How will you celebrate the final goal being realised? Who will you thank and invite to celebrate with you?
- How will you document what you’ve learned from this process so that you can remember the strategies for future goals?
This exploration of values and beliefs may stir things up a bit for you, in which case ensure you have someone you trust with whom you can to talk through your feelings. That conversation with another person could be helpful anyway to get your ideas and feelings out of your head and into the open. A great deal of self-awareness and clarity can come from this.
Pain or pleasure?
Coaching often also looks at paradigm shifts, or moving from one attitude and approach to another. The most common of these is the pain-or-pleasure approach. If something is painful, uncomfortable or undesirable in any way, we’re likely to “move away” from it. This is motivation and it is fear-driven. We fear being “stuck” with the painful thing so we’ll do whatever it takes to move away from it. This can be a very effective strategy for some people.
The other side of this is “moving toward” pleasure. This is inspiration and it is desire-driven. If we want something badly enough and have a very clear vision of that goal, we are far more likely to put in an extraordinary effort to achieve it. Inspiration is typically more powerful and effective than motivation. Our desires can be stronger than our fears in many situations, although not in all.
The paradigm shift opportunity you have here is to choose your focus. Are you going to focus on the pain and what it takes to move away from it, or would it work better to focus on what you’re moving toward and put in the necessary effort to achieve what you desire?
SMART goal setting
The essential model to understand about achieving your goals is the SMART plan, with plan being the key word. There’s a great phrase: “Those that fail to plan are planning to fail.” Truer words have seldom been spoken. SMART refers to how you define the goal. It is the first step of your plan and, as with all the steps, you need to write it down:
Specific Describe exactly what you want
Measurable How will you know if you’ve achieved it?
Attractive Is this something you really want?
Realistic and Relevant Is this achievable and is it also a priority right now?
Timeframe Commit to a date by which it needs to happen.
Once you’ve properly defined the goal, complete the following steps by writing these into your plan:
Obviously, these strategies take some practice. You need to try them out — possibly a number of times — until you find the combination of approaches that works best for you. However, if you’re still struggling to achieve what you’re after, you may need to ask for some more specialised help, and that’s typically a great place to start working with a coach.
Noel Posus is a master coach with askacoach.com, an online coaching resource centre that provides low-cost email and phone coaching services to anyone looking to make changes in their life.