Do you need a life coach?

Elite athletes know that one of the keys to success is surrounding themselves with a top- notch support team- coaches, physiotherapists, nutritionists and training partners, to name just a few.

For people wishing to be proactive rather than reactive when it comes to protecting their health, many have adopted the same approach by using the services provided by various health practitioners. Some of these professionals focus mostly on the physical or a combination of physical and mental: chiropractors, massage therapists, physiotherapists, acupuncturists, body therapists, and naturopaths for example. Others, such as therapists, mentors, psychologists and hypnotherapists, focus more exclusively on the mental/emotional side of things. Where does a Life Coach fit in? Life coaching is relatively new to the arena of health and wellness support, and you may be confused about what exactly a life coach does. Depending on your personal goals, however, hiring a coach may turn out to be the most powerful decision you could make.

What is life coaching?

A life coach differs from various other health professionals in distinct ways. A coach is not a mentor or a counsellor. There is no flow of information or expertise from one person, who is more trained or knowledgeable, to another. Instead the coach believes that you are the expert in your own life and their role is to help you process information, set and prioritise goals, and hold you accountable to your plan of action and provide support. Furthermore, a coach differs significantly from a therapist or psychologist in that they do not focus on the past. A coach looks at what is and helps you create what will be, but does not dwell on what was other than to acknowledge the impact past decisions, habits and circumstances may have had on your present situation. Indeed there are times that a careful and deep analysis of the past is necessary and helpful, but this is not the role of a coach.

Do you need a life coach?

A life coach may be helpful if:

  • you are feeling stuck or stalled in your life, uncertain of where to go or how to get there
  • you have a great idea (or many great ideas) but you just can’t seem to follow through
  • you have a specific plan, but you cannot seem to stick with it
  • you have a big dream that seems impossible

If any (or all) of the above sound familiar and you make the decision to hire a life coach, two important things to consider are what their coaching niche is (if they have identified one) and whether or not the coach is certified. ‘Life coaching’ is a broad term used to describe a myriad of different specialities. While some coaches work under this large umbrella, others choose to work with a much more specific population of client. The most common kinds of coaching are: relationship, health and wellness, executive, business, spirituality, parenting, transition, financial, weight loss, grief and career coaching. What kind of coach you choose is largely up to you and determined by the issues you wish to address. If you have a specific goal already, it may be beneficial to seek a coach who focuses on that particular area because often coaches choose their niches based on personal experiences and their key strengths. If you are, for example, a stay at home mum who wants to write a novel and lose a couple of kilograms, there is a probably a coach for you. To the contrary, if you are unsure of what exactly your issues are, working within a wider framework, at least at the beginning, may be the best use of your time and energy. A good coach is one who can flow with you as you explore your issues and use their coaching tools to deal with whatever arises. If they truly feel that they are unable to help you, they are ethically bound to inform you of this.

Ethics within coaching can be a tricky subject. Currently there is no formal training necessary to become a life coach and no standard certification process for coaches. This means than anyone can call themselves a life coach. While there may be some fabulous coaches who are not certified, finding one who is means they are more likely to have demonstrated core coaching competencies and gained a minimum of coaching experience through practice coaching hours in order to complete their training. They are also more likely to be aware of and adhere to coaching ethics such as those set out by the International Coaching Federation (ICF). Furthermore, be aware that not all coach training programs are accredited with the ICF. Those programs which are must meet a set of criteria set out in the ICF’s Accredited Coach Training Programs standards. For more information see

Questions to ask a coach

Most coaches offer introductory sessions free of charge, so feel free to take the opportunity to ask them some questions. You may want to ask:

  • where they completed their training and whether or not the program is accredited with the ICF. Please note that if they are without formal training, you may still hire them. Sometimes your gut instinct tells you they are a good fit, and coaching comes naturally to some.
  • what coaching model they use/ what their coaching style is
  • what experience, if any, they have with the issues you wish to address
  • what their coaching relationships look like. This includes how they work (face to face, by phone, by e-mail, all of the above?), what kind of support they offer in between sessions (2 phone calls a week, e-mail only, no contact?), how much they charge and when payment is due. Most coaches will give you a coaching contract which clearly answers the above questions and also sets out boundaries and guidelines regarding cancellations, missed sessions, and ending the coaching partnership. If there is anything in the coaching contract which makes you uncomfortable, discuss it with the coach. If they are unwilling to discuss it, don’t sign.

Shopping around for a coach may seem overwhelming but it makes it more likely that your time spent working with a coach will be the best use of your time and money. You can start by asking around, checking the yellow pages and using the internet to find coaches in your area. Some coaches require that you sign on for a minimum amount of sessions (anywhere from one month up to a year). This may seem like a marketing gimmick, but most coaches know that there is a certain level of commitment and effort required from a client before they will see results. This may be their way of encouraging you to stick with it even if things seem a bit tough at times.

Coaching techniques

Coaching styles and techniques vary from person to person, largely depending on their personality. Some coaches are funny, some are serious; some have a ‘boot camp’ style, some are gentler; some will be happy to tackle several issues at once whereas some will want to focus exclusively on one issue at a time. Despite these differences, there are several coaching techniques that most coaches use. They may use these methods in a very obvious way by telling you exactly what they are doing or in a more subtle manner, by guiding you with well thought out and provocative questions.

Some of the most common methods a coach and client may use are:

  1. Shifting perspective: a very powerful tool which enables you to move beyond the current situation by recognizing another viewpoint. If something seems devastating, how might it be perfect? If something is entirely your partner’s fault, how might the responsibility be totally yours? It is easy to look at a certain issue the way you always have. Shifting perspective means that not only do you see the problem differently, but you see a different set of solutions.
  2. Goal setting: one of the prime strengths of many coaches. They help clients break down large goals into smaller, manageable chunks. Often people have a great idea but no idea where to begin, and good goal setting is a skill which can be learned. Coaches may use the S.M.A.R.T criteria (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely) or something similar to create a step by step path to reaching the desired result. The goal setting process may also include listing the resources needed to achieve the goal, the resources you already have, any obstacles, dates by which you will finish each step and a reward or celebration when you complete each objective as well as the overall goal.
  3. Creating action: a client is left ‘in action’ at the end of each coaching session. The action may be positive (“I will walk everyday”) or negative (“I will not buy cigarettes this week”) but if the client has not been left with a specific task, some would argue that coaching has not taken place.

  4. Acknowledging: one of the most powerful roles of a coach and is what often draws people to hiring a coach. How often do you actually acknowledge yourself, not just when you succeed but for the effort you’re making and the struggles you have overcome? Many people are uncomfortable with praise. Acknowledgement from a coach is genuine and motivational- they will remind you of success when you see only failure and will help you focus on what you have already achieved, not how much you have left to accomplish.
  5. Celebrating: a coach will help you celebrate each small victory. This may include encouraging you to reward yourself in very specific ways (massages, a new gadget, some new clothes etc.) or it may mean simply holding the space for you to feel positive and bask in the glow of what you have accomplished. If you often rush through your tasks without taking time to truly appreciate what you have accomplished, celebrating allows you to press pause and enjoy the moment.
  6. Identifying UACs: UACs are underlying automatic commitments (a term coined by the International Coach Academy) and one of the most important roles of the coach is to help the client identify and challenge UACs. An underlying automatic commitment is something that the client holds to be true whether or not they are aware of it. Helping a client recognize their UACs can be very difficult and confronting, but is absolutely necessary. For example, if a client believes, on a very deep level, that they do not deserve financial success, then it is unlikely they will achieve their goal of making more money. The underlying principle is that what you believe is what you experience. Therefore, until you realise those beliefs and commitments, the chances of moving forward are limited.

  7. Holding the client accountable: some would argue that this is the key role of a coach. If you commit to exercising five days a week and come to your next session having only done three workout sessions, your coach will want to know why. This isn’t about blaming you or making you feel bad, it’s about breaking through those excuses that have kept you from your goals and empowering you to create a new way of being. Many people who have worked with coaches have said that just knowing they will have to explain to their coach why they didn’t complete a certain task has been enough to motivate them to make sure it gets done.

Coaches differ greatly in their styles, fees, methods and materials. The common ground between most (if not all) coaches, however, is that they believe that you deserve to live a life you love. Much like other health practitioners, coaches want to see you realise your potential, fulfil your goals and live a life of passion and completion. If you are ready to take the next step in creating the life you truly want, then now is the time to hire a coach.

Coach yourself!

Try this quick exercise to start changing your life today!

For each of the following areas in your life, (physical, spiritual, mental and emotional) write down one goal. Make sure that the goals meet the S.M.A.R.T criteria (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely).

For example:

  • Physical wellbeing: I will lose 5 kg by December 12, 2009.
  • Spiritual wellbeing: I will attend a community of worship once a month.

  • Mental wellbeing: I will spend 10 minutes a day meditating.
  • Emotional wellbeing: I will journal three times a week about my thoughts and feelings.

Assigning a number from 1-4, rank the above in order of priority.

For the two issues you chose as most immediate in your life, list all the obstacles that have kept you from completing this goal in the past. Be honest with yourself and write down whatever comes to mind.

Now list all the resources you have available to you to help you achieve this goal (a support team, gym membership, a quiet place to meditate etc.)

Formulate your plan of action. Think of one thing you can do in the next hour, one thing you can do in the next day, one thing you can do in the next week, and one thing you can do in the next month to help you achieve your goals. Write them down in the positive (I will…), and post them somewhere you will see them frequently (your mirror, your fridge, in your car).


Meghann Birks is the Director of Outrageous Life Design Professional Coaching Services. She is a coach, writer and facilitator living on the Mornington Peninsula and inspiring people to ‘find their fierce’ and live their best life.

The WellBeing Team

The WellBeing Team

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