Life coaching – what is it and how does it work?

Mindfulness Food for Thought
March 27, 2016
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Life coaching – what is it and how does it work?

In an earlier post, we discussed the future of executive coaching, specifically how it must prepare executives and professionals for a business world which is constantly changing and adapting.

In this month’s post, we will be taking a look at life coaching, a discipline which shares much in common with executive coaching, but places a broader emphasis on a work life balance, and takes a wider view of the client’s personal and professional goals. Indeed the ethos which guides the best executive coaches also guides life coaches – a commitment to helping the client clarify their goals, and then find a way to make those goals a reality.

As is the case for an Executive Coach, a skilled Life Coach will get to the root of what really makes a person tick and then help them make the personal change that works for them in order to thrive.   A person’s partnership with a Life Coach should focus on the QUALITY of the process not just a narrow measurement of return on investment.

The pressures of modern working life have given rise to depression, chronic fatigue, stress and anxiety; this can sometimes be brought about by a lifestyle that is not beneficial to a person’s state of mind and wellbeing.   It doesn’t have to be this way; through focus and attention on pragmatic Mindfulness and Perception Shifting strategies as part of a Personal Development Plan it is possible to optimise a busy and interesting life without experiencing a meltdown.

Why are you using a life coach? 

Fundamentally a good life coach encourages the client to unlock their own personal source of motivation and inspiration for the life that will give them most fulfilment.  This is a critical point that can be misunderstood when people are focused on playing out the expectations of a role they have adopted in life because it is a continuation of their education, early professional career or driven by the expectations of family and friends.

Getting to the root of a client’s own motivation (intrinsic motivation) ensures change is focused through their eyes rather than those of well-meaning (but potentially unhelpfully biased) employers, partners, family members or friends.  Extrinsic motivation (or external motivation) from third parties can help up to a point if the intentions are in the best interests of the person.  However, where the extrinsic motivator also has high levels of personal power in a person’s life, this may result in change that is “acted out” only when people are watching, rather than the hoped for changed habits in action a genuinely engaged professional would demonstrate.

A person may hire a life coach because they have clear personal goals, but require more  focus, skilful encouragement and guidance in order to achieve them – this may be due to a hectic work schedule, or simply a reflection of a need to gain independent, professional guidance on the steps required to make the new habits stick.

A key benefit of a life coach lies in their ability to help convert these motivations and turn them into a set of actionable goals and practical steps in a way that chimes with the client’s own perceived values so that the result is aligned to a balanced holistic lifestyle that is “bespoke” for their needs.


Ridding yourself of common misconceptions 

There are a number of misconceptions surrounding the practice of life coaching; this is usually due to the way that life coaching is used inter-changeably (and incorrectly) with other professional and personal services such as therapy and/or pure career advice. Here are some of the most common myths surrounding life coaching.

Life coaches are business advisers

While it is true that a life coach will be able to help you strategise as you attempt to manage the various facets of your business career, a life coach will not make business strategy their main focus. Whilst they may be a sounding board for you to test out by business idea,s they are not an extra pair of hands for running your business

Life Coaches are therapists

There are significant differences between a life coach and a therapist or counsellor. Broadly speaking, a therapist’s emphasis will be on the past, and how this affects your present. Meanwhile a life coach will focus predominantly on the present and how you want to impact your future.

There is a fixed pattern to your sessions

It is best to go into sessions with your coach not expecting it to follow a specific pattern; sessions should be scheduled to suit your needs and availability and the skills and availability of the coach


Understanding the life coaching process

Each life coach will have their own way of working. However, typically you should expect the following:

  • Clarification of your goals: these need to strike the right balance, not aiming too high or too low
  • Objective assessment: try to be as objective about your personal development needs as possible.
  • Reviewing your current resources: consider the key people and aspects of life that help you to thrive e.g. family, friends, hobbies, your current job.
  • Values: your own belief system should be honoured and understood during your work with a coach as it will drive your mental models and how you frame your priorities
  • Improved habits of living: the ultimate conclusion of a successful coaching relationship.
  • Keeping on the right track: your life coach will provide helpful encouragement to ensure you meet your goals. Expect to report back on successes and challenges as you put your new thinking into action.


Defining Parameters & Charting a Course with Your Life Coach 

Whilst developing a strong and clear intent is essential for establishing the momentum for change; realistic, actionable goals and guiding practical steps are equally essential to ensure you experience the intended breakthroughs.

A trusted coach will help you to re-focus your thinking and make you the architect of your own life coaching plan. Your future goals might be any of the following.

  • Finding out what’s really important to you and how to incorporate that into your life plan
  • Defining what you’re good at and building a career and professional network to build future opportunities
  • Developing strategies of motivation, concentration and focus (avoiding procrastination) in an important area of your life. Making a much-needed career change that will build on your strengths
  • Building strengths and resilience to overcome difficulties
  • Implementing a better work/life balance so that you have time for what you enjoy
  • Building effective and positive relationships to overcome conflict
  • Learning new skills in managing or influencing others
  • Cultivating a positive state of mind and problem solving skills

A life coach can be viewed as being similar in focus to a personal trainer and indeed both will help you to prioritise your goals and modify your performance in order to realise these goals.  However, a life coach skilled in triggering the power of your mind will help you integrate all the key elements that make for your successful life in a holistic way so that you are in control of the overall balance and focus of your life.

With this in mind, a key part of a life coach’s role will be to ask you  probing and meaningful questions to encourage you to articulate what you want to achieve and how you plan to get there.

However, it is important to stress that a life coach will not tell you what to do, or define a road map for you to follow – their goal is to help you develop and examine your own insights.  The techniques used will foster greater strength in your commitments to follow through on your dreams and inspiration.  A trusted life coach is a facilitator for the change you want to make but might let slip by if you get too busy, distracted, stuck or even lazy! It’s a bit like having a corner of your mind watching and persistently nudging you towards good, helpful habits and away from bad, sabotaging ones.


Finding Direction in Life

Highly motivated and successful people will often habitually seek out experts, as they are pre-disposed towards continuous improvement.  However this approach only works if the client carefully examines why they have chosen a particular direction in the first place.  Whilst goals may be successfully met, life satisfaction can be lacking.

Conversely, other people  have a sense that life can be better, know they want to move forward, but aren’t able to be any more specific than this. It’s not uncommon for such people to find themselves in a position where they don’t know how to frame what needs to happen for them to succeed or find there are obstacles holding them back which they are not sure how to tackle.  Often a perceived obstacle may be stopping them from having the courage to make decisions.

The life coach will help both types of client re-prioritise and re-frame the competing interests in their lives so that they are able to more authentically and resourcefully frame how they want to succeed.


Building self-awareness

No one can live your life for you, nor do they probably have the telepathy to know what’s right for you.  Friends, colleagues and family may have other ideas of course! A life coach will help you put into sharp focus what you are all about, and also what you are not about.  Sometimes the latter gives more clarity on who we really are!  Through specific techniques greater clarity can be achieved of what may be holding you back in life and the strategies needed in future.  A life coach will help you pin down and make the most of your strengths, identify blind spots and boost your confidence to re-shape your career and life-style in a way that suits you.


Being accountable in a coaching partnership

A life coach is not a best friend, critical parent or some kind of cheerleader. The relationship with a coach should be on an equal adult-to-adult partnership basis.  The coach is there to help you frame your intended life goals and build your skills so that, ultimately,  the coach will be redundant in the grand scheme of “Project You”.  As transformations occur in your life you may find that you outgrow one life coach and want to partner with others who have different, more relevant experience for the new you.

A good coaching partnership is a confidential, risk-free space with a trusted professional who is skilled and trained in personal change techniques.  However, it’s ultimately YOU who delivers on the commitments for professional and personal growth that are framed in your work together.  If you aren’t able to follow through on these commitments for some reason, with a life coach rooting for you, you now have a witness with your best interests in mind to explain yourself to!


 Strategies of A Life Coach

The benefits of a life coach ultimately lie in the strategies they put into practice with their clients to shift mind-sets and build positive mental energy for change.  Here is a selection of the strategies used by a mind-centred life coach.


1. Neuro-Linguistic Programming

Neuro-linguistic programming is a technique designed to break the negative patterns in thought and behaviour which prevent positive change. Neuro-linguistic programming harnesses language to break down some of our biggest mental barriers and can be used to improve overall communication and empathy skills, manage stress levels and install new more functional life habits.  Neuro-linguistic programming can be broadly broken down into three component parts.

  • Understanding beliefs and mind-sets – we all have a unique perspective of our world and the role we play in it.
  • Mental models –  understanding our system of identifying patterns and labelling which we draw on and redefine as we grow and make progress with new knowledge, skills or behavoiurs
  • Language – the use of positive and constructive language gives us the power to change our own boundaries and overcome limits.


2. Strengths and Preferences Profiling Tools

Through understanding where our talents lie, we can often establish strong strategies for success once these are framed in a pragmatic way for others to understand and access.  Often clients struggle with pinning down what they are good at and are hesitant to promote their strengths at important interviews and key meetings.  Life coaching using Myers Briggs or other Conflict Styles tools can bring heightened self-awareness of preferences and strengths which are then used in conjunction with tailored techniques to optimise interpersonal skills depending on the situation.

Additionally by understanding our own patterns in the way we analyse the world and the role we play in interacting with others, the more we can make informed choices about how we want to operate within teams or other communities we may be involved in.

With all profiling tools, insight is gained once the mysteries have been explained of why we do things the way we do them.  This can bring great confidence and reassurance on why we are the way we are and how It is that others find it so easy to misunderstand us. These tools may also give important direction when making professional choices.


 3. Mindfulness & Perception Shifting Techniques

The emphasis here is to change your perceptions of events, people and other ideas where these are holding you back in life.  This typically occurs where the client suffers from stress, anxiety and phobias.  You will work through your  typical thought patterns to focus on the aspects of your life that may be holding you back and get customised support to help reframe these challenges in a more positive and functional way.  Current (potentially self-defeating) emotional habits are examined so new, more constructive ones can be established.

Mindfulness techniques can significantly help in learning the skills to watch our mind and control our outmoded, unhelpful ways of thinking (typically in situations of stress, anxiety or fear).  New habits and behaviours can then take root and flourish with far less resistance.

Positive affirmations can then be designed to reinforce the desired, new beneficial habits.


4. Guided Visualisation Techniques

For some clients guided visualisation may help with emotional and performance-related breakthroughs   The success of this technique is based on our experience that images created in the mind are an important precursor to new ways of thinking and behaving.  The mind has a significant ability to create new realities and imagine fresh possibilities.  We become what we think.  Guided visualisation can be an important tool in problem solving and imagining new beginnings.


5. Drawing on Your Experience of Success

Given clients (and indeed people!) are the product of a lifetime of education, experiences and interactions with others it should never be underestimated how much expertise may already exist.  The coach will help the client to process past instances where they have dealt with similar situations to those currently presenting so that the important and relevant lessons can be built into future experiences.

Check out our infographic on some of the benefits of working with a life coach here

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