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Coaching to Optimize Your Life

by Tina Korup(more info)

listed in health and life coaching, originally published in issue 81 - October 2002


Life Coaching is now becoming increasingly popular in the UK, with the opening of several training colleges, an MSc course and a steadily growing stream of newly qualified coaches from a wide spectrum of backgrounds offering their services.

A coach will work with you to enhance your personal power, satisfaction and effectiveness.
A coach will work with you to enhance your personal power,
satisfaction and effectiveness.

The concept of Life Coaching is relatively new in the UK. Not surprisingly, the term comes from the USA where coaching is fast becoming an accessory for anyone who wants to make a life and career change, Hilary Clinton included. However, coaching is not a new concept in itself. Prior to the publicized concept of 'Life Coaching', many top executives, business owners and sports personalities employed their own personal coach to help them reach goals, improve performance, get focused and stay at the top. With Life Coaching, the service is extended and made available to the majority. Gone are the days when you had to pay a small fortune to hire a personal coach.

Exercise 1: Your Ideal Life

Close your eyes for a moment and imagine waking up tomorrow to your ideal life. Write down what it would look like, who is in it and what you would be doing. Make sure you write it down in detail, as if it has already happened.

Now ask yourself: Where am I in relationship to my ideal life? What have I already achieved? Which goals would I still like to reach?


So What Exactly is Coaching?

Coaching is a combination of different tools, techniques and theories that together offer you a structure for achieving long-term results in your life. A coach will work with you to enhance your personal power, satisfaction and effectiveness across a range of areas spanning from work and finance to health and spirituality.

Coaching is also a focused one-on-one relationship that provides you with a specific structure for overcoming obstacles and reaching your goals. It works to empower you and assumes that you are willing, able and motivated to take some sort of action.

The coaching approach can vary greatly, depending on the Life Coach's training, background and experience. Some coaches are trained to elicit information, help you reflect, encourage change in behaviours and provide you with support throughout your transformation. Other coaches will work more actively with interventions, such as Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) to facilitate belief changes and break through old habits and patterns.

Whereas Life Coaches don't tell you what to do, they will instead help you to reach your own decisions and challenge the status quo. What all coaching has in common is the focus on enabling you to take some kind of action, overcome obstacles and achieve your goals.

Creating a vision, identifying values and goals, examining habits and attitudes, changing perspectives and working towards life choices that enhance fulfilment, satisfaction and happiness are all core elements of any good coaching programme.

Case Example - Patricia's Story

Patricia was a successful marketing manager with a promising career. She came to coaching following what she described as a 'meltdown' at work. Having felt under a tremendous amount of pressure for several months, one day Patricia sat in front of her computer and looked at the 50+ unanswered emails addressed to her. She then deflected her attention to the pile of unfinished work on her desk and looked at the full pages in her diary. Her eyes filled with tears, she got up from her chair and left work. Later that day she phoned her boss to resign. The stress had become too much and she felt overwhelmed, incapable and exhausted.

Patricia's story is not unique. But rather than accept her resignation, her boss decided to give her some time off and find her a coach.

When Patricia turned up at my office, she was not sure what she wanted anymore. She felt that she had failed, that she was not good enough at her job, and she found it difficult to imagine a bright and prosperous future. With the help of coaching, Patricia began to shift her perspective from feeling helpless to taking responsibility. She discovered that there were a number of her behaviours that she could change and develop in order to gain more control and take charge of her working day. In particular, she became very skilled at asserting herself, saying "No" and asking for help. Interestingly, with these new behaviours, Patricia also discovered a talent for leadership, and within 12 months she had been promoted to European Marketing Manager, leading an international team.

Exercise 2: Your Obstacles

Looking at your ideal life and where you are now, what are the three most important things in your life that you keep putting off or avoid making decisions about?

In the past, what are the three reasons you have given yourself for procrastinating and not taking action?


Is Coaching a Therapy?

Essentially no. Coaching does not promote itself as a therapy and should certainly not be confused with any of the psychotherapies.

Coaching assumes that you are emotionally able to take some sort of practical and tangible action to move forward in your life. Whereas therapy will often help you to work through past issues, coaching is focused on future possibilities and taking action.

My old teacher, psychologist and author, Professor Petruska Clarkson once defined therapy as "the intentional use of a relationship to create change". By that definition, it is only fair to say that the coaching process has some therapeutic effects and benefits.

Depending on the definition we use for 'therapy' (and there are many), we could say that coaching is a process that aims to improve overall well-being, emotionally and physically, by helping you to gain more satisfaction and fulfilment in your life.

Exercise 3: Your Potential

Now ask yourself, if you did not have fear and if you could not fail, what would you be doing right now?
Looking at your answers, how does your fear hold you back? Write down what fear has cost you so far.


Is Coaching for Everyone?

It is the coach's job to recognize your potential (even if you don't) and support you in moving beyond what you would normally achieve on your own. The structured coaching process also makes sure that you stay on track and the coach holds you accountable for your progress while certainly also cheering you all the way to your goal. A coach will challenge you to reflect, commit and take action. Of course, it doesn't suit everyone and you will soon realize how committed you really are to developing and changing when the process unfolds.

Case Example - Matt's Story

Matt was a Corporate Lawyer who came for coaching in order to become more motivated and focused. He felt miserable, had lost his spark and didn't know where he was going with his life. Matt had dreams about writing and thought that this was possibly the only thing that would interest him as he had never really enjoyed his work as a lawyer. Matt was also unhappy in his marriage and was having an affair with a colleague. All in all, it was clear that if Matt was to improve his situation, he would have to take charge and make some changes. The only problem was that Matt did not want to make any changes! In fact, he was not prepared to look at any of his dreams and desires, as he felt financially secure in his job and was afraid of jeopardizing his income and security, even if only temporarily while making some career changes. In his private life, it also emerged that he wanted the benefits of the practical arrangements that his marriage provided although he didn't feel love or passion for his wife.

Matt is a good example of a person who feels dissatisfied but is not prepared to take any action. It is also the case that most situations in which we find ourselves have some benefits for us, often called 'secondary gains', and they may be so strong that we choose those above more fulfilment and satisfaction. In Matt's case, both his job and marriage represented a safety and predictability that was more important to him than feeling happy, focused and motivated.

Matt's story clearly shows that the prerequisite to coaching is some kind of willingness to take action and a motivation to make changes.

If you are not prepared to look at your fears and other factors that are holding you back, it is unlikely that you will progress. Therefore, it is always important to be aware that the onus is on you, not your coach, to make the appropriate moves in the direction you wish to take your life.

Exercise 4: Your Willingness and Motivation

What is the one thing you can do or change right now that would make the greatest difference to your life?
Is that something you are prepared to do?


The culprit - Fear

It is my experience that fear is the most significant and common factor in holding us back from achieving more of our dreams and desires in life. Our fear of the unknown, change, exposure, risk, etc., all seem to fit under the umbrella of 'fear of failure'.

Many, if not most, seem to spend considerable time attempting to cover all contingencies before taking any action to create change.

Although some of this can make good sense, it is also often an excuse for not doing anything at all apart from contemplating.

No matter how much we try, it is simply not possible to pre-empt all future scenarios, nor is it guaranteed that we will succeed.

Weighing up the pros and cons is a good exercise when making a decision about moving forward, but it's important to accept that things don't always turn out as planned and, in that event, we can learn much about ourselves and the world around us. Staying flexible and open allows you to re-evaluate and also enables you to deal with unpredicted situations.

In coaching, the philosophy is to focus on the individual's strengths and build on those. Rather than working with your weaknesses, coaching will help you to identify your key strengths and develop those even further. It is surprising how often we are unclear about our strengths but are acutely aware of our weaknesses. This is a circle that perpetuates the tendency to procrastinate by constantly reminding us of our insecurities and what could go wrong.

Case Example - Marianna's Story

Marianna had always dreamed about a career in counselling and therapy. Now that her children were at school, she felt that the time was right to look at her career. When Marianna came to me, she had spent over a year looking at different prospectuses, seeking information and attempting to decide which course to go for. She felt confused and was wondering if she was going in the right direction with her life. In her first coaching sessions it quickly became clear that Marianna was anxious about studying and lacked confidence in her academic abilities. She had not applied because she was afraid of getting rejected. And if she did get a place, she was extremely fearful that she would not succeed or be able to qualify. Having imagined all the worst possible scenarios, Marianna's fear of failure was running her life, preventing her from moving forward. When she realized the strong hold that fear had taken on her life, Marianna began to focus on her desires and strengths and to challenge her fears. Three months later, Marianna was accepted on her course and very soon realized that she had all the resources to make her training and new career a success. Not only did she find the studying very interesting and stimulating, she also discovered that she was exceeding her own expectations by getting fantastic feedback from her tutors.

Exercise 5: Your Commitment

If you are willing and motivated, you can move on to your action plan. Write down:

  • Your goal;
  • By when you would like to achieve it;
  • What resources you already have;
  • What further resources and support you need;
  • Your greatest challenge;
  • Your first point of action this week.


Why is Life Coaching Becoming So Popular?

We live such busy lives with complex demands. The majority of my clients come to coaching because they have suddenly realized that life is not as they want it and now they are wondering if perhaps they can do something to get more of what they want.

Again and again, I see how we get caught up in career, family, children, mortgages, etc., only to feel overwhelmed by daily routines, expectations and lack of time. In that situation we are likely to have lost touch with our desires, dreams and sense of fun and joy. So many simply muddle through life, lowering their sights and making do. Others perhaps get so focused and busy in one area such as career that their quality of life suffers greatly as a result.

Coaching is a way of reconnecting with your life purpose and beginning to make some conscious decisions in line with your values and desires. Often it is the desire for something more and the realization that we are not living our ideal life that motivates us to read self-help books and go on motivational seminars. Coaching is an instrument that helps you to continue where the training and books leave off and it can save you weeks and months of procrastination.

Much as we may feel fired up at the initial stage of a realization, perhaps you also know from your own experience how difficult it can be to keep the momentum going. Often we start out motivated and focused only to discover that a couple of weeks or even days later we are back to old habits and far away from reaching our initial goal. This is where the coaching is particularly powerful in that it keeps you on track, focuses your mind and actions and works to maintain the connection to your goal and desire although 'everyday life' is happening alongside.

How Does It Work?

One of the many strengths of coaching is its flexibility, enabling people with different time demands and financial capabilities to take advantage of the process. Coaching is most popularly used over the telephone with some additional email support when appropriate, but it is also possible to see a coach in person although this is a more costly and time-consuming exercise. Sessions usually last from 30 to 60 minutes and start at about £40.


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About Tina Korup

Tina is an Occupational Psychologist and Life Coach with ten years' experience in coaching and training. She is also the founder of Essential Life Skills (ESL), which offers a combination of Life Coaching and personal development seminars. For more information and resources, contact Tina on Tel: 0131 657 4823;;

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