Life coaching

How does life coaching work?
The coaching process


So we've determined that coaching takes the form of powerful conversations between you and your coach. Your life coach will question you in a way that is deep and thought provoking.

Talking to your coach this way will reveal how you view things, how you are inspired, and what issues might be blocking your progress. You'll begin to see and think through things in a clearer and more balanced way. Powerful questioning will help you and your coach develop the right exercises and action plans to help you achieve your goals.

But what will your coach talk to you about? How does coaching really work? What approach does it take?



There are a variety of models that coaches follow, as we'll see later on. But in general we can say that most coaching adheres to the following process

1. Clarifying what you want

The first step will be to clarify exactly what it is you want.

This is really important. John Whitmore (1992) argues that people often start by describing what's feasible before talking about what they want, or outlining goals. This is a mistake because it limits you from the get-go. Instead of thinking of inspiring and creative goals that truly motivate you, you're likely to stop short with negative, limited goals.

Most coaches will therefore start by calibrating your values using some sort of coaching assessment. They'll probably also measure long term goals, and dreams. And they'll keep checking these along the way as you coach together, as well as prompting you to keep dreaming big.

The end goals you come up with during this process are the inspiration, Whitmore explains. They are often not under our control because there are so many overlapping systems and fields of influence that come into play. For instance, it might depend on people we work with, or the weather, or the economy. This is why we then need to create and focus on performance goals. These are steps or milestones that lead to the end goal, but are smaller and more achievable.

Even within each coaching session, there is attention paid to goals. The coaching plan you complete before talking to your coach will ask you what you'd like the session to focus on. This allows you to be purposeful in your coaching right from the start.

Dream big

Set coaching goals

2. Assessing where you are right now

Coaching is about helping you get from where you are to where you want to be. Now that you know where you want to be, your coach will help you objectively assess where you are right now.

As we saw earlier, Gallwey explained how an objective point of view is critical in mastering our own inner opponent. In order to reach our goals, we need to be able to fact check our reality in an unbiased, detached manner. To help you, your coach will ask you questions that call for answers that are specific and descriptive, instead of general and judgmental.

O'Connor and Lages plot the characteristics of coaching questions on the following scale:

Coach fact checking
Specific-Descriptive coaching

O'Connor and Lages' Specific-Descriptive grid

During this stage you'll look not only at external circumstances, but also your own inner processes and habits that might serve to jeopardize your progress. For instance, you might have a bad habit of perfectionism that will slow you down and perhaps even cripple your efforts of getting the first chapter of your book written. You'll need to take this into account when tackling that goal, so it's crucial you're open, objective and fact-based in your assessment of reality.


3. Reviewing your resources and options

Next, you and your coach will start to review all the resources, options and courses of action at your disposal that could help you to accomplish your goals. Your coach will probably follow the rules of brainstorming here, where it's important to leave aside critical judgments (such as "I can't afford that") and just generate as many ideas as possible.

During this stage you'll want to identify your resources. According to Grant and Greene, "Resources could be personal experience, mentors, influential people in your life, teacher, books, paintings, music." Resources are where we draw our strength and inspiration. They center us and help us accomplish our goals.

  • For instance, Grant and Green quote Louise, a 41-year-old coaching client who lists as her resources family, walking, music, hard work, her partner, her health and a favorite author.
  • Another client, Veronica, says her resources are music, self hypnosis and deep relaxation, friends, color, gardening, water and Shakespeare
Life coaching resources

After you figure out your resources and list possible courses of action, you'll want to cast a critical eye on your options to factor in costs and benefits of each possible course of action. But this won't come until after you let your creative juices flow and really let yourself think of any possibility.

Brainstorming resources

4. Creating an action plan

The next step is that your coach will help you design a plan that will take you from where you are right now to where you want to be in the future. You'll determine the steps you need to pursue. As O'Connor and Lages state, you'll "convert a discussion into a decision."

In this plan, you'll figure out—

  • What you're going to do and when you're going to do it.
  • What types of obstacles will be in your way, and what support you need.
  • How this action will contribute towards meeting your goal.

Your coach will also measure and calibrate your motivation and commitment to this action step.

After your coaching session, you'll often fill out a Follow up in which you'll put in writing what you and your coach have decided, to solidify your commitment and keep track. Your coach can also create an action item for you, to enable you to report on your progress in between coaching sessions.

Life coaching action plan

5. Instilling motivation and commitment

All throughout the process, your coach will work to keep your motivation and commitment high.

Motivation always originates from within—your coach will work with you to tap into its wellspring. As O'Connor and Lages write,

"Values are what are important to us; they are our deepest motivation."

Your coach will make sure to keep you in touch with your values so that you have ongoing reasons to stay "in the flow" towards your goals.

Your coach will also help to uncover and dispel anything blocking your way, such as fears or limiting beliefs.


6. Calibrating and keeping you on track

As well as keeping you motivated, your coach will make sure you stay on track. It's easier to commit to an action plan than to follow through. By using a series of coaching tools, your coach can keep you on track.

For instance, you might be asked to journal about your experience, in order to bring up long standing internal patterns you might have that aren't working with you. By writing about them, you increase self awareness and the ability to recalibrate. You'll probably also report on your progress towards any goals or action items you've committed to. Your coach will also keep calibrating by giving you self-assessments to measure such things as your values, or gaps in your life that need addressing.

Life coaching journaling
Staying on track

7. Celebrating successes along the way

Throughout your coaching journey, your coach will be sure to mark your victories along the way. People often concentrate on what they want to change, or what isn't working in their personal or business lives. But it's equally important to take note of what you're doing right. This gives you confidence and keeps you motivated.

Celebrating victories



There are a number of coaching models around. Here's a brief overview of some of them:

GROW model

Your coach will work with you on creating Goals, assessing your Reality, brainstorming Options, and figuring out What you will do.

Coactive coaching

Your coach will design an alliance with you and then ask powerful questions to help you get inside new perspectives, create a plan, and commit to it.

NLP coaching

Your coach will use techniques from neuro-linguistic programming to help you shift limiting beliefs, uncover hidden patterns of thinking and create rapport, in order to bring out your full potential.

Positive psychology coaching

Your coach will draw on the work of Martin Seligman to help you create authentic happiness.

Ontological coaching

Your coach will help you identify breakdowns in your life, and change the parts it that are preventing you from fixing those breakdowns by exploring your physiology, moods, emotions and language.

Life coaching models

Three core features to coaching models

Despite the diversity, there are three core features to all coaching models, according to O'Connor and Lages (2007: 173):


Supporting you and guiding your attention

Your coach is your biggest supporter, and their work is geared towards your values and goals, rather than their own agenda. They guide your attention with their questions like a flashlight, shining light into areas you wouldn't normally see yourself.

Supporting and guiding attention


Giving meaning to what you say in a way that goes beyond your own thinking

Then they reflect back a different and more productive perspective to help you develop new strategies and habits, and initiate change.

Giving meaning


Helping you to take action

Finally they'll help you turn this new perspective into a plan for taking action. Coaching is very solution focused and taking action is at the heart of it. The plan you develop with your coach will always be more productive than one you could come up with yourself because it's not based in your old habits. Doing the same thing in the same old way has not gotten results. With the help of your coach's guided attention and productive perspectives, you can come up with realistic and creative courses of action.

Taking action



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