I’m writing this because I want to share how coaching helped me, and how coaching could help you. I also want to touch upon some common misconceptions about coaching, including where it comes from and why it’s different from other professions, such as consulting and psychotherapy.
First, coaching is not the same as consulting. The simplest way I can explain the difference is that coaches ask us questions, whereas consultants give us answers. You could also say that coaches bring out the best in us, whereas consultants get us results by telling us what to do. Both techniques have their uses, and neither is superior to the other. They’re just different.
Here’s an example from my personal life. When I wanted to stop smoking, I joined a group course that followed the Allen Carr Easyway To Stop Smoking methodology. Our course leader was an expert in teaching it, and he gave us advice and told us what to do. All we had to do was to follow his instructions to stop smoking. That’s consulting.
Coaching is different. For many years I had lots of anger, and resentment bottled up inside me. “What’s with the angry face?” my coach asked in our first-ever meeting, and I explained that I was angry with my father. We soon got to work on possible solutions. I said what I wanted to achieve, we brainstormed some ideas, I decided which ones I liked, and I took action. My coach never once told me what to do; he just asked questions and listened patiently and compassionately to my responses. He did offer ideas about what I could do, but I was ultimately responsible for deciding that. So, my coach was facilitating my transformation and not directing it as a consultant would do, and that’s the main difference.
Second, coaching is not the same as therapy. A simple distinction is that therapy is about healing our past, whereas coaching is about creating our future. Therapy sessions focus more on our memories and our unresolved issues, and the emotions and belief systems that we’ve formed based on all that, and how the therapist can help make our problems go away. However, coaching sessions focus more on how we can change right now and what do we want to be, do and have in the future.
Here’s another example. In my earlier years, I worked with various counsellors and therapists because I was feeling stuck and depressed. Therapists would ask me what I thought my problem was, and we’d examine the root cause, which was usually my relationship with my father. Then, we’d go further into depth, revisit my past, and work on my unresolved issues to heal old wounds. But with my coach, it was about changing who I was now and creating a different future for myself. “Given this problem you have right now (with your father), what do you want to create?” my coach would ask, and I’d tell him that I wanted to let go of my anger and find peace with myself. Then, we’d do some exercises, and I’d take action – some of which was uncomfortable – and a long-term problem began fading away, and I started to feel better.
Now, I am not saying that coaching is superior to therapy in any way. All I’m saying is that they’re different approaches, and that coaching worked better than therapy for me in this particular case.
Another way to explain how coaching works is to explain where it comes from. Modern-day life and business coaching comes from sports and the performing arts and does not come from the world of psychology and medicine as most people believe it does. It’s essential to be clear on this because it gives more clarity about what coaching can do for us.
Many of the world’s top athletes, actors, and performers have coaches, and this demonstrates that the more sincere and devoted we are at being great at what we do, the more likely we are to have a coach or even more than one coach, and that we will be coached regularly.
Why? It’s obvious.
Coaching works because two people working together are always better than one, and the coach can see our performance in a way that we can’t. Also, the coach does not necessarily have to be better than us at what we want to good at for he or she to coach us effectively. Notice how the best sports athletes in the world have coaches. For example, Roger Federer has three coaches assisting him, and none are not anything near as good at tennis as he is. Therefore, coaching is not just about the downloading of expertise and passing down of superior wisdom and knowledge, with one person superior to the other. That’s not all that’s happening. Coaching is happening, and coaching is about bringing out the best in the performer.
Also, notice how many of the most successful coaches in sports or acting were not great athletes or actors themselves. When we think of the coach back in their playing or acting days, we realise that they didn’t have that great a career. Moreover, coaches have often lived a life that contains even more struggle than ours, and has had to learn the hard way how to do specific tasks and achieve certain levels, and has often been coached themselves very successfully. Therefore, the coach’s ability to teach, and help, and coach has been enhanced by the fact that the skill did not come naturally to them, and the skill of coaching is quite different than the actual performance or whatever we are attempting to do.
So how has coaching helped me? I could write for hours here, so I will only touch upon three highlights.
Firstly, it helped enormously with healing my relationship with my father, which was an issue that had been holding me back for many years. Finally being able to let go of my anger towards him has been the most significant benefit for me, and it’s been genuinely life-changing. These days, I am much calmer, more relaxed, and more people gravitate towards me, whereas, in the past, many stayed away.
Second, coaching has helped develop my confidence levels and allowed me to accomplish so much more than I thought I was ever capable of achieving, for example, public speaking. Coaches have challenged me to dream big and to take small steps towards making it happen. A few years ago, I wanted to overcome my fear of public speaking and to speak in front of large crowds, and I achieved it within one-year. Recently, I’ve won speaking awards, which is not bad for someone who suffered deeply from social anxiety not too long ago!
Third, coaching has enabled me to understand more clearly and deeply about how our mind works. My mentors and coaches inspired me to attend many seminars and courses with industry-leading figures, and I thoroughly enjoy reading and re-reading books about psychology and personal development. As a consequence, I’m happier than I used to be, and whenever I’m not, I appreciate that it’s just a mood or a passing thought, and I don’t pay much attention because I know it will eventually pass all by itself.
One of the best aspects of coaching is that it helps us build a hopeful, optimistic strengthening of who we are. There isn’t – like therapy does – an attempt to get us in touch with our feelings and to go back and relive our history. That’s left for the world of therapy, and it has its value. However, coaching is more immediate, it has more urgency, and it is there to help us create the future that we would like to have.
Let’s say we have a problem, and we decide to hire a coach. The coach is then going to have us create our future from the future but not from the past. That’s a significant distinction from therapy.
For example, if I went to a therapist, they might ask, “Tell me what your problem is,” and we’d examine that root causes of my problem, find my history, and we’d do deep work on my unresolved issues. This approach is different from coaching, and it has its form of value, and I am not diminishing it or saying it is inferior. But a coach could ask, “What do you believe your problem is?” and I’d describe it. Then there would be some version of the coach saying, “Given the problem you have just described to me, what do you want to create?” Notice how this is an entirely different question compared to, “Where do you think this problem comes from?” and “What were your parents like?”, et cetera.
Ultimately, what a coach helps us do is put us in touch with our innate natural creativity that’s been shut down by all our negative thinking and fear around whatever problem we have. So again, the question becomes “Given the problem you have described to me, what do you want to create?” Notice how it’s an entirely different question than say, “How do you think we can solve the problem?” Asking that kind of question brings us down to the level of the problem, we’re also acknowledging that it’s a problem, and we’re not going to have much potential to have out-of-the-box innovative, imaginative thinking to solve it.
Being creative engages both the left and right hemisphere of our brain instead of just using a smaller part of it in which we are just feeling fear and anxiety. So, coaching can help us see the big picture and see possibilities, and working with our coach, we can create something.
Also, notice how many businesses and people carry out their upcoming year, and it’s just another version of last year. They take almost all the same actions, they think virtually all the same thoughts over again, and the same beliefs are carried forward.
Sometimes a business or a person says, “Let’s take last year and make it 10% better,” and hence that’s the highest possibility. It’s known as a default future – a future that’s going to occur if we do nothing differently. If we do not change, it’s going to be just like last year but possibly 10% better or it could be 10% worse!
If we’re not creating a future for ourselves, then we’re automatically living into our default future which is just the momentum of the past been carried forward. Coaches have an enormous advantage because they’ve not lived our history, and they have no interest in moving that ahead. That’s not the default for them. They see unlimited possibility.
So what would we like to create given that our future is a blank canvas and that anything is possible? What would we want to make up or invent as an out-of-the-box, unreasonable goal? What would be an unreasonably successful future for us?
Notice how these questions are mind games. They’re brain puzzles. They’re inquiries that serve us because they call forth our innate creativity that has the power to create an unexpected future that surprises us and comes out of nowhere.
The highest value of coaching for me is that we get to create our future from the future by using our imagination, our vision, and our creativity – our best qualities. The next-best alternative is that we live another year that improves our past a touch more. That’s the primary goal of coaching – the profound creativity that’s possible inside a single coaching session to create a future that would not have occurred to us living in our world of previous experience.
In coaching sessions that I’ve experienced, the most significant breakthroughs occur when both the client and the coach are thinking out-of-the-box together and examining all the possibilities. Then the client sees something that they’ve never seen before, and they say, “That’s what I want to do. Let’s create an action plan for me to execute that.”