As we embark on a new year, many of us have set many goals and resolutions that we plan on achieving in 2021. However, sometimes we find it difficult to attain these goals because we just don’t know where or how to start. While we may have a decent layout of how to get it done, we are still missing that extra push and guidance. This is where having a life coach comes in handy.
The profession of ‘personal coach’ or ‘life coach’ began emerging in the late 1980s and had been growing rapidly and steadily ever since. Ramsey, R. D. (2000). Do you need a life coach? Supervision, 61(7), 14-16. The International Coaching Federation (ICF) is the largest global professional association for coaches. Founded in 1995, ICF members grew from 3,240 in the year 2000 to 39,787 in 2020, its 25th anniversary year. International Coaching Federation (ICF, February 2021). Membership and Credentialing Fact Sheet. Retrieved from https://coachingfederation.org/app/uploads/2021/02/February2021_FactSheet.pdf This indicates that the field of coaching is increasing to this day and has not slowed down.
But what exactly is a life coach? And what does a life coach do? In this article, I will analyse and dissect everything you need to know about life coaching, but first, we need to clear up the differences between coaching vs life coaching.
What is coaching?
If you go up to someone and ask what’s coaching, they might tell you about their high school football coach that helped them out with training.
The term ‘coach’ can also be used to describe someone who is earning a little bit of extra money by helping a student prepare for their upcoming exams. Or finally, a coach can be a trained professional who is getting paid for their ability to facilitate someone’s change process, helping them overcome obstacles and achieve desired outcomes.
It’s easy to get confused as to what coaching is since it’s a general term and can be broken down into many specific fields, such as life coaching.
What is life coaching?
Life coaching is a particular branch of coaching. ICF defines coaching as ¨partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.” International Coaching Federation (ICF, 2019). Code of Ethics. Retrieved from https://coachfederation.org/code-of-ethics This thought-provoking and creative process ICF is referring to can be carried out in different settings and have diverse focuses. Some examples are life coaching, executive coaching, workplace coaching, performance coaching, relationship coaching, and the list goes on.
When it comes to life coaching, the focus is not limited to a particular area of life. Goals and problems addressed with life coaching can have a personal or professional nature.
Life coaching is a holistic service that helps individuals look at their lives holistically, considering every area, to assess what needs to change to achieve fulfilment.
According to Jenny Rogers, the author of the book ‘Coaching skills: the definitive guide to being a coach’, the whole aim of coaching is ¨to close the gap between people’s potential and their current state¨ (p.7). Rogers, J. (2016). Coaching skills: The definitive guide to being a coach. Retrieved from https://ebookcentral.proquest.com
Life could be more fulfilling for most of us; we all have unutilized potential. But commitments and responsibilities come in the way. We end up postponing our dreams to one day realize that time has passed, and we haven’t grown and lived up to our potential. That’s where a life coach can help. Life coaching sessions provide the perfect opportunity to check where you are, what do you want, and how you can achieve what you want. Let’s look at how life coaching works.
How does life coaching work?
The coaching engagement starts with a contract and is followed by a life assessment, goal setting, action-plan design, skill-building, and progress monitoring.
Every professional life coach will make you sign a clear, detailed and explicit contract which will include costs, payment procedures and methods, cancellations fees, confidentiality limitations and legal disclaimers. Having a clear agreement will set the bases for a successful client-coach relationship and will prevent misunderstandings.
Your life coach will help you increase your self-awareness and assess your satisfaction with different areas of life. Life coaching provides the client with a safe, confidential space to explore their current situation fully, the good, the bad, and the ugly.
I personally use a coaching tool called ‘the wheel of life’ to facilitate this process. The wheel of life is one of the most used coaching tools and consists of a circular diagram divided into segments of equal size. Each segment represents a life domain, such as career, health, romance and personal growth. Using this tool, the coach invites the client to reflect and score on a scale from zero to ten his satisfaction in each area of life. Dunbar, A. (2009). Essential life coaching skills. Retrieved from https://ebookcentral.proquest.com
Goal setting is particularly important when it comes to coaching. Whereas counselling and psychotherapy can have less specific outcomes goals, such as increasing well-being, effective coaching is action-oriented and outcome-focused.
Early on in the coaching relationship, the coach will invite the client to imagine their ideal state and circumstances to stipulate specific goals to achieve the ideal outcome. This does not mean that once a goal has been set cannot change. This often happens in coaching; as the person increases their self-awareness and explores real core values, goals can change.
A goal is just a wish without a clear action plan. A life coach can help you design the right plan with specific action steps to achieve your desired outcomes. No goal is too big as long as there is a realistic action plan in place. Confusion is the enemy of execution. Once we have clear tasks to do and we know exactly how to do them, it´s much easier to apply ourselves.
Skill building is part of life coaching psychoeducation. A coach that has been professionally trained can teach you some effective psychological skills. Time management, communication skills, thought-shifting, and emotional regulation are some of the skills a life coach can help you with.
Progress tracking and accountability
Monitoring your progress in relation to desired goals, as well as holding you accountable for doing what you said you were going to do, are some of your life coach´s responsibilities. Furthermore, a professional personal coach will be able to identify possible obstacles that are stopping you from achieving your goals and will help you to recognise and address them.
What does a life coach actually do?
What exactly happens in each coaching session will depend on your particular needs and goals. Nevertheless, as a general rule, life coaches provide a safe, confidential space, use active listening, ask powerful questions, assign homework, and hold you accountable.
Provides a safe, confidential space
One of the most important elements of coaching, counselling, or psychotherapy is confidentiality. There are, of course, limits to confidentiality if, for instance, you present a risk for a child. Limits on confidentiality will be outlined in your coaching contract; however, complete confidentiality is maintained in most cases. This means that you can talk freely about whatever you want, knowing that you will be listened to from a non-judgmental ear.
Uses active listening
In normal friend-friend conversations, the focus is often on both of you. A friend will often not serve you as a sounding board for you to have a monologue. A coach will make every coaching session about you. You are the focus of attention during the coaching session, that’s why we get paid, and friends don’t.
Asks questions that open up the unseen
Questions are to a coach what a scalpel is to a surgeon.
Questions are used in coaching to promote discovery, evoke insight, and move the client towards their desired outcome. Let’s look at some examples of powerful questions in coaching:
- If your life was how you wanted it to be, what would it look like?
- If your behaviour was aligned with your values, what would you be doing?
- Thinking of a time in your past where you were at your best, what was different then?
Questions in day-to-day life tend to be superficial. In coaching, we go deep to bring awareness and energy to make change happen and move you forwards, towards your ideal self and ideal life.
Helps you design a clear path towards your goal
As mentioned before, a goal without an action plan to be achieved is just a wish. A coach will help you find the right steps to achieve your goals and will support you in making a plan to execute them.
Insight often happens in the coaching session, yet, real change is achieved through behavioural change. The client’s life will improve as they execute pre-designed action steps and implement the lessons learned during the coaching process. This will happen between sessions where the client makes things happen in the real world. Homework can include journaling, monitoring, actions aimed to expand comfort zones, or the completion of certain tests such as the ones to outline personal strengths or prevalent personality traits. Homework is negotiated and agreed-upon; they often don’t take too much time off the client schedule to be executed. After all, most of the client’s energy needs to be channelled on executing action steps.
Holds you accountable
When we were children, we probably had our parents or other authoritative figures holding us accountable. As adults, we need to organise our own accountability sources.
It’s normal sometimes to lose motivation or get distracted with life, and because of this, we may lose focus on the goals we set. Life coaches will help you stay on track and help you remember the next steps you need to take to stay on track. Furthermore, a life coach can serve as someone who keeps track of progress and provides encouragement when encountering hardship.
Why do people seek the help of a life coach?
Angela Dunbar, in her book ‘Essential life coaching skills’ outlines five life circumstances that move people to seek life coaching. Dunbar, A. (2009). Essential life coaching skills. Retrieved from https://ebookcentral.proquest.com
Something new is about to start
Maybe it is a new job or a new relationship. New circumstances might require you to develop new skills.
Something is coming to an end
This can be the end of a long-standing relationship or the end of a particular career or role.
There is a dilemma or crossroad
A life coach can help you navigate dilemmas such as whether or not to move to another country, or whether or not to leave your current job to start a new business.
There is dissatisfaction in a certain area of life
Dissatisfaction can be with current career, relationship, or social life, for example. A coach can help you explore the hidden causes of stagnation and dissatisfaction. Once these fears and obstacles that prevent you from changing are clear can be addressed.
A decision to change has been made
Someone might have decided to get fitter, for example. Behaviours that will support the decided goals need to be identified and reinforced. A life coach can support you in the process of change.
In 2008 ICF conducted a large global coaching client study. The key component of the research was an online survey completed by 2,165 coaching clients. The survey revealed that the two top reasons for coaching were to improve self-esteem/self-confidence and work/life balance. International Coaching Federation (ICF, 2009). ICF Global Coaching Client Study. Retrieved from https://researchportal.coachfederation.org/Document/Pdf/abstract_190
Other reasons that move people to seek life coaching are:
- A desire to form better relationships
- Wanting to set new exciting goals
- Discovering and addressing fears and self-limiting beliefs
- Wanting to design clear action plans to achieve certain goals
Life coaching vs counselling
Life coaching and counselling have some similarities. They are both processes that help individuals increase their well-being and overall life satisfaction. Both counsellors and coaches will use skills such as active listening, paraphrasing, and the use of questions.
Nevertheless, coaching is about fine-tuning one’s life, starting with the prerequisite that the client is already functioning quite well. Counselling can support an individual in restoring functioning and cope with certain difficult life events such as the loss of a loved one or life-interfering psychopathology such as mild depression and anxiety.
As a general rule, if the individual does not suffer or seek to manage a mental health disorder and is already functioning quite well, coaching can help. Coaching is about maximising potential, while counselling can help restore wellness. It’s not uncommon for clients to seek a counsellor’s help and initiate coaching once their mental well-being has reached a minimal baseline level.
Face to face vs online coaching
Nowadays, most life coaches offer their clients the option to have sessions online using platforms such as Zoom. Online coaching’s most significant advantage is its convenience. It’s a time-saving option since it does not involve commuting time. Nevertheless, I find face-to-face human interaction so precious to people’s mental health and energy that, to me, is worth the commuting time.
If you live in Sydney, I will be happy to see you face to face in my CBD office space for your coaching sessions. However, if you live in another city in Australia or another country, or if your circumstances don’t permit you to come to my office, we can organise coaching online.
Life coaching is growing in popularity and interest. Since coaching is an umbrella term used to describe a wide range of exchanges, it’s easy to get confused. Life coaching refers to the process where a life coach helps their client assess their life, set appealing goals, design a detailed action plan and develop certain skills to improve life in different domains. People seek the help of a personal coach for different reasons, the two most popular being increasing self-esteem and self-confidence and improving work-life balance.
If you would like to experience the benefits of life coaching yourself, I am a certified counsellor and life coach in Sydney based. Since coaching is still an unregulated profession in Australia, not every life coach received adequate training. My qualifications include a Bachelor’s degree in Counselling Coaching and a Diploma in Counselling. Click here if you would like to know more about me and the work I do.
|Ramsey, R. D. (2000). Do you need a life coach? Supervision, 61(7), 14-16.
|International Coaching Federation (ICF, February 2021). Membership and Credentialing Fact Sheet. Retrieved from https://coachingfederation.org/app/uploads/2021/02/February2021_FactSheet.pdf
|International Coaching Federation (ICF, 2019). Code of Ethics. Retrieved from https://coachfederation.org/code-of-ethics
|Rogers, J. (2016). Coaching skills: The definitive guide to being a coach. Retrieved from https://ebookcentral.proquest.com
|Dunbar, A. (2009). Essential life coaching skills. Retrieved from https://ebookcentral.proquest.com
|International Coaching Federation (ICF, 2009). ICF Global Coaching Client Study. Retrieved from https://researchportal.coachfederation.org/Document/Pdf/abstract_190