WHAT IS LIFE COACHING?
If I had to sum up what life coaching is in a single phrase, the phrase would be this: Lucid Living. You've probably heard of lucid dreaming: You're in the midst of some bizarre landscape of irrational imagery and feeling, threaded together by an incomprehensible plot when something clicks. "Oh! My god! I'm dreaming!" At that point you are lucid. You are awake within the dream and can begin to interact with the dream images in a completely different way. You might leap off a tall building or turn around to face some villainous figure who had been chasing you through a terrifying terrain. You might fly over some gaping abyss or ask a question of a dream figure. You might do a whole bunch of things you wouldn't do if you didn't see the dream for what it was . . . a dream. Well, coaching is something like that, but the dream is your life!
Working with an skillful life coach is like a wake-up call. All of a sudden, you find yourself awake within your life and begin to engage it in a completely different way.
Most of us, most of the time, are sleepwalkers. We go through the motions of our day-to-day routines. We move from point A to point B, then back again. We work, play, eat, drink, and sleep. Then we get up and do it over again the next day, often unaware of all the subtle ways that routine can lull us into a deep slumber. This can happen even to super-achieving, get-up-and-go types who lead creative, productive lives.
Working with a skillful life coach is like a wake-up call. All of a sudden, you find yourself awake within your life and begin to engage it in a completely different way. You begin to realize what things are really important to you and why, not just in a superficial way, but in a deep, visceral, gut-level sort of way. You start to gain awareness regarding the impact of all the small decisions you make throughout the day, and as you do this, you begin to change how you act, think, and feel based on this increased level of awareness. Through active dialogue with an empathetic, trained professional, you become lucid within the dream of your life and take the actions that you would not have taken otherwise.
When a coach taps into an individual's own innate genius for living, they become a powerful conduit to help that person lead a more empowered, extraordinary, and purposeful life.
Another useful approach for explaining what life coaching is, and isn't, is to compare it to psychotherapy. Compared to psychotherapy, coaching is a paradigm that is easier for many people to accept. It is free of the stigma of dysfunction that is frequently associated with seeing a therapist or psychologist. This stigma may not be fair, but it is not entirely unwarranted either. Unfortunately, psychotherapy, as it is practiced today, is often mired in questions of trauma, pathology, and diagnosis, focusing on behavioral problems, emotional difficulties, and maladaptive relationships. It endeavors to achieve normal functioning and to eliminate what is non adaptive. But what if you want exceptional levels of vitality, creativity, and resilience? What if you want to excel in life’s endeavors rather than just merely get by? That is where coaching comes in.
Despite its shortcomings, psychotherapy at its best is so much more than what the description above suggests. It can also be a holistic approach that treats the whole person and not just some dysfunctional aspect of the personality in isolation. Carl Rogers, Marion Woodman, Victor Frankl, Fritz Perls, Carl Jung, Marie-Louise Von Franz, and other greats in the field of psychology understood this. They saw their work as a means of cultivating a person's own inner genius. Coaching in many ways takes this element of psychotherapy and runs with it. A skillful life coach addresses the whole person, and thereby taps into an individual's own innate genius for living, becoming a powerful conduit to help that person lead a more empowered, extraordinary, and purposeful life.
By gaining awareness of limiting beliefs and behaviors, then developing a clearly-defined and intentional attitude towards them, we turn stumbling blocks into stepping stones.
A big part of what I do as a coach is ask powerful questions of my clients to help them recognize aspects of themselves that they may be only dimly aware of. Despite barely even being perceived, or perhaps because of it, these aspects often act as powerful inhibitors to personal and professional growth. They often take the form of beliefs and behaviors that were once beneficial, but now act as stumbling blocks impeding further movement forward. By gaining awareness of such limiting beliefs and behaviors, then developing a clearly-defined and intentional attitude towards them, we turn those stumbling blocks into stepping stones. We change them into opportunities that give us a stronger foothold on the path forward towards a new life.
Some of the power of such limiting beliefs, to use another analogy, resides in the fact that you cannot see the lens through which you see. You can’t fully see the distorting effect of some of your most entrenched beliefs because you are too used to seeing through your distorted perspective. Coaching is a bit like taking off your old pair of glasses and putting on a another pair with a new prescription that allows for a more accurate vision of your life. This is why having a trained professional to help you identify and correct such distortions can be so beneficial! It's like having an expert optometrist restore your 20/20 vision . . . or give that vision to you for the very first time, ever.
Through the coaching process insights are grounded in action. Changes in thinking are followed by changes in doing.
One last thing, or maybe two last things, that I want to share before I sign off, two elements that are essential to coaching and make it a truly dynamic approach: Action Steps and Accountability. Coaching does not satisfy itself with mere insight, no matter how earthshaking. The insight must be followed by action. This is one of the things that I love about it! Through the coaching process insights are grounded in action. Changes in thinking are followed by changes in doing. By the end of each session, the client has a take-away action that they are expected to carry out before the following session. It is an action that both coach and client agree upon, although it is really the client who decides upon the action itself.
This brings me to that last element: Accountability. One of the most powerful elements of coaching involves having someone who is going to hold you accountable for the actions that you say you are going to take. Often this happens at the beginning of a session and takes the form of a question. As your coach, I'll ask "Did you do X, Y, and Z?" If you did, great! We might talk about how it went, and use it as a platform for further discussion (and action!) If you didn't follow through on an action, we'll talk about that too. Don't be too frightened by that word accountability. I won't come down on you hard like some merciless judge prepared to give you a life sentence without parole if you didn't follow through. I'll be more of a witness than a judge. We'll talk about things. We'll come up with new strategies and goals, and take it from there.
Done! Finito! I hope I've given you a bit better sense of what coaching is and isn't. If you want to know more, feel free to book a complimentary session and see how it all works first hand!
Dr. Bret Alderman, Oakland CA, 2019