Life coaching was never on my career radar and I fell into it completely by accident
I never even realised life coaching was a full-fledged profession, until I had to conduct my first batch of coaching in 2017.
As part of my Inspired Leadership courses, I had to perform a practical assignment that involved the coaching of individuals I had never met before.
I completed this assignment by reaching out to a selection of random people who were located in Bristol and who were interested in being life coached.
That first batch of coaching I did for free.
I offered each person three coaching sessions and met up with each person over a three-week period.
I got some referrals from that first batch with a few of my clients saying they wanted to continue with the coaching.
For me, it was an appealing proposition because it meant I could charge for my services and generate an additional source of income.
It also meant that I could use my life coaching as a larger practical element of my MTA Portfolio, an idea that ultimately evolved into my Not Your Average Life Coach final project.
As a side hustle, my life coaching snowballed throughout 2018 and 2019.
At the beginning of 2020, I put my coaching on the shelf so I could focus more so on my web design projects.
Then COVID happened and the world was thrown into chaos.
Throughout the UK’s first lockdown, I stay focused on my web design work.
Finally, at the beginning of 2021 I was able to get back to my life coaching.
Initially, I did my coaching over Skype because of COVID restrictions and it wasn’t until the spring that I started to meet up with clients in person.
Coming back to coaching after a year off didn’t feel quite the same.
During the pandemic and the first and second lockdowns I had reflected much on my career direction.
While conducting my coaching throughout the first half of 2021, I increasingly felt like it my coaching had become a burden and that I did not want to do it anymore.
I brought my coaching to a close in the spring of 2021.
If you rearrange the letters in the word ‘listen’ you end up with the word ‘silent.’
Active listening is concentrating all your attention on what the speaker is saying, both verbally and non-verbally.
It also means displaying active interest in what the speaker is saying.
Smiling, nodding your head, maintaining eye contact, responding with affirmatives encourages the speaker to keep communicating in an open, honest and relaxed fashion.
Defining the client and their desired change
I didn’t expect much from my initial experience of coaching others, I was doing it purely so I could complete my Inspired Leadership assignments.
What shocked me is how easily I took to the life coaching process!
I found it not just to be a fulfilling experience for my clients, but for me also.
Turns out all those years of self-coaching myself had greatly benefitted my ability to be a very natural life coach.
I received much favourable feedback from my first batch of clients.
A compliment I received from each client is that I was a good listener.
That is not accidental.
One of my biggest irritations is when people don’t listen properly, which is why I always make a point of doing it properly.
I was quite withdrawn as a child and I didn’t talk much, so I got very good at reading non-verbal body language.
I make a point of listening more to the non-verbal cues than the verbal ones.
Non-verbal body language tells you a hell of a lot more than you could ever get from spoken information.
I always describe my approach to coaching as being a silent one.
It involves a lot of looking and listening.
I let my clients do most of the talking.
This is important because everyone is different and every new client requires a slightly different approach in their coaching.
Life coaching involves a lot of tact and know-how about how to engage individuals with different temperaments.
The point is not to make your client defensive with the approach you use.
If a client becomes defensive that’s when they become less co-operative and they may not tell you everything you need to know in order to help them achieve their desired change.
The client needs to remain in a positive state of mind.
You do this by employing PEAs, a.k.a. Positive Emotional Attractors, which are positive memories and achievements you very intentionally draw from your client throughout the coaching process.
If your client starts to go down a negative route, these PEAs are invaluable in pivoting your client back into a positive frame of mind.
It is absolutely essential to keep the client in a positive place, not just because it stops them from getting defensive, but because it always allows them to be open-minded towards the possibilities they can achieve in their life.
You can’t do that with a negative person, they will always shut things down.
An open-minded person opens things up and keeps exploring new possibilities.
The more you explore those possibilities, the more the outcomes and the steps necessary to achieve those possibilities become encoded into the mind of the client.
It’s the visualisation process – The more the client is encouraged to do it, the more the client is setting themselves up to achieve the outcome of their visualisation.
I get to know my clients beyond the specific challenge or desired change they have come to me for life coaching about.
I prescribe to the holistic view that successful treatment of the ailment requires treatment of the whole person.
This what the first session with a new client is all about.
I ask them a string of broad and wide-ranging questions about their current situation, their family, their friends, their childhood, their beliefs, their pet hates, their dreams and their feelings about being life coached.
The most common desired change my clients approach me about is career development.
Usually there is something they are not happy about in their current career and they either want to find a way of remedying it or they just want to change careers.
Whatever the specific requirement and desired outcome, there are almost always some self-esteem issues preventing them from formulating and/or enacting the change they feel they need to make.
If the fundamental challenge to resolve is self-esteem, then that really does mean looking at the client in a holistic sense.
Self-esteem is an underlying issue that needs to be properly addressed or it will keep coming back to cause problems.
With career development, solving self-esteem issues is not as simple as helping the client polish their CV.
As a life coach, it is my role to empower my client to see a bigger picture of themselves.
A bigger picture that not only contains visualisations of their potential future selves, but also includes the wins – the PEAs – the client has already achieved in their life.
Helping my client discover these PEAs is crucial, because once we start to stockpile them, then we can start using them to combat the client’s self-esteem issues.
The point is to help my client build a system of resilience from their PEAs that they can call upon to always plug the gaps in their self-esteem.
This first session is always one-hour long – just long enough to have a decent and in-depth discussion and short enough to keep things focused.
While the client talks, I make a mind map of their personality on a sheet of A4 which helps me organise their information in my head and is also something I can reference back to later on.
I don’t charge for this first session.
A free starter session makes it more appealing for respective clients to book an induction session with me.
Ultimately, this first session is also my opportunity to decide if I am the right person to life coach a prospective client.
Sometimes what people need is a therapist, not a life coach, and this first session is always an opportunity for me to make clear that I am not a therapist.
For me, that is a deal-breaker.
Everything that is said in session between a client and myself remains confidential, but I am not a mental health therapist.
While life coaching does involve elements of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, it is about much more than just discussing the issues a client may be facing.
Ultimately, life coaching is about taking action.
It’s about discussing everything relevant to bringing about a desired change, setting goals for achieving that desired change and holding the client accountable for birthing that desired change into actuality.
“Pete stepped into my life and held the space so that I could understand myself better. His calm demeanor along with his positive approach and gentle questioning facilitated me in a conversation with myself that, I have no doubt, has led me to a happier, more fulfilled me.”
Leaving the comfort zone one achievable step at a time
I always meet up with my clients in cafes because I don’t have a devoted space/office for my life coaching.
Meeting a client in a public location has proven to be a major advantage because it literally gets my client out of their comfort zone and puts them in the real world.
By comfort zone, I mean any action, way of thinking or environment that does not challenge a client to grow as a person.
Breaking free of comfort zones is an essential part of life coaching.
I did have one client I had to stop coaching because, no matter how much I positively encouraged this client to do so, the client just wouldn’t budge out of their comfort zone and kept relapsing back into it.
If a client refuses to leave their comfort zone, they can’t be coached because they won’t put the necessary work in to bring about their desired change.
Change really does begin at the end of your comfort zone.
If a client meets me in a public location they have not been to before then they have already taken the first step out of their comfort zone.
It’s not an issue with every client I have seen, but often the desired change a client wants to bring about is something they have only ever thought about in private.
One of the reasons we often don’t act on or even share our desired changes is because we think they will bring us ridicule from other people.
If a client tells me about their desired change in café, while we are surrounded by other people, they are exposing their desired change to other people in the world.
The response of these other people… no one else cares, they’ve got their own lives and conversations to get on with.
Getting my clients past the hurdles of stepping out of their comfort zones and confronting the world with their ideas are two of the first things I always want them to achieve via my coaching.
Again, in addition to getting an overview of the client as a person, this is what I endeavour to have achieved by the end of the first session.
The second session onwards involves taking everything my client has told me – about their personality, their lifestyle, their desired change – and making it work as a plan of action.
Again, if we go with the example of a career change, beyond delving into the self-esteem issues, the client and myself will work out a step-by-step action plan and session-by-session timetable for achieving their desired change.
While I find self-esteem issues are usually at play, lacking key skills/experience and an effective professional network are also things that quite often need to be addressed.
The client needs to start thinking outside of the box and start shaking up their regular routine.
This is where the life coaching process and the length of coaching required for a particular client becomes much clearer.
In the first session I never get my clients to commit to a specific length of time or number of sessions (unless they already have a set timetable in mind) because I can’t really get an idea for the number of sessions required until I am able to examine the client’s desired change more closely.
The first session is always more about getting an overview of the client as a whole; whereas the second session is where I can more closely look at their specific desired change.
Depending on how complex their desired change is and what its underlying obstacles are, I will usually recommend a length of time and session count by the end of the second session.
The session count varies from client to client.
For some clients it can be done in five sessions and with others it can take longer.
I think the longest I saw a client about a career change was about twelve sessions.
How long it will take for the client is determined by how much resistance I encounter from them.
The more resistance there is, the longer the desired change will take.
If their desired career change does involve the cultivation of new skills and/or an improved professional network, the client is going to need to work these developments both in and out of session.
At the end of each session, usually we will agree on an assignment or set of tasks the client needs to complete by the next session.
If we’re trying to improve professional skills and networks, a task might be something along the lines of cold calling or emailing one or more prospective companies/contacts each day until we meet up for the next coaching session.
I know people already have lives to live so whenever agreeing on an assignment, I always endeavour to make them bitesize and easy to fit into a busy schedule.
However, quite often – in fact with the majority of my clients – there usually comes an excuse for why they were unable to complete the assignment at the beginning of the next session.
There could be a whole range of reasons behind their excuse, but if it is something that is going to keep occurring, then it is something we need to address in-session.
Excuses just end up becoming another obstacle preventing a person from achieving their desired change.
The most common reason is procrastination brought on by lack of self-esteem.
Lack of self-esteem is a deep underlying issue that manifests itself in so many different ways and, until it is properly dealt with, it will keep manifesting in actions of self-sabotage.
When dealing with lack of self-esteem we start heading into the area of mental health.
I am not a qualified mental health professional, so I have to be very careful with how I proceed with my clients.
There have been a few times when I have suggested that a client also seek out some Cognitive Behavioural Therapy they can do alongside my coaching.
I am a very independent and self-driven person; my personal philosophy has always been one of working your arse off through absolute misery until you achieve your desired change.
I am not always the most patient and understanding of individuals when it comes to listening to other peoples’ excuses of why there is something they can’t achieve.
I’m not perfect and when it comes to the deeper therapeutic psychological therapy, I’ve learned to leave it to better qualified professionals.
However, if it is something that I feel that I can help my client to resolve myself, then I will.
Like the first session, I always keep each subsequent session extremely focused and adherent to the length of session agreed.
I do also offer two-hour sessions, but I’ve found my one-hour ones to be more popular.
While most of my coaching sessions are done sitting down with a back-and-forth conversation, I also sometimes do walking sessions.
Our brains work at their best when we are moving around and having a walking session means me and the client how able to immerse ourselves and our ideas even deeper into the real world.
The walking sessions are very good for illustrating points, teaching body language, quizzing random people about ideas and for performing random confidence building exercises.
One of my favourites is a confidence building exercise I picked up from one of my sales courses in my Business Administration and Finance concentration where you have to go up to a random person and convince them to give you something of theirs in exchange for a pen.
I always keep a pack of biros in my bag for this exercise.
I don’t always send a client out on their own; sometimes I will do the first couple of approaches with them… and then I let them do a few on their own.
I have a saying: “Always be aware of the environment around you because you never know when it will come in handy.”
Again, this is why I value conducting my coaching sessions out in the real world because it teaches my clients how to utilise every resource and every moment at their disposal to achieve their goals.
The sooner my client’s start applying this same philosophy of taking spontaneous action towards their desired change, the sooner the results will show up and they will keep showing up!
“I would highly recommend Pete to anyone who is looking to make a change. My sessions have given me the confidence to take the next step in changing my career, as well as changing my mindset into being a more positive one. Thank you Pete!”
Integrating the desired change with the chaos and frustration of everyday life
The main roles I play as a life coach are as a clarifier and as a motivator.
As a clarifier, I listen to the information a client tells me about their desired change and help the client summarise everything they say into an achievable plan of action.
As a motivator, I accompany a client on their journey of self-discovery and keep them focused on achieving their goals. I do this by reminding the client of their PEAs while also giving them constant reality checks of what is required to achieve their desired change.
A life coach is good for helping a client move out of their comfort zones in order to discover their desired change.
However, not everyone needs a life coach to help them do this.
Certainly, I have had a couple of clients who did not need me for this.
The true benefit of having a life coach comes from my ability – both as a clarifier and a motivator – to hold a client accountable towards achieving their desired goals.
Being an accountability partner is the biggest challenge of being a life coach because you are constantly having to contend with the demands of your client’s everyday life.
Whatever is the desired change a client wishes to achieve, whether it is a career change or something else, it is not going to happen overnight.
It is going to take a bit of time and several sessions. Not to mention the cultivation of new habits necessary for achieving the desired change which are going to have to be integrated into the client’s current life situation.
That process of achievement might even override certain aspects of a client’s life and mean they are going to have to sacrifice certain things to prioritise their desired change.
Most people are not willing to do this.
It is at this point in the coaching process that the potential to relapse into old habits and ways of thinking often occurs.
Maybe the client has not had a good week or maybe they’ve been a bit overburdened, and they just didn’t end up completing their agreed tasks.
Or maybe they did complete the tasks we had agreed upon in the previous session, but their completion ultimately did not deliver the results intended.
It’s not the end of the world when things don’t go to plan.
But clients don’t always see it that way and even minor slip-ups can send them into a spiraling relapse of negative thinking.
I always count on this happening at some point in the coaching process.
If a client experiences their plans not going to plan, it presents them with the reality of life and with a new opportunity for growth.
Fuck ups teach people how to think on their toes.
The quicker and more creatively you can think your way out of a corner, the sooner you can get your desired change back on track.
Coaching spontaneity and how to use it to overcome life’s nasty little surprises is a key part of my coaching process.
Not just because it empowers my clients to get back into a place of positive change, but because it is just a good life skill to master.
My end goal is to teach my clients how to self-coach themselves (just like how I self-coach myself), so that they will no longer need me and are able take proactive charge of their own failures and successes.
When an individual can motivator and clarify their own actions in life, nothing can stop them!
A key part of the accountability involved in the coaching process is not just down to the client completing the necessary tasks, it also involves the client maintaining a positive outlook.
The PEAs again.
I very intentionally keep reminding the client of their PEAs throughout the whole coaching process, because it keeps them in a positive frame of mind and it slowly but surely teaches them how to keep themselves in a positive frame of mind.
A great exercise I got from my Positive Psychology sequence of courses is The Three Good Things exercise.
In-between sessions, I always set my client’s the task of writing down three good things that happened to them each day.
They don’t have to do it each day, but I certainly encourage them to do it at the end of each day.
Identifying three good things that happened in your day, why they happened and why you’re grateful for them happening allows you to end your day on a constructive sense of achievement.
Plus, that positively bleeds over into the next day.
This is a lesson I have learned from my own self-coaching.
One of the things I have gained from coaching other people is an enhanced sense of empathy, not just towards other people, but towards myself.
Before I started coaching others, I was always very hard on myself.
With my self-coaching, I would always take all the pain and the anger building up inside of me and churn it into willpower to push myself through thick and thin to achieve my goals.
While that is a process that does work, I have come to realise that process is greatly enhanced when a little positively is introduced.
Delayed gratification is brilliant for getting shit done.
But if you are constantly delaying any form of gratification, it can actually be hugely detrimental for your long-term health.
For about the first year-and-a-half of putting together my MTA Portfolio, I pretty much cut out any gratification from my life.
It was just work, work, work!
Then I started to burn out and realised I needed to ease up somewhat.
I started to introduce small wins back into my life.
I took up mindfulness meditation to give me a bit of daily headspace to reflect on my wins and to rest my mind in the present moment, without worrying about all the things I needed to achieve.
At the end of the life coaching process, this is what I endeavour to gift to my clients.
Life coaching is about achieving goals, but it is equally about learning to appreciate the life you have, the life you have had and the life you have yet to have.
A client has reached the end of the coaching process when they have reached the point of realisation where they know how to define their goals, build a plan of action for achieving their goals, get creative when things don’t go to plan and motivate themselves towards attaining their desired change by realising the richness already inherent in their lives.
Beyond that there is not much else I can teach a client.
I may stick with them through a few more sessions as an accountability partner until their desired change is achieved.
I may encourage them to a book in a catch-up session with me a few months down the line to see how things are going and if they need help getting things back on track or if they have another desired change they want to tackle.
Personally, I would rather let a client go at the end of achieving their first desired change.
If a client has achieved their goals and, through the process of achieving those goals, is now able to self-coach themselves towards achieving further goals, my job is done.