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What Is Life Coaching?

Today, coaching is a booming industry with more than 50,000 coaches worldwide and an annual revenue exceeding $11B – yes, billion (estimates for 2020). Coaching must have value for so many people to be drawn to it. Before you go down the coaching path, you should understand more about it and should ask some specific questions:

What is coaching? What is a Life Coach? What does a coach do? Why would I want to hire a Life Coach? The purpose of this article is to answer these questions so you have a good idea why you might want to take advantage of what coaching can offer.

I imagine that coaches have been around for a long time. Long ago, there was probably someone in the village who enjoyed helping others, was always encouraging, and had a talent for helping others work through their problems. This person probably had some full-time functional job in the village - a carpenter, a cook, a leatherworker, a farmer. Or perhaps a wife or mother. This person just had a natural desire and talent to help others, and they could affect positive changes in others’ lives. They brought relief to a problem, and perhaps even healed it completely.

As their reputation spread, more people sought them out until they didn’t have time left for their personal life. Their “clients” started bringing food, clothing, and supplies. Maybe they performed services for their “coach” in return for being helped. As the medium of exchange moved from things and services to money, the “coach” started charging for helping others. Over time, they began to specialize into different branches – athletic coaches, relationship coaches, business coaches, art coaches, spiritual coaches, etc. I’m sure this is how many service-oriented occupations also developed.

What Is Coaching?  Top

The International Coaching Federation, founded in the United States in 1995, defines coaching as “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.” Coaching is a professional relationship that helps people produce extraordinary results in their lives, careers, businesses, or organizations, helping them to bridge the gap between where they are now and where they want to be.

Coaching is designed for healthy individuals who are feeling stuck in life and want to progress and grow as individuals. The goal of coaching is to help you overcome internal limitations that result from past experiences and external pressures such as parenting, education, marketing, and other powerful influences on our lives. Over time, and especially with repetition, we internalize these pressures, creating patterns of belief, thought, feeling, and behavior that limit our expectations of ourselves and the world around us.

A coach is a supportive force in your life. A coach provides a safe, creative, and nonjudgmental space within which you can grow. A coach asks thought-provoking questions with the goal of helping you explore, reflect, and make better decisions. A coach encourages you to become a better person, leader, athlete, etc. Coaching allows you to reflect and gain awareness of who you are, what is important to you, your strengths, your challenges, the options open to you, and the action(s) needed to take your life in a positive direction.

A coach is responsible for motivating you to improve the quality of your life by helping you remove inner blocks to achieving your goals. A coach helps you focus on your present life, make any necessary adjustments (big or small), so you can move forward into the future, realizing positive goals in your personal and professional life. Whether you are going through a major transitional phase in your life or just need some motivation and encouragement to reach a specific goal, a coach can be a valuable partner in this process. A coach provides the questions, framework, exercises, and accountability needed to help you realize positive change in your life.

What Is Life Coaching?  Top

I started out as a Business Coach, because of my experience in business. However, I realized very quickly that coaching impacts all areas of life, regardless of focus. As a result, I believe the term Life Coach is more appropriate to what I do. Life Coaching is about improving the entire life, not just one or two specific areas of life. Life Coaching deals with life as a whole and brings about positive changes across the full range of human life. As indicated above, there are many different kinds of coaching, each focusing on a specific area of human life. Yet all of them use the same basic set of principles and techniques to bring about changes in a client’s life. And all of them result in a broad range of changes, affecting more than just their specific focus.

Based on my experience and training, all types of coaching are similar in that different types of coaches follow similar processes and use similar techniques. There’s a reason for this – life can’t be compartmentalized – in order to resolve an issue in one area of life, it is often necessary to first resolve one or more other issues. It’s been said that coaching is like peeling an onion – as you peel off one layer, you discover another layer underneath. The actual cause of some limiting belief may be – and often is – buried under several layers of other beliefs, feelings, memories, etc.

For example, you may be experiencing problems with relationships. You work with a relationship coach to resolve the beliefs that are limiting you from having fulfilling relations with other people. Maybe one of these limiting beliefs is a feeling of inadequacy, the result of some experience(s) from an earlier period in your life. Resolving this limiting belief and restoring a sense of adequacy and confidence enables you to move forward in a positive manner in your relations with others.

Do you think this will impact only your relationships? Of course not, because this limiting belief – inadequacy – has been impacting many areas of your life, whether you are able to (or choose to) recognize it. “I can’t lose weight.” “I’m not smart enough.” “I’m not good looking.” How many areas of your life can be affected by feelings of inadequacy? A better question would be: “How many areas would NOT be affected?” Coaching improves life by removing feelings, beliefs, thoughts, and behaviors that limit our ability to fulfill our goals. I believe that a good coach, regardless of his or her focus, will bring about dramatic changes in your life as a whole.

How Does Coaching Work?  Top

Coaches commonly use either a directive or a non-directive approach. Non-directive coaching is the more traditional approach. With this approach, the coach asks you questions, allowing you to find your own solutions. A non-directive coach will generally not offer advice or suggestions. Rather, through skillful questioning, the coach helps you to see your situation from a different perspective, challenges inconsistencies, and holds you accountable to your actions.

The great benefit of non-directive coaching is that you take complete ownership of your own solutions, resulting in an increased sense of empowerment and confidence.

With directive coaching, the coach offers you options, solutions, tools, and techniques for moving forward. Directive coaching can be helpful when you can’t find your own solution, or when you lack the experience or knowledge needed to find a solution. The drawback is that, because the idea is not your own, you may not be invested in it and won’t act on it. It’s also possible that the advice isn’t right for you personally. Does this mean that directive coaching is useless or bad? Not at all. The reason we have different approaches is that people are complex, and different situations benefit from different approaches.

Many coaches use both styles, alternating between them depending on the client and/or the situation. Not all tools and techniques are appropriate for all clients. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to helping others progress in life. Every client is unique and may not fit into the same process as someone else. Each coach has a toolkit with a collection of processes and practices. A good coach knows when and how to use each approach or technique to overcome specific obstacles in the lives of their clients.

What Can I Expect from Coaching?  Top

You can expect to gain a better understanding of yourself and why you act in the way you do. A coaching session should lead you to think in ways you might not have before. You should feel challenged, stimulated, and energized. You should become, over time, more independent and less controlled by your internal limiting beliefs. You should become more reflective, better able to see yourself in a better light. You should become more confident, clearer about who you are, why you are here, and in what direction you want your life to take.

However, you also need to realize that living doesn’t come with a “one-size-fits-all” manual. The job of the coach is to ask questions, guide, and occasionally poke and prod. Your job is to take your sessions seriously and do the work necessary to shake off the limitations that have built up over your lifetime. Coaching is ultimately about you and what you choose to take away from it. Uncovering some limiting beliefs may result in discomfort as you let them go. Coaching will push you outside your comfort zone. Your coach doesn’t serve your fears. Your coach serves your soul, your Higher Self, the vision of yourself that you are meant to be. Any discomfort will also be accompanied by a feeling of greater freedom and authenticity.

Results may not come immediately. Remember the onion analogy? You may have to peel a few layers back before you can clear the issue causing the concern that brought you to coaching. For this reason, in my practice, I don’t do single coaching sessions. I ask each client to make a commitment to a minimum amount of time, because I want to make sure that they experience the changes they want and that they are in a position to move ahead on their own.

At the same time, I also suggest that you don’t continue coaching forever, without a break. If you become dependent on me, I’m not doing my job – which is to help you overcome your inner obstacles, not add new ones. I know many people who come in and out of coaching. Perhaps a longer period at first, and then occasional follow-up sessions after that to help with specific situations. My goal is to help you become independent, not more dependent.

If this describes how your coaching experience is going, you’re on the right track. If you don’t feel that you’re making progress, then maybe you need to work with someone else.

Is Coaching Safe?  Top

Anything can be harmful if not practiced correctly. Coaching is not for people with serious mental or emotional problems. Coaching is not therapy and should not be considered a substitute for therapy. You don’t want to sweep serious problems under the rug. I know some amazing coaches who have been very successful working with victims of trauma and other serious life problems. However, for serious mental and emotional issues, qualified medical assistance is appropriate.

Coaching works best for healthy – mentally and emotionally – people who are looking for more in life. People who recognize that they are the biggest obstacle in their own lives and want some help to overcome (what they consider) their own inner inadequacies. A coach is a “helper” who inspires and encourages you to be and do your best. A coach has tools and techniques that can help you see yourself and your life from different perspectives. This helps overcome many limiting life patterns. However, a coach is not a medical professional. If you suffer from serious problems, seek the help of a qualified medical professional first.

There are very many coaches in the coaching profession today. There is no regulation. There are many organizations that provide some form of ‘certification’ for coaching. For example, the International Coaching Federation provides formal training and a recognized certification for coaches.

As in any profession, there are some coaches who are unethical and who provide little benefit at significant expense. However, there are also unethical, immoral doctors, professors, teachers, counselors, therapists, and others. Stories of such people are not difficult to find. In every profession, regardless of how regulated it is, you can find individuals who are unethical, poorly trained, and can inflict harm on their clients.

Fortunately, you will find most coaches to be highly ethical, moral, and gifted. There is a reason it is called a “helping” profession. All of the coaches I know – regardless of how much they charge – are sincere in their desire to help others and are skilled in doing so. I have come across some amazing people in this profession and they can bring about amazing changes in your life. I’ve used coaches to help my own personal development (most coaches have their own coaches…) and have personally experience the power of good coaching.

What it really comes down to is making the right selection for your coach. Selecting a coach is a very personal and subjective decision. I provide some guidelines in the section, How Do I Select a Coach?

How Much Does a Coach Cost?  Top

Relationships involve an exchange between two people. Both people bring something to the relationship, and both receive something from the relationship. Coaching is a relationship between two people, the coach and the client. Both bring something to the session, and both receive something from the session. The coach brings expertise and receives a fee. The client brings a payment and receives expertise. This is the nature of the coaching relationship.

There’s an old saying, “You get what you pay for” – many times what we get for free we don’t value, and therefore we don’t invest our time and energy. The coaching fee encourages commitment on behalf of both coach and client. The coach feels an obligation to ‘earn’ the fee and strives to help the client work through and solve a problem. The client doesn’t want to waste his/her investment and follows the coach’s process with the expectation of receiving a positive result. A fee provides in incentive for both parties to pay attention to the relationship so that the expectations of the client are met or exceeded.

So, what do coaches actually charge? Coaching rates vary considerably – there is no norm, and the range is huge. Some coaches charge by the hour while others have programs that span months. Some coaches charge $100 per hour or less while others charge thousands of dollars per hour. Coaching programs can run from several thousand dollars to a million dollars or more for a few months to a year or more.

You can find coaches at all different price points. Do you get more from a coach charging $1,000 per hour than one who charges $100 per hour? Not necessarily. Price doesn’t necessarily relate to quality or experience. There are some very good coaches who choose to keep their fees low because they want to give people of different financial means access to the benefit of coaching. Other coaches believe that their experience, expertise, and level of success deserve a high level of compensation. It’s really no different from any other professional field. Doctors, lawyers, accountants, engineers – in all fields, there are some who charge high fees and others who charge much lower fees. And expertise is not always related to cost.

So, where does this leave you? Obviously, you must select someone who charges a fee that’s within your financial means. However, this doesn’t mean that you can’t find someone good if you have limited means. There is more to coaching than how much the coach charges. What is important, as we discuss in the article, How To Find My Coach, is how to select your coach.

How Long Will It Take for Coaching To Solve My Problem(s)? Top

This is a very difficult question to answer. The only answer is - it varies with every person and every situation.

How entrenched in your life is the problem? Some issues go very deeply into the inner person. Like peeling an onion, the actual cause of your issue may be buried under layers of other issues and require resolving other issues before you can get to the real problem. How often you meet can have an impact on the speed with which you experience results. Some coaches have the ability to elicit positive results very quickly, even after only one or two sessions. However, in my experience, most problems require more time to resolve. It’s important to not be discouraged if you don’t solve the problem immediately. We live in an age where people expect instant results regardless of the magnitude of the problem. While this is certainly a possibility, it’s not realistic to expect immediate results in every situation.

You also don’t want to become dependent on your coach. There are some coaches who want to sign you up to their programs year after year. Most coaches I know encourage their clients to take a break after some time has passed, so you don’t become dependent on them. After all, the purpose of coaching is to help you become independent, to stand on your own, and work through future issues on your own. It may be useful to return for an occasional session to work through some acute issue. However, if you find yourself going on and on in the process, you may want to think about taking a break for a while or even finding a new coach.

Each person, each coach, and each coaching relationship is unique. As you leave behind limitations and grow as a person, you will find the answers to all your questions within yourself. Take this process a step at a time as your life unfolds and you will enjoy an exciting and fulfilling life.

How Do I Find a Coach? Top

I've written a separate article all about finding and selecting your coach. Read about it here.

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