Author: Judy Garfinkel Life and Career Coaching (Judy Garfinkel)
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A good Life Coach listens.


Really. It’s the most important part of the job. If you’ve ever tried to deeply listen to someone else with full on presence, no agenda, no advice, no waiting for your turn to talk about you, then you know that kind of listening is a gift. If you’ve ever felt deeply listened to - lucky you.


Obviously, listening isn’t the only thing.


But, it may be the key to why coaching has become more popular than ever before. According to USA Today, The Psychotherapy Networker magazine estimates there are approximately 10,000 people working as coaches. Clearly, there’s a need for a safe place to hear ourselves, connect with what’s truly (maybe secretly) important to us, and to speak it aloud to a listener.


You might be thinking that therapists and members of the clergy are trained to listen. They are, and if you do a quick search of life coaches on the Internet, you’ll find that some of those same folks are taking coaching training, starting up their own coaching practices, or incorporating coaching tools into their existing methods. They are attracted to coaching work because the coaching process helps people design lives and work that feel exciting, aligned with purpose and are grounded in personal values for now and the future. Clients create their own goals focusing on greater satisfaction and fulfillment in areas of their choosing.



So how do coaches do it?


Most coaches have gone through a proven training and certification program that provides a framework for guiding change. In addition to the tools and techniques from that training, many coaches bring years of expertise from their own lives that enhance their coaching. Some coaches are or have been, health practitioners, artists, marketers, dancers, teachers, CEOs, managers, writers, etc. Many Life Coaches incorporate spirituality into their work with clients, especially if they use an integrated and holistic approach.


How Do I know I am coach-able?


In order for a coach to be effective, there obviously has to be a desire for change and a readiness to take steps toward that change on the part of the client. For many of us who want something different but can’t imagine what that is, change can seem daunting. Life Coaches can help us expand our notion of what’s possible and provide an anchor through uncertainty.


Am I the only one who thinks change is complicated – and hard?


If you have tried to stop smoking, bring a project to life, lose weight, find a new career, access your creativity, wake up earlier, exercise, eat more mindfully, or communicate better with your loved ones, you know that change is easier imagined than done. We encounter resistance, loss of energy and other impediments to our best intentions. Life Coaches are interested in what excites you and what gets you stuck. 


Some Secrets About Change


An amazing feature of the human organism is our ability to coalesce our body, mind and spirit around a goal. Great teachers, and leaders know this. However, goals lacking specificity, a realistic context and achievable time frame, lead to lack of clarity and ultimately to disappointment. In their bestselling book Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, Chip and Dan Heath write that when goals in the workplace lack clarity, leaders experience resistance, which is frequently misinterpreted as stubbornness or worse. This is because unfocused goals are difficult to act upon.


Making unclear goals is a common mistake individuals make too. In part, this results from choosing our direction based on what we think we should want (this is a biggie), what we hope we can do, or what others want us to want to be doing, rather than what holds meaning for us.


Contrary to the messages we receive from parents, teachers, advertisements, self-help books, friends, and coaches (the kind with the whistles and cleats), we can’t coerce ourselves into wanting what others want or what we think we should want; at least, not for long. When our goals are inauthentic, to our utter surprise, we resist, we avoid - we fail. Luckily, illuminating and defining meaningful (to the client) goals that are lit by motivation, grounded in values and which are as crystal clear as sparkling water are essential elements of Life Coaching.


Creating goals, no matter how meaningful, is just one part of the change process. You may already have noticed that not only can we not coerce ourselves to do what we think we should; we can’t even coerce ourselves to do what we actually want – although we try. This is a secret that many Life Coaches don’t even know.


Why isn’t willpower enough?


In their recent research study into self-control, Dr. Roy Baumeister and John Tierney, discovered that we have limited amounts of mental energy for making choices, particularly ones that involve resisting temptation. It seems that the more often we exert self-control, the more fatigued we get (they call it “ego-depletion”). Our all too common experience of “being good” for a few hours, a few days or even weeks, and then falling back to the old pattern is a biological reality. This is good news. It validates our suspicions that, “Just do it,” “Decide to do it,” “Kick the habit,” can’t really work.


Changing patterns, altering habits, and making change must involve more than reliance on “will-power” alone. What works is a carefully constructed plan for change that is guided by a client’s unique circumstances, reserves, preferences, emotional make-up and willingness to understand self from various perspectives. An effective Life Coach works skillfully in partnership with clients to craft such a plan.


It’s normal, virtually inevitable, that we will encounter resistance and avoidance in varying degrees at different points along the way to reaching our well-formed goals. Although this can be the most difficult aspect of the coaching process for any client, it is at these very moments that the coaching partnership can be most helpful and the work the deepest. An interactive coaching partnership can mitigate the loneliness and vulnerability that are natural responses to change. And, if a client is willing, tackling the inner “taskmaster” can make the difference between short term and lasting change.


The inner taskmaster can be identified as that critical voice which either forces us to do what we “should,” or chides us to stick with the plan, shaming us with negative self-talk. Although we have convinced ourselves that this kind of self-talk is motivational – it hurts. Like corporal punishment, we may see results for a while, but we pay dearly with our well-being in the long run.

The inner taskmaster is not the enemy. It would be a mistake to alienate a part of ourselves. Instead, the work of noticing the inner taskmaster, interacting with the underlying needs it masks, and opening ways of approaching our patterns is deep work indeed. Not everyone wants to use this approach and it’s not a part of every coach’s skill set. A coaching client is always in charge of how far and how deep he or she is willing to go.


A little goes a long way.


Life Coaching can be an exhilarating process. Depending on the client’s goals, it can be a simple very short-term interaction or a more in-depth kaleidoscopic transformation. Change is quirky and miraculous; even small changes can ripple through a life to subtle yet profound effect.  And, according to a study conducted by the International Coach Federation, 98.5% of coaching clients feel their investment of time and money in a coach was well worth it!