In this 4-part special series, Noel Posus provides a great overview of Life Coaching including: WHEN it started; the development of techniques and skills; HOW and WHY it works.

Concepts discussed in Part 1 and Part 2:

  • Overview of Life Coaching (Part1)
  • Definitions of Coaching (Part1)
  • Types Of Coaching (Part1)
  • Coaching versus Counselling and Other Helping Professions (Part 2)
  • The Research Behind Life Coaching (Part 2)

Methodologies and Tools

There are numerous methodologies and tools used by coaches, which work in most environments when well matched with the client’s needs. Here are some of the foundational tools with some brief descriptions.

GROW Model: The GROW Model is the cornerstone coaching structure used by most coaches in both life and business environments.  It is made up of essentially four steps:

G = Goal: Setting both short and long-term goals and writing them down

R = Reality: Understanding the current situation, the reasons for the goal, assessing strengths and checking assumptions

O = Options: Brainstorming options, asking for alternative solutions, exploring the pros and cons of each so that the individual is prepared to make a decision

W = Way Forward or What Next: Creating an action plan, taking into account any obstacles and designing solutions for them in advance, identifying support systems and gaining a commitment to act

Solution-Focus: Based in Solution Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT), this approach is very future focused, where the coach and the client work to identify the vision of the ideal future, and then concentrate on designing goals, action plans and solutions to known and perceived obstacles. The coach will help the client assess, acknowledge and utilise their strengths and resources to achieve the result. 

Although the past may be explored, it is done primarily to identify skills and moments of achievement that have relevance to the current objective.  The coach helps the client acknowledge their successful behaviours with past obstacles to help them overcome current ones. 

Examples of the tools include “The Miracle Question” where the client is invited to imagine that they woke up tomorrow and their “miracle” has happened, and from that ideal vision, be able to identify the specific strategies to move from their current situation toward their ideal.

Scaling, exception and coping questions are also used to help assess skills, identify times when the client was successful, check assumptions and to acknowledge the resources a client has to see them through various situations successfully.  Identifying and utilising the client’s resources, such as social networks, are a very important part of the process.

Reality-Focus: This approach is based on Reality Therapy, which comes from Choice Theory, developed in the 1960s. It focuses on problem solving and the “here and now” of the client, and how to create a better future, instead of concentrating on the past. It emphasises making decisions, taking action and being in control of one’s own life.

The coach facilitates a process where the client can discover what they really want, identify what they’re doing now, what’s working and what’s not and to continue to make new decisions and demonstrate new or enhanced positive behaviours to reach the goal.

Reality Focus is a cognitive behaviour approach, meaning that it helps the client to be more aware of, and if necessary change, his or her thoughts and actions. It is centred on our five basic, genetically endowed needs, with the primary need, survival, being physical and all others being psychological.

  • Survival: including food, clothing, nourishment, shelter, personal security
  • Connecting, Belonging, Love: including groups as well as families or loved ones
  • Power: including learning, achievement and feeling worthwhile and winning
  • Freedom: including independence, autonomy, and one’s own space
  • Fun: including pleasure and enjoyment

One of the core principles is that whether we are aware of it or not, we are acting (behaving) to meet these needs all the time, but with varying levels of effectiveness. The coach supports the client to become more effective in their behaviours in each of the psychological needs.

The client is often asked to assess their current situation and identify their ideal situation in all areas of their life. The coach and client may also co-design a system for tracking habits, behaviours, thoughts and approaches to identify what’s working and what can be improved.

A variety of measurement tools may be used to support this aim. Ultimately, the more evidence a client may have about their progress and performance, the potential reinforcement exists for sustainable new, positive behaviours and outcomes.

Cognitive Behaviour Approach: Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (or CBT) is a psychotherapy based on modifying everyday thoughts and behaviours, with the aim of positive influencing emotions. Coaches use many of the tools from this area of science. 

One of the most common strategies involves encouraging a client to keep a diary of significant events and associated feelings, thoughts and behaviours, questioning and testing assumptions or habits of thoughts that might be unhelpful or unrealistic. The coach then works with the client to explore new ways of thinking and behaving that are in line with the client’s goals.

CBT is based on the idea that how we think (cognition), how we feel (emotion), and how we act (behaviour) all interact together. Specifically, our thoughts influence our feelings and our behaviour. Therefore, negative and unrealistic thoughts can cause us distress and result in problems or under-performance.

The primary model used here is the ABCs of Irrational Beliefs, developed by Albert Ellis.  The first three steps analyse the process by which the client has developed irrational beliefs:

A – Activating Event: or objective situation or event that ultimately leads to some type of high emotional response or negative or unhelpful thinking.

B – Beliefs: The negative thoughts that occur to the client as a result of the activating event.

C – Consequences: The negative feelings and behaviours which result from the negative belief.

Then the coach assists the client to Reframe, or challenging the negative thoughts on the basis of evidence from the client’s experience, or in other words to re-interpret it in a more realistic light.  This often helps the client to develop more rational beliefs and supportive coping strategies.

Neuro Linguistic Programming: NLP is a field of study that includes a set of techniques, beliefs and strategies as an approach to personal development.  Originally developed by Doctors Bandler and Grinder in the 1970s, NLP has influenced coaching significantly, as well as other helping professionals, and has even become a popular foundation of leadership development.

It is based on the idea that mind, body and language interact to create an individual’s perception of the world. Thus perceptions, and therefore behaviours, can be changed by the application of a variety of techniques.

An important technique is “modelling” which involves the careful reproduction of the behaviours and beliefs of those who have achieved excellence. Although this is sometimes applied by having the client identify someone they feel is successful and then try to connect and develop some of the same beliefs and behaviours for themselves, it is more often used in helping the client identify their own definition of success. 

This latter approach then means that the client is able to make choices about themselves, based on their own definitions, and not necessarily try to “become” someone else or to measure themselves by someone else’s standard for them.

Although NLP is quite popular, there continues to be controversy about its effectiveness, and to date has not been scientifically validated. However, many coaches and trainers are finding successful ways of using the information from this field of study, in new and unique ways with individuals, groups and organisations, and are achieving notable results.

Of the many techniques in this field, the Meta Model is arguably the foundation. It is a set of clarifying questions or language patterns designed to challenge and expand the limits to a person’s model or “map” of the world. It helps detect limiting beliefs and restrictive thinking. 

The coach listens carefully to what the client is saying and how they’re saying it, and helps the client see the information that sits underneath the words they’re speaking. Through this awareness and reframing, the client is often able to develop a more supporting way of thinking and communicating, and therefore achieving greater results. Other techniques include anchoring, ecology and Visual/Kinaesthetic Dissociation (VK/D).

Narrative Approach: One of the most powerful tools available to coaches and other professionals is the stories their clients tell to them. Narrative coaching focuses on working in new ways with the ordinary stories clients tell and helping them tell extraordinary new stories with who and how they are in the world.

The coach also assists the client to modify narrative stories that are unhelpful or ineffective.  For example, if the client has a story they tell themselves and others that they are “no good,” they may be taking moments of their history and experience and creating negative bigger stories that redefine who they are.

In this area of coaching, we look at dominant stories, and how the client may be creating a story where a problem or issue that occurred now defines them as a person versus being simply affected by the situation. Coaches help the client break down the story into facts and reconstruct the story to be more supportive and accurate. This is focused on externalising language having a problem shouldn’t define the person as the problem.

Assessments and Profiling: Many coaches use a variety of assessment and profiling tools and techniques. Almost all of them require the client to “self-assess” as they are the expert of their own experience and what’s important to them.

These tools typically fall into one of the following categories:

  • Personality Traits
  • Behaviour Styles
  • Thinking Styles
  • Creativity Styles
  • Learning Styles
  • Team Roles
  • Conflict Styles
  • Leadership Styles
  • Skills Competency
  • Feedback and Performance Measurement

The importance of these tools lies not just in the data that they produced, but in the debriefing of the results of the assessments so that the client can make their own choices of new behaviours and actions based on the increased level of awareness. Assessments are not used to “label” the client, but to increase self-awareness for the purpose of planning and taking action and increasing performance.

Wheel of Life: This is a foundational tool for many coaches, and there are multiple variations of it. The Wheel of Life is a model by which the client can self-assess their satisfaction in multiple environments of their life. The same tool can also then be used for the client to assess their positive energy and effort, and/or negative energy and effort in each environment.

It helps the client identify priorities and raises awareness to the level that a client can then also commit to strategies to increase their satisfaction. Some variations of the wheel are used to measure leadership, health, financial, spiritual or community environments or components.

Values Identification: All forms of coaching, in one way or another, include values identification as part of the process. Values are, in a coaching sense, what the client holds to be most important and the basis for decision-making. Some have referred to values as our emotional guidance system.

Personal values evolve from experiences with the external world and can change over time, and they are implicitly related to choice. They guide our decisions by allowing for an individual’s choices to be compared to their values.

Values are a core component of leadership, whether that is self-leadership or the leadership of others. Coaches work with individuals to link their objectives to their values, to test if they are congruent, but also to use their values as a source of strength and inspiration to achieve the goal.

Identifying Dreams and Goals: It has been said that goals are simply dreams that have been written down.  A very successful strategy in coaching is to support our clients in writing down their dreams, no matter how unrealistic they may appear to be at first glance. 

Some exercises, like dreams list, have a subconscious impact on the client, where the simple act of writing the dream starts a process where the client begins to take action toward achieving it.  Identifying dreams also helps to clarify very specific goals, which are a priority for the client. 

Another common saying is that “failing to plan is planning to fail.”

Therefore, the coach then works through the process of defining the goal, the benefits of achievement, the risks of under performance, the obstacles which may occur and the potential solutions to those obstacles, and of course the actual action plan itself.

The coach also works with the client to keep them accountable to their plan including celebrating the important progress and performance milestones along the way to the ultimate complete goal attainment.

Habits Tracking (including Time): Habits are the product of conscious choices. Therefore, coaches often work with clients to identify which choices are supporting them and which have room for improvement. In other words, which habits are effective, which require modification and which can be eliminated.

Many clients ask for support in time management; however “time management” is actually a misnomer. A more effective approach is to explore schedule choices and how to manage those choices in a more productive and satisfactory way. This process often begins by tracking the schedule choices, or habits, the individual is currently making, and from the data collected the client now has more awareness about their choices to make new ones.

Most goals involve some form of tracking opportunity, so coaches use a variety of templates, tools and strategies to support the client’s data collection and performance measurement.

Vision Creation: An essential coaching tool is for the client to create a vision of their future. This can be done in a wide variety of ways and for varying purposes.

  • Creating the image of the ideal future in the mind, and discussing
  • Creating a vision board, collage or video of their vision (as a visual reminder of what they’re working toward)
  • Writing a Letter From The Future, as a written account from their “future self” to their “current self” about the wonderful future ahead and how it was achieved
  • Writing vision statements, which are measurable and realistic

The purpose of vision tools is to help the client clarify their ideal situation in a compelling way that inspires them to put in the necessary activity to achieve the result.

Even clients who identify themselves as not visually oriented, often discover that by being able to “see” the goal achieved, they are better able to put in the required effort. This is typically because the client has stopped focusing on the past, previous unsuccessful attempts or obstacles they perceive to be in the way. They disconnect from the negative and focus on the positive generally speaking brings more efficient and effective thinking and behaviour to the goal achievement process.

Motivation & Inspiration: Coaches help clients understand the distinctions between inspiration and motivation.  In a coaching context, inspiration is the compelling vision, purpose and values-connected objective that is so desirable that the client will put in the necessary action to achieve it.  Inspiration is focusing on what you want.

Whereas motivation is focused on fear, particularly the fear of the consequences of under performance, or not achieving the goal. People are typically motivated more than they are inspired. They are moving away from an undesirable state, and therefore will put in the effort to avoid the negative consequences.

Motivation is often less effective and takes more energy.  Conversely, inspiration typically brings faster results with less effort, although not in every case.

Some coaching clients are able to make the conscious choice to become inspired versus motivated.  Where clients are motivated, coaches may work through their fears with them to see if they can be reframed into something more effective. This process may eventually lead the client to become more inspired.

Gratitude: Finally, gratitude is one of the most effective topics of conversation between any coach and client. When the client acknowledges what they are grateful for, including their skills and experiences, they are far more likely to be positive focused.

This is critical in coaching, as positive thinking and emotions achieve greater performance than negative thinking, feelings and ineffectual or lack of activity.

Components of gratitude include celebrating one’s strengths, abilities, achievements and experiences. It also looks at the situations and experiences where the outcomes didn’t match the expectations, and seeing the lessons and opportunities in those situations, and therefore being grateful for them.

For example, reframing thoughts and feelings about failure into concepts where gratitude is possible, can be a highly important part of the coaching process for many clients. If we are “stuck” in the failure mindset, we tend to attract more failure.

However, when we are in the thriving in the gratitude mindset, we tend to attract more successes that we can be grateful for.

About the Author:

This article is an excerpt from the paper Understanding Life Coaching written by Noel Posus, Master Coach and Director of www.askacoach.com, reprinted here with his permission. Noel is also the current Coach of the Year awarded by the Australian New Zealand Institute of Coaching. He is also a Master Coach and instructor with the Life Coaching Institute.