Tools for supporting personal effectiveness and meaningful,
high-quality, creative work
I have come to think of coaching as two distinct but interrelated things. The first one is the most understood — coaching as a relationship, a helping-through-conversation support service that focuses on learning, development, and desired outcomes (versus therapy, for instance, with its emphasis on healing and the past). The second is coaching as the growing collection of ideas, techniques, and practices of an evolving and flourishing field. In the first, relational sense, a client has one of the best foundations possible for making changes and expanding their life…the coach! But the latter sense, a treasure chest of tools available, opens up the possibilities of coaching, permitting anyone to explore the wide applicability of its tools.
Though I have always found the coaches I’ve hired to be well worth the cost, the hands-down top way to accomplish big things, let’s be honest: At $100+ per session, coaching is beyond many budgets and comfort levels. And its real effectiveness kicks in over time, as a relationship develops, meaning a true investment in dollars is part of the package.
Below are the top 28 elements from coaching, densely interconnected concepts that I’ve found to be “the starter set” for the second sense of coaching. You can explore and practice them on your own, to coach yourself — to engage your own creativity and wisdom, to increase personal satisfaction and effectiveness, and to support your meaningful choices and high-quality work.
1. Meta Toolbox Four tools can be used to best absorb, practice, and incorporate the other tools into your life and work: Walking/motion-activated learning; writing/journaling; silent stillness or other mindful/meditative/reflective practice; and action — just doing it, trying it out in real life.
2. Creativity Creativity goes beyond artistry and even innovative thinking. It’s a reminder that we are generative creatures, always capable of creating solutions and creating our way forward. We create our path with each new choice.
3. Responsibility With or without a coach, the responsibility of doing the work is always on us. When we shift into accepting that no one is coming to save us or tell us what to do, when we start really owning our own lives, it becomes more and more our own and we begin seeing our satisfaction rising and more dreams coming true.
4. Setting the Agenda and the Takeaway Determining an agenda (what you want to work on) and a takeaway (what you want to get out of that) are formal openings to a traditional coaching session and they point to something important for us working informally and by ourselves: Clarity matters. You must identify where you’re at or what’s not working for you…and where you want to go, what you want instead.
5. Open-Ended Questions Avoid yes/no questions and asking yourself why. The first yields limited information and the latter provokes defensiveness. Investigate yourself and your situation with what, who, where, when, and how questions and things start opening up. Who can help me with this? When will I start that? What direction do I want to go with this business? Rather than, Can I publish an ebook this year? Can I take my kids on vacation? (yes/no), try, How can I publish an ebook this year? Where can I take my kids on vacation?
6. Peeling the Onion Peeling the onion means going ever deeper with your self-probing until you get somewhere meaningful. Structure it as a conversation with yourself but don’t ask a random assortment of questions. Ask each new thing based on your prior answer. This approach takes you to the core of a particular thing and often leads to a shift.
7. Shifting Shifting is a breakthrough that may result from taking oneself through the basic coaching process, or an insight arising from walking, journaling, meditation, or action that significantly alters your awareness. It’s the lightbulb going off and bringing the type of clarity that sparks movement.
8. Admitting the Arrival Once we’ve dug deep, hit a new awareness, and shifted, it’s time to admit the arrival — both acknowledge that something new happened and let it in. It’s taking a moment to savor and appreciate the change, but also working on normalizing and stabilizing what’s new, holding on to the gain going forward.
9. Accountability Accountability is like the taskmaster twin of responsibility. When you take something on, take responsibility for it, accountability holds your feet to the fire. It’s grasping that it’s on you to get done the things that matter to you; guaranteeing that the tasks, results, and changes happen. Use all the hacks, systems, time, and social support needed, but in the end, you answer to yourself.
10. Being with Yourself and Not Your Problems The beauty in this one is that it’s counterintuitive. When things are going wrong, we can so easily ruminate on our troubles or dive into a frenzied effort to fix, solve, make the bad things go away. This tool advises us to be with ourselves first, check in to see where we’re at and consider where we would rather be. It’s an effective way of dissolving the prominence of problems.
11. Balance When you’re feeling lopsided, out-of-whack, balance suggests the easy hack of doing the opposite to bring yourself back to center. Feeling alone? Do something social. Working too much? Time for play. Heavy with the world’s problems? Try levity.
12. Self-Care Self-care covers the whole spectrum of being attentive guardians of ourselves and the whole gamut of our physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, and social needs. It’s a commitment to being on our own side so that we can be fresh, inspired, and engaged when out in the world, doing our work, and living with others.
13. Slowing It Down I’m so sold on slowing down that I named my blog @slowcharacter. Reducing the pace of everything and building cushions of time into your life bring the counterintuitive byproduct of getting more done, with less effort, in less time, with greater satisfaction and graciousness. It become easier to get the most important things done, to decide in alignment with your goals and priorities. Take a few extra moments, a few extra hours, a few extra days, a few extra weeks…
14. Being Not Doing This refers to the value of being rather than doing. Be the change, don’t work at it. Be yourself, be who you want to be, be present in your relationships. Let the doing follow from the being.
15. Possibility Thinking There are at least three ways to explore possibility thinking: First, not whether or not (that’s yes/no) something is possible, but how is it possible? The second engages your creativity and imagination for the sake of expansion: What all is possible here? What else? Third is the strand of options generation: What possible moves are next? What possible choices do I have?
16. Idealizing Idealizing takes the second type of possibility thinking to the next level — considering and picturing what we want most in any situation, in all the detail our imaginations can supply, as grand as we’re willing to take it. While it may seem fanciful, idealizing can lead us to clarity, awareness, stretching ourselves appropriately, and permitting ourselves to do, be, and have more.
17. Right, Right Now Another favorite, making oneself right, right now puts lowering the bar to work for you. That’s right…it’s lowering expectations — and keeping lowering them — until you find yourself okay, right where you are, in this moment. In fact, it’s beyond self-acceptance and being okay. It’s finding the present moment perfect, just right. When you can get to that place and feel the relief and the joy, then you can work on building what’s next.
18. Getting Curious Getting curious is the de facto “coach approach.” It’s both refraining from judgment and the presumption of knowing what’s best, and the genuine, active desire to know and understand another from their own point of view. When we turn this generous attitude on ourselves, who knows what hidden nuggets will turn up.
19. Setting Intentions Intentions can be specific or broad, big or small, short-term or long-term, but setting them is less like setting Jell-O and more like setting concrete. To set an intention: Idealize what you want, nourish it with attention, apply creativity, focus, decide, commit. Be with your intention first, then do something about it. Hold yourself accountable. Let belief in your intention allow you to detach from it while the work is underway.
20. Taking Action In contrast to “being not doing,” this tool is about the value of taking action to drive motivation and momentum rather than waiting for inspiration or to feel like it first.
21. Video Game Hero This is a metaphor I rely on when facing a day of annoyances, obstacles, crushing news, or my own foul mood — and no seeming way out or through. I remind myself that the open doors and gems I seek are actually here, somewhere. They’re built into the game after all — and this is a game. Then, I do what I can with what’s in front of me, whether elegant, strategic, pure guesswork, or a grind, and let the desired things and a path forward reveal themselves in time.
22. Plenty Plenty is tool, awareness, destination. It’s a yin-yang zen combo of both enough and more than enough, sufficiency and abundance. Combined with other tools, we see that we have plenty of creativity, options, opportunities, time, and space, and plenty right in this very moment (right, right now).
23. Gratitude How can our brains, bodies, and lives change over time thanks to gratitude? According to more than 25 research studies, the regular practice of being appreciative leads to improved physical and psychological well-being; increased self-esteem, empathy, generosity, and mental resilience; heightened optimism, joy, and happiness; decreased stress, isolation, and aggression; and enhanced relationships.
24. Priorities and Nested Priorities Built into the concept of priorities is significance, but so is order. Some things matter to us more than others. How we rank, layer and nest, integrate and compartmentalize the priorities from different areas of our lives will have consequences — and so will the fact that we have them, know what they are, and use them as guidelines.
25. Costs, Benefits, Tradeoffs, Tipping the Scale Here we consider the many calculations of our ongoing behaviors and choices, making sure that the benefits are worth the costs, and that over time we’re not tipping the scale in ways that deplete or disadvantage us. In the bluntest of examples that affect us all: Are we saving more than we spend? Are we burning more calories than we take in? Are we giving more than we take in relationships?
26. Loving Philosopher and novelist Irish Murdoch once said, “We can only learn to love by loving,” which is a great way to understand love as a coaching tool. That’s love as an action, not a feeling, something we can expand and deepen our understanding of by doing more of it — loving others, loving our work, loving ideas, loving ourselves and our lives.
27. Playing Big Playing big is an expansive concept. It entails thriving and not just surviving; dreaming bigger, thinking bigger, planning bigger; raising the bar for ourselves and our lives; being fearlessly honest about what we want; showing up and acting from larger, nobler places; and behaving with more confidence and from the best of our abilities. (So, you think playing big and right, right now may be opposites? It helps to think of each as tools. Use the hammer to drive a nail in, its claw to remove it. A screwdriver both screws and unscrews; both uses are valuable depending on the situation.)
28. Self as Authority Finally, this tool emphasizes one of the foundations of coaching: you are the authority on your own life. Coaching as a field believes in you as a source of valuable knowing — and recognizes, grows, and supports your ability to tap into that. It also suggests that you are the author of your own life, crafting and spinning the story of you —your plots, subplots, tangents, and adventures; your revisions and deletions as necessary, or as creativity suggests.
You can read more about each of these ideas individually here (scroll down for links to all 28). These articles are all full excerpts of chapters from my book, The Coach Within: 28 Big Ideas for Engaging the Power of Your Own Wisdom, Creativity, and Choices.