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Coaching is one of an ever-increasing number of self-development techniques used in the quest for a better quality of life. The first association that may spring to mind when you hear coaching is sports. Although the sports industry has successfully used coaching principles for many years, it is now recognised that coaching can improve performance in almost every area of your life. The only caveat is that you must be willing to open your mind and, most importantly, to make changes. After all, "if you always do what you always did, you'll always get what you always got!"

Until recently, coaching was probably done informally by friends or the extended family network. A chat with a favourite aunt or uncle could let you mull over problems you didn't want to discuss with parents, brothers or sisters. Nowadays families may be too distant geographically for such a trusting relationship to develop. Friends are still an option, but they may be involved in the issue, competitors at work or even prone to enjoy a good gossip. If you need a wise confidante whose confidentiality can be relied upon, a coach is the answer. A good coach does more listening than talking, but is never judgmental or critical.

Coaching helps you create your own definition of success and empowers you to achieve your full potential in life with a clear path laid out along which to develop. You will achieve this faster with a coach than you would alone. Typical goals are often in the areas of family, fitness, friends, finance or faith in yourself.

What makes coaching particularly attractive is that, although a series of hour-long sessions is recommended, even a single session can switch on a light and point you towards a solution. Remember, coaches work on solutions, not problems.

A quick word about what coaching is NOT. It isn't a technique you can apply to a third-party, so a coach can't 'make' your partner take a specific action. Neither is it counselling nor therapy, to resolve issues in your past - coaching focuses on the future, not the past. Coaching is not prescriptive; the coach will not give advice. That's the job of a consultant or mentor.

Every client is an individual so at the first session the coach will ask questions to help the client define the issue more clearly.

Suppose a client comes along and wants 'success', this is not good enough for a coach to work with because success means different things to different people. When clients have difficulty formulating their own concept of 'success', the coach has skills to tease it out of them bit by bit. This is an essential step because if you don't know what you're setting out to achieve, how will you know when you've succeeded, or even made progress in the right direction?

The coach helps the client ensure that his goals are attainable. Fantasies and false promises are not what coaching is about. If there's no way of achieving it, the goal needs redefining.

Having clarified the goal, the coach will help the client marshal the resources to help him reach it. For a distant (life) goal, steps - or journey-goals - will be identified so that the client can have the encouragement of small successes along the way. The client is encouraged to find as many options as possible to achieve the defined goal, then will select those that they want to work on as 'homework' before the next coaching session. It's important to understand that the client himself chooses one or more actions from options he has explored. There is no element of compulsion but motivating clients to 'do something' is an important part of coaching. Without 'action', dreams will stay just dreams.

Motivation can be the avoidance of pain (the embarrassment of telling your coach you didn't do the task you'd set yourself at the last session) or the pursuit of pleasure (material, or even telling a relative or friend who doubted your abilities of one of your achievements).

A coach will also help clients develop a positive mental attitude, avoiding destructive 'self-talk' and sometimes helping them learn to say 'no' instead of 'yes'. A positive mental attitude includes validating the labels you've applied to yourself as well as those others have applied. Clients are encouraged to place a high value on themselves - in the same way that the value of an umbrella seems so much higher in a torrential storm.

Coaching may involve just one session to point someone in a new direction. However, it is more likely to be a series of sessions working on mini-goals identified at the first session, or even looking at several different areas of life such as relationship problems, overcoming fears and worries, choosing or progressing a new career. Because coaching can easily be done by 'phone, it is available to anyone, even those who work odd hours or who would have difficulty travelling.

I first developed my interest in coaching as an add-on to my nutritional therapy practice, when I read that even having left a consultation enthusiastic about newly gathered knowledge, only 14-20% of people (according to different sources) then changed their behaviour in response to this information. If knowledge isn't turned into action you have wasted your time and money! Coaching was the ideal way to change this.

In early 2005 I qualified as an INLPTA coach - but this course fired my interest in wider areas of coaching beyond nutrition and I started on a longer course to get further accreditation.

Part of this second course involves giving free, practical coaching sessions and until I have my quota of clients I am offering free coaching sessions to clients who can (a) commit to about six sessions ('phone or face-to-face) and (b) are prepared for their information to be reviewed by my college.

By Joy Healey
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