Writing this letter to you, I imagine an extraordinary occurrence. Somehow our parallel universes have collided. For one hour only, I am coaching you through the fog towards a goal of your choosing. This letter is a playback of that golden hour.
When we sat down, I asked you what would you like to get out of our time together? You said “I feel lost a lot of the time. I can’t figure out who I am supposed to be. How do I describe myself? I’m not the guy who does well academically. I’m not the guy who is great at sport, I’m not the really popular guy, I’m not the strong guy. Who am I?”
It sounds to me like you are quite confused around your identity and your place in the world and that is making you feel lost? “Yes. I feel very unsure of myself. I look around at other guys in my class and they seem to have it all figured out. I pretend I have it all figured out too but I know inside it’s a lie. Who is Ray Kinsella, what is his thing? That is what I keep asking myself, but I don’t know the answer and that is making me feel lost.”
I hear your frustration Ray junior and I am sure we can figure this out together! What would be a good outcome for you from our discussion? “To feel better about myself. To feel more confident, just like the other guys in my class.”
Is feeling confident important to you? “Yes absolutely!!! I pretend to be confident all the time, I don’t want to pretend, I want to really feel it!”
Okay so playing this back it sounds like you are saying you want more direction in your life. You want to know who you are and where you are going. And if you have that direction and self awareness, you will feel better about yourself and hence more confident. Is that correct? “Yes, absolutely!”
You said that you ‘pretend to be confident’, have you ever done anything before to make yourself feel real confidence? “Well, I used to feel more confident about school work. I was always the second best in my class in primary school (Sheila Sunderland was the best) which made me feel good. I was also the best in my class at sport in primary school. My primary school was a small country school and when I went to the ‘big’ secondary school in Gorey, it just seemed a lot harder to stand out from the crowd. I think maybe that is when I started to feel lost”
Okay, lets focus on moving to secondary school. How did life change for you? “It was a big step up. In primary school, I don’t think I had to try too hard to be the best. Suddenly there were so many guys that were bigger, smarter, funnier. I wasn’t ready to compete.”
It’s only a few years ago that you did feel good about yourself. Tell me more about things you are good at now? “I’m actually pretty popular in my local parish. I’m captain of the hurling and football team. I sing in competitions which seems to make me quite popular with girls. I go to a different school than most kids in my parish, which makes me kind of different, I guess. All those things make me feel quite good about myself actually when I think about it”
So you feel good about yourself under certain circumstances. What’s different about how you feel about yourself at home in your parish and when you are in secondary school? “I feel like I can’t compete in school. I feel afraid to try. If I try and I fail, I’ll be devastated.”
Do you feel you can’t compete at all or just you can’t complete with certain people? “I can’t compete with the guys I respect. Maybe I feel inferior to them. Sure there are other guys in my class that I can easily compete with, but they are a low bar. They are other ‘culchies’ just like me. I want to be better than that.”
Okay, so you don’t feel inferior to everyone in school, just those you perceive to be better than you? “Yes, they are all good at something and I think that gives them respect.”
Is it important to you that you feel respected by those you respect? “Oh god yes! I so badly want to feel respected. In my home parish, I guess I feel respected and that gives me confidence which probably makes me perform better. If I had that same respect in secondary school, I would feel great, I think!”
So just circling back for a moment. The initial goals we talked about were you feeling less lost by becoming more confident. As we talk, I’m sensing that gaining the respect of your peers (or those you respect) would deliver the confidence you are looking for and thus make you feel less lost. How would you go about gaining that respect? “I want to be good at something they are good at. Then I will gain their respect. I’m that person in my other life in my local parish. I just need to do the same in secondary school”.
Right, lets get a list together of things you could focus on doing that would earn the respect of your classmates. Sky is the limit, so what would you do?
Wow, lots of fantastic options there for gaining more respect. “Yeah so many, I feel pretty overwhelmed just looking at them all. I don’t know where to start?”
It’s totally understandable to feel overwhelmed. Which of those options do you believe is most within your control to achieve? “Hmmm, that’s a good question. I guess if you put it like that ‘team captain’, ‘dating a popular girl’, ‘driving my Dad’s car’, all require actions from other people that I do not control. Getting better grades in my exams is probably the option that is most within my control”.
Excellent! So what do you need to do differently to get better grades? “I know I can get better grades because I was always pretty clever in primary school. I just need to start studying”.
When will you start? “Next week”. What day? “Monday”.
What will you do differently to start studying? “I need a realistic plan. Normally when I try to study, I become overwhelmed because there is so much work to do. I need a plan that I can actually achieve”.
What would help in creating an achievable plan? “Last set of exams I failed almost all of them. It feels daunting to turn them all around. I could focus on 3 subjects that I like and just start with those. That feels less daunting and more achievable”.
Excellent! What else could you do? “I get distracted easily and day dream. If I just set a goal of studying 1 hour per night after homework, that would be a really good start. I like setting goals so I could put a chart on my wall of the chapters I will read on which day and mark off each day that I complete the study. I like seeing progress every day. It motivates me.”
What else can you do to keep yourself motivated? “I’m going to tell my Mother that I am doing this. I am also going to tell my friends in class. If I tell them I’m doing it, I’ll have to do it or I’ll look like a fool to my mates and my Mom will be disappointed in me.”
Awesome! Let’s do I quick recheck on your goals you set yourself at the start. You want to feel less lost by being more confident. You believe the respect of your peers will give you that confidence. Will improving your exam result deliver that respect? “Yes! Doing better in exams will make me feel good about myself and make me feel I’m on the same level as other guys in my class. I feel I will have earned respect from them and gained my own self-respect”.
On a scale of 1-10, how committed are you to achieving this goal? “8, which is really high for me. I feel great clarity and confidence that I have not felt in a long time. I’m nervous but I’m excited that I have a goal that I feel is achievable and not too daunting. Being daunted often derails my goals”.
I believe in you Ray junior! Never let your lack of confidence limit you from achieving all the amazing things you are capable of in this life.
My intent with this letter is two-fold:
Firstly, I want to take a self-coaching journey both as the coach in training, analysing in detail each step of the process and as a coachee, being challenged by powerful questioning. Can I use Skills and Performance coaching to better achieve self-efficacy, defined as “the belief in one’s capabilities to organize and execute the courses of action required to manage prospective situations.” (Bandura, 1977).
Secondly, to clearly demonstrate the use of listening and questioning as part of the coaching process and the use of a model (in this case GROW) within that process. Whitmore said “GROW has little value without the context of awareness and responsibility and the intention and skill to generate them through active listening and powerful questions” (Whitmore, 2018, p. 99).
I was concerned the letter format could become a mentoring exercise rather than coaching. Hence I choose to write the letter in the form of a dialogue between coach and coachee. This helped me as a coach to follow ‘the process’ and me as a coachee to take a journey.
Consulting The Complete Handbook of Coaching to choose a coaching approach, I called upon a number of approaches but mainly focused a solution-focused approach. “A focus on solution talk, strengths and resources, rather than problem talk was very effective for a large range of clients.” (Cox, etc al 2018, p. 36). This suits my future focused goal-oriented mindset.
Next I identified a coaching model to use that would support solution focus. I chose GROW by John Whitmore. He describes its value “because it is simple and because it is actions and outcome focused” (Whitmore, 2018, p. 98). For my young-self, goal setting and clear action identification is important given that ‘lack of clarify’ and ‘feeling lost’ are common themes in my teens. Whitmore states “When you truly accept, choose, or take responsibility for your thoughts and your actions, your commitment to them rises and so does your performance.” (Whitmore, 2018, p. 73). The young me good intentions but lacks commitment and accountability.
My objectives were. Note from here on, I refer to my 16 year old self as ‘coachee’ for brevity.
Exploration of Goal Setting:
According to (Whitmore, 2018, p. 73) “you come to the goal or goals related to the issue at hand, and here you need to be able to distinguish between end goals and performance goals.”. The stated goal of “feel respected by my peers” is the end goal. An athlete’s end goal of “winning a gold”, does not come with set of steps that guarantee the goal is achieved, because everything is not in the athlete’s control. Instead athletes identify many ‘performance goals’ which can be measured and within their control to achieve. The achievement of these goals gives the athlete the best possible chance of achieving the end goal. In my coachee’s case, the performance goals are studying more leading to better results in exams (also highly measurable). It’s not possible for the coachee to guarantee he will feel respected, but achieving his performance goals will give him the best opportunity to achieve that end goal.
Understand Motivators (and demotivators):
Daniel Pink in his book Drive states “goals that people set for themselves that are devoted to attaining mastery are usually healthy. But goals imposed by others – sales targets, quarterly returns, standardised test scores, and so on-can sometimes have dangerous side effects.” (Pink, 2009, p. 50). I remember the coachee being a day dreamer and a person pleaser. During the goal identification stage, I questioned the coachee extensively. The goal moved from “who am I” to “feel more confident” eventually to “I so badly want to feel respected”. I could see clearly from the answers to my questions that the goal was for the coachee only and not to please others or imposed by others e.g. (parents, classmates). The goal also seemed more realistic because the actions required to attain it were around attaining mastery e.g. learn to study and improve exam results.
“The most powerful incentive known to humankind is our own evaluation of our behaviour and accomplishments. When people are able to meet their own personal standards, they feel validated and fulfilled” (Patterson et al, 2008, p. 94). It was only after writing this letter that I realised how important is was (and is) for me to feel respected. When I feel respected, I feel validated and fulfilled. This recognition would have been a powerful motivator for my young self and I realised it is a powerful motivator for me now.
Accountability & Commitment
I find the concept of accountability (or holding oneself to account) to be one of the cornerstones of successful coaching outcomes. “The reason accountability is so important is because it has the power to translate a coaching conversation into action.” (Whitmore, 2018, p. 134). I used powerful questions like “when will you start?”, “what will you do differently?”, “what would help in making it more achievable?”. The answer to each question is an action that when completed moves the coachee closer to achieving the goal. It is also about “activating the will of the coachee.” (Whitmore, 2018, p. 135). It also alerts the coachee to their level of commitment. When asked directly to state what action they will take and by when, along with “who needs to know?”, the coachee will recognise the reality of what is required to achieve the goal because they have made themselves accountable by agreeing to take the necessary actions. The letter itself also helps creates commitment. “It is important that both the coach and the coachee have a clear and accurate written record of the action steps and timeframe agreed.” (Whitmore, 2018, p. 138). The letter is a record of the stated goal, the current situation, options for what actions to take and steps taken which creates accountability for the coachee.
Questioning to unearth existing strengths:
A solution focused approach to a coachee “explores strengths that they already possess which might be used to reach goals.” (Cox, etc al 2018, p. 320). It was a small revelation for me to realise my younger self was quite confident and felt respected in the context of life in his home parish. I found it extremely useful to call on that feeling of confidence in exploring actions I needed to take e.g. “achieve better results in exams”, as this was something I had done previously when in primary school. I recognise that I had forgotten this but powerful questioning again brought up those forgotten strengths.
“I am able to control only that of which I am aware. That of which I am unaware controls me. Awareness empowers me” (Whitmore, 2018, p. 68). As awareness is a key element of coaching, I was interested to see if self-coaching could raise my self-awareness. The self-awareness that feeling respected is very important to me was a revelation and something that I now feel being aware of will give me a greater ability to see where this impacts my life and decision making.
How I felt writing the letter
The exercise felt like a fantastic journal. I’m not sure whether it was writing the questions and answers down or re-reading that really made me think differently about how I perceived myself then and what that meant for how I see myself now. It was a powerful personal exploration.
This whole process confirmed for me that the feeling of decision made and goals set gives me comfort. Knowing that about my young self, my approach with this letter was to set up the coaching letter in a structured manner where objectives were clear, next steps followed a logical pattern and outcomes felt achievable. All along the way progress was visible and could be measured. This is necessary to ensure I stay motivated to reach process goals along the way and to achieve my overall stated goal resulting from coaching.
The outcome was not what I expected once completed, which surprised and delighted me. I knew there were key points around clarity and confidence but I was quite surprised to unearth the fact that feeling respected (or not feeling disrespected) was and still is really important to me. It was a bit of an epiphany for me really. Thinking about it later, I was in no doubt it was related to my relationship with my father back then. However I could see and understand that it was not necessary for me to unpack why feeling respected was important. Rather, being aware of it helped me to focus better on the right actions that I should take to achieve my goal. It also helped to confirm that the stated goal was the right goal for my 16-year-old self. Amazingly, I did feel as though I had been coached.
- Bandura, A. (1997). Self-Efficacy: Toward a Unifying Theory of Behavioral Change.
- Whitmore, J. (2017). COACHING for Performance.
- Cox, E., Bachkirova, T., Clutterbuck, D., (2018). The Complete Handbook of Coaching.
- Pink, D.H., (2009). Drive – The surprising truth about what motivates us.
- Patterson, K., Grenny, J., Maxfield, D., McMillan, R., Switzler, A.I. (2008) Influencer – The power to change anything.