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Undertaking a self-improvement program is never easy. It may bring negative feedback, doubts about self-worth, and feelings of inadequacy. To succeed in self-coaching requires a “leap of faith”: the belief that one’s effort will produce valuable, fulfilling results. It is not enough to just think that change is needed; a good candidate for self-coaching feels that the need is urgent. Determining one’s suitability depends on five key elements:


1. Behavior. Real personal improvement is a matter of changing observable behavior. General goals, such as being more understanding, are not useful unless they can be tied to specific actions and outcomes.

2. Permanence. The only true measure of self-coaching success is behavior change that is permanent. If the change cannot be sustained, the individual will revert to old patterns.

3. Ability. Most people have the ability to make changes and simply need the appropriate motivation and guidance. However, others are uncoachable because of deep-seated emotional or psychological problems.

4. Readiness. Behavior change occurs in stages. Research shows that people need to get beyond the point of weighing pros and cons–known as the contemplation stage–before they can move forward. Part of the self-coaching process involves making people aware of all the facts; this enables them to enter the preparation stage where they know that the benefits of change are clearly superior to those of the status quo.

5. Willingness. To change their behaviors, people must be willing to:

*Take responsibility for failing to achieve their goals.

*Reject victimhood.

*Go beyond acknowledging responsibility to taking action.

*Drop their defenses.

*View feedback positively.

*Depersonalize negative feedback.

*Reframe the irrational beliefs or stories they tell themselves to rationalize bad behaviors.

*Go public with their self-improvement endeavors by enlisting the help and support of others.


Intention is a deliberate desire to bring about an end. In self-coaching, intention provides focus, galvanizes energy, and prompts individuals to act. Setting intention requires:




*Choosing the future

*Identifying actions

All intentions are about being conscious of what needs to be achieved, the choices necessary to get there, and the previous choices that have kept the goal out of reach.

Being passionate about an intention will help bring it about; however, this requires the creation of a sound process. The first step in this process is writing the intention down. Next, the intention must be declared to others since going on record increases the likelihood of following through. The final step is imagining what the intention actually feels like–to the point where it seems to already exist.

Another part of setting intention is taking a critical look at negative stories, also known as limiting beliefs. These stories, often developed during childhood, might emanate from implicit environments (the interactions around individuals) or explicit environments (messages actually directed at them). For example, a person whose parents violently fought could grow up believing that it is better to be seen and not heard. Or, an adolescent taunted by bullies might become a shy, inwardly-focused adult. Thinking about the origin of such stories, and the negative inner voices that express them, can help in reevaluating, debunking, and ultimately replacing them.

Replacement stories also play a significant role in self-coaching. Unlike the original stories, they should be objective, uplifting, and based on evidence instead of emotion. For example, if someone is afraid of being truthful with his or her boss because truthfulness once got him or her fired, this person’s new replacement story could be that telling the truth demonstrates integrity.

After reframing their stories, individuals must take the initial action toward realizing their intentions. This should be realistic; for instance, the first step toward building leadership skills could be an Internet search of popular books on the topic. Declaring intentions to supporters a second time will demonstrate individuals’ commitment and seriousness. If negative thoughts continue popping up, such as, “Getting promoted is out of reach,” they should be immediately be replaced with positive ones, like “My promotion will happen.”


Trying to undertake self-coaching alone is a mistake. People can benefit from carefully choosing a group of supporters–also known as traveling companions. Their collective experience and goodwill will make the journey easier and more fulfilling.

The lead supporter will act as a mentor or guide. It is the lead supporter’s responsibility to observe the process and help progress stay on track. Among other qualities, an ideal guide has:

*The respect and admiration of the self-coaching individual.

*The best interests of the self-coacher at heart.

*A positive outlook.

*Good listening skills.

*Good questioning skills.

*Willingness to tell the truth.

*Enough time to help.

*A sense of humor.

Sometimes a guide will be someone who has also achieved the goal being pursued by the self-coaching candidate. Guides may also be drawn from among longtime friends, family members, neighbors, or colleagues. Whoever is chosen, the self-coacher should establish the relationship by stating the intention of the process, the guide’s role and importance, and steps already taken and yet to be taken. It is also important to provide an estimate of the time commitment involved and to set ground rules, such as where and when meetings will take place.

Other participants will comprise a circle of support that will offer additional advice and feedback. The criteria and sources for choosing this circle are the same as those for choosing a guide, and prospective members should be approached in a similar way. In general, the size of the circle should be held to a minimum; two or three people may be enough unless the self-coacher’s intention is complex, such as changing careers or acquiring new skills.

Certain types of people should not be chosen. For example, circles of support should never include individuals who:

*Do not care about the self-coacher.

*Are duplicitous.

*Lack sufficient time to participate.

*Will say what they think the self-coacher wants to hear.


To achieve intention, it is crucial for people to gather information or feedback about their current behaviors and how they affect others. Feedback can be verbal or nonverbal. To ensure that it is useful– and that it gets a constructive response–feedback should be solicited in a series of steps. The first two steps include:

1. Framing the questions. During personal interviews with guides and supporters, self-coachers should depersonalize the situation by referring to themselves in the third person. Sample questions could include:

*How could this person’s job performance be described?

*To get to the next level in the organization, what would this person’s job performance need to look like?

*What could this person do to increase the chances of getting a promotion?

*What does this person do best?

*What skills or work habits does this person need to develop?

*What other resources could be helpful to this person?

*On a scale from one (strongly disagree) to five (strongly agree), rate the statement, “This person is a coachable individual.”

2. Collecting the data. Data collection should be done by the self-coacher, not delegated to a guide. Also, self-coachers should speak personally to each member of their circles of support. This is because a face-to-face interaction facilitates dialogue and follow-up questions, may reveal hidden messages in body language and other nonverbal expressions, and can deepen and strengthen relationships. Supporters who are uncomfortable with an in-person discussion can be asked to submit their answers in writing.


Negative feedback is an inevitable part of the self-coaching process. Hearing criticism can be hurtful and difficult, but it is important for the recipient to stay neutral, keep his or her emotions in check, and respond without defensiveness.

The key to receiving feedback in a positive way is active listening, which involves the brain as well as the ears. There are five effective active listening techniques:

1. Attending behavior. This is a means of conveying individuals’ readiness to focus completely on the message. It starts by conducting the feedback interview at the right time and place–when both participants are fresh and unlikely to be interrupted. After reiterating the importance of the interviewee’s contribution and stressing that comments should be candid, it is helpful for the self-coacher to adopt the SOLER model of attending body language:

*Sit (or stand) squarely.

*Open posture.

*Lean forward.

*Eye contact.

*Relaxed posture/respect other.

2. Passive listening. While it seems contradictory, self-coachers must remain passive while actively listening. This involves remaining silent while interviewees speak; in other words, the self-coacher must refrain from interrupting or reacting defensively. During the passive period, constructive activities include:

*Attending to the speaker by listening and making eye contact.

*Observing the speaker’s eyes, facial expression, posture, and gestures.

*Thinking about what the speaker is saying and feeling.

3. “Say more” responses. These are questions or comments that encourage the speaker to clarify or add more information. Examples are neutral statements including, “Really,” Uh huh,” or “Go ahead.”

4. Paraphrasing. In this approach, also called mirroring, self-coachers repeat back, in their own words, what interviewers have said. The idea is to avoid misunderstandings. Some formulations useful in paraphrasing include:

*”It sounds like…”

*”It seems that…”

*”Let’s see if this is correct…”

5. Decoding and feeding back feelings. Speakers encode their thoughts and feelings into verbal messages. Listeners decode these messages by reflecting what speakers seem to be sharing. However, filters like age, gender, and cultural or educational differences can obstruct the decoding process. By restating or reworking messages, self-coachers can communicate to interviewees that their feelings have been accurately understood.

Self-coachers should always take careful notes during interviews so that the information can be analyzed later. The goal of this analysis is to identify recurrent themes or issues, which may relate to behaviors that need to be eliminated.

Finally, the self-coacher and guide should work together to construct a plan based on the interview data. This Personal Development Plan should identify actions necessary to achieve intention, a time line, a list of potential barriers, and a list of ways to break through these barriers. There should also be a Discussion Plan for holding follow-up meetings with members of the self-coacher’s circle of support.


Whatever people’s self-coaching intentions are, planning is always required to get there. Some people try to rationalize their failure to plan, telling themselves things like, “It’s too complicated,” or “Don’t worry, be happy.” However, without a plan, there is no bridge to the future. The ten elements of a good plan include:

1. Being intention-focused. Everything in the plan must be directed toward reaching the goal.

2. Being realistic. If the plan is not doable within a reasonable time frame, it should be scrapped.

3. Avoiding complexity. There is no need for intricacy, just practicality.

4. Building in “what-ifs.” Every good plan considers contingencies in case things go wrong.

5. Setting time lines. Time lines for actions impose discipline.

6. Covering all the bases. Good plans identify all the steps and substeps necessary to move forward.

7. Deconstructing the steps. Each step should be broken down into discrete, manageable pieces.

8. Being written down. The human brain can handle only a small amount of data at a time.

9. Testing the self-coacher’s thinking. The guide and circle of support should review the plan to test its effectiveness.

10. Being resilient. If the plan fails to work out, self-coachers should be prepared to repair, recover, and redirect themselves.

Self-coachers should hold planning meetings with their guides. A key agenda item is to set objectives for their plans. Additionally, self-coachers and guides will need to list the actions required to achieve each objective, measures, or evidence that will be used to assess outcomes, target dates for completion, and dates for assessing progress and making adjustments.

The plan’s objectives should reflect the themes identified as part of the supporters’ feedback. Importantly, the objectives should be crafted according toSMART criteria:

*Specific: Focusing on a particular situation and defining specific actions.

*Measurable: Including specific levels of accomplishment and assessment measures.

*Achievable: Requiring some stretch, but reasonably within the self-coacher’s grasp.

*Realistic: Within the realm of possibility, not “pie in the sky” wishes.

*Time-bounded: Achievable within a specified period.

It is also helpful for a plan to include watch-outs, or the most likely potential barriers to success. Once self-coachers identify such barriers, they can plan ways to get around them.


Even self-coachers with the most carefully crafted plans may encounter unanticipated setbacks. For example, a job offer could fall through, or the markets for their expertise might collapse. Barriers to reaching intention may arise not only from external events, but also from changes within individuals. Whatever their origins are, self-coachers must deal with barriers immediately to stay on track. Some of the most common barriers include:

*Self-coachers lack the real desire to change.

*Intentions are too difficult to achieve.

*Self-coachers have moved too far, too fast.

*Self-coachers are under too much stress.

*While negative beliefs have been replaced, new stories are equally limiting.

*Some factor in the environment was missed.

To be prepared for such setbacks, self-coachers should expect to engage in regular formal or informal reassessments. At the beginning, it is a good idea to schedule reassessment meetings with their guides every two weeks and to arrange for ongoing contact with other supporters. If the reassessment exercise suggests that changes are needed in the plan–or perhaps that their intentions should be rethought–these changes should be shared with all members of their circles of support as a means of showing gratitude and openness to additional feedback.

While reality is unpredictable, self-coachers can improve their ability to stay on track by following seven rules of the road:

1. Expect the unexpected. Unexpected changes in life should not be seen as signs of weakness or error.

2. Focus on the controllable. Self-coachers should be aware that certain factors are out of their control.

3. Develop a routine. Consistency helps in sticking to a plan.

4. Hold fast. If self-coachers are experiencing progress, it is important for them to stick to the course that has been set.

5. Fail smart. Self-coachers who stray from their paths should learn from what went wrong.

6. Think creatively. Expanding options can help accelerate progress.

7. Pack a parachute. The best way to prepare for contingencies is to anticipate them and build them into the plan.

At the end of a successful journey, when intentions seem to have been reached, supporters should be asked one last time to make sure the success is not an illusion. Assuming it is real, self-coachers are entitled to celebrate; however, they must always stay conscious of the progress they have made and continually reassess and readjust when necessary to avoid slipping back into old behaviors.

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