26 July 2006

Life Coaching

Today the "Mind Your Body" section of the Straits Times has an article on life coaches. Before we look at it, let me introduce you to a Singaporean life coach who is also a blogger - click here.
ST July 26, 2006
When nothing's going right... see a life coach
He will help assess a client's values, set goals and empower the client to achieve them. Judith Tan finds out more about the rising popularity of this profession

Relationships gone awry. Career paths meandering beyond your control. Family falling apart.

These seem like fodder coming from Wisteria Lane which would make a great drama series on TV.

But when real relationships fail and real careers crash, many people call in a life coach.
I could be wrong, but I think that the above does not qualify as an accurate generic description of why people go to life coaches.

As I see it, life coachees fall into two broad categories. The ST article only describes one kind. The person has fallen into what most of us would agree is a rather sorry state of life (for example, there may be the failing love relationship; the awfully stressful career; the unhappy family etc). So he goes to a life coach for help.

In contrast, the 2nd kind of person who goes to a life coach does not appear to have any significant personal problem. On the contrary, he may appear to be doing well, perhaps very well, in life. This is the self-actualiser (or over-achiever, depending on your point of view) who goes to a life coach with the aim of doing even better in life and becoming utterly outstanding.
Life coaching is a relatively new approach to improving one's overall condition - be it in career, relationships or life in general.

Ms Katherine Warner, managing director of Triple E! (Asia), said life coaching is born out of sports coaching.

'It's very much about peak performance from within yourself. If you believe in what you can do, it will translate to what you can achieve. For example, take two tennis players who are at the same level of performance. The one who is all psyched up to win will be able to beat the other at the game,' Ms Warner, 35, a life coach, explained.

In sports, the goals are clear and the techniques to achieve them are learnt and practised. However, in life, things may not be as straightforward.

And unlike sports coaches, life coaches do not shout instructions from the sidelines on how to lead your life.

Another life coach Wendy Chua K. Wand, 35, said: 'Rather, we are like guides, offering advice on relationships, careers, and more. We provide a sounding board for people to voice their aspirations and clarify what their life goals are and how they can go about reaching them.'

This, according to Ms Chua, is made easier when the person you are telling your life goals to is a stranger who does not know you enough to judge you.

And this may be one reason why more people are seeking help from life coaches to build the confidence to change careers or repair relationships.

Ms Helena Paoli, 32, said a life coach needs to be intuitive enough to let the clients 'find the answer within themselves'.

'We must be able to activate the client's subconscious mind that the idea and motivation comes from the client. We coax it out of him in order to help him be motivated and engaged in wanting to make the changes,' she explained.
The very natural question that comes to most people's minds, when they first encounter the concept of "life coaching", is whether it's just a lot of hogwash. The next part of the ST article deals with that:

According to the Singapore chapter of the International Coach Federation website, there are 66 registered practising life coaches here, 'but there could be more - about 150', Ms Warner said.

And as its popularity grows, more and more people are asking what life coaching is. Is it another American new age fad, delivering yet another empty promise of helping people live better lives?

Take a look at what happened to the American trend of going to the shrink back in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

'I can understand why some people think it is a fad. This is perhaps due to the fact that life coaching is a totally new concept in Asia. What is new is often viewed with a little scepticism,' Ms Warner said.

Dr Adrian Wang, a consultant psychiatrist with Gleneagles Medical Centre, said to dismiss life coaching as a fad would be a bit unfair.

'I think that people these days are more aware of the psychological and emotional issues they encounter at work, at home and in their personal lives - so life coaches are another avenue where people can get the help they need.

'My only concern is that life coaching, or counselling in general, remains an unregulated area. The only thing worse than getting no advice on a problem is getting bad advice,' he said.

But Ms Paoli says a life coach does not give advice. Rather, a qualified life coach helps a client to break down his goals so that he knows 'where and how to start taking those specific steps to ultimately achieve them'.
Personal goal-setting and goal-achieving, by the way, has been refined to a fine art, in the universe of life coaching, self-help and self-improvement.

It comes with an extensive package of methodologies - for example, clarifying your values, having a personal mission statement, defining goals in a quantifiable way, creating a plan of action, establishing deadlines, taking action, monitoring progress, gathering resources, identifying roadblocks etc (but with variations, of course).

Actually in the area of personal financial planning, you come across some very similar concepts (talk to your financial adviser, or click here, and you will see). If you engage a personal trainer from Planet Fitness or Fitness First, the fitness plan he draws up for you will contain similar concepts. Similarly the concepts emerge in many corporate organisations in different ways (for example, in project management, or employee appraisal, or sales targets).

So what we're looking at are some flexible, practical concepts which can be applied (with adaptations) in many areas. That includes personal areas, relating for instance to your love life, your career, your hobbies, your social life, your health, or whatever.
'Coaching in general is a way to be able to gain clarity, gain focus and achieve goals faster. Although you can do it yourself or with encouragement from a friend, a coach helps to align the strengths and motivation and allows a clear action plan,' she said.

According to Ms Chua, a life coach draws from a number of disciplines such as psychology, career counselling and social counselling. The life coach assesses the client's values, sets goals and helps make changes 'by simply asking the right questions'.

Life coaching often takes place over the course of several months, but some people see positive changes in their lives after just two sessions.

However, Ms Warner said people in search of life coaches should check their credentials as some do not have the right qualifications.


Why do we need life coaching now when grandma didn't need it then?

Life moves at a faster pace today. Goals constantly need to be set and changes made. There is also more stress and uncertainty.

According to Dr Wang, to be optimally effective, people need to manage their emotions 'and get rid of the psychological clutter dragging us down'.

'In the past, you had to see your pastor or your old uncle to get reasonable advice. But like science, psychology has progressed and we now know and understand better many of the issues that affect us emotionally and mentally. So you can get your answer from the pastor, doctor or psychiatrist, or even the life coach,' he said.

Ms Paoli added that it is easier for a person to reveal deep dark desires and goals to a life coach than to a friend or a loved one.

'We tend to think that friends or loved ones would have 'pre-notions' about us and when we reveal certain information, they would become judgmental,' she said.

Dr Wang said: 'I think people today have a lot more things to worry about than our grandparents. Grandma didn't have a Blackberry in her bag, a breakfast teleconference to attend, and a flight to catch in the evening, all while worrying who's sending the kids to phonics class later. Things were simpler and needs more basic then.'

So has the life coach become the secular answer to the pastor or religious teacher?

'Yes, in a way, because the key skill here is the ability to listen. However, that's where the similarity stops. When someone goes to see his pastor to have a discussion, he is still seeking advice and guidance. In a coaching relationship, the client is empowered to make the decisions. The coach will never advise but let the client find the answers from within and be there to assess progress and motivate them towards achieving success,' Ms Warner said.

To sum it all up, Ms Paoli said: 'Life coaching is as successful as the individual wants it to be.'

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Anonymous said...

Dear Mr Wang of Mr Wang Bakes Good Karma,

I'm a radio journalism student and for my final assignment, I'll have to host a 30mins talkshow about current affairs affecting the public.

I would like to invite you to be one of the speakers on my talkshow "Citizen Journalism vs Mainstream Journalism". Some discussion points
include the role of citizen journalists and mainstream journalists in the election period, pros and cons of the two kinds of journalism, the future of journalism in the two forms of media, the impact of STOMP and generally questions revolving the two types of journalism.

The details of the talkshow:
Venue: Ngee Ann Polytechnic Block 53 Level 8.
Time/Duration: 10.15am - 11am (30mins talkshow, 15mins mic test)
Date/Day: 1st Aug 06, Tuesday
2 speakers; 1 host.

It would be great to have your input about citizen journalism, looking forward to a favourable response from you!

Yours Sincerely,
Agnes Koh

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Hi Agnes

Can I have your email address, pls.

The Tarot Apprentice said...

So these life coaches are charging quite a considerable fee?

My concern is, say this guy is doing badly in business, in marriage, so he still have to fork out this huge sum of money for these life coaches?

Really sounds like just another NATO (No Actions Talk Only).

Anonymous said...

Hi Mr Wang,

Thanks for the heads up (yet again) :)

And I wouldn't disagree with soulburnz. Like any other profession, I've seen people who were fair coaches and people who were dubious coaches.

In soulburnz's example, if this guy has a huge sum of money to fork out to life coaches he could probably use that money for better uses haha :P

I've had times when the stuff I knew helped people deal better with stuff in their lives, and times when I had to turn potential clients away because I couldn't give them what they wanted.

Like Mr Wang mentioned, the methodologies are there, and you can pick them up via books and other programs, but not everyone wants to, and some people prefer a face-to-face guide.

There are lots of pros and cons to coaching, and this is something I've thought about a lot. I've seen people create exceptional results and people create none.

In a nutshell, the easiest way to explain it seems to be through an analogy: some people love yoga, while others are bored to death by it and prefer to pump iron, while some swear by mountain climbing, cycling, etc. There's no perfect fit and you just have to find what works.

And soulburnz, if that coach is all NATO, I'd be the first to tell you to fire his ass and demand a refund!

Anonymous said...

Life Coach? Sounds like just another fanciful name for a shrink. Remaking, re-naming, rebranding, rethinking... all euphemisms aiming to market and make a quick buck.

The Tarot Apprentice said...


When all things fail, maybe the life coach will say things like:

"Hey! You left that detail out! That's why my plan couldn't work!"

"Well, I believe you're not genuine and determined enough to make a change"

There's no guarantee in life, isn't it?


Anonymous said...

I understand the scepticism. I was like that before too. But I did some NLP (neurolinguistic programming) with a life coach kind of guy and it helped me quit smoking quite quickly (before that, I was a two-packs-per-day smoker, now I've been smoke-free for over a year). I had tried to quit before, attended "quit smoking" clinics & all that, but it didn't work.

The NLP thing made me feel a bit sick (like vomiting) whenever I looked at a cigarette. So I managed to quit soon after. NLP is a kind of mental thing, like hypnosis.

Anonymous said...

But I'm lazy. After I quit smoking, I was quite happy & satisfied and I never went on to see whether NLP can do anything else for me.

PanzerGrenadier said...

Life coaching is another form of having a 知己(trusted friend/confidante). Singaporeans are living at warp speed. In the past, the life coach or confidante could have been one's spouse, close friend, family friend, relative who has a close relationship with oneself and was able to act as a mirror to allow one's own life choices to be reflected through conversations about life, meaning of life and existential issues.

In an increasing specialised world, we now outsource even such needs to specialists - life coaches. An analogy would be how we have outsourced nanny/maid services which used to be performed in house by the wife or female relative (aunt/grandmother).

Life coaching can be useful if one needs a sounding board to just talk out our fears, doubts, hopes and aspirations. The life coach could give independent feedback and allow one to have some perspective or to consider alternative choices in life.

For me, I rely on my group of 4 ex-colleagues who have been keeping in touch for the past 6-8 years. We are around the same age and can empathise about each other's challenges in life as well as where are we heading. When we are frustrated at work or over spousal relationships, talking it out with one another helps blow off some steam and clarify perspectives.

For those on a budget, find that confidante, if you do not already have one, and it only costs you time and some kopi/dinner money.

Anonymous said...

More on life coaching - compliments of Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Life_Coaching. Mr Wang, you may wish to check out the portion on systemic coaching, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Systemic_coaching

Anonymous said...

Soulburnz! You're so negative :P

Ultimate ownership of the process and results falls on both the coach and the coachee.

At the same time, a coach could never do for the coachee what she's supposed to do herself: there's no way I could ever pump iron for you and help you grow your biceps no matter how much I want to help you.

A good coach would be silly to say the things you mentioned though, and if you meet one who does you should fire his ass :P

Just for coaching fun, more likely questions would be:

"What stopped you from moving forward on your plan since the last time we met, and what do we need to learn from this to move on?"

"You're not paying me enough to help you-" Oops! I mean: "How would you know that you're determined to make this change? What would you do, say or see differently?"

And I like what lunatic fringe mentioned. A 'mastermind' group like that is what we do sometimes too. If you have a group of focused, dedicated and encouraging friends, you can save yourself some bucks and get things done. If not...come to my website and learn stuff for free :P

Anonymous said...

I quit smoking on my own. Was a smoker for over 1o years. You can find answers within yourself. I know it isn't easy (the finding part) considering the modern lifestyle and all, and weak people will need help from outside.

Anonymous said...

Hello Mr Wang,
my email is misc.aggy@gmail.com
Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Good Day,
Wonderful work you have started here. I'am a full time Life Coach in the United States. You have done your research well.
We are starting a Life Coach company that will help new Life Coach's get started. If you would like to hear more contact me.
Make it a great day,