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Be Your Own Coach

ImageCoaches work in many areas of human activity and specialise in different things. But what they have in common is helping their individual clients to be more effective, or happier, in some area of their lives.

In this article, Robin Alcock, a leading Career Consultant and Coach, takes a look at what prevents us from being more effective; how sometimes without intending to, we build these barriers ourselves, and what we can do about them.

Coaches don’t tell people what to do. They guide them to finding better ways themselves and they leave them with the decision about what they are going to implement. This article is written in the same spirit. It offers you some techniques, some ideas to think about, some ways out of difficulties, but it is up to you as free adults to decide what you are going to use and how.

So as you read this, please keep in mind, that even if something is written as though it is an “instruction” – it isn’t. It’s a suggestion to think about.

1. Decide Which Area(s) of your Life to Work On

Look at the different aspects of your life and give yourself a score out of 10 based on how content you are with each aspect. If you’re completely content with it, award 10. If you are completely discontented, award 1. Scoring is a good way of identifying what is most important and what is just a bit important or not important at all.

Give yourself a score for each of:

  • Your career
  • Friends and family
  • Money and possessions
  • Surroundings (including where you live and work)
  • Recreation, hobbies, interests, fun things in your life
  • Your own growth and development
  • Health and fitness

The score you give is only for you. And it is meant to represent how happy you are with that part of your life. So, for example, I might be perfectly happy with my job and career and award it 9 points. It is my view that counts. Someone else looking at my career may think it deserves only 5 points. But other peoples’ views are not relevant. It is how happy you are with the situation that matters.

This scoring exercise is intended to help you identify where you want to make changes and what changes are most important to you. Because you will get the best payback if you improve something in your life that is important to you.

Of course some of these things can be linked. For example, if I improve my job situation, I improve my money situation, and maybe can afford to, say, take the family on better holidays. But try to get at which of these is the important one to you. Because you can find that if you fix the wrong one, you get different benefits. You may get more money from a better job, but find that your quality of life has suffered because of the hours and the travel and the only time you see your kids is during your annual holiday (in the occasional gap between checking your cell phone and emails!).

2. Identify Some Goals Relating to This/These Areas

By developing a goal you are setting yourself something to aim at and a means of knowing if you are getting closer to accomplishing it.

Goals should be specific, able to be measured, have a time attached to them, and be realistic. For example, a health goal may be to lose 10 pounds within the next two months. That is quite specific – it’s not vague and general like “get healthier”. And you can measure it. And it has a timescale on it, and finally (for some of us) – it is realistic.

The trouble with an unrealistic goal is that it can’t be attained and makes you demoralized and give up. So if my goal had been, let’s say, to lose 40 pounds, and I only lost 12 pounds, I would feel I had failed and might as well give up. (Take me to the chocolate!)

A goal also needs to be within your control. A goal about getting someone else to behave differently towards you may not be within your control.

Try to identify about ten goals right across the important areas of your life.

3. Rank the List in order of how much they Matter to You

Missing an important goal is more disappointing than missing a lower priority one. Don’t be tempted to rank them in order of which ones look easiest.

You now know what areas of your life you want to work on, and what you are going to set out to achieve. But only if you have set specific goals. Let’s take a common goal in its vague form. You probably heard it a number of times:

“I want to spend more time with the family”

Nothing wrong with that sentiment, if that’s what the person wants to do. But it is not specific or measurable. It would be better expressed in more definite terms, such as:

“By the time we get to Easter, I will be spending one full evening each week with the family, getting in from work no later than 6pm, and on one day each weekend, I will ….etc”.

4. Identify the Obstacles to Progress – and deal with them

We are talking here about the obstacles that we create for ourselves, not the ones that are external to us or that we cannot control. Let’s take a look at a few that coaches often encounter:

Putting things off

Psychologists tell us that procrastinating is often caused by anxiety, or frustration tolerance, or rebellion.

Anxiety means you fear something as a result of doing the task. For example you put off asking someone for a date as you fear them saying ‘No’ and rejecting you. Or you put off preparing that work presentation because the prospect of doing it makes you anxious. You put off making those job search networking calls because meeting strangers makes you anxious.

Low tolerance of frustration simply means we cannot persist enough in the face of set-backs. Or we can’t handle the boredom and difficulty some tasks involve. So we don’t start them.

Rebellion means we resent having to do something, or the way we were asked to do it, so we put it off in protest. Our partner goes on and on about fixing something and we build up a level of resentment about “being told what to do” – so instead of fixing that shelf (or whatever) and being done with it, we put it off again and again.

Overcoming the problem
  • Think through the consequences. What happens if I don’t get my CV finished? I guess that means I cannot send it out, and if I cannot send it out, what happens then. Presumably I cannot get a job interview….and if that happens……..and so on. If I don’t do that important report on time at the office, what is going to happen? ……
  • Action is more important than motivation. If something needs doing, it doesn’t actually matter if you are motivated to do it. What matters is getting it done. Learn that you can do things you don’t actually enjoy or want to do.
  • Learn to put up with how you feel. Maybe you are angry at having to do that report or fix something around the house, but you can learn to get on with it and tolerate how you feel.
  • Getting on with it, can often reduce or eliminate the feeling anyway. Once I have got over the fact that I have to write another chapter, when I would rather be playing tennis, my resentment reduces.
  • Recognise when you are winding yourself up. If you have taken an adult decision to paint the fence because it needs doing, then try to get yourself in the right frame of mind. Don’t feed yourself with thoughts about how much you hate doing it.
Poor Time Management

Sometimes the intention is there but we never get time to action it. There are many fine books written about time management, which is indicative of how widespread the problem is and how many people are affected by it. Its symptoms include:

  • Lateness
  • Rushing all the time
  • Low productivity compared with the effort put in
  • Perfectionism
  • Feeling overwhelmed
Overcoming the problem

The one thing that all good time management experts agree on is that to manage your time well, you have to set priorities. You have to decide what is really important to you and contributes to your goals. That means you also have to let some things go.

Give your goals a high enough priority and don’t give in to the tyranny of the urgent. This is not an invitation to put off things you should be getting on with.

It has long been observed that 80% of the results come from 20% of the work. And that means making some sensible decisions about what matters and what does not. Here are some suggestions that have been shown to work – if you apply them consistently.

  • Keep an up to date to-do list
  • Sort it into priority order – what is important at the top
  • Work on the top priority items and don’t be tempted to get rid of lower priority ones to make the list shorter
  • Doing a bit of an important task that moves things forward is a better use of your time than completing something of lower importance
  • Make time to be uninterruptible, by having your co-workers know when you are available and when not.
  • Be firm and enforce your non-availability. None of this “it only take a minute” stuff.
  • If your position allows you to delegate work – do so, but read about how to do it well.
  • Subject to the capability of the person you delegate a task to – be prepared to let it go, and don’t interfere. Hold people accountable for results.
  • Focus on results in your own work and not on input or being busy.
  • Concentrate on goal-related items, and take preventative measures to reduce the crises in the future. What do you need to be doing now to meet your goals a few months down the road?
  • If you still find your time is leaking away, keep a log for a couple of weeks and note what you do and how long it takes. It is particularly revealing if against each item you award a score for how relevant it is to achieving one of your goals.
Insufficient persistence

It is an unfortunate fact that to bring about enduring change requires sustained effort. Some of these reasons may explain failure to persist:

  • Short-range gains. We agree we need and want to aim for the long-term goal, but the effort seems too great and the opportunity to do something easier is more appealing. For example, having some chocolates may have more appeal than sticking to my diet plan; going to a party more appealing than completing some study assignment.
  • Feeling not up to the task. It is too difficult. Some people can (quit smoking or whatever) but it is too hard for me and I have a poor opinion of myself for needing to do it anyway.
  • I am how I am and cannot change. In other words it is pointless persisting because a leopard can’t change its spots.
  • I am not making progress so I may as well give up
  • Benefits of not changing are getting in the way
  • Habits take a time to break and new ones take time to become second nature. Repetition is called for.
  • The remedy for these problems is often just to accept “no pain, no gain”. Acknowledge that attaining some of your goals may be a long haul and will need applied effort over a long time. But comfort yourself by knowing you are working toward something you want and you can detect steady progress most of the time.
5. Be Prepared to Take Decisions and Calculated Risks

As all change involves a measure of risk, learn to evaluate the upside and the downside and to take decisions accordingly. This means accepting sometimes that there can be no certainty. Becoming self-employed for example, may bring many advantages and be really productive and liberating. But this is not certain and there can be no guarantee going in.

But if you think through any decision in terms of the likely consequences for you and others, you have a basis for taking a reasoned decision.

Look at the good consequences and at the bad ones. For example “If we relocate I get more money but our daughter moves away from all her friends”

List the Costs and Benefits, short and long term, for yourself and others. And we don’t just mean in monetary terms. Think about and write down the advantages and disadvantages.

Short term
Cost To me
Benefit Cost to
other People
Long term
CostTo me
Benefit Cost to
other People

The discipline of writing it down can help you not to do a thorough job and not to overlook anything. It can help you to take off your rose-tinted lenses and see things as they are, not as you would like them to be. It can be a good way to talk it through with a friend or family member.

6. Identify any potential problems or risks

When you have identified the risks involved in whatever it is you are considering, you then need to assess how likely is the risk and how serious would the consequence be if it happened.

We all vary in how comfortable we are with risk and some of us are very risk-averse. But whatever your comfort level, you need to get an understanding of what the risk is, before you decide to take it or not.

Knowing the risks, it is also obviously a smart thing to reduce them as much as you can. Either reduce the probability of it happening or the damage if it does.

When you have done your analysis, take a decision and work out how you will implement it. Being indecisive can be as big a problem as being impulsive. In order to make progress toward your goal, you have to take action. Thought alone will not be enough.

Robin Alcock BA (Hons), FCIPD, MAC is a personal development Coach. Robin retrained as a Counsellor and Coach after a business career with IBM and various international banks. While at Bankers Trust, he ran a series of seven week training programmes in London for guest bankers from developing countries. He now works with individuals assisting them with career issues and professional development. He can be reached at Mail@RobinAlcock.com
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