If you’ve never experienced coaching, you may have some questions about it, and perhaps you have some assumptions…I know I did. A few years ago, I heard the term “Life Coach” and as a clinical counselor, I felt immediately dismissive of the concept. It sounded like a new age fad, a vapid practice of papering over complex issues with positive affirmations.
I’m so glad I took a second look.
What I found, when I gave coaching a chance, was an incredibly potent set of tools and skills to apply the insight that years of therapy had already afforded me.
The most foundational coaching tool I use with my own clients is called Thought Work: a process of stepping out of your stream of thoughts and observing them for what they are, sentences in your brain.
As an example, let’s take critical self-talk, something with which I and so many of my clients struggle. When we’re swept up in a pattern of negative self-talk, we let these thoughts feed on each other and snowball. We don’t see them as optional; we experience them as a call to action. This is how we get caught in the spin, a spin that feels purposeful and righteous but is really just a conveyor belt of negative emotion.
The first skill my clients learn is to notice the self-criticism without reacting. This can take some time and practice. Gentle practice, not white-knuckled effort. Sometimes the change is slow and incremental, sometimes there are breakthroughs, but my clients see the results immediately: they begin to feel better.
When we learn to label our thoughts in the moment, we have already begun to detach from them. The very act of noticing and labeling a thought gives us distance from it; power over it. The judgmental thought is just that: a thought. It’s not who you are. It’s not reality. It’s not a directive. It’s not a moral imperative. It’s not the truth. It’s simply a sentence, made up by you.
When you label a thought as a habitual judgement, a relic of the old self-critical tapes from your younger years, you’re giving yourself distance and perspective from it. You catch the thought, notice it, and tell yourself the truth. Is this even real? Is this serving you now? Imagine standing by a stream, catching thoughts that flow by. You won’t be able to gather them all; just pick one that catches your attention. You get to decide what to keep, and what to release.
As we learn to watch and label our thoughts, we begin to separate the signal from the noise. For so many of us, the noise is a stream of judgment: of ourselves, of others, of the current set of circumstances.
Coaching teaches us to comb through the noise and find the signal: what’s most true and important moment to moment? Where can we most effectively allocate our limited, precious time and energy? Where are we magnifying or layering on more pain?
If you want to be more empowered in your work or your life, or if you just want to feel better, coaching may be best tool you’ve never tried.