Friday 19 January 2018

Life coaching

Do you feel stuck in a rut, maybe in work, in your relationship, or in your role as a mother, but don't know how to change things? Well then, perhaps a session with a coach could help.

Bernice Mulligan

IF your first thought of a life coach is of a Californian guru in flowing linen and with a PHD in waffle, then think again. Because, according to Shiera O'brien of Zenith Training and Development, this perception of life coaching has nothing to do with the real concept, which has its roots in modern psychology and linguistics.

"There's been a lot of reputational damage done by people working as life coaches, without the rigorous training needed to do a good job," she explains, "so for this reason I prefer to be known simply as a 'coach'. It helps filter out some of the negative associations people may have."

But what exactly is coaching? And can it really help us 'normal' people (mothers, workers, wives, partners) improve our lives in a meaningful way?

"The type of coaching I do is very systematic. I'm listening out for how the client is mapping out their world, how are they seeing reality. And is it working for them? And if not, why not," explains O'brien.

She says the concept is based on cognitive behavioural psychology, out of which came neurolinguistic programming (NLP) and, more recently, neurosemantics.

"Coaching explores how we embody meaning. So a key part of it is in a person's use of language and listening out for the story they tell themselves about something. Maybe they describe themselves as ' bad at maths', because of an unpleasant school experience. So they have conditioned themselves to believe they are stupid, even if this is based on one event 20 years ago. Or maybe they are repeating the same tired negative patterns again and again – it's about recognising this."

O'brien says that while no two people will be the same, the same issues crop up again and again among clients: 'I want to make a decision, I want to plan something, I want to think something out, I want to define who I am'.

She also says the same fear seems to crop up repeatedly, ie 'I'm not good enough'.

"This fear is so common in the western world because we place such huge expectations on ourselves. We have to be fantastic mothers, climb to the top of the career ladder, drive the latest car. We are so externally driven by expectations that we run ourselves ragged trying to live up to them."

She says women are particularly prone to this, taking on numerous roles and responsibilities often to the detriment of themselves.

"I coach people, especially women and mothers, to understand that they are more than the roles they play. A lot of the time we get stuck in one single role. We think, 'Oh I'm a mum now so I have to stretch myself until I'm as thin as pastry'; often we look for approval from the outside. But there's the problem. It's important to ask yourself, who am I playing my life out to? Is it for someone else or for you?"

" Women are natural carers, and it's all about our relationships," O'Brien continues. "However, it can easily shift into co-dependency where you want to rescue everyone and make them happy. That is also a very arduous way to live."


So when does coaching stop and therapy begin? " Therapy comes in when you feel you can't cope with day-to-day life and it's rooted in how you 'story' yourself about your upbringing. What you may need is a therapist to work on what we call 're-parenting'," says O'Brien. "People come to coaching, by contrast, when they're doing quite well but they have some challenges they want to address. They need someone from the outside world who's independent to facilitate an exploration, a conversation into what's really going on." One issue that is particularly pertinent in the current climate is people looking to change career – perhaps after a redundancy or layoff – or set up a new business, but feel stymied by their own feelings of inadequacy.

"I often coach people who want to do something they love, but they're hampered by fear, maybe that no one will hire them? Or, if it's a new business, that they can't take the risk. So then we look at things like, 'why can't you take the risk, what would stop you?'," she explains. Is there a possibility though that the coach could encourage someone to do something reckless? "Coaching is about possibilities, but it is in context, ie if you want to be a dancer and have never danced before in your life, we may question how realistic that is," continues O'Brien.

Sometimes, however, we need to stretch our imagination, she says. " We have a saying in the coaching field: ' Your success is at the edge of your comfort zone'. You have to push yourself, or sometimes you get pushed. You get kicked out of a job, but it becomes the best thing that ever happened you. At the time you don't see it – the first thing you think is 'I have a problem'. What coaching will help you ask is, ' What is the possibility here?'" In order to live an empowered, happy life, nourishing the inner self is also vital, says O'Brien. " We can be slaves to the external world, and can find it hard to set aside time for ourselves because we believe that's selfish. But it's not selfish – if we don't fill up on the inside, how can we possibly expect to cope on the outside? It's about giving yourself permission to do that."

To arrange a coaching session with Shiera O'brien, see

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