A Coaching Model Created by Gabrielle Gilliland
(Grief & Growth Coach, USA)
Like many other coaches, it was the experience of being coached that led me to discover my own calling to the coaching profession. Coaching is very often associated with voluntary change, where clients want to make the shift to something that is more fulfilling and meaningful than whatever is happening at present. Clients might even come to coaching knowing that they want some kind of change, but with no clear picture of what that change should be. I was a member of this category, and I was facing two big obstacles: a lack of clarity about my life’s purpose, and a paralyzing fear of stepping into the unknown. All I knew was that the misery I was feeling in my career had finally outweighed my fear of change.
By supporting me in the discovery of my own values and strengths, my coach helped me gain confidence as I prepared to leave my old career behind and find my true calling in life. But I was about to learn another huge lesson about the power of coaching. Specifically, how transformative it can be in the face of involuntary change. I was midway through my coaching journey when my younger brother passed away, tragically and without warning. The trauma heightened my fear of the unknown. Being coached through that experience helped me to create unprecedented awareness around the beliefs I was carrying with me, both about myself and about the world. I was able to let go of the beliefs that kept me in a cycle of fear, and replace them with beliefs in my ability to endure change – both joyful and tragic.
This invaluable lesson is the inspiration behind the ATLAS coaching model, which focuses on creating awareness around beliefs, letting go of the ones that do not serve us, and emphasizing the ones that do. The model is intended to be flexible. The process can be linear, cyclical, or a combination of the two. Steps can be revisited. While the ATLAS model was designed with involuntary change in mind, my hope is that it can be applied to any coaching situation.
In Greek mythology, Atlas is the titan of astronomy and navigation, responsible for carrying the celestial sphere. Even though this responsibility is considered a punishment in some versions of the story of Atlas, I have always been inspired by the powerful way that Atlas is depicted in paintings and sculptures. He carries out his task with great strength and presence.
As a coach, I believe that our beliefs are something we carry, meaning we have the freedom to pick them up and put them down. They are not indistinguishable from our identities. They make up our own “celestial sphere”. What are you carrying with you right now? How does it serve you?
As your coach, I want our sessions to represent a safe space where you can speak freely. I am here to support you, and this step is about creating and reinforcing that alliance. It begins when we establish the coaching agreement at the start of the journey. You’ll gain an understanding of the scope of coaching, and we’ll paint a clear picture of what you’re hoping to achieve by entering the coaching relationship.
The ATLAS model isn’t necessarily linear, but starting each session by revisiting this first step can help us ensure that we’re in the present moment. It’s all about acknowledging your current state, and as your coach, I’ll reinforce our alliance by meeting you exactly where you are. How are you doing today? There is no wrong answer to this question. I’m simply drawing your attention to the here and now – what you’re carrying with you in this moment. This allows us to dedicate the session to whatever subject you want to talk about.
What is your role in your current situation? What do you believe to be true about your circumstances? If you woke up tomorrow knowing you had achieved your desired goal, what would it look like? This step is all about developing the clearest possible picture of the beliefs you carry – about yourself, your situation, and what you want to see happen. As your coach, I’ll facilitate this developing self-awareness by holding the space for you to tell your story in your own words, and then reflecting what you’ve said back to you, staying as close as possible to your language and wording. This is called tracking, and it allows you to truly hear yourself.
As you clearly hear your own story, it’ll give you the chance to explore and elaborate. You’ll start to recognize your beliefs and patterns of thinking – even those that might have been hiding beneath the surface for a long time. Gaining this type of clarity lays the foundation for positive shifts to occur.
Some beliefs are supportive and empowering, and some are not. Beliefs that do not serve you are like dead weight. They feel heavy as you carry them around and keep you stuck as try to move toward your goals. They could even be the foundation for patterns of behavior that you don’t like. This step is all about letting these beliefs go.
Letting go begins with the realization that you have the power to change your beliefs – even the ones that are so deeply engrained that they seem indistinguishable from your identity. Sometimes, simply being aware that such a belief exists is enough to diminish its power over you. As your coach, I’ll support you in determining whether your beliefs reflect your values and support your goals. I’ll also facilitate the process of uncovering the sources of long-held beliefs that might be behind the behaviors you want to change. We’ll work together to free you from the weight of what you no longer need, and make more room for the beliefs that actually serve you.
Just as disempowering beliefs can provide the foundation for unwanted patterns of behavior, empowering beliefs can be behind the actions and behaviors that you’d like to see more of in your life. Like the other steps, this step is about creating awareness, but with a focus on amplifying what’s working as you move forward.
The tracking technique and powerful questions enable me, your coach, to support you in discovering the links between your achievements, strengths, and successes, and the beliefs that propel them. Looking ahead, we’ll explore how these beliefs align with your values and goals. We amplify these beliefs by creating awareness around them and making connections to things that have happened, and things that you want to see happen. The idea is for us to see your achievements from the perspective of your own strengths, rather than just a result of luck or coincidence. Your belief in your own ability to achieve your goals, based upon your strengths, becomes a tool that supports you as you move toward your goals. Supportive, nurturing beliefs are like the essentials that you pack for a trip – you want to make sure you’re carrying them with you, and that they’re as accessible as possible.
You’ve let go of what you don’t need in order to carry what serves you instead. You’ve also called your strengths and empowering beliefs to the forefront so that they’re right where you need them. You’re ready for action, and that’s what this step is all about – setting forth with this new clarity around your beliefs and how they support your goals.
While the entire ATLAS process focuses on your goals and values, this is the part where we get really specific about making things happen. Interestingly, a big part of this step might involve revisiting tracking, letting go, and amplifying as we create and refine a plan of action. Should you encounter a roadblock as you move forward toward your goal, the other steps in the ATLAS model can help us to clear it. We’ll work on putting structures in place to support your action steps. We’ll acknowledge forward motion, both subtle and substantial, so that the focus stays on the positive. Forward motion can take many forms, some of which don’t really look like forward motion at all. Deciding not to do something can often be a tremendous step in the right direction. As we focus on setting forth, you’ll start to recognize your forward motion in all of its forms, so that acknowledging yourself becomes second nature.
Your beliefs will be the light by which you see, but they will not be what you see and they will not be a substitute for seeing. Flannery O’Connor
Every man gives his life for what he believes…one life is all we have to live and we live it according to what we believe. St. Joan of Arc