Coaching Case Study By Elise Holmes
(Life Coach, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES)
My Client, Susan, is a motivated, hardworking lady with a husband and grown up children, who has expressed a desire to follow a healthy lifestyle regime. She has a busy daily schedule, balancing various commitments and homemaking as well as her studies. She does not by any means consider herself unhealthy nor lazy, indeed her friends consider her very healthy and high achieving, but she feels improvements could be made. She has followed diets and exercise regimes in the past with both successes and failures.
Susan came to me feeling out of control of her healthy lifestyle regime, particularly in regard to not undertaking regular exercise. Her initial goal was to map out the detail of a healthy lifestyle plan such that she would follow it. She then recognised that she was procrastinating when it came to following her plan.
It is important to her to follow a healthy lifestyle regime for her long term (we clarified approx. 20-30yrs from now) health and not wanting to look back with regrets that she was lazy and that had caused stiffness/ lack of mobility/ other health issues.
However, Susan was experiencing delay in the short term. She recognises that on a daily basis, exercise is not a priority to her and she does not want to do it. She does not enjoy exercise nor does she value it and resents having to work so hard for the benefits it brings. She realises she wants the ‘delayed gratification’ benefits but feels no day to day benefit. Essentially, she likes the idea of it but simply does not do it.
My Coaching Approach
My overall approach was to establish a measurable goal and explore the meaning of that to Susan. Initially this was to define her plan and once she had achieved this we re-contracted and it became a goal to explore her procrastination in following it. This was a recurrent goal in our sessions as Susan was stuck.
I sought clarification on her use of the word ‘lazy’, and she very quickly affirmed that she is not an idle person and her friends certainly would not describe her that way.
I was curious to explore Susan’s relationship with her healthy lifestyle plan and feeling the need to do this exercise, specifically why she wants to follow a plan, what outcomes she expects, what will be different when she’s following it, as well as what may be blocking it.
I created for Susan the time and space to map out her healthy lifestyle plan, by asking her what it looked like. She was receptive to me challenging her on its feasibility, her commitment to it.
We discussed her support structures and accountability partners. We worked together to set measurable actions around following the plan and I offered my support as her coach and accountability partner to check in with her on her progress in future sessions.
With a coaching agreement in place I then used active questioning, active listening and various tools to explore her relationship with this issue in order to define some actions.
I used acknowledgement to encourage Susan, recognising her positive intention to be healthy in the long term, the clarity of her vision, congratulating her when she did exercise, and her efforts in meeting her goal of devising a very detailed plan. I also used various visualisation exercises.
I was conscious of not dwelling more than was useful on negatives, blocks and past failures, and instead attempting to keep questioning positive for forward momentum. I felt no judgement when Susan had not followed her plan in between our sessions.
My Detailed Coaching Process
From the point in our coaching journey that Susan recognised her procrastination in following the plan she had devised, we partnered to define a goal to explore why she was not doing the exercise she planned and the measurable outcome was to find a ‘truth statement’ for herself. She suspected she has an underlying belief that she wanted to uncover.
I observed that the importance to her of following her plan was three-fold:
- Long term health, as described above.
- Confidence – It is important to her to follow this healthy lifestyle regime in order to feel confident, and she gained awareness of a link with that confidence to other areas of her life e.g. setting up her coaching practice. In fact, a dedicated session on procrastination around taking action with her coaching practice brought her back to the issue of a healthy lifestyle and that by not following it was blocking her from progressing other goals.
- Other people – I observed that she mentions other people’s opinions frequently. For example, she gained awareness in one of our sessions that a block to her exercise was feeling conscious of her appearance when going outdoors. She also mentioned in relation to the long term that she doesn’t want people to think she has not looked after herself.
Through my coaching process, I focused on long term health as the primary importance, and therefore most of the coaching skills I used were in relation to this. Recognising that not wanting to look back with regret is an ‘away’ goal, I asked her to turn that around and what did she want? She clarified flexibility, strong heart and muscles, healthy brain, and to look and feel healthy.
She has a positive role model in this regard that she described to me as a lady of advanced age who has exercised regularly throughout her life and now continues to live a very mobile and active life. I invited Susan to undertake a visualisation exercise here which she accepted and I led her through visualising her role model, and then replacing the role model with herself in that vision. I asked her how she felt in that role and it was light and positive.
To explore her relationship with her plan, I asked Susan to consider the reverse situation – what would it be like if she releases this goal and does not follow a healthy lifestyle regime. It was very clear that this was not a viable option for her and thereby seemed to reinforce her determination to pursue this goal.
I invited Susan to undertake a visualisation exercise in which she considered what a letter from herself in 20 years’ time would say if she had not followed her healthy lifestyle regime, and then repeated the exercise with the scenario that she did follow it. However, this did not seem to bring about much awareness for her so we did not dwell here.
I sought Susan’s permission to share my observation of some of her beliefs by reflecting back statements that she had made to see how she felt about them. I held a judgement, although I did not express it, that she would change her mind on these statements on hearing them played back to her. It surprised me therefore that she affirmed them, and this was a huge learning for me as a coach in direct communication and a practical experience of releasing judgement.
I considered that perhaps Susan’s goal of long term health was too intangible as a short-term motivator to do the daily exercise she so dreads. I asked Susan in what ways she could consider breaking down that goal into shorter term goals for which we could create day to day measures and benefits. However, Susan was still resilient to the thought of daily exercise.
Susan recognises herself as a lazy starter and she contemplated that perhaps her procrastination is simply around getting started initially. I asked questions around what it feels like when she exercises and when she has finished to see if there were good feelings there she could harness to motivate her to start. She mentioned that she had done some exercise between two of our sessions so I explored with her what had triggered her to do that with a view to embedding those triggers in her routine.
I asked Susan what her ideal day would look like and this question brought about awareness that exercise didn’t feature at all and is not a priority for her. As a takeaway from that session she took the action to broaden out that visualisation to what an ideal week and month would look like to see at what point exercise would feature, as a way of measuring her priorities.
We then partnered to explore more specifically why exercise is not a priority for her. It was at this point in the coaching process that Susan seemed to have a breakthrough in her awareness.
She identified that time is an issue for her and was coming up as a block repeatedly. She made a statement around other activities being more important to her than undertaking sport. In this way, I observed that perhaps her goal was out of alignment with her values. On reflecting this back to her she gained further awareness that she considers exercise a luxury that she is not affording herself, perhaps related to her parents’ view of exercise. I invited her to return to her description of an ideal day and she realised that most of what she achieves brings instant benefits and results, albeit they may need repeating again the next day and we discussed her need to feel tangible achievement. She reframed her perspective that perhaps the daily activities are the luxury in bringing the instant gratification. I asked her in what ways she could create such instant rewards for her exercise. With this new-found awareness, we created an action for Susan to consider an analogy of exercising as an investment account, which she felt could work for her, and she committed to reflecting on this further.
The truth statement that Susan came up with was that “exercise is a luxury I am able to afford myself”, and the takeaway from our last session was for her to reflect on this. I feel my coaching was effective in that Susan did identify underlying beliefs she held in relation to exercise, which was her goal.
I felt I kept the coaching focused on her relationship with exercise and not on the actual doing of the exercise.
What I would do differently
I question whether I partnered with Susan to focus on long term health as the primary importance. In hindsight, I would more clearly share my observation of the three facets to her importance and ask Susan to select which was the most important and which she would like to focus on. It may have been that her lack of confidence or consideration of other people’s opinions were more important and exploring these areas could have brought about more awareness.
When we explored her role model through a visualisation exercise, I could have explored anchoring here.
I asked Susan in what ways she could consider breaking down a long-term goal into shorter term goals for which we could create day to day measures and benefits. This approach seemed to have little success and I realise it was my suggestion rather than coming from Susan.
I sought Susan’s permission to share an observation around her lack of enjoyment in exercise. I went on to offer that I personally enjoy exercise very much and that it is a huge motivator for me, and what could she therefore do to increase her enjoyment in exercise. I immediately recognised this as a mistake, as I had brought myself into the conversation as a person and not as her coach, and by demonstrating a difference between us I felt I eroded her trust to some extent. It was very apparent that this did not support the client and in a later session I acknowledged my error and sought to re-affirm our similarities.
Top 3 Learnings
- I had practical experience of the meaning of respecting how the Client sees their world and releasing judgement.
- I recognised very clearly the erosion of trust caused by bringing my personal opinions into the coaching space and I will be very careful not to do this again.
- I saw how my use of suggestion was unhelpful as it did not come from the Client. Allow the Client to decide on what direction the coaching should take and how they would like to reach their goal.