The life coach profession is a fairly new gig. Less than 20 years old, born in the age of Oprah Winfrey, the explosion in self-help tomes and a down economy, the life coach is a uniquely American profession. People who go to life coaches aren’t looking for traditional talk therapy that might encourage them to dig deep into underlying issues; they want self-improvement, in their careers, in love, or fitness.
In other words, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar – and you want to quit smoking it. As the year 2014 rolls to its end, so too, do our eyes move toward our rolls of fat, bad habits, and hopes to nip them in the bud. Depending on what sources you check, fewer than 40 percent, or as few as 8 percent, of people who make new year's resolutions stick to them. Like accountants in April, it's go-time for life coaches.
"A life coach helps clients follow with their resolutions by identifying what truly matters and what is holding them back," said Annie Lin, a New York City life coach whose work is informed by Buddhist/Taoist perspectives.
Unlike psychotherapy, coaching does not deal with the diagnosis or treatment of emotional problems. "Life-coaching focuses less on the problems, and more on the solutions," says Julie Holmes, a former personal trainer who became a life coach after studying with motivational speaking guru Anthony Robbins. "It can be helpful to know why you are the way you are, but how to make the change is really where you will get results."
What's a life coach?
In terms of training to be a life coach, each state has different regulations, and there aren't a lot of guidelines. After all, infamous New York Times plaigiarist Jayson Blair has been at it for years. The first training institution, the International Coaching Federation, was founded by Thomas J. Leonard, who is largely credited with pioneering the whole profession less than 20 years ago.
Lin thinks the profession is "under-defined," and certification can range from a three-year long training to a weekend workshop. But ultimately, she says, the wheat gets separated from the chaff. "Those who don’t have the skill set aren’t going to last very long," says Lin. "If you are looking for a life coach, talk to them on the phone for 10 minutes, and decide if they resonate with you."
As we head toward the end of the year, many people are making the kinds of resolutions Lin's and Holmes' clients have all-year round. Although they both think making resolutions can be helpful and agree that the desire to improve your life can only ever be a good thing, they also believe that the biggest problem with resolutions are that people don't set themselves up for success.
"One of the reasons people are unable to stick with their resolutions," says Holmes, "is because they only check in once a year! They need to make sure that their results are measurable and to check in weekly or daily, if possible, to track progress."
Why New Year's resolutions fail
New year's resolution mistakes are twofold for Lin.
"Mistake number one: Getting too ambitious about achieving too many goals," she says. "Instead, try to focus on one or two major resolutions to gain enough momentum before you move on to the next thing." And mistake number two? "Setting goals that have been insufficiently defined," says Lin. "This happens when you have not spent the time to figure why these goals are important to you and what the costs would be if they were not accomplished."
Ultimately, you have to decide you want to commit to your goals if you're going to make them happen -- and plan a strategy, says Holmes. "Create a massive plan of action on how to follow through. How are you going to stay motivated? What possible obstacles could throw you off track? Prepare in advance how you will handle them."
Lin suggests focusing on how you want to feel when you've achieved your goal. "Ultimately, what we most want is a feeling that we imagine accomplishing the resolutions will bring us," she says. "Set up road sign posts. Break down lofty goals into digestible pieces, identify the milestones and schedule them into the calendar. Make it specific, measurable, and set a deadline for it."
Or, if all of this sounds too overwhelming to do alone -- hire a life coach.