Wellcoaches created the animated movie How Coaching Works to explain health and well-being coaching when the field was in its infancy. Now with almost 2 million views, the video remains a useful illustration of the best qualities of a helping relationship. Let’s take a look at the psychological underpinnings of the cartoon, which will provide insight into useful coaching-psychology principles and processes for the exercise professional.
Scene One: MEET
In this scene you find the coach in the office with a client. You may expect that it’s the coach’s job to tell the client what to do. Instead, the coach asks the client to create a picture of their vision, symbolized by the mountains off in the distance.
The client is eager to move toward that vision, and has even started doing some of the thinking necessary to get there, but feels overwhelmed by the things that stand between reality and the dream. The knotted path represents the many possible ways to reach the vision. It’s up to the client, with the coach’s support, to figure out which path is the best one.
The coach and client first agree on how they are going to work together. They shake hands, symbolizing the important boundary-setting conversation and agreement that starts a coaching relationship. For this relationship to promote growth, the coach radiates warmth, empathy, confidence, zest, humor and courage.
Scene Two: VISION
In the next scene, the coach encourages the client to get very clear about what it is that they want, and why. The coach gets the client motivated by encouraging them to explore why change is important now. The coach determines what it is exactly that the client wants to create—noting that all of life is invented and that together they will experiment with how to get from point A to point B.
Did you know that it’s all invented? According to the constructionist principle, we construct our reality—what we perceive, what we believe, what things mean and what we value. In other words, it’s all made up! And it’s from this frame of reference that the best coaches work with their clients. They playfully support the client in making up the rules to the client’s “game of life” and in experimenting with the ways to play it. The Art of Possibility, by authors Ben and Rosamund Zander, is a great source of inspiration for coaches. Check it out, and learn to say “How fascinating!” about all of life’s knots in the road.[JS1]
Scene Three: THE PLAN
Notice that when the client works on their plan, the coach digs into the toolbox and hands over a tool—a big pencil. The client isn’t sure they can handle the pencil, but the coach’s certainty is greater than the client’s doubt. From the domain of hope psychology, we know clients have the willpower—now they just need to develop the “waypower.” And waypower isn’t best developed by being told what to do or having something done for you. It’s best developed by experimenting with the change yourself.
So the client gets specific about what they want to have happen—the specific changes that will take place in their life to get to the mountains in the vision. The more specific, the better. The box that the client draws represents the importance of focus and clarity when setting one’s goals. The client is exploring the question of what they’re going to take responsibility for creating—and doing—to reach the beckoning goal.
Scene Four: THE JOURNEY
As the coach presents the next tool, a trampoline, the client is beginning to feel more confident in their ability to take that first leap. The trampoline represents the power of setting goals that are appealing, specific and measurable—and of thinking through all that it will take to be successful, including the ever-important supporting relationships.
The coach invites the client to recall other times when they have achieved life or work goals, as well as their strengths and talents. It’s an opportunity to learn from past successes and to apply one’s strengths rather than focusing on what’s hard.
Now they construct more building blocks—the steppingstones to reaching success. The vision of the client’s best self becomes clearer and closer.
But as the client continues to experiment, they fall off of the ladder, missing a challenging step. This, of course, happens in real life—we lapse and fall back into our old habits. The coach brings a safety net, a nonjudgmental space in which they can explore what happened and what they learned from it. How fascinating! This leads to the client’s insight and decision to create smaller steps, drawn onto the ladder.
How important it is to move to action at the right time, with the right goal in mind? There is little benefit to clients of working on goals that are beyond their capability. When clients set goals that are well matched to their readiness to move forward, with enough stretch to be engaging but not too much to produce anxiety, they become aligned with their best self.
The client rises above the challenge, achieves the plan and jumps up, having grown into the image of their best self. They are excited as they experience what it feels like to be there—and that will propel more successes going forward.
Scene Five: SUCCESS
The coach and client end with a celebration—the client has found the best path, outgrown perceived roadblocks and become the vision of their best self. Together they heartily acknowledge the accomplishment.
The final scene is a cliff-hanger, so to speak. Its message of “To Be Continued” speaks to the fact that change is a journey, a process to revisit continually. We know that as the client continues down the road toward the vision, there will be another knot, or a ditch or a seemingly impenetrable object. Yet, through the coaching partnership that cultivates hope and the acknowledgement of strengths and abilities, the client will continue on the path and further develop their best self.