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Self-Coaching: The Art and Science of Coaching Yourself

How to Coach Yourself

Here are two questions to ask yourself – what do you want? And what do you want for the world?

These questions are big, challenging, and potentially overwhelming. They’re the kinds of questions that can make your palms a little sweaty.

But bear with me – because if you want to learn to self-coach, you’ll need to answer these questions and then some.

The truth is we unlock our greatness by working on the hard stuff. Coaching yourself is hard. But it’s also powerful, rewarding, and important. Think of it like constructive feedback for yourself, given by you.

So, let me show you how to start showing up for yourself, start showing up for the world, and start something that matters.

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What Exactly Is Self-Coaching?

Self-coaching is about becoming aware of your thoughts and feelings and responding to them in a way that aligns with your values and nudges you toward the intriguing edges of your known self.

It’s one of the most powerful skills you can learn to be successful in life and work.

When you become conscious of what drives you, where your ego takes you, and how the patterns in your mind work, you tap into your courage and inner wisdom – “the gold in the dark,” according to Carl Jung.

And there’s truth in that – self-coaching empowers you to step into the dark and find your gold.

It won’t be easy, but only by truly understanding yourself for all your messiness, complexity, beauty, and brilliance can you take control of your life and unlock your greatness.

8 Effective Ways to Coach Yourself

The wonderful thing about being human is that our potential is unlimited. We can always grow, evolve, and learn more. So, consider the below steps a cycle. Coaching yourself is a lifelong endeavor. Once you’ve mastered the goals you’ve set for yourself, it’s time to begin again.

1. Assess Where You Are Right Now

The first step in the self-coaching process involves figuring out what matters to you and where you’d like your life to improve.

It’s helpful to ask yourself where you’re stuck. What keeps your feet stuck in the mud and prevents you from moving?

Sometimes, it’s an overwhelming sense that there are just too many things to do. At other times, it’s a sense of disconnect – of not knowing what you want to do.

To get unstuck, think about past moments that were peak enjoyment for you – the moments that make you think: “Man, that was exciting. That was me at my best. That was me being stretched and growing in a way that mattered.”

The power of looking back to peak moments is they transcend our training, our career trajectory, and the certificates we have on the wall. They call us to recognize when we feel most alive. And that serves as a huge clue to the essence of what lights us up.

The other half of this process involves thinking about what you want to do in the future.

You can think of this in two basic spheres – work and not work. Which one would you like to focus on? And would you like to do intimately or at scale?

Once you understand what lights you up and where you’re being pulled, it’s time to move on to step two.

2. Set Goals That Are Thrilling, Important and Daunting

If you’ve taken the How To Begin course, you’ll know that I’m all for shifting away from the tyranny of SMART goals towards something called a worthy goal.

A worthy goal is an excellent framework for self-coaching. It challenges you to pursue something thrilling, important, and daunting:

  • Thrilling lights you up and gets you excited.
  • Important focuses on the bigger picture and contributing to the world.
  • Daunting takes you to your learning edge, so you continue to stretch, grow, learn, and expand to become the next best version of who you are.

In essence, your goal needs to be ambitious for yourself and the world. It needs to excite you, scare you a little, and give more than it takes.

More importantly, your goal needs to have this trifecta. If you have a goal that’s thrilling and important but not daunting, it means you’ll be happy enough for a while, but you may feel a little stuck with the work you’re doing.

3. Write Down Your Crappy First Draft

Now it’s time to get your goal out of your head and down on paper. I call this the crappy first draft – and for good reason.

It’s almost impossible to nail a worthy goal the first time around. Not only do we fumble for the right language, but we diminish our ambition because it’s easier to write down something small.

But we have to start somewhere, and when we start with full permission to write down a crappy first draft. After all, it’s something. It’s more than something – it’s a significant and critical first step.

You might be hesitating. Yes, it’s awkward. No, it won’t be perfect. But take your best guess. The process of iterating, fine-tuning, and tinkering with your goal will make it more likely that you find something that matters to you.

4. Focus on the Small Steps

Going after a worthy goal won’t be as simple as tapping an address into Google Maps. It’s more like being dropped in the middle of a video game – a first-person adventure roleplaying epic where you’re standing in the jungle with a misty valley before you.

In the distance – a peak on the horizon. You think that’s the peak you’re going for, but you’re not entirely sure.

You do know that you’ll have to navigate through this valley. And when navigating like that, you don’t just aim for the peak and start walking in a straight line.

You think, “What’s the next milestone I need to get to?”

This is a crucial part of the self-coaching journey. Resist getting overwhelmed by how far away and high up the peak seems. Instead, keep focusing on the next small step you need to take to bring you closer to your goal.

5. Don’t Travel Alone

In How To Begin, I emphasize the importance of getting the band together – having people in your corner who will support you, cheer you on, and help you bounce back from failure.

There are four kinds of energies I recommend seeking out:

  • The warrior – they help you to have courage, be brave, and step out of your comfort zone.
  • The second energy is the healer – they offer you care, nurturing, and love.
  • The third is the magician – they’re full of wisdom and help you see things from new perspectives.
  • Lastly, there’s the visionary – they help you see the big picture and fuel your ambitions.

Maybe you already have these energies in your life. Or perhaps you’ll have to seek them out. I understand that it can be nerve-wracking to do, so here’s another self-coaching tip:

Say to yourself: “I want to build adult relationships with the people with whom I work and with whom I live.”

That means having the ability to ask for what you want, knowing that the answer may be no.

6. Monitor Your Progress

Monitoring progress is essential to keeping you on track, and there are several levers to do so. One is to track your progress by defining it in numbers. So, if you’re writing a book, for example, you could commit to writing 500 words a day.

Another option is to use more qualitative measures. Say your goal is to become a more loving partner. You could set a daily metric of showing three acts of love or appreciation. Or use a scale of 1 to 10 to rate how proud you are of showing up each day.

What’s most important is defining what progress on your worthy goal means to you and finding a way to measure it, whatever that way may be.

7. Reflect and Adapt When it Gets Tough

As you chart the course towards your worthy goal, it’s inevitable that you’ll go off track – and experience all the difficult emotions and thoughts that come with that.

You might feel like giving up. You might question why you even started. You might feel angry or sad or lost or disheartened.

When you’re in this place, take comfort in knowing this is all part of the process. Bumps and twists in the road are invitations to reflect, adapt, and grow.

To separate your emotions from the facts, try to extract the data from the situation. Try to figure out:

  • What actually happened?
  • What can you learn from it?
  • What does this suggest about what might be the next smart thing to do?

Basically, get smarter from your failures. Use them as fuel to reimagine your work and find the grit to keep going. When you do, you’ll be astounded by what you can achieve.

8. Celebrate Successes

There’s a brilliant book by Theresa Amble called The Progress Principle. Over decades of research, she found that people feel most motivated when they make progress on things that matter.

Putting that in the context of your worthy goal, recognizing small wins, and celebrating your success is a powerful way to bring more joy and zest to the process.

You can use my 3P model from The Coaching Habit to help:

  • Projects. How has your work performance improved? What projects deserve a celebration?
  • People. What are the relationships that you’re proud of?
  • Patterns. How have you changed, evolved, and grown?

You’ll soon notice that small wins aren’t just about glitter, trophies, and champagne. They’re about embracing vulnerability, facing your self-doubts and fears, and becoming a better, happier version of yourself.

4 Self-Coaching Exercises That Will Help You Be Great

Whether you’re set on your worthy goal, need a little help to find out what that goal is, or are feeling a little stuck, these self-coaching exercises will help you get clear and confident on the next step.

1. Weigh the Prizes and Punishments

Every decision we make has both prizes and punishments. However, as humans, we tend to grossly overestimate the potential punishments of failure and overlook the prizes to be won from challenging ourselves.

To gain more clarity on the true nature of the prizes and punishments associated with your decision, have an honest conversation with yourself.

Ask yourself what’s really at risk. If this doesn’t work, what’s likely to happen? You’ll likely find that the punishments aren’t as grave as you first imagined.

2. Journal (Kind Of)

I have a confession – I’m terrible at journaling. I just don’t have enough to say, or I’m too bored, or I want to check my email, or play with my dog.

But, I have four questions that I do I ask myself each day – kind of like a mental check-in:

  • What do I notice? What am I thinking, and what am I feeling? What’s been bugging me, and what was I dreaming about last night? What’s out of the window? This question helps you become more present, and it also helps you connect to and experience your feelings.
  • What am I grateful for? There’s so much research that says regular small acts of gratitude make you a happier person. Think of three things you’re grateful for every day.
  • What’s the one thing today? This is the Eat the Frog concept: picking the one thing you need to do today and making that your priority.
  • What was best about today? Going back to celebrate the small wins. This question helps you to notice the progress you’ve made and appreciate the people around you.

Try asking yourself these questions every day. I bet you’ll feel more present, more connected to who you are, and more grounded in what you want from life.

3. Try the Worthy Goal Test

In How To Begin, I walk through some helpful tests that will help you decide whether your worthy goal reaches the criteria of thrilling, important, and daunting.

Here’s one of them. It’s called the Goldilocks test, which helps you find the right level of ‘daunting’ for your goal.

We all know the story of Goldilocks, right? She wanted a bed that wasn’t too big, wasn’t too small, but just right.

The same goes for your goal. Try to find a goal that’s not too big or too small, not too safe but not impossibly huge. It has to have the right weight so that it’s manageable, yet still stretches you and scares you a little.

4. Embrace the Learner’s Journey

When things get hard, or you feel like you need a new challenge, frame what you’re doing within the scale of conscious competence. It’s a model for understanding the four distinct psychological stages we go through whenever we do something new.

It goes a little something like this:

  • Unconsciously incompetent. Everyone starts here. You don’t even know you suck because you’ve yet to try.
  • Consciously incompetent. This is when you realize you’re not very good at what you’re doing. You keep trying and stumbling. It’s a stage full of micro failures and, more vitally, micro improvements.
  • Consciously competent. You’re starting to get the hang of it. It doesn’t come naturally, but it’s becoming a strength. 
  • Unconsciously competent. You’ve reached mastery. Doing whatever it is is as easy as breathing. You’ve stretched your comfort zone and grown as a person.

Once you reach stage four, it’s time to start the whole process all over again. Moving from learning to mastery to learning to mastery to keep yourself growing, learning, and evolving.

Self-Coach Yourself to Greatness

Are you ready to work on being the most magnificent individual you can be? To seek the full version of your quirks and your potential? To give and serve the world? Then my book, How To Begin, can help you self-coach yourself to success.

Get your copy here!

Michael Bungay Stanier

Michael Bungay Stanier

I'm the author of five books that have collectively sold more than a million copies. I'm the founder of Box of Crayons, a learning and development company that helps organizations move from advice-driven to curiosity-led. I'm the host of the *2 Pages with MBS* podcast.