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What is Coaching?
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What is Coaching?

Ask a hundred different coaches to explain what coaching is, and you just might get a hundred different answers. 

Of course, you can find a literal definition in a dictionary, or you can check out the official industry explanation from the International Coaching Federation. Still, these descriptions may not necessarily bring the concept of coaching to life for you in a tangible way.

At its core, coaching is about helping people make profound and lasting shifts in their lives. On the surface, that sounds like something we’d all want, right? But what does it really mean?
To get to this answer, let’s start with a simple conversation about perception

Reality Vs. Perception

As humans, we often make the mistake of thinking that reality is black and white. We equate it  with undisputed truth, even though that’s not the same thing at all. 

What do I mean?

Imagine that you’re seated at an artist’s table for a fun paint night with friends. You’re immersing yourself in the experience of following the instructor as she leads the group on how to create a basic painting of a shoreline sunset. You spend an hour on your painting before getting up to grab another drink, and as you look around the room for the first time, you notice that every sunset painting is slightly different.

How could that be, though? You all received the same instructions from the same teacher at the same time. So how did they all turn out looking different?

Because reality is perception. 

To you, the instruction to “paint the water blue” meant a crystal-clear baby blue through which you can see your toes in the sand. To a friend who grew up around colder, seaweed-filled oceans, however, it meant a blue shade with a slightly greener tint.

Our realities are just like those paintings. They are created by our unique set of beliefs and experiences. Therefore, your reality is merely your perception of your reality

Think of this way: Reality is an empty coloring book of pages that we color with our individual biases, personal journeys, and fears. In doing so, we actually create our own reality and accept it as truth. 

And this usually works fine—until we’re met with major challenges to overcome, unique dreams to achieve, or a desire to step outside our daily “routine.” These are the times when our personally curated versions of reality can get in the way of living life to the fullest.

Awareness = Power

Once you become aware of the fact that you’re constantly shaping your own reality, you finally have the power to change it. By accepting that you’re in control, you open yourself up to the possibility of a different, more fulfilling reality.

Here’s an example...

Tom is in the process of buying a house. For the past year, he’s gone back and forth on this huge decision. The logical side of his brain keeps saying, “You pay rent every single month to someone else so he can pay his mortgage, so why don’t you just pay your own mortgage instead?” And while that reasoning makes all the sense in the world to Tom, he still can’t move forward. 

He spends many sleepless nights imagining that something catastrophic (like losing his job) might happen and cripple his ability to afford the mortgage. In essence, Tom is subconsciously creating his own set of “fake” problems that validate his decision to stay in his comfort zone and continue renting.

Unless and until Tom develops an awareness of this perceived reality, he won’t gain the power and control to change it. He won’t cultivate the renewed perception he needs to rise above those fears and make an empowered decision (like buying a house) that can change his life for the better. 

And THAT is precisely where coaching enters the picture. 

The practice of coaching helps people become more in control of their thoughts and behaviors so they can overcome self-imposed limits and clearly see the options available to reach for more in their lives.

So it’s like therapy then? Well, not quite. Coaching has distinct differences from other similar modalities like consulting, mentoring, therapy, and being a best friend. Knowing the difference between these is important when you’re considering investing in formalized training or pursuing a new career path. 

From Traditional to Transformational

Coaching is sometimes described as the practice of helping individuals achieve their goals. But there’s a critical distinction to make between this traditional type of coaching and a more transformational approach that sustains long-term change. Because masterful coaches provide much more than simple accountability and encouragement. 

In its simplest form, traditional coaching is about helping another person strive toward their stated objectives. This is accomplished by helping them follow through on tasks and respond to challenges. Looking to get to the next level in your career? Here’s a step-by-step action plan to make that happen, and here’s how I’ll be holding you accountable to making those strides.

However, this traditional approach has its limitations and weaknesses: 

  • Some people have all the enthusiasm and effort they require, yet they still can’t figure out why they repeatedly fail.
  • Others have grown accustomed to feeling successful just by lowering their expectations—or worse, setting no goals at all. 
  • Some limit what they say they can or want to accomplish. They do this in the interest of being “realistic” or “practical,” when in reality, they may have no idea what they are capable of or they’re simply afraid of disappointment.

This is why traditional coaching often results in short-term benefits. It doesn't seek to identify the hidden blocks that cause people to fall short of their goals or desires. It doesn't get to the underlying cause behind self-limitations. Without recognizing and resolving those inner roadblocks, the client often falls back into the same patterns of behavior, repeating old habits, routines, and actions over and over again.

And that’s why transformational coaching is far more effective.

It’s about guiding someone to explore the “story” they’ve told themselves for so long. A transformational coach not only helps people go from where they are now to where they want to be, but also empowers people to become the leaders of their own lives.

And this transformative process doesn’t always necessarily have to unfold in a conventional coach-client relationship. Coaching has the capacity to help someone unite a team of employees, lead more successful interdepartmental projects, or improve one-on-one relationships.

Even a small shift in any given moment can have a huge impact. If just one person shifts from a place of frustration to one of opportunity, it can change the entire dynamic of a workplace or family. For instance, one simple choice to be compassionately curious with your partner instead of getting angry or annoyed can change your entire connection. It only takes one second, but it can have a lifetime effect.

Transformational coaching leverages various tools and methodologies for building this kind of internal awareness so that people can: 

  • Identify long-held perceptions and beliefs that hold them back
  • Consciously redesign those beliefs to fuel them toward achieving greater potential
  • Specifically recognize when they’re reacting to life’s circumstances instead of choosing how they want to act
  • See opportunities when others see problems
  • Cultivate a new perspective for rewriting the rules of their own life

One of the most fundamental aspects of life is connecting with others, but it’s not until we learn to understand and change ourselves that we can significantly improve our relationships and accelerate the joy in our lives. 

In a big way, that’s what transformational coaching does for people. 

Generally speaking, how we “do” one thing in our lives is how we do everything in our lives. So when we learn to change one component (a job, a marriage, etc.) for the better, we can start to change them all.

Tapping into Energy

Around the iPEC coaching community, the idea of “energy” is a fundamental one. Perhaps you’ve heard the term before and wondered if it was just another overused piece of jargon. Let’s break it down in clearer language so you can make a more tangible connection to its coaching application.

As iPEC founder Bruce D Schneider has laid out, people are continually experiencing energy in one of two ways: catabolic or anabolic. Neither type of energy is necessarily “right” or “wrong,” as they can both be valuable and useful for different reasons.

  • Anabolic energy is constructive, expanding, fueling, and creative. It works for you.
  • Catabolic energy is destructive, draining, or resisting. It works against you. 

The type of energy we experience fluctuates throughout the day and from situation to situation. But because of the way we each interpret our life experiences (as previously mentioned in our discussion on perception), we often wind up experiencing the same type of energy over and over again. As a result, many people get stuck in draining, catabolic energy.

iPEC coaches are relied on to help these people raise their energy levels to an anabolic state and become more aware of their actions and choices. Someone who is coached in this way is more apt to inspire others, becomes more open to innovation and possibility, and is far better able to pursue goals and find fulfillment in their lives.

The shift toward anabolic energy allows people to access creativity and intuition more quickly, rather than resorting to frustration, resentment, and other low-level responses, which can feel limiting and exhausting.

It’s not just about positive thinking, though. It’s much deeper than that. 

By developing an awareness of how you approach both individual circumstances and life as a whole (i.e., what ENERGY you bring to the table), you become more aware that you have a choice. You’re able to realize your energy and shift it more quickly to a more effective level.

Whatever blocks or diminishes a person’s available energy will either slow down or derail their progress toward a desired goal. While working with a transformational coach, people can become aware of their false perceptions and limiting beliefs about what’s possible as they learn new ways to work through blocks and obstacles. 

By reducing destructive, draining catabolic effects on energy and focusing on developing more expansive, creative, synergistic anabolic energy, a person will find it easier to work toward and attract the kinds of experiences and opportunities in life that lead to a greater sense of flow and personal satisfaction.

Still with me?

Ultimately, it’s like this: Coaching helps you become aware of your energy levels so that you can choose how to use them. It also gives you the tools you need to free up blocked energy within yourself. You learn to leverage this newfound energy to access a higher level of consciousness and finally see possibilities that you simply couldn’t before. 

It’s about living life on purpose, not just as a product of circumstance.

That’s why we say that coaching is not giving advice or telling people what to do. It’s uncovering the power within them to notice the world like they never have before and live the life they’ve always wanted to live. 

What Does Coaching Mean to You?

If you’ve been reading this explanation of what coaching is and wondering if this industry can change your life, there’s plenty more information to sink your teeth into. 

Individuals who are drawn to the coaching field have a passion for people, an innate desire to see others achieve results, and a drive to help, motivate, and inspire. In this career path, you have the potential to experience a deep sense of satisfaction by making a positive difference in people’s lives.

For a more complete guide to understanding the coaching career field, check out this valuable resource


About Luke Iorio, MCC, CPC, ELI-MP, iPEC Board Member

Luke Iorio is a dad, spouse, entrepreneur, conscious growth strategist, coach, blogger, podcaster, wide-angled observer, and enthusiastic participant in the game of life who seeks to ask and answer, “What’s truly possible?” He believes it’s only when we disrupt the status quo of "good enough" that we can finally uncover what we were born to do.

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