What is life coaching?


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Rodney Merrill coaching online. Most coaching is done online or by phone these days.


Life coaching is one of the newest and fastest growing human development professions today. And for many everyday issues, it is very powerful. More to the point, it can help you enjoy a better quality of life, a stronger sense of direction and more control. 

Unskilled Coaching

Beware! A lot of people are calling themselves life coaches and all they are doing is offering their personal beliefs and opinions on how your life ought to be and what you ought to do to get it that way. That is emphatically not life coaching. These self-appointed experts used to called themselves personal advisors but have now latched on the the life coach title because there is nothing to prevent them from doing so.

Coaching organizations are currently working out quality standards for life coaching so that clients can be assured they are getting more than someone’s beliefs and opinions. Standards also assure that methods used can realistically achieve results.

Professional Coaching

Life coaching is the professional application of the principles of positive psychology and coaching psychology to achievements in everyday life rather than sports. As in sports, there are goals, motivational exercises and practice. Unlike sports, the coach does not decide what you should ought to achieve. You work that out together but, in the end, the project is discovering your goals and desires and the best way to achieve them.

Good life coaching helps you become clear around what you wantwhy you want it, and how to get it.

Most of us live inside a gap. We all know it or at least sense it—that there is a disparity between what we expect and what we have, between who we want to be and who we are. In short, it is a gap between where you want to be and where you are. For some of us, that gap is so large that there isn’t any enjoyment in life.

Now, I am not talking about depression. If you are feeling bleak and suicidal, you do not need a coach. You need a psychologist, a psychiatrist, a doctor, somebody who specializes in medical depression.

Life coaching is not therapy. It is a process of dialog that opens a space for a different kind of conversation, one that is philosophical in nature but practical in outcome and one that makes a difference in life. It is about acknowledging that gap between could be and is and doing something about it.

Coaching starts from strengths and possibility rather than disease and limitations. Instead of talking about problems and why something cannot be done, we talk about what would have to be different if you could. Rather than rooting around the past, it’s about creating more powerful futures, about where do we go from here with who we are now.

Strategies and techniques

Of all the things we have learned from childhood to where we are now, most of us never learned strategies and techniques for creating the life we want. We just stumble through life, wishing and hoping that things will turn out.

Coaching is about demostrating strategies and techniques which assist you in creating what you want in life. It isn’t magic. It is about focused intention.

Life Coaching is dialog with focused intention

The premise of my coaching practice is that participants in the coaching conversation have the resources necessary to generate a future from the present rather than the past.

In future installments, I will be sharing what coaching means, how coaching works, and how coaching applies to everyday life. I hope to show that, properly grounded and properly done, life coaching it is not a goofy fringe idea but a sound practice based in research and science.

I hope you will find it interesting; but more, I hope it will contribute to your aliveness and living skills.

Rodney L. Merrill, M.P.H., Ph.D.
Tools for Brilliance, LLC

“A Coach Approach to Accelerated Personal & Professional Development”


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Coaching Expands the Range of Self

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” [John Donne (1572-1631), Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, Meditation XVII]

I do not subscribe to the idea of core, essential and separate selves. I am a proponent of  a more “dialogical” understanding of self that decentralizes who and where we are.  We are because we know others. We are because significant voices, collective voices and myriad social relations create the space for us to be. We are, in a sense, an embodied form of dialog.

Our ability to recreate and imagine conversations means the voices echo constantly giving us the sense (illusion) that there is something essential  “inside” talking to us.  Further, our everyday conversations with others uses cultural vocabularies of “me” and “you” that enables us to experience being separate individuals. This confuses us into thinking the voices in our head are the quintessential me, something philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein calls one of our most far-reaching grammatical mistakes.

We are not but are always becoming. And this becoming depends on our sociality. Therefore, while it is possible to engage in productive self-coaching, the power of self-coaching is limited by the number, quality and flexibility of conversations we have incorporated in the past. Breakthrough outside-the-box coaching requires dialogs that can recast those past conversations into expanded contexts. In this way, sudden interpretive shifts can occur and new personal storylines become possible. That is the power of client-coach dialog.

Though there are non-dialogical means to breakthrough insights, such as thought watching, thought stopping, and mindfulness meditation, concentrated solution-focused conversation is a powerful, time-efficient and culturally familiar alternative.

Rodney L. Merrill, MPH, PhD
Tools forBrilliance
“A Coach Approach to Accelerated Personal & Professional Development”

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Questions Create Possibility

The White Rabbit put on his spectacles. "Where shall I begin, please your Majesty?" he asked.
"Begin at the beginning," the King said gravely, "and go on till you come to the end: then, stop."
(Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Chapter 12)

In human affairs, you can never really begin at the beginning, though, can you? We are always living in the middle of it, of life that is, of issues. We are always in the middle of some Act II, the First Act being over and the Third Act not yet begun. So, coaching must begin where you and I find ourselves, right here, right now: in the middle of it.

The coach provides a new language for the client, what Ludwig Wittgenstein called a ladder to climb upon that, once scaled, is no longer needed and is kicked away. This ladder or scaffolding or what have you, affords new possibilities in relationship, action, experience, , and meaning.

Language is what allows us to coordinate our actions with others. Provide new language, plus the chance by practice to have the language become part of us, and new observations, new actions, and a new world will inevitably follow. That’s the importance of language to coaching.

Coaches have to address both a short- and a long-term view. Short term in the sense that they must support their clients in reaching their goals, but long-term in the sense that the client will always have more challenges later and must be left competent to deal with these situations as they arise, while simultaneously conducting a fulfilling life.

One of the fundamental goals of coaching is for the client to come to understand by direct experience that events, circumstances,environment, stimuli, the actions of others do not lead to our own behavior, or thoughts, or our moods. Rather, it is our construction of meaning  through our internal conversation that we bring to and add to the phenomenon that leads to the attitudes and actions taken.

Coaching is transformational. “Transformation  is the possibility for a breakthrough in our living,” said philosopher Werner Erhard, “a clearing for aliveness to show up in our everyday activities, self-expression and commitments.”

In transformational coaching, the coach seeks to understand the client’s construction of reality and structure of interpretation, then in partnership with the client to expand this structure and thereby expand possibility, agility and flexibility. When a client can imagine only one course of action and that option makes a desirable outcome impossible, well chosen questions can alter this limited belief structure so that more powerful choices and actions result in more rewarding outcome. Living inside a new question is more powerful and more flexible than living with old answers.

The aim of coaching is leave people more competent and more powerful so that they are more able to contribute to their organizations, their relationships, their own lives– and to find more meaning and fulfillment in everything they do. The products of good coaching are excellence in performance, self- correction and self-renewal. In other words, good coaching leads to good self-coaching. As a coach, my aim first and foremost is for clients to no longer need me.

Rodney L Merrill, MPH, PhD
Certified Life Coach
Certified Master Hypnotist
Certified Master Practitioner NLP

Tools for Brilliance, LLC
One World Trade Center
121 Southwest Salmon Street, 11th Floor
Portland, OR 97204 USA

Tools for Brilliance, LLC
Astoria Home Office
35798 Dow Lane
Astoria, OR 97103 USA


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Mastering Creative Anxiety

24 Lessons for Writers, Painters, Musicians & Actors from America’s Foremost Creativity Coach

By Eric Maisel
New World Library
Paperback: 256 pages, March 1, 2011, ISBN-13: 978-1577319320

I’ve been reading this book on my Kindle and I’ve decided that I like it. Not everything about it, mind you. I don’t demand that of books. There are even a few features that I find too cutesy. If a self-help book gives me a couple of really useful nuggets, I figure I got my money’s worth. After all, how much useful advice can you get on an average day for $15-$20?

You get a lot more than a few nuggets from this Mastering Creative Anxiety. If you put them to work for you, this book is practically priceless. In the words of Eric Maisel, the author of this and dozens of other creativity titles,

None of the techniques in the book will be available to you when you need them simply because you read about them and nod your head. You have to practice them and use them…. If you want the results, you will have to do the work.

This may seem obvious but I know people who read books or listen to CDs and expect this passive act alone to transform their lives. It can transform your thinking but transforming your life requires some participation on your part.

“It doesn’t work,” they say. Well, no, it doesn’t. You have to do the work. One of my mottoes is “emotion provides devotion but action provides the traction.” You got to actually do the work to get the results you are hoping for. ‘Nuf said, hey?

“Anxiety is the number one problem that creative people face,” says Maisel, “and yet few even realize it.” I’m not sure I would use the word anxiety to describe all the times I’ve procrastinated or gotten a slow start on a project. His use of the term is perhaps a little broad; but, just because I might use a different word for some of the experiences he describes does not detract of the value of the book. It is clear that something inexplicable is going on and I am willing to call it anxiety and move on rather than quibble about it and continue dawdling while I find a more acceptable descriptor.

Maisel’s point is that the life of the creative has long been a stressful one but especially in contemporary times where we are socialized to think that a meaningful life can only be had by occupying a cubicle an important company. Our personal prestige and status is a corporate fringe benefit.

Unfortunately or happily, depending on your viewpoint, cubicle farmers have shown little interest in harnessing the energy of creative types. I’m one reason is that it is so much like herding cats. Consequently, creative jobs are near as scarce as hen’s teeth. That means the creative life is often a hand-to-mouth existence.

There are lots of other self-employed people, you may say. Surely, they must have similar problems. True, and certainly many of the worries discussed in this book do apply to them as well. But … a plumber or a carpenter is not required to (re)invent their product to stay in business. The demands of producing a never-ending stream of one-off performances and innovations can produce unique fears related to “mattering” and “meaning” and “finishing” that routinely erode the peace of creatives.

Some 24 chapters cover a multitude of situations in which creative people find themselves at the precipice of dread, meaninglessness and failure. To his credit, Maisel does not sugar coat the difficulties of such a life or offer irksome platitudes about the inevitability of success if you only apply yourself and his recipe for success. His “recipes” are for coping with moments when your worst fears may come true: are moments of failure, compromise, ego bruising and despair. There will be times when you should have left well enough alone; but, hoping for a breakthrough, you pushed a little further and ruined the work. That is part of the stretch that goes into attempting to make meaning through your work.

Failure will happen. Disappointment will ensue. Anticipatory performance anxiety will materialize from nowhere. Crises of meaning will turn up when least expected. How can you go on? This is where Mastering Creative Anxiety shines and Eric Maisel is to be congratulated for not succumbing to the easy path of schmaltzy answers.

Even fear of success can produce anxiety. Certainly, the lack of progress that often results from both fear of success and fear of failure can produce anxiety.

I found the Ari and Phoebe tales a tad too cute and not altogether necessary. Incongruously enough, I read every one! I guess they appeal to the right brain and balance the more pedantic.

The Mastery of Anxiety practices are powerful and versatile, useful in circumstance other than the one described in a specific lesson. It would be a mistake to dismiss any of them based on their apparent simplicity; relaxation exercises, deep breathing, redirecting attention, preparatory rituals and mindfulness being only a few among them are easy to learn.

This book can help you to strip away those excuses for not progressing. It can help you accept the inevitability of anxiety in the creative life. It can help your learn new coping strategies that make it more tolerable. It might even be transformative with time and practice, if you are willing to allow it.

Rodney L. Merrill, Ph.D.
Personal & Professional Development Coach
Tools forBrilliance

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What the hell is a life coach?

I haven’t been asked this question directly yet; but when I say “I am a life coach,” the blank stare I get in response says it all. And my long silence probably suggests that I don’t know either. But that isn’t really it. The silence is because I have not prepared and rehearsed a succinct response and I am not quite sure where to begin.

So, here goes. What is a life coach?

The term “life coaching” covers many activities and different approaches. What all life coaches have in common is that they facilitate their clients in reaching goals. Ideally, these are goals of the clients’ own choosing. Realistically, however, there are situations in organizational settings where the goals are imposed by performance reviews (job evaluations). You could argue that the person in front of you wants to keep his/her job and, therefore, is the client and is choosing the goals. This, in my opinion, is a bit of an ethical stretch and the client is really the organization and only incidentally the person in front of you. Such is the ethical dilemma of all three-party contracts.

Ideally, however, the client comes to a coach wanting support in reaching goals of his or her own choosing. The coach’s job is to support the client in finding solutions (or means to an end) that is congruent with the client’s own values and worldview. There may be thousands of ways to get there from here but one of the biggest stumbling blocks is selecting a means that is not congruent with the client’s higher values.

Now I know this can sound very New Age-y and peace and love; but that really depends on the client. Some clients want to win at all costs. Coaching that client is very different from coaching a client that has relational harmony as a higher value. It really is not my job as a coach to persuade a client to adopt different (my) values. My job as a coach is to facilitate the client in finding where he or she really wants to be at some future point and in finding a congruent route from here to there.

Stated in this way, it seems pretty straightforward. It is. On the other hand, that is like saying that getting to the top of Saddle Mountain is just a matter of putting one foot in front of the other until you get there. As an overview, that is true, but there are a lot of details buried under that generality. The issue of how to manage those details has given rise to myriad theories and models of coaching.

Solution-focused coaching is a very popular among trainers and clients, as is NLP Coaching, GROW Coaching, Transformational Coaching, Spiral coaching and Brief Coaching or Cognitive Behavioral Coaching. This only begins to name what is available. There is a multitude of lesser known models such as Narrative and Ontological Coaching.

The reason there are so many approaches is that coaches borrow from the theories and models of many different fields as they can apply to coaching, especially philosophy, sociology, communications, psychology and counseling. Once these are incorporated into coaching there are no longer any of these fields in their pure form. In addition, coaching is still in the freewheeling stage that newer fields go through, so anybody can devise their own system of coaching and set up a coach training organization and teach it.

Besides different theoretical foundations and practical models, coaches often specialize in some particular area of life where the coach and the client find mutual interest. As only a few examples, coaches specialize in work-life balance, creativity, career development, executive development, small business and entrepreneurship.

Then there are coaches who only concentrate within certain client niches: perhaps gay or lesbian clients, or only men or only women, veterans, sales professionals, photographers, writers, painters.

Little wonder that so many people are confused about what life coaching is and why life coaches are baffled about how to describe it in just a few words. If forced to answer in the proverbial 25 words or less, I would say:

Life coaches facilitate their clients’ process of devising smart goals and reaching them in ways congruent with their own values and worldview.

Rodney L. Merrill, Ph.D.
Personal & Professional Development Coach
Tools forBrilliance

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