Life is a game. I will coach you to win it.

by Jack on June 2011

I just changed the tagline of my web site. It now reads “Life is a game. I will coach you to win it.”

This tagline is more aligned with the specific focus of my professional action – which is life coaching – and aligned with the goal of the person who hires a coach.

What’s that goal? A simple analogy will explain it. A basketball coach coaches players to win at the game of basketball. A hockey coach coaches players to win at the game of hockey.

So by analogy, a life coach coaches players to win at the game of life. People who hire coaches are interested in winning. Therefore, my number one objective, in my role as a life coach, is to make sure my client wins.

However, the game of life is magnitudes more complex than any sport. Because of this, winning at life is something hard to define. It differs from person to person. For one person, it might involve becoming a multi-hundred-millionaire and leading a company of thousands of people. For another person it might be retiring early and living in a tropical paradise. For another it might demand that they raise a large family. For still another it might involve exploring the farthest reaches of body and mind to reach spiritual enlightenment.

The important thing is that winning is defined in a way that makes sense to the individual. Without a defined endpoint, or at least a guiding star on the horizon, our internal goal seeking mechanism will send us wandering around in circles, confused.

However, following a guiding star that isn’t truly aligned with our own deepest values will confuse us even more. What happens in that situation? We have a goal (it’s good to have goals!), we’re going after it (gotta be a go getta!), we’re making progress (winning!). So why do we feel so demotivated. Why does every victory feel hollow? We’re successful – this is supposed to feel good!

Understanding what really motivates and inspires us is a good start to figuring out what winning the game of life means for us – and us alone. No one else can decide this for us. Many, many people spend abundant energy and effort acting out other peoples’ life scripts, according to other peoples’ values, and then wondering why they don’t feel fulfilled. Operating according to the value system of others is a great recipe for feeling confused at best, and depressed and burnt out at worst.

A tiger is a tiger and a goat is a goat. Each one is perfectly what it is, but to demand that a tiger act as a goat or vice-versa is to demand that it operate against its nature. Same thing with humans and their values.

Animals in a state of nature have some pretty simple rules for “winning” – get enough food, reproduce, don’t get killed or maimed by other animals or forces of nature. On the other hand, winning at the game of life doesn’t mean the same thing for all humans. Our bigger brains, complex societies, and advanced technologies mean that we “domesticated primates” have a lot more options than your average feral critter to create and define what we mean by “winning”.

So what does this mean for a life coach? How do we coach players in a game that’s this complex? How do we coach someone who may not yet have created or defined the game that they are playing, even though they are already in the thick of things, getting slammed back and forth on the playing field?

One of the key differences is that a life coach works with the client to understand and define the game. A coach of a well-defined game such as football doesn’t have to work with his players to create the rules of the game – they are already codified by external authorities. All he needs to do is create strategies and tactics that empower the players on the field to score more points than the other team. Simple, but not easy.

On the other hand, as far as we know, the only unbreakable rules in the game of life are the laws of physics. Practically everything else is up for negotiation.

As such, the process of coaching needs to start with learning what the client’s deepest values are. Without knowing this, how are we to know what their definition of winning looks, sounds, and feels like?

Coaches use a range of different techniques to elicit clients’ values, and thus to assist those clients in defining what “winning” means for them.

Some of these methods are highly structured, and create a list of values in order of priority. Others are less structured and capture and identify values that emerge through the process of the coaching conversation. Both approaches have their uses.

In my coaching practice, I like to learn clients’ values through an intuitive and unstructured approach that I call the SOUL method. It consists of four basic pillars.

Shut Up – I am most effective as a coach when I allow the voice of the “monkey mind” inside to become quiet and still. This stillness is encouraged by various foundational mental and spiritual practices, including meditation, yoga, and NLP. These psycho-spiritual disciplines assist me to quiet my mind over a longer time scale (i.e. weeks, months and years) and thus make me a better coach the more I practice them.

Open Up – I create within myself an intention to be open to the client and accept them exactly as they are. Within the coaching conversation, I work to establish a space of infinite and unconditional acceptance, reducing judgment to zero. This includes thought and spoken judgment from me, as the coach, as well as self-judgment or self-criticism by the client.

Understand – I aim to understand the client exactly as they wish to be understood. I refrain from applying my own value system or beliefs, I quiet my own ego, and I honor the client from the standpoint of their own highest self-concept, and their own model of the world.

Listen – Having built the foundation and created the space for me to be truly present for the client, I can now listen effectively. Obviously, I listen to their choice of words and phrases, but I also listen for feelings, emotional tones, and, most importantly, for the core, underlying values the client expresses through their speech.

Winning is something that each individual defines for themselves, based on their own highest values. In coaching someone to win at the game of life, at their game of life, I need to ensure that I am working in alignment with the values that are most important to them.

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