Coaching Myself is No Longer Working

In this blog post, I answer a question about coaching oneself, and when that stops working.

Here’s the question I received:

I tend to try and coach myself, which is never very successful. I’ve got a stubborn do-it-myself mentality that makes it difficult to think about forming a formal coaching relationship. But I’m basically at a point where I can’t keep coaching myself because it obviously isn’t working. Do you have any suggestions on how to challenge this and call my own stubborn bluff?
And my response:


You have two qualities I love, and two qualities I share with you. I find stubborn independent streaks pretty charming, and I look back on all the things that I’ve been able to do in my life because I was stubborn and independent. Those qualities can be great gifts!

On the other hand, you’re also noticing that your stubborn independence has brought you to a point where “it obviously isn’t working,” so let’s take a look at that.

(I want to make clear that there’s no rule that you have to work with a coach. Many people will choose to decide that coaching is not for them, and I trust that decision. However, you’re curious (and resistant!) about the idea of a formal coaching relationship, so I’m going to ask you a few questions about that.)

Self-Coaching – Successful or Not?

You say that coaching yourself is not very successful. I invite you to pause and ask yourself, “Is that true?”

  • In what ways is it true or not true?
  • In what areas is coaching yourself working? Great — you don’t need to work with someone else on those areas.
  • In what areas is self-coaching not working? Would you be open to speaking with someone else about those areas?

My own experience is that coaching myself is helpful, and that I function better, do more, and feel more on track overall when I’m working with a coach. In a nice symmetry, working with a coach keeps taking me further, so I get better and better at coaching myself, and I’m always being pushed. It’s like an upward spiral for me. (I’ve written previously about self-coaching.)

On Being “Stubborn” and How to Challenge It

So, if you DO think coaching is for you, but you’re still finding you’re resistant, then that’s where the coaching starts–with your resistance. A coach can prompt you to look at what your resistance is about, where it comes from, and why it’s important to you.

Some coach-like questions you might want to ask yourself:

  • What do I believe will happen if I don’t do it myself?
  • What do I believe it says about me if I ask for support from someone else?
  • Is there a pattern here? Does this do-it-myself / stubborn theme only apply to coaching, or is it a theme in my life? If it is a theme: how has it helped me, and how has it held me back?

What Is It That You Want?

Finally, I offer you the classic coach question: What is it that you want?

And: Are you getting what you want with what you’re doing now?

And: If not, are you willing to try something new in order to get what you want?

If you are willing, then perhaps it’s time to contact a coach and see what might happen. And if you’re not, then I trust you to find something else that better supports you in reaching your goals.


Laura McGrath is an Ottawa-based life coach and therapist who works with clients all over the world. If you’re considering how working with a coach might be useful for you, she is more than happy to pick up the phone and have a conversation. Get in touch.


Stories on the Head-to-Heart Journey: Working With Self-Judgment

I occasionally share stories to illustrate what a coaching session is like. While these stories are drawn from my experience working with clients, names, details, and identifying information have been altered.


D. has spent much of the last year exploring a space of mindful presence. Even while her job throws challenge after challenge at her, D. takes time to meditate, reflect, and do yoga. She knows that doing these things helps her maintain balance, openness, and calm in the midst of a hectic life.

In a recent coaching conversation, D. observed that although she was still going through the motions (taking time away from work to spend with friends, spending time on her yoga mat), her sense of peace was getting interrupted by a nagging, worrying voice in her head. I’ll call the voice Mr. Judge.

“What if you’re missing something?” Mr. Judge said. “What if you’ve forgotten something important? You don’t have time to take an evening off; you should be working!”

What I noticed in our conversation was how much energy and power Mr. Judge’s voice had. When D. talked about what Mr. Judge said in her head, D.’s voice got louder and stronger. I could tell that Mr. Judge was the one calling the shots right now.

“Here’s what I’m noticing,” I said to D. “Mr. Judge has all the power. He’s keeping you from enjoying your time off. Even when you take some time for yourself, for self-care, Mr. Judge gets in there and keeps you from really relaxing.”

“That’s true,” D. said.

“So,” I asked, “what would satisfy Mr. Judge enough that you could quiet him down, send him out for a cigarette, and get him to leave you alone for awhile?”

D. and I explored the different strategies she has for dealing with her self-judgment. As we talked about what had worked in the past, and what wasn’t working now, D. discovered that she was engaging in mental warfare with Mr. Judge. Every time he showed up, she fought back and tried to shut him up. So this week, she’s going to experiment with a new strategy: when Mr. Judge shows up, she’s going to let him say his piece. She’s not going to fight. She’s going to listen, observe, and then let him go. Rather than making inner war, she’s going to try making inner peace, knowing that if she gives mindful attention to her thoughts, they tend to lose their power over her.

P.S. For all you coach geeks out there, some of the coaching skills I was using in this conversation were:

  • Working with the “saboteur” or “Gremlin” (similarly, from a Gestalt perspective, we were working with a top dog/ underdog situation): Of the many ways there are to work with the saboteur, I chose in this call to ask D. what her saboteur needed to satisfy him, but I made sure that D. got to exercise her own power over her saboteur by choosing what she would offer him.
  • Big-A Agenda: the client’s Big-A Agenda is what brings her fulfillment, what she values, what’s important to her in the longterm. I know D.’s Big-A Agenda includes bringing peace and mindfulness into all aspects of her life. Meeting Mr. Judge with peace, rather than with war, is one way for her to continue to embody her Big-A Agenda.

Sticking With Goals

In this blog post, I answer a question about sticking with what’s most important.

Here’s the question I received:

I keep losing sight of what’s important to me. I’m struggling to set personal goals and hold myself accountable to them. For whatever reason I’m not satisfied with where I’m at right now (mainly in my working world) but having a hard time setting the boundaries of what I want to go after. When I seem to be making progress I always get distracted by things right in front of me, such as personal relationships and adventure. Any advice for how I can approach this differently?

And my response:

I hear the frustration in your words! You know you don’t want to be where you’re at, but you also don’t know where it is you want to head. It’s my hunch that you’ll need to get clear not just on “what you want to go after”, as you put it, but also how you want to be as you go after it.

With that in mind, here are the exploration questions I’ve cooked up for you…

How do you want it to be? 

  • In your ideal world, how do you operate?
  • In your ideal world, what’s important to you?
  • In your ideal world, what goals do you set and stick with?
  • In your ideal world, what boundaries do you set?
  • In your ideal world, how do you respond to distractions?
If you give yourself the gift of getting clear on how you want to be when it comes to goal-setting, accountability, and focus, then I believe it will be easier for you to start going after what you want.


Stories on the Head-to-Heart Journey: The Big-A Agenda of Realizing Potential

I occasionally share stories to illustrate what a coaching session is like. While these stories are drawn from my experience working with clients, names, details, and identifying information have been altered.

realizing potential, life coach ottawa

Image: Sam Ely and Lynn Harris, Unrealised Potential stamp, 2010

E. said he wanted coaching on procrastination. First, I got curious and asked what procrastination looks like for him. He talked about what he does and doesn’t do when he procrastinates.

I wondered what it would be like for E. if he didn’t procrastinate. He started describing what he would do, and how he would get it done, and how he would meet deadlines.

E. was starting to paint the picture of what he wanted in his life, but I didn’t have a sense yet of what made this important. So I asked, “What’s important to you about this?”

As E. answered, I heard one of those big, lightbulb, heart-stopping phrases come out of his mouth:

“I could actualize my potential.”

Wowzer, I thought! We’re not just talking about getting things done. We’re talking about this beautiful human being’s ability to realize his potential!

I echoed that back to him, telling E. that I was really appreciating the significance of what he was speaking about. I had a sense that he was feeling the significance too, so I checked that out: “How does it feel for you when you start talking about actualizing your potential?”

E. answered that indeed, he was feeling the significance of it. I imagined he could feel it even more, though, and what I wanted for him was to get a taste of what he was describing, the person he would be without procrastination.

I invited him to choose a spot in the room that would represent “the land of realizing potential”. He chose the spot, and then together we moved there. We stood there, sinking into the feeling of “realizing my potential.” When I thought he was really experiencing the vision of it, I asked, “What’s possible here?”

A huge smile broke out on E.’s face as he said, “What’s possible? Well. . . anything! What couldn’t I do from here?”

I could see he was feeling and embodying that sense of possibility, and I wanted him to get even more tangible and specific. “What might you do?” I asked.

E. started naming things he would do in this land of realizing potential. He named the things he would have time to do once he got over his procrastination tendency. He pointed out that he would have more time for his personal projects, the things he really wanted to do.

When I could see his excitement at what he could accomplish, I knew we had tapped into the vision – we had touched on what was really important to him about being able to address his procrastination. So it was time to turn back to where we had started.

From where we were standing, I asked him to look back at the chair he had left. “Over there,” I said, “sits E., a great guy who’s struggling with procrastination. As you stand here, realizing your potential, and look back at E., what’s your advice for him?”

“I guess what he doesn’t get is that just because he doesn’t want to do something doesn’t mean he should put it off, because it’s not just about doing that one thing. . . doing that one thing affects so many other things he’ll be able to do.”

“Almost like he’s not looking at the big picture?” I asked.

“Yeah! E., see the big picture!” E. said.

From there, E. and I started drafting what it would tangibly look like to take a “big picture” approach, and how he could start putting it into place, starting with spending time later that day taking on something he’d been putting off.

P.S. For all you coach geeks out there, some of the coaching skills I was using in this conversation were:

  • Curiosity: Exploring what “procrastination” looked like for E.
  • The Big-A Agenda: The little-a agenda – the topic-of-the-moment, as it were – was procrastination. But procrastination was a piece of something much bigger for E. – his Big-A Agenda was self-realization, or actualizing his potential.
  • Fulfillment coaching: In Fulfillment coaching (one of three coaching principles taught in the Co-Active coaching approach), we spend a majority of the time painting the picture of What-It-Would-Be-Like if the client achieved his/her goal. From this place of fulfillment, identifying, choosing, and committing to an action comes easily.
  • Articulating what’s going on: I took time to articulate to E. that I was appreciating the significance of what he was talking about, and took time to get him to articulate what he was experiencing as he spoke about it too.
  • Geography: I used physical movement to get E. to explore a different “geography”. When he physically stepped into “the land of realizing potential”, he got a visceral sense of what it could be like, and what it was he was aiming for.

Stories on the Head-to-Heart Journey: Taking Time to Celebrate

I occasionally share stories to illustrate what a coaching session is like. While these stories are drawn from my experience working with clients, names, details, and identifying information have been altered.

A. sent me an email before our coaching session and listed a number of things that she’d done during the week, including an amazing race she’d run, a successful team meeting at work, and taking time out from a busy day to spend some time recharging with friends on a patio.

All of these fantastic celebrations were overshadowed, however, by a difficult situation she was facing with a supervisor. As our call began, A. was about to skip over all the good stuff and dive into the challenging stuff, but I interrupted.

“Hang on! Look at all these things you have to celebrate!” I said.

“Hmmm, I guess so. . .” A. replied. “Actually, it was a pretty great week.”

“What I’m seeing,” I said, “is that even in the midst of a stressful situation at work, a situation that’s taking up a lot of your energy and causing you pain, you were still able to accomplish so much and enjoy so much in your week. That’s really something to celebrate.”

After we’d celebrated, we delved into the work situation to do some coaching around that.

Later the same day, I received this email from A.:

“Thank you for reminding me that it is okay to celebrate. . . I really didn’t take the time to consider what I’ve done recently, or to look at it as anything more than regular. It felt really good to have that validation. I’ve really been in need of that. I didn’t realize how much I needed it until you stopped this morning and acknowledged it.”

P.S. For all you coach geeks out there, some of the coaching skills I was using in this conversation were:

  • intruding – yes, I cut my client off to make a point.
  • acknowledging – I acknowledged her ability to accomplish a lot and enjoy herself even in the midst of a sticky situation.
  • celebrating – I was inviting my client to take some time to celebrate herself and what she’d done, and I was celebrating with her.

How Can I Get Support?

In this blog post, I answer a question about finding support.

Here’s the question I received:

Sometimes I feel like the whole world’s against me and no one’s on my side. How can I get some support?

And my response:

Ah, I know the feeling. For me, it’s like being crammed into a dark corner, and I raise my fists up in defensiveness. What is it like for you?

I love that you’ve recognized your need for support. Once you’ve reached out and received some support, the feeling that no one is on your side will start fading. Before exploring support, though, I want to ask a bit about “the whole world” being against you.

Is it true?

That’s one of my favourite Byron Katie questions. Whenever we notice ourselves framing things in absolutes (“the whole world’s against me”, “no one’s on my side”), it’s a clue that our thinking has taken a field trip into a world of fixed, unchangeable, absolutist beliefs. So I invite you to slow down and ask yourself, “Is it true?”

Perhaps you can think of someone who isn’t against you: maybe it’s the grocery cashier who helped pack your bags, or the bus driver who stopped to let you off, or someone who gave you a hug when you got home. In any way, little or big, can you find examples from this week of people who weren’t against you?

I know you can. And as you find those examples, your mind will start loosening its grip on the belief that it’s you against the world. And once that belief has been loosened up just a little, you can open up to exploring support.

What does support look like to you?

Support looks different to different people. What’s the type of support you need?

Some people, I’ve learned, feel supported when someone checks in with them regularly to ask how they are. Some people feel supported when they take “me-time” and go to a yoga class, or listen to music, or take a walk. Some people feel supported when they have a list of four great people on their babysitting roster.

What’s the type of support you’re yearning for?

Jot down (or doodle!) what support looks like for you.

  • How does it feel when you’re supported?
  • What do you notice around you?
  • What do you believe when you’re supported?
  • What can you count on when you’re supported?
  • What changes for you when you get support?

Get Specific

I invite you to list five to ten things that would help you feel supported.

  • Try to make these things tangible (e.g. “Jane takes out the garbage”) rather than abstract (“Jane helps out more around the house”).
  • And try to make these things statements of what you want to have happen (e.g. “Joe makes dinner on Monday”) rather than naming what you want to stop/change (e.g. “Joe stops eating all the leftovers I was going to use for my lunches this week” — that explains what you want to have stop, but not what you want to have happen instead).


I think it’s a tragedy that sometimes the people closest to us miss out on supporting us, because they don’t understand what support looks like for us. Often, they don’t understand because we’re unclear on it ourselves, or we’ve never taken the time to tell them what we need.

Do the people close to you know about your personal definition of support? Do they know you’re needing support right now?

I invite you to make the ask. I invite you to step forward, knowing what it is you need and want, and to make a specific request from someone near you for their support.

If this idea feels too daunting right now, start with something that doesn’t feel intimidating or overwhelming for you. For example, get the physical sensation of support by sitting with your back leaning against a wall, or feel supported lying in a hot bath or floating in a swimming pool. Ask someone to give you a call this week just to ask how you are. Tell someone, “I know I need support, but I’m scared / uncomfortable / reluctant / worried about asking for it.” As you make yourself vulnerable in this way, the people you’re reaching out to will see your sincere need for support, and see that you are inviting them in to help you.

It’s beautiful that you’re asking for their help. It’s beautiful that you are opening up to your honest, human, moving need: to feel supported. It’s my wish that as you learn what support you need, and how to reach out for it, that you become a role model to others around you who feel the same way.



Coaching Question: What Dream Do You Want to Share?

What dream do you want to share with the world?

Sometimes in coaching, people get a chance for the first time to say out loud a dream that they’ve been holding close to their heart. A dream that has been too precious and vulnerable to share with the world before. A dream that they’re scared might get mocked, or damaged, or criticized. (Danette Relic has a beautiful post about this, Precious Beginnings — “when a creative dream is just poking through the surface of consciousness it can feel so tender”).

When they have the safe space of coaching, this dream comes out. They hear themselves say out loud, “I want to run my own company.” “I want to go back to school.” “I want to have a child.” “I want to get married.” “I want to run for political office.” “I want to change a government policy.”

For me, it was a chance to say that I want to serve as a guide, a teacher, and a listener as people make sense of their experiences and stretch towards growth.

What dream do you want to share?


Through coaching and therapy, I help smart people to live from their hearts. If you’d like to get a taste of what this might mean for you, I invite you to get in touch.

Coaching Question: What Are You Avoiding?

What are you avoiding?

Noticing what we are avoiding can clue us in to our values

(What value are you honouring by avoiding [x]? What value would you be honouring if you paid attention to [x]?)

and show us where we need to grow

(“I could accept — rather than avoid — [x] if I grew in this way…”).


Coaches don’t just cheerlead and say warm positive fuzzy things. Oh no. We ask tough questions too. Questions such as, “What are you avoiding?”

If tough questions rock your world, get in touch so that you and I can ask and answer tough questions together.

Coaching Questions: What Do You Not Know?

What do you not know?

“Life is like that. We don’t know anything. We call something bad; we call it good. But really we just don’t know.” – Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart.

Is there something that you have been calling “good” or “bad”? What if you surrendered your perspective, and stayed in the place of not knowing?


One coaching tool I love is the Balance coaching skill of exploring perspectives. If you’re feeling stuck somewhere and would like to experiment with looking at it from new angles, get in touch to see how coaching could help you do that.

How Do I Build Confidence?

In this blog post, I answer a question about confidence.

Here’s the question I received:

I did well in school and I have a good job, but I still struggle with confidence and low self-esteem. How do I build up confidence?

And my response:

First off, I want to let you know that you’re not the only one wrestling with confidence. It’s one of the most frequent things I hear in my coaching practice, often from people who seem so outwardly successful, yet who struggle with low confidence on the inside. Sometimes I wonder what it is that causes people to put on a front of confidence when inside, I’m learning, so many of us are vulnerable and uncertain. (There’s an idea: what if you embraced your vulnerability and uncertainty instead of fighting for confidence? Something to explore…)

So, what do you mean by confidence?

I’ve learned that each individual has their own particular brand of confidence, their own personal definition.

What’s yours?

Take some time to explore it.

If you were confident:

  • How would you talk?
  • How would you stand?
  • What would you wear?
  • Where would you live?
  • Who would you surround yourself with?
  • What would your voice sound like?
  • What would someone else notice about you?
  • How would someone else describe you?

What builds confidence for you?

I invite you to survey different aspects of your life: different roles you have, different hobbies, different work you do. In which do you feel most confident?

Got one? Great.

Now think about how you came to build confidence in that area. What did it take? This example can be a clue to your personal method of building confidence.

When I look at confidence in my life, I notice that my tendency is to think that I’ll be confident when I know enough, so I try to build confidence by studying. But the evidence holds up that it’s not studying that builds my confidence: the true source of confidence for me is doing.

Check to see if you might be trying to build confidence in ways that aren’t actually supporting your confidence. What might you try instead?

Confidence through integration

I have only a few decades of life experience, but I’m fairly sure of this:

Confidence does not come from our grades at school.

Confidence does not come from our job.

It does not come from what we accomplish or achieve.

Confidence has its roots deep within an integration between our minds, our body, and our heart. When these three are in harmony, a beautiful sureness of self emerges.

Do you find yourself living in your head and ignoring your heart? Wrapped up in feelings and leaving your mind out in the cold? Pushing yourself intellectually and neglecting your physicality? Any of these may be symptoms of a lack of integration between your mind, body, and heart. Rather than seeking “confidence”, I invite you to consider seeking how to integrate these three elements, and gently observe the effects.