Do you behave differently when other people are watching? I sure do. I have better table manners in a restaurant. I speak more calmly to my children when I know the neighbours are in earshot. I clean my house much more thoroughly if someone is coming over. If you’re like me, you tend to behave better when other people are watching.
You can use this tendency to its full advantage when you engage with either a therapist or a coach. How does that work? Read on...
When you engage someone to help you reach a goal, you are committing fully to that goal. You can’t set a goal, and then claim to have changed it, or that it’s not important anymore, when you’ve hired someone to help you get there. You can’t ‘forget’ that you had that goal in the first place. The foundation of a therapeutic or coaching relationship is going to somebody else and saying: ‘You know what? I need help with this thing. I’m committed enough to my goal to pay money to ensure I do reach it. That I don’t get side-tracked.’
By entering into that relationship, you’re committing to getting their help with working on whatever your goal is (whether that’s reducing anxious feelings in the supermarket or having the courage to chase your dream job). Each time you turn up, that person’s going to be asking you: what have you done about your goal this week? This expectation and knowing you’ll be asked to report back makes you far more likely to actually take action than if you simply set your own goals.
Accountability like this, where you don’t go more than a few weeks without being asked what you’re doing about your goal, sharpens your mind too. When you next have ‘free’ time, you’re more likely to check your session notes and make sure you’re doing what you said you’d do.
Even if you’re really good at goal setting, at motivating yourself and using visual reminders to keep you on track, a person external to you just adds that extra edge of accountability. After all, it’d always be my intention to have good manners, speak calmly to my children, and to have a clean house. But someone watching just gives that extra push. You manage to do better than you thought you could.
Some forms of therapy, and the original blue print that coaching is based on, are built on the idea that you (the client) are the own expert in your life. These forms of relationships focus on asking you questions, and you discovering the answers to those questions for yourself. The idea is that you don’t need anyone telling you what to do, that you are the own expert in your life and have the answers within you, as long as you have the right person asking the right questions to help you dig them out.
I disagree! At least partly. I definitely agree that you know your own life better than someone else, and that you are a smart cookie who deep, down, knows what you want. But I don’t think you have all the answers within you. I think you’re missing the expert knowledge about how to get to the places you want to go. The how doesn’t just reside inside us: experts have to study and learn (and keep studying and learning) to find the right techniques that get you to what you want.
So hire someone who can do both. Who knows how to ask questions to bring out what you do know, but who can also combine this with their own knowledge, and/or what research has shown actually works, to help you reach your goal. Knowledge is power. Get the most power by combining your knowledge with someone else’s.
Encouragement is difficult to get just from yourself and difficult to get consistently without deliberately asking your loved ones. A therapist or coach is being paid to encourage and motivate you, so you can guarantee you’ll get consistent, positive pushes. This kind of external cheerleading makes a particularly big difference to keeping you motivated if your goal feels big and hard to get to.
Plus, psychological research has found that the relationship a person has with their therapist matters much more to a successful therapy outcome than any other factor. Feeling understood by your therapist, that the therapist is on your side, is the biggest factor influencing therapy’s success. You need to feel like you trust your psychologist or coach enough to give you good guidance, and that your success really matters to them. That way, the encouragement feels real, and powerful, and will push you to reach your goals.
Nothing Else Works
Most people don’t hire an expert unless they have to. We love to see if we can do it ourselves first. This is a good thing: it suggests a level of self-confidence! But as the lopsided jean cut-offs in my wardrobe will show you, just because we’d like to be good at something (for me that’d be sewing!), doesn’t mean that we are. We can’t all be experts in everything, and there’s no need to be.
So if you can shift the weight without a personal trainer, then save the money. If you can conquer your fears without a psychologist, then go forth and conquer! And if you don’t need a coach to help you reach your goals, then New Year’s must be a really exciting time for you, and I’d love to see what you achieve this year.
But if you’ve tried and failed (several times) to reach something that’s important to you, then please, consider hiring a therapist or coach. One that you get on with, one that has some expert knowledge.
Make the commitment: if you want to reach your goal, it’s worth the money. And don’t let time or distance be a factor: there are people, such as myself, who offer therapy and coaching services both online and via telephone, so no more excuses!
Not sure if you need a therapist or coach? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with what you’re struggling with, and I can help you to make the right decision.
Lana Hall, Psychologist. Helping you to live your best life, using the power of psychology.