Coaching Yourself

by Melanie Greene

When to coach yourself

You might imagine that the time to start coaching yourself comes when you make a mistake, but this is not so.


Is it possible to learn from successes as well as failures?

The answer is yes. In fact, it is essential if you are going to repeat those successes and maintain good performance. By coaching yourself, you can identify exactly why something went well, what it was that you did that made the difference and how you can repeat it in future situations.

Successful people usually realise that their success does not happen by chance; they often talk about ‘creating my own luck’. What they mean is that success or so-called luck comes about through careful research, meticulous preparation and skilful behaviour. If you are going to continue to have successes, you need to learn what created them in the first place, so that you can repeat that behaviour and enjoy repeated successes.

This could involve day-to-day situations, such as a meeting well chaired or a difficult conversation with a customer handled well. Or you might be looking at longer-term projects that you have successfully carried out (these are usually the result of a number of repeated successes that built up to the overall success).

Think about situations where you have been successful and ones that have not gone so well: what was the difference that made the difference?

Often, it is something internal to you in terms of how you were thinking and feeling – something that enabled you to say and do the right thing at the right time, leading to the success.

Learning from success is a skill in itself. It involves getting beyond basking in the glow of your success and thinking critically about how it happened.

What successes have you had recently that you want to learn from?

Mistakes, failures

Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm

Winston Churchill

Do you revisit mistakes and failures to learn from them?

Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything.

Albert Einstein

Some people find it difficult to learn from failures because they spend so long beating themselves up or feeling foolish that they don’t actually learn from these experiences and therefore avoid them in the future. The page on Mastering your inner critic will help you to debrief in a balanced way that will assist you in learning from the experience when things go wrong.

We are all human; we all make mistakes at times. However, the biggest mistake that we can make is when we fail to learn from these situations. Many successful inventors and business people have a history of ‘failures’ and bankruptcies behind them. However, they picked themselves up; learned what there was to learn, and eventually won through.

Success is 99 per cent failure.

Soichiro Honda – founder of Honda

What mistakes have you made recently that you want to learn from?

How do you respond to your mistakes?

With fear, humiliation, anger, shame? All these negative feelings get in the way of learning from the situation. The page on Realistic and constructive debriefing in this topic will help you to learn from mistakes.

In-between times

Most of life is not a roaring success or a failure; it is just in between or average. But how do we turn average performance into high performance? Coaching yourself can assist you in doing this. As you review your day-to-day activities, ask yourself:

  • Are there better ways of doing this?
  • Are there other people who are really good at this and who I can learn from?
  • How can I get better at this; what skills do I need to learn or what behaviour do I need to change?
  • Is there a completely different approach I can take?
  • Are there things I can delegate or let go of?
  • What do I do well? Can I do more of this?
  • What strengths do I have? Am I fully utilising these?

Challenging times

There are times, either in our work or our personal life (and if we are unlucky they might happen together), when things are challenging. There may be deadlines to be met, organisational changes happening, audits taking place, house moves, children’s exams, illness in the family – and the list can go on.

We can feel at such times that we have enough on our plate without taking on more tasks, but self coaching can help you to support yourself and stay on top of everything. Check in with yourself, asking some pertinent questions to check that you are at your best and doing things in the wisest of ways. This can ensure that you maintain your performance levels, even during challenging times.

In fact, self coaching can make the difference between working effectively under pressure and becoming stressed. The latter is to be avoided, as it will only add to the challenges you face. See the Stress Management topic for more information on this.

When you feel you are coasting

Perhaps you have been doing the same job for a while, in the organisation for a long time or you are just not feeling stretched or challenged by what you do from day to day. If this is true for you, coaching yourself can be used in three different ways:

  1. To develop your skills and your motivation to apply for promotion
  2. To develop your skills and your motivation to expand your current role, increasing your performance (and maybe your pay!)
  3. To increase your interest and job satisfaction.

Whichever is the case, by coaching and developing yourself, you will feel better about yourself and your situation, while if you simply coast you are likely to end up dissatisfied and demotivated.

When you feel demotivated, dissatisfied

This may be linked to the coasting scenario described above or there may be other causes of your demotivation and dissatisfaction, and these could lie within or outside your work.

You have a choice to either sit with it and stay stuck, or do something about it through coaching yourself.

Before, during and after other development activities

Once you have the habit of coaching yourself, you will be planning out what you want to learn and where you might use your learning before choosing and attending a development programme. Sometimes people choose to attend workshops that are not really relevant because they have not thought through what their needs are and whether the programme will meet them.

During or after a programme, especially if it takes place over a period of time, self coaching can assist you with applying your learning back at work and further developing your skills. For example, coaching yourself would assist you in getting more from attending a management development programme, as you would be observing and reflecting on your behaviour, both during the programme and back at work.

You will definitely get more for your money and learn more when you combine coaching yourself with other development activities.

During technical training

Whether what you are learning is technical or non-technical, the self coaching habit will help you to reflect on what you learn and consider how to apply it in the work place.

If you are undertaking CPD as part of your professional development, coaching yourself will also assist you with this process. With CPD, you need to be able to reflect on your learning so you can report on what you have learned from the activities you have undertaken.

Preparing for appraisals

Firstly, coaching yourself will help you to prepare and take an active part in any appraisal or performance management process, as you will have a clearer understanding of your strengths, areas for development and lessons learned.

Secondly, in most organisations, managers take into account any learning and development that has resulted from coaching yourself. You might want to discuss with your manager how both of you can weave this into the appraisal and performance management process.

Nowadays, most appraisals and performance management meetings are meant to be a two-way process, with the person who is being appraised talking about their own assessment of their strengths and development needs. It will be much easier for you to do this if you have been going through a process of coaching yourself in the preceding six to 12 months.

If, as part of the self coaching process, you have been asking for and using feedback, this will also make the appraisal process easier – hopefully, with no surprises either for you or your manager. If you have been coaching yourself, you will be ready to contribute your thoughts and experiences, and challenge any feedback from your manager that you do not agree with.

Preparing for interviews

As with preparing for appraisals, you will be more aware of your strengths and have examples to share with interviewers if you have been regularly coaching yourself. Also, it is likely that any interviewer will also be interested in your coaching process and appreciate the fact that you are proactive in your own development and take action on a regular basis to enhance your skills and performance.