Coaching self-talk

As coaches, we often support clients, through our non-judgmental listening, observations and questions, to become aware of what they are saying to themselves about themselves and their circumstances. This is commonly referred to as “self-talk.”

There are circumstances in life we can’t change, and certainly events in life that are difficult and painful. Yet even challenging circumstances can perhaps be tolerated or even embraced, by doing what we can to consciously determine how we talk to ourselves and others about such circumstances.

I’m reminded of a famous quote;

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” ~ Viktor Frankl

Viktor Frankl suffered horrific physical and mental atrocities in the Holocaust. Yet he survived Nazi concentration camps and a large part was by focusing on what was in his control; his behavior, his attitude and the meaning he was giving to what was occurring to him. His book, “Man’s Search for Meaning” is an incredible testament to his will to take charge of his mental and emotional self, because he couldn’t control his physical reality.

While this is an extreme example, a similar approach is often the opportunity when coaching a client;

  • Whatever is occurring for a client, to first become aware of and present to current circumstances and how they are speaking about, thinking about and feeling about their circumstances.
  • Then for the client to determine what they can or are willing to change about their circumstances.
  • Whatever the client cannot change right now, then to examine how they are speaking about their circumstances to themselves and others. As well as consider how to reduce or eliminate emotional and feeling energy that might drain or deplete them.


Examine self-talk and experiment with different words and feelings

Self-talk can increase stress, anxiety and worry. Or the opposite; it can increase calm, confidence and peace of mind. The words we say to others matter; the words and phrases we use to speak to ourselves about ourselves matter as well, and can greatly impact our physical, mental, and emotional well being.

By first becoming aware of what we are saying to ourselves, we can then consider if there are other ways to speak about the same circumstances, in ways that improve our experience of the circumstances.

For example, I’ve been experiencing hip pain for a while now, and while there may be age-related or physical reasons (of which I’ve been actively investigating) and I’m working on what I can do, there’s also my self-talk about the pain.

I can use other words instead of pain and notice if it changes my emotional experience of the pain, including lessening worry while increasing calmness, peace and acceptance.

Alternative words for pain could be ache, sensation or pulsation (this last word idea emerged in a coaching session with my coach 😊).

Here are some options for how I can be speaking to myself about the physical hip pain;

  • I feel pain in my hip region.
  • There’s a “sensation” in my hip area.
  • There’s a “pulsation” feeling in my hip area.

As I say each of these, I notice the impact on me. Saying sensation or pulsation has a different impact on me than saying pain, including an emotional shift.

The pain in my hip area isn’t constant, so I can further refine what I say;

  • “Periodically” I’m aware of pain in my hip area.
  • “Occasionally” there’s a sensation in my hip area.
  • “Sometimes” I notice a pulsing feeling in my hip area.
  • I’m “yet” to find the source of the sensation in my hip area.

Notice the use of “yet” which opens the options in my brain and emotions that there is a possibility for change, which just hasn’t happened “yet.”

There’s a balance between acknowledging what is occurring, while holding open the possibility for the circumstance to change. I don’t want to deny or pretend current circumstances aren’t occurring. At the same time, I want to be open to change occurring. If I pretend reality isn’t happening, I’m not living in the present.

Words that may open possibility without denying current reality include yet, perhaps, seems.

Examples using these words;

  • The sensation in my hip area seems real, yet there’s a possibility it’s not.
  • Perhaps the pulsation feeling in my hip area is temporary.


Listen for client self-talk

The examples I’ve given are personal and involve working with pain, yet equally apply to a client in any life circumstance that isn’t (yet) the way they’d like.

Examples include:

  • Deciding when to leave a job, a relationship, a country, a city.
  • Being in a new job, relationship, country, or city.
  • Wanting a promotion.
  • Wanting to be a better leader.
  • Wanting to be a better partner or parent.

Assuming client isn’t able to change jobs right now and wants to be happier in their current job. Questions a coach might ask;

  • What about your job brings you happiness?
  • What about your job are you not happy with?
  • What can you change about your job?
  • What can’t you change about your job?
  • If you choose to stay in your job, what can support you to embrace your choice?

As the client responds to such questions, coach listens for the way the client is speaking about themselves. Coach might observe to the client their words, emotions, facial or body shifts.

For example:

As you spoke of what you’re not happy with about your job, your shoulders slumped forward. If your shoulders could speak, what might they want to say right now?

You said there is nothing about your job that you like right now. What else are you saying to yourself about your job?

Given you are choosing to stay in this job right now, how might you embrace that choice fully?

What other beliefs could you have about your job? (Note: self-talk often reveals beliefs)


Self-talk about preparing for an ICF Credential

I engage with a lot of mentor coaching clients preparing for their ACC, PCC, or MCC credential application. I hear a lot of self-talk coaches have about their ability to engage fully in the learning process, their ability to find clients to record coaching sessions, or their ability to practice coaching skills at their next level of development.

Supportive self-talk might include:

  • I have confidence in my ability to learn.
  • I choose to become even better as a coach.
  • I’m a work-in-progress, developing myself and my coaching to the next level.
  • I’m working on upgrading my coaching skills at the pace that is best for me.
  • I haven’t found clients to record coaching sessions with “yet” and will continue to actively seek.


Gratitude, and closing….

“Create the kind of self that you will be happy to live with all your life.” ~ Golda Meir

By working with our self-talk, we are practicing for working with coaching clients. Self-talk can also reveal beliefs.

Consider a circumstance in your life that isn’t as you want it to be (yet 😊). Examine self-talk, and also if the self-talk is revealing beliefs. If you read this article again through the lens of beliefs, what more is revealed to you about self-talk?

One good use of self-talk is expressing gratitude for what we already have or who we already are. Gratitude is a habit anyone can practice daily, to focus on what is good and working in our life, which reinforces looking for the good in life…

I’ll leave you with some of my daily gratitude statements I say every morning as I begin my day. As I say these, I feel the gratitude in my heart, my body, my mind;

I’m grateful for my health.

I’m grateful for my husband Michael.

I’m grateful for my home.

I’m grateful for my happiness.

I’m grateful for my wealth.

I’m grateful for my work.

I’m grateful…

Written by Carly Anderson, MCC


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