The Importance of Learning and Change as an Adult

It's important for coaches to understand how clients learn, grow, and enact change in their lives. Know the science to practice the art of coaching well!

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What Life Coaches Need To Know To Support Client Growth

If a person is not happy with the status quo, it isn’t enough to think about it. The bigger question is always: "What are you going to do about it?"

It's in this space between vision and execution that people tend to get stuck. 

Some people have no problem imagining the future they want, but struggle coming up with a tactical plan for how to get there. Still others can tell you what they need to do differently, but can’t allow themselves to dream all the way into that bright and changed future.

When it’s time to shake up the status quo, that’s usually when people hire a coach. 

Coaching is effective in these moments because it bridges the gap between a person's habitual thoughts and behavior. It sets up the conditions for learning and exploration in a safe and confidential container, allowing them to work through the challenges that are bound to arise when pursuing any form of change. 

Coaching helps to connect the dots between what a person needs to do, what they need to learn, and what steps they must take in order to move into their desired future.

Learning is implicit in this process.

If your client is going to do things differently, they will be called upon to learn new things about themselves, the world around them, how others perceive them, and where their roadblocks and challenges lie. 

This can be uncomfortable. It’s also necessary to drive lasting shifts in their thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors.

As coaches, here’s what we need to be aware of in order to guide our clients through the process of learning that will lead to lasting change.

How To Support Client Learning & Growth

1. Acknowledge the emotions

As coaches, we’re conditioned to move quickly into action. However, it’s important to your client’s learning process that they have space to explore both how they feel now, and what they want to feel in the future.

Part of our work is to create a safe space to feel their feelings.

This doesn’t mean coaches are operating as therapists. What it does mean, however, is that we don’t fast forward through the difficult moments. Instead, we recognize that cultivating awareness - a coaching core competency - includes awareness of feeling states.

Even negative emotions can offer important insights. For example, when a client is working toward achieving a dream or goal, regret around the things they did or didn’t do in the past may come up.

Acknowledge those feelings. When someone is in the middle of doing hard things, it doesn’t always feel good and that’s OK. 

Positive future visioning and asking questions about how your client wants to feel versus how they feel right now are vital to the discovery process. Examples of coaching interventions you can use to support this process include:

2) Understand the behaviors 

The behaviors we observe tell us more about the whole person than we may realize. The choices your client makes encompass their past, present and future. This includes:

  • Beliefs
  • Past experiences
  • What they want for the future
  • How they see the world

What a person says or does in any given moment is the outcome of all those layers combined. If you want to stimulate truly life changing conversations in your work as a coach, you’ll need to go below the surface level of behavior to uncover what’s really driving your client’s actions.

When we move directly to “solutions” in a coaching conversation, we run the risk of missing these nuances. Change is not born of “a-has” and mental breakthroughs. Research has shown that learning and awareness alone is not a sufficient strategy for sustained behavioral change. (Stober and Grant 2006)

What actually creates change is repetition. It’s trying and stumbling and then trying again. In the space of coaching, it can take a long time to do the work of real, lasting behavioral change. It may take many sessions and lots of trial and error to address and shift deeply ingrained behaviors. 

Take the time throughout the process to examine what matters most to your client as it relates to their motivation. Understanding these factors offers you the opportunity to apply coaching theories that draw from intrinsic motivation to shape and reinforce desired change.

Coaching is an effective discipline for change because it helps your client become a better learner as they reflect on their awareness of their own thoughts and behavior over time. An important part of this is the experimentation process that takes place along the road to goal attainment. 

3) Recognize that learning and performance aren’t the same thing

Once learning has occurred, you’re ready for the next step: performance. Performance in coaching means that your client has taken something they have learned, and is starting to apply it across many different contexts.

An example of this is when a person is learning how to set boundaries. They may begin in one area of their life - at home, for example. From there, they might build up to working on boundaries at work, and in other areas of their life. 

This is hard to do without support and accountability at every step in the process!

In this context, we’re using the word performance to describe what happens when someone is able to change and reinforce new behaviors successfully. The developmental pipeline (Hicks and Peterson 1999, Peterson 2002) lays out five necessary conditions for successful and sustainable learning and change. They include:

  • Insight (learning) - the extent to which a person understands what areas need to be developed
  • Motivation - the degree to which the person is willing to invest the time and energy it takes to develop oneself and make change
  • Capabilities - the extent to which the person has the knowledge and skills needed to accomplish their goals
  • Real world practice - the extent to which the person has the opportunity to try out their new skills
  • Accountability - the extent to which there are internal and external mechanisms for paying attention to change and meaningful consequences

Want to hear how all these principles apply in a real world setting? Listen in as Lumia co-founders John Kim and Noelle Cordeaux discuss them with examples in the podcast episode!

‍Want to Become a Coach?

One of our values at Lumia is that we dare to be different. Our coaches ignore the expectations society tries to impose on them, and seek to live from their own truth instead. If you are ready to step into your power as a coach, come check out Lumia Life Coach Training. Grounded in science, our ICF accredited program features authentic instructors, a robust curriculum, and business instruction to prepare you for liftoff.

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