It’s not often that a relatively unknown tennis player beats seven top-20 opponents in the space of 12 months. But that’s what Johanna Konta has done. Having started last year 146th in the world, the Sydney-born 24-year-old is now set to climb into the top 40.
Success like that doesn’t come easy, and last month it was revealed that Konta has used a mind coach since October 2014: the athlete was spending two hours a week with Juan Coto, a former business consultant, to build up the mental toughness needed to win.
Even hard-rocking band Metallica famously used Phil Towle, a ‘personal enhancement coach’, to help them when the band was falling apart in the early noughties.
Oprah Winfrey and Richard Branson have used mind coaches to accelerate their success, as have countless other celebrities, among them actress Nia Long and singers Kelly Rowland and Leona Lewis. Even hard-rocking band Metallica famously used Phil Towle, a ‘personal enhancement coach’, to help them when the band was falling apart in the early noughties.
Despite the financial crisis, demand for coaches – who charge anywhere between £50 and £250 a session – is soaring, with an estimated 7,000 coaches in the UK alone. Globally, the International Coaching Federation (ICF) has seen a staggering 50% rise in membership in the last five years.
Now, a leading happiness expert is claiming that a mind coach could be the missing link between us and success – in work, money and love. Paul Dolan, a behavioural scientist at London School of Economics and the author of the bestselling book Happiness By Design, says: “Just as people have for years been employing personal trainers to help them get fit and lose weight, so too achieving goals can be accelerated by using an advisor or coach to apply similiar principles to success in life.”
The difficulty we have in sticking to the goals we set ourselves, he suggests, can be explained by behavioural science, which sees the brain as having two systems. “System one governs the fast, automatic processes we do without even knowing we’re doing them and system two, the slow, deliberate moves we make thanks to having rationally thought about them,” explains Dolan, 47, who lives in Hove with his wife Lesley, 35 and two children, Poppy, seven and Stanley, six.
The trouble, he adds, is that “you’re making between two and 10,000 decisions each day and most of those are made for you automatically by your system one brain. If you choose them wisely, a coach can intervene on these automatic ‘habit loops’ and give you the small, practical, daily strategies to create new ones, as well as the feedback on when you’re getting closer to achieving your goals. Feedback is key.”
Most people know they need to set challenging but achievable goals and then break them down into bite-sized chunks. “But we also need feedback on the small achievements. So, just as a personal trainer might count up your reps on bicep curls from one to five and then backwards from 10, a mind coach can help you achieve a goal by giving you feedback on small percentages achieved, for example when you’ve reached 10% of the goal, 20%, and then, once you’re halfway there, countdown with 50% to go, 40% and so on,” he says.
Coaching is about the future, whereas the focus on psychotherapy is often on resolving difficulties arising from the past
Magdalena M. Nook, chief executive of the ICF
So what more do coaches actually do that a therapist doesn’t? “Coaching is about the future, whereas the focus on psychotherapy is often on resolving difficulties arising from the past,” says Magdalena M. Nook, chief executive of the ICF. Another key distinction is managing progress and accountability. So, once the action plan has been made, the coach can hold the client to account on all the little things he/she has agreed to do each day, she explains. A personal trainer might hold you to account just by being there and shouting until you lift that extra weight or run that extra mile. A mind coach would play a similar role but by using tactics such as “daily reminders, pictures on the fridge, mindfulness practices or a 30-day log or diary outlining exactly how and when [the client] did the steps on the plan to their goal,” says Gill Fennings-Monkman, chair of the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy’s (BACP) coaching branch.
Interestingly, ICF figures from 2014 showed that men were more likely than women to seek the help of a coach for such issues as optimising work performance, increasing self-confidence and improving business strategies. “Men might see the idea of having therapy as a sign of weakness but be perfectly fine with the idea of seeing a coach because they might assume having therapy suggests they have deep problems,” says Fennings-Monkman.
Coaching is a relatively new and unregulated field, with few checks and balances in place to ensure you’re not getting someone un- or under-qualified at best and downright shady at worst
But buyer beware: coaching is a relatively new and unregulated field, with few checks and balances in place to ensure you’re not getting someone unqualified.
No mind coach, of course, can promise to make you a global tennis star overnight – a few other contributing factors are required for that. But, if chosen carefully, they just might help you edge a step or two closer to that elusive goal, be it saving a few quid, losing a few pounds or finally starting that business you’ve dreamed of.
Five ways to be your own mind coach
The practices Paul Dolan says can help you reach your goals
1- Make implentation intentions – plan the tiny, daily steps towards your goal, not just the goal itself.
2- Practise mental contrasting – visualise obstacles that will get in the way and how you’re going to overcome them.
3- Set goals within a range – for example, ‘I’m going to save between £100 and £300 a month’ instead of the all-or-nothing mindset of ‘I will save £250 each month’.
4- Know the law of small numbers – frame your goal in small chunks and reward yourself for completing 10%, 20%, 30% and so on, towards it.
5- Use technology for motivation- try a life coaching app or, if you want to lose weight, something like My Fitness Pal can make you accountable by acting like a pocket diet coach. This helps you see what you’ve achieved too, which can be motivating.
Anna Magee is the editor of healthista.com