Why Life Coaches Should Focus On The Negative To Succeed

I posted something in the Fully Booked Coach Facebook group this week that created a certain amount of disagreement with a few people.

Here’s the post in full:

“When starting out as a coach, don’t listen to other people telling you that you’re a natural and you should definitely do it.

If you do you will be sifting for all the reasons why they’re right and only notice information that confirms your belief – this is confirmation bias.

Instead ask yourself, ‘How can I possibly fuck this up?’

Look for every possible reason you could encounter and then be sure you can deal with those before you launch a business”

Most people seemed to be on board with the spirit of what I was saying, but there were at least three people who didn’t think this was sound advice. I say at least three because they were only the ones who posted, so I suspect there were more.

The first person didn’t like the idea of focusing on the negative because that will be where your attention is and that doesn’t jive with the law of attraction.

Anybody who knows me even slightly knows that I don’t believe in the law of attraction, so that isn’t likely to influence my opinion.

1995 saw the dot com boom start. It wasn’t long before businesses starting to see the full potential of the Internet, were rushing to buy up domain names, start online ventures and reap incredible rewards.

For 5-years stock prices rose and rose as more and more companies got in on the action.

The one serious business flaw that connected most of the new ventures was that few people were pumping the brakes and even fewer were asking, ‘what on earth can possibly go wrong?’

In their rush to get a piece of the pie, business common sense and good practice was abandoned.

Hundreds of businesses were focussing on the positive whilst giving scant regard to the negative. Until that is, it was too late.

And that isn’t at all unusual.

There is a litany of companies, that are now ex-companies, because there were focussing on what was going right as opposed what could wrong.

6 thinking hats

The 6 Thinking Hats

There is a tremendous business book called ‘Six Thinking Hats’  (al)  written by Edward de Bono.

Each hat represents a different way to explore a new project or idea.

Blue looks entirely at the big picture and end goal and isn’t allowed to consider anything else.

Similarly, white only looks at the available information, yellow looks at benefits, and green creative solutions.

I have to confess in my response to the person who posted about the Law of Attraction I said that the red hat looked at danger.

My memory was playing tricks on me, red is designed to just deal with emotions and gut reactions, it’s black that’s tasked with caution and identifying potential problems.

It’s not unusual for venture capitalists and startups to have meetings in which the only purpose is to find fault with the project in question.

These types of brainstorming sessions are not negative in and of themselves. They’re a sensible and useful business practice that allows people to share concerns that otherwise may remain buried for fear of being seen as the negative person in the room.

The stories are legion of almighty fuck ups happening because people were afraid to speak out and voice their concerns.

The one dollar ‘O’ ring issue that caused the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster was known to be a potential problem to engineers before the fateful day. But nobody felt safe enough to be the person that halted a launch that would cost millions of dollars per day.

Quakers lost more than $1 billion when they bought Snapple because nobody asked, ‘But what if the other drink manufacturers just copy an idea that we cannot possibly patent?’

And Toys ‘R’ Us failed because nobody pointed out that by signing an exclusive deal to sell online only via Amazon meant that when that deal ran out they would have zero infrastructure in place to compete with their once partner. 

negative film

Businesses Don’t Fail Because They Focus On The Negative

Companies, even small one-person ones, don’t fail because people look at what can go wrong, they fail because they don’t.

The next argument that was thrown at me was from somebody who said ‘perfection is the enemy of execution’ and he went on to say focus on the positives because what you focus on expands in your life.

No it doesn’t.

Show me a shred of scientific evidence that supports that.

And don’t be tempted to mention quantum mechanics because I interviewed a quantum physicist once and he said people quoting that it supports the law of attraction have no clue what they’re talking about, because it doesn’t.

There are no doubt thousands of stories where people really focussed on one goal or desire that then came to fruition.

These stories are very shareable because they give hope and inspiration.

Who on earth doesn’t like the idea that if they are passionate and focused enough about something that it will happen?

However, there are millions of stories of people who did likewise and nothing happened, we just never get to hear about them unless they involve family or friends.

Leaving that to one side, I never even mentioned, nor thought, about perfection.

Those of you who know me understand I’m a very long way from being a perfectionist.

Looking for potential roadblocks does not mean you’re looking for perfection. It means you’re planning for all, or as many, eventualities as you can.

Finally, somebody said that I may be ‘destroying the potential of someone that is a natural’.

If my telling you to look for potential problems before you start your coaching journey has you deciding not to bother becoming a life coach, then I did you a huge favour.

If your desire and commitment are so tenuous and shaky that my saying that causes you to quit, then you’d have failed anyway. So thank me in the comments below because I just saved you a lot of time, money and frustration.

The person then went on to say that it was crazy to *just* look at the downside (my emphasis on just).

That’s not even possible and I wasn’t saying that.

To be in a position where you start to consider the potential hurdles, you MUST have already thought of the payoff of running a successful practice, otherwise, why would you bother?

So that point was moot.

Then I got asked what things a new coach should be aware of and it was that that prompted this post.

So here are some questions I think every new life coach should be asking themselves before they dive head first into coaching.

If you answer ‘yes’ to all or most of the questions relevant to you, then it sounds like you’re good to go and you can switch your focus back onto the positive.

traffic lights

What May Stop Me Being A Great Coach?

  • Can I afford coach training?
  • Do I fully understand the coaching process?
  • Can I quickly and easily build rapport with people I don’t know?
  • Do I have great listening skills?
  • Do I have a knack for asking the right question at the right time to shift people’s thinking?
  • Am I comfortable with silence?
  • Can I keep quiet and bite my tongue when I really want to offer advice to hurry the coaching process along?
  • Can I leave my beliefs and opinions to one side when I’m coaching?
  • Am I relaxed with people who think differently to me?
  • Am I okay with challenging clients when the time comes for it?
  • Have I got enough tools at my disposal if my go-to approach fails with certain clients?
  • Am I okay with walking away from some clients who I don’t think are a great fit for me?
  • Am I okay with walking away from clients when the process has come to a natural end without trying to get them to renew?
  • Am I okay with firing clients who aren’t putting the work in?
  • Do I have the drive to keep learning no matter how skilled I become?
  • Will I be able to deal with a coaching session if a client breaks down emotionally?
  • Will I be able to accept criticism from a client without it crushing my self esteem?
  • Does it take a lot to discourage me?
  • Am I in this for the long haul?
  • Who can help me understand what it is I don’t know?
  • Can I afford to hire my own coach/mentor?

pile of bricks

What May Stop Me from Building A Successful Coaching Practice? – The Basics

  • If the income from coaching is required to pay the bills, do I have enough savings to last me 6 to 12 months as I build my business?
  • Can I afford to bring in professional help?
  • Di I have a fund of money to pay for unforeseen expenses?
  • Do I understand what is required to start a business in terms of registration, opening a bank account, accepting payments, doing accounts and taxes etc?
  • Do I have the unwavering support of those closest to me?
  • Am I prepared to put in whatever hours necessary as I build my business?
  • Could working more hours strain my most important relationships?
  • Do I have a niche, or know who my ideal client is?
  • Do I have a grasp of branding and understand its importance?

lemonade stand

What May Stop Me from Building A Successful Coaching Practice? – Offline

  • Do I have people who I can call that may be able to hire me or refer me?
  • Am I happy to go out and talk to groups for free (or paid if I can get it), to help acquire clients?
  • Are my sales skills sufficient to be able to help people understand the value I can deliver?
  • Can I absorb knock-back after knock-back without a loss of enthusiasm and drive?
  • Am I prepared to cold call?
  • Will I be comfortable attending meetups or even running meetups?
  • Will I see any attempts to run events that fail as learning experiences?
  • Can I just start talking to people I have never met about coaching without vomiting with anxiety?

online marketing montage

What May Stop Me from Building A Successful Coaching Practice? – Online

  • Can I afford to hire a competent website designer?
  • If I want to design my own website do I understand design principles, SEO (search engine optimization), online conversion, UX (user experience) and UI (user interface)?
  • Do I have the time to keep on top of changes in the online world so I don’t get left behind, or have the money to pay somebody else to?
  • Do I love to write?
  • Do I feel like I have a lot to offer with my writing?
  • Do I have a client avatar that can make writing easier and more focused?
  • Am I prepared to challenge people’s thinking?
  • Am I comfortable with being criticized for what I write or say online?
  • Would I jump at the chance to be interviewed no matter who it was?
  • Am I okay with being on camera for either client sessions or vlogs etc?
  • Will having very few newsletter subscribes just urge me on to work harder?
  • Will I just smile and move on when I see people unsubscribing from my list?
  • And I okay with selling hard to my list whenever I have a product or service to offer them?
  • Do I believe enough in what I have to offer to believe that selling is more about helping people?
  • Does being authentic come naturally to me no matter what the circumstances?
  • Am I fearless about sharing negative experiences that have happened in my life?
  • Do I relish the challenge of building up an online following?
  • Am I prepared to really learn how to use just a couple of social media platforms?
  • Do I know that I have a lot to offer people online, even the people who are never likely to hire or buy from me?

There are a lot of questions above, but none should scare you.

If they do, and to the extent that you’re no longer sure if coaching is right for you then I’d suggest one final question and one I often ask new coaches who work with me.

On a scale of 0 to 10, how badly do you want to succeed as a coach?

If the answer is between 1 and 7, then quit now because you’re not going to make it.

I have enough experience with this to know that when I get a 7 or less from the client when it comes to commitment levels it NEVER happens.

If you said 8, then it will be a real tough going because you’ve left yourself 20% wiggle room and you’re not totally committed.

But if you said 9 or 10, then great because it sounds like you’re up for the challenge.

its’s tough, but like anything we achieve that’s tough, it’s well worth it.

I’d very much welcome your comments below. I know I’ll have missed a bunch of great questions so please feel free to add them and I may even go back and edit the post to make room for them.

9 thoughts on “Why Life Coaches Should Focus On The Negative To Succeed”

  1. Tim, Thank you for asking the hard questions! I personally believe phenomenal coaching comes from a coach who has a calling and an inner drive to continue learning and honing their skills. Not just for their clients, but perhaps more importantly, for themselves. Without examining the potential pitfalls and issues, I believe a person views the desire to coach through the proverbial rose-colored lens. Are there tough questions that need to be considered? Absolutely! Do some of the questions hit a nerve or produce a bit of fear? Yes! Am I willing to devote time, effort, and practice to overcome the obstacles? Will, I ignore them, or put it on the radar and move on anyway? Am I willing to FAIL at some things? How will I handle failure? What if…? Again, thanks for bringing this topic up for discussion!

    • I think the ‘calling’ and desire to help people is important, but I think it applies to so many coaches who never make a go of it.

      I frequently tell coaches that a deep desire to help other people and a belief that they were put on this earth to coach people is not a marketing strategy.

  2. Outstanding. This article speaks with experience as well as intellect . Looking at situations from both sides is a realist with savvy not a nay sayer. Unintended consequences has caused individuals, corporations and political systems great problems that could have been avoided. The phrase” if only I could have seen that coming” can be avoided 70% of the time if one bothers to stop and think about dark side of the opportunity.
    Thanks for the lists on the What May Stop Me? They are great guide posts to use in the future as well as check points. They remind us to look at the “tough” realistic side of starting our own business of coaching. We can take advantage of your experience and chose to use them, or go the path of positive affirmations and wander off into the abyss.
    Maybe cutting the wires your internet dish will continue to be fruitful for us all in the future. It will allow us the opportunity to share in your experiences as you write these type articles in the interludes. M Steele

  3. While I do believe in the Law of Attraction, I also believe in common sense. As a coach I guide my clients to look at what might get in the way of creating the life they want for themselves. Why would I not apply the same principal to my business? I am not one to focus on the negative but I do believe we need to be aware of possible obstacles so we can plan for them and minimize or eliminate any negative effect like you said. I’m pretty sure that’s called being proactive.

    • I’m not one to focus on the negative on a moment by moment basis either, but every now and then it has massive value, like when I chose to focus on the negative when encountering a coral snake recently and not deciding to pick it up 😉

  4. Great article and thanks for the checklist Tim. Definitely some areas I need to get in order but great questions to ask yourself when you need a kick up the arse.
    As coaches we question our clients about how realistic their goals are, check what obstacles might happen and prepare what they will do if/when they do happen.
    Checking the negatives is not ‘being negative’. It’s solution finding or even knowing when to quit. It’s still moving forward. As Julie Holly said above, it’s being proactive.

    • Yeh and you bring up a great point.

      It’s fascinating that we are okay with pushing out clients to delve deeper and yet we don’t always do it ourselves. That’s why I have hired a number of coaches myself!

  5. Another great article, Tim, thank you! When I began my coach training, I knew the most difficult initial work would be in *really* looking at the dark underbelly of my own self to identify how I could fuck this up, why I would fuck it up, and – most importantly – be willing to engage my own creative pragmatism. Your lists are incredibly helpful, and empowering in that I am able to see the on the list the parts of myself that I’ve gotten my hands on and wrestled with. I may not be a “baby coach” as far as the training process is concerned anymore, but I am in the stage of learning & gaining experience, and I am thrilled to see that I’ve been able to answer almost all of the questions with a solid “Yes!” Thanks again! Kathrin

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