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Is it possible to systematically change one’s life for the better? Is there a method or system for precise life transformation?

These are the kinds of questions the field of life coaching attempts to answer. But can life coaching really help someone be more successful?

I sat down with Solari, a certified life coach, to gain insights into the field of life coaching: what it is, how it works, and how it can help people transform their lives.

So, what exactly is life coaching?

To me, life coaching is, if you have a piece of knowledge that has helped you better yourself, it’s a means of sharing that with other people. So, people like Tony Robbins have managed to get something working in their life, right? Typically, what they will do is go out and basically share this with other people. And it becomes a profession in itself, but it’s about what’s had value for them personally, and what would help other people.

To me, that’s what life coaching is, essentially the practice of finding your value and sharing it with people.

So, based on that, how would you say life coaching helps individuals transform their lives?

The way I would describe it is, certain people hit certain walls in their lives, and I think sometimes hearing the perspective of somebody who’s overcome such a hurdle or been able to make something work for themselves, can have something to offer and to help people get unstuck. Particularly if they’ve been in that space.

That’s probably one of the keys of life coaching. A lot of people associate it with massively successful coaches. They think of Tony Robbins or somebody like that, and go “oh, he’s so successful, people spend hundreds of thousands of dollars for his time.” All that kind of stuff. They see all of the great things that he is now, but not a lot of them really realize that you kind of have to have both, both failure and success. You have to have started in a place where this wasn’t working for you, and know a path to get from one to the other.

So I think coaching is also being able to see that path, and being able to have some ways to grow. It’s never one size fits all. But one way in which one person can get from one way to another, is helpful for people.

How did you get into life coaching, and how has that journey helped you improve your life?

It’s actually interesting, speaking of starting in one place and ending in another: I was an extremely egoic person back in college and before that. It took some really rough backlash from all of that, I suffered a lot of ego death and I was unemployed for a long, long time. I was fortunate enough to have someone in my life who was doing this sort of coaching work for me. He put the right materials in front of me and I absorbed them, and—I think partly because I was going through so much ego death—it was easy for me to set aside any sort of skepticism I had and just absorb, because I realized I didn’t know what I was doing in life. And that was when I hit my own transformation.

Once I did that, I understood things from a different perspective, and I felt that it was helpful to share that perspective with others. Even then, it took me a long time to have confidence for that, because I was still in a state of, “Well, what the hell do I know?” Even though I had had this transformation, it took me a while to figure out the nuts and bolts of it, and how did it come about, and how can I share that in a way that’s helpful for others.

Regarding your journey as a life coach, did you study at a certain school or system of life coaching?

I studied under other life coaches. I did go for a couple different certifications, but that stuff is kind of the wild wild west. It’s not like you go to a particular university and get a degree or anything like that. People have varying levels of quality of these courses and how useful they are.

Touching on that, a big appeal of life coaching, both receiving and giving, was being an alternative to more traditional therapy and that kind of thing. I definitely had tried that for decades, and had it just be disastrous in results. I started to realize that, just because people have this authority, and we give them whatever little plaque that says they have that authority, doesn’t mean they are necessarily always doing healing. Or that their sort of healing will necessarily work for you. I don’t want to say that nobody gets anything out of therapy, that’s ridiculous, lots of people do. It’s just not for everyone.

Would you say coaching is a good collaborative system alongside traditional therapy?

I think it can be. I don’t want to say it’s a replacement, I think if someone is really going through something really serious, they should see a therapist. But I think when you’re talking about fulfilling dreams and aspirations, I’ve noticed a difference between life coaching and therapy and the orientation of them, so to speak.

Therapy is, I don’t mean this in a bad way, but I find it to be negatively-oriented; it’s a lot about what’s wrong with you, and how you cope with what’s wrong with you, and how you manage problems. The part of it that I really found destructive is the sort of foregone conclusion that “this is something you’ll always deal with,” that it’s a lifelong process, all that kind of stuff, I find that that’s very fatalistic. And one of the appeals of life coaching is it’s very much focused on positivism. What can you achieve, how can you break through this, or move past it, or get to a place where you feel truly successful, as opposed to just managing what feels like a deficiency or fault.

Maybe this is just my own perspective, but I personally feel like the world appears to be much more cynical and negative than it used to be. Why do you think there’s so much pervasive cynicism, in media, in entertainment and online? Do you think coaching could help address these pain points in society?

Perhaps. You’re bringing up something which I think is a key point of life coaching, and also a key to what’s going on in the world.

Even though [in coaching] we focus on the positive, I don’t want to make it out to seem like we ignore the negative and put it in a box and go “Oh Yay! I’m going to have my huge house and successful career! LOL!” It doesn’t really work like that. In order for people to make progress, sometimes they have to confront something that’s completely wrong to begin with. Sometimes when somebody is in that state of avoiding and pretending, the kind where you’re just posting all these inspirational memes online while meanwhile inside you feel like you’re dying. Pointing out that what you’re presenting and what you’re feeling are very different. You need to focus on what you’re actually feeling.

How this relates to cynicism lately, I felt this far before the election, but the election definitely seemed to be a tipping point of mass awareness. People seemed to have this shadow that they weren’t addressing. Even in progressive communities, supposedly forward-moving, high-minded, idealistic communities, that they carried with them a deep agreement with stuff they were protesting against. I’d see this in all sorts of places. So there’s that. And there’s also other problems that started to exacerbate.

We had all of this fake money pumped into our economy, to pretend that that crash in 2008 didn’t signal a serious problem. So we had this kind of artificial growth going on, at the expense of an entire generation of people. So there’s a lot of anger around that, that was being covered up. So I think what happened in 2016 is we pulled that mask off. I think finally pulling off that mask and seeing who we really are was demoralizing for a lot of people. I think a lot of the cynicism comes from people really looking at themselves and not necessarily finding it to be as deep or attractive a picture.

And I also think that while yes, there is a higher level of cynicism, I also think there’s a big pushback against that cynicism. I see people participating in ways they never have before, I see people having conversations they’ve never had before. There’s a lot of actual forward progress even in the face of all this negativity and terribleness. I think it’s a kind of bitter pill.    

Do you think part of the philosophy of life coaching is helping the world heal, one person at a time? Is that how coaches approach healing?

I don’t know if it’s how all coaches approach healing. It’s how I approach healing. Part of my breakthrough was a strong sense of unity, feeling like a unity consciousness. Feeling like everyone is one, and so to help one person is to help everyone. That was what got me into it, that was the belief that I walked out of that with. I’m not sure everybody does that for that reason, but that’s why I do it.

How important is it that a life coach be “certified” by an external organization? Do you or do you not think that a life coaching certification makes someone a better life coach?

I feel like we don’t have the infrastructure in place for that to be a meaningful designation currently. There are a couple schools out there. But it’s hard to systematize these things, because it’s such an individually tailored experience. I tend to think of certifications as a good thing, that it’s better to have them than to not have them, there’s no arguing with that. But is it as useful as a BA in Psychology, or having a psychiatrist, or being a licensed psychologist, I can’t say there’s the same rigor in [a life coaching certification]. I think people are still developing it. Psychiatry and psychology have been around for a long long time, for a couple hundred years.

Life coaching is still a new field. Like any new field, it’s figuring out what the rules are, what’s considered good, what isn’t considered good. New stuff always goes through this phase of finding itself.

What do you think is the most important thing for people to know about life coaching?

It can be transformative. I wouldn’t say it’s in a place where you can totally rely on it to transform you. Think of life coaching as something that may work. And people certainly do have wonderful experiences with it. But if you go into it with an idea like, “This is a systematic thing that will always end up in a certain amount [of benefit],” I think people will tend to get disappointed.

So would you say you get out of life coaching what you put into it?

Kind of. The simple answer to that is yes. How much you put into it definitely has a huge sway on how much coaching ends up doing for you.

At the same time, I’ve heard skeptics put that in the light of, “Oh well, that’s just a convenient excuse for you to blame people for their own lack of progress.” And I think that’s another signal that people need to work on themselves. Sure, you can go and see people for help, and find help. I’ve seen this be true for life coaches, I’ve experienced it being true with psychiatrists. If you go in there and expect someone to just fix you, and it’s on them to fix you, and it doesn’t really matter what you do or don’t do, and have this expectation that it’s all on the person who’s curing you or healing you. That is a terrible attitude and people tend to have negative results when they have it. Because at the end of the day, you can’t even pay anyone enough to be more on “Team You” than you. If you’re not putting in the effort, you’re not going to get results.

How do the concepts of “manifestation” and the “Law of Attraction” relate to life coaching?

For one thing, it’s a very specific kind of topic that some life coaches deal with.

I think people have this idea that life coaches are just people who tell you to quit your job and make vision boards and imagine your life being different. I don’t think it’s always like that.

I definitely have serious conversations about nutrition and diet with my coach, and none of that is very subjective like any sort of “Law of Attraction” idea is, it’s objective. It’s “you eat this thing and you bear this consequence for it. Acknowledge that, please.” So I think the “Law of Attraction” is a topic that some life coaches cover, that’s kind of the relationships I see with it.

Again, it’s one of these things that’s very difficult to teach someone. I’m always skeptical of people who will tell you, “Study with me and in 10 weeks you’ll experience a breakthrough in the Law of Attraction.” The concept of “Law of Attraction” is a very personal, almost sacred relationship that you have with the universe. So developing that isn’t going to look the same for every single person. It’s almost impossible to come up with a systematic set of steps to make that work for yourself.

What you can do is, on an individual basis, gauge where someone is at, and see what might work best for them. Because visualizing stacks of money might work great for someone who works on Wall Street, but visualizing stacks of money might feel very far away for someone who maybe teaches for a living, and for whom most of their life isn’t really about that. It can be very personal on how to make that sort of concept work for you.

What if people are skeptical and kind of turned off by the “Law of Attraction” concept? Can people still use the practice and principles of life coaching to transform their lives?

Sure. Like I said, it’s a topic that some life coaches cover, but it is not strictly bound to life coaching. That sounds like a misconception to me.

So in your opinion, do you think it’s valuable for skeptical people as well?

It depends on the degree and nature of their skepticism.  Certainly some people are capable of being skeptical of something, yet at the same time open to it. Which is what I think you have to be in order to get something out of life coaching, if you’re going to enter the process from the point of view of skepticism.

But there are some people for whom skepticism is basically a code for “I don’t believe it and nothing will make me.” And for those people, well then, it’s not going to work.

It depends on how that person defines skepticism, if you’re out there to prove it wrong, as opposed to saying, “I’m not going to assume this is true, but show me.” Those are two very different points of view, but both can also be labeled skepticism.

Tell me a bit about the concepts of limiting beliefs. What do you think are the most common limiting beliefs people have?

This is important, if we’re going to go into this “Law of Attraction” thing. It doesn’t have to be fully about the “Law of Attraction,” but that concept has very much to do with beliefs. The way people think of it is that your life is determined by thoughts. So if you just think positive, your life will become positive. But beliefs are probably way more influential in that than individual thoughts.

You can sit here and say, “I’m going to wake up with a million dollars tomorrow,” and believe: “I’m going to be poor.” And if you have those two things, the thought and the belief, the belief will win. So the way I think of it is, a belief is something you hold dear. It’s something you hold within yourself, and affects the way you define your entire life. If you told a devout religious person that God doesn’t exist, it would challenge their beliefs, it wouldn’t challenge their thoughts necessarily. It’s something that they strongly believe is fundamental about the world.

So a limiting belief people will have is something like: “I can’t go out and make money.” Or, “I’m ugly.” Or, “I’m incompetent at this or that.” Or, “I’m a bad friend.” These are examples of a limiting belief. Because somebody will believe those things, and then a couple of different things happen. To take advantage of the style of “magical beliefs” type stuff, If you believe that you can’t make money, you’re not going to try. If you believe you’re a bad friend, you’ll act like a bad friend, you’ll give yourself license to do bad friend things.

On top of that, people around you can kind of tell what your beliefs are. Think of any friend you have, and you can probably describe what their core beliefs are on some level. So if somebody believes they’re a bad friend, other people tend to just agree: “OK, you’re a bad friend. You know you better than I know you.” They give them these expectations now, so now they have expectations coming both from within and now from without, that are self-confirming, and cordoning them off into a certain social reality that they probably wouldn’t experience if they didn’t have that belief.  So changing beliefs is probably the most powerful thing.

This is one of the things that I think makes the “Law of Attraction” powerful. If you stop thinking of it as a magical thing, and start thinking of it as a kind of shorthand for: “I believe something and therefore I act on it, and therefore other people perceive it, and my whole life shifts around that. Just from simply people observing me and the way I behave, based on that belief.”

That’s where the sort of realness comes in, for the “Law of Attraction” concept. If you change a belief, and you do the work (and it IS work, oh my God it’s a lot of work), to shift and think: “Hey, you know what, anyone can make money, including me.” Or “Hey, I can be a good friend.” Maybe I have to practice something to make myself believe that, to make others believe that, and for it to just be true. That’s going to change your reality, how you interact with other people, how they interact with you. It will be this self-confirming thing. It will feel like, “Oh I manifested it.” But really what happened is, you decided to act differently, and to believe different things, others decided to believe those things with you, and it became real. If you want to think of it purely in an objective point of view, that’s how it works.

Is there anything else you think is important for people to know?

I think it’s important to have a Yin and Yang view of everything. There’s a strong urge for a lot of people to want everything to be good and friction-free in their lives, and a lot of this is striving towards that. But everybody has challenges, and that’s a part of life. And it’s an important part of life. Challenges help us grow.

I think especially given all the cynicism that people are going through, it’s easy to feel like: “Oh, life is bullshit, we’re all just going to kill each other and go extinct as a species.” I think we can choose to say instead: “Hey, this is a challenge, and this is going to help us become better than what we were.” Just like everything else. That’s an important perspective to have, if we want to make something good out of life. Challenges make us better, they don’t make us worse, unless we let them destroy us.

Jenny Zaret

Jenny Zaret is a writer and instructional designer living in Maryland. She watches more than the recommended daily allowance of anime.

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