Consistent self-coaching starts with self-engagement, which I define as both a fundamental attitude toward ourselves and an ongoing process of regularly engaging ourselves in conversation in one way or another.
The attitude involves 1) seeing ourselves as a work-in-progress and being open to learning and growth, 2) adopting a mindset about ourselves that supports these goals, and 3) obtaining the necessary critical distance from ourselves to be able to observe and reflect upon our experiences, while also fully inhabiting those experiences in the moment. In a sense, adopting this attitude of self-engagement is the first step in taking ourselves on as "self-coaching clients."
The process will take a different form for each of us, and can take different forms at various times over the course of our self-coaching experience, but in its simplest form we can define it as "regular conversations" or, perhaps, "habitual journaling":
Regular (or Habitual)
Activities we participate in on a regular basis typically have greater impact than those we conduct intermittantly. Physiologically, we're likely to get more value from walking a mile a day than from walking seven miles on Saturday. Neurologically, we're likely to benefit more from meditating for 10 minutes a day than from meditating for a full hour on Sunday. This isn't to say that self-coaching practices must occur daily--although the ones that do can be uniquely valuable--but it's important to 1) find the natural rhythm that best suits each practice for us as individuals, and then 2) take steps to turn that rhythm into a habitual pattern (which itself may be a focus of our self-coaching experience.)
Conversations (or Journaling)
Clearly, the term "journaling" carries some cultural baggage, and I'm not suggesting that everyone has to carry a Moleskine notebook and spend hours staring out the window of their favorite cafe. As I wrote recently, "I don't prescribe any particular form of journaling, because it's important for each individual to decide what will work best for them--a weekly review, a few words at the end of the day, sporadic essays, a private diary or a website like this, whatever works. And while I certainly have clients who choose not to journal and still find value in the coaching process, I believe that those clients who do journal, in whatever form, will be better prepared to coach themselves after our work together has ended. They've developed a practice that will allow them to retain memories, process emotions, and understand themselves more fully."
One final note: I suspect that for some people this sounds 1) like a lot of work and/or 2) either narcissistic or isolating. As for the work, coaching certainly requires effort, and self-coaching is no different. That said, I don't view coaching or self-coaching as indefinite (or even long-term) experiences. In 2009 the Harvard Business Review found that 91% of coaching engagements last less than 18 months, 73% last less than one year, and 28% last less than six months. In my work with MBA students at Stanford, our coaching relationships last six months at most, and in my private practice I typically see clients for three-month engagements; roughly half of my clients "re-up" for a second or third engagement, but for the remainder, three months is sufficient. I don't have data on self-coaching experiences, but I suspect the dynamics will be similar.
Further, while I'm defining self-coaching here as a structured set of intentional practices, my expectation (and my personal experience) is that as the changes we seek to make become a more integrated part of our behavioral repertoire over time, the level of conscious effort required to sustain those behaviors diminishes. (Six months ago I found meditation quite difficult; today I'm on a 63-day streak.)
As for concerns about narcissism, although effective self-coaching ultimately requires us to validate and accept ourselves, it also requires us to be candid about our faults and shortcomings, to actively solicit feedback from others, and to be open to their influence. As I wrote recently, "We have to live in the perpetual tension between (cold-eyed) self-assessment & (warm-hearted) self-acceptance."
Finally, while self-coaching is an effort we initiate as individuals, it's not a solitary experience that occurs in isolation from our social relationships. Self-coaching involves not only working with ourselves (as both coach and client), but also transforming key people in our lives into members of our self-coaching team, even if only for a single interaction. By compelling us to make aspects of our inner dialogue public and to engage others as we engage ourselves, self-coaching can be an intensely social experience.
For an overview of my self-coaching framework, see A Self-Coaching Guide for Leaders at All Levels.
For all my posts on this topic, see my Self-Coaching category.
Photo by lian xiaoxiao. Yay Flickr and Creative Commons.