SEVEN PERFECT COACHES
The Socratic method’s reliance on questions to discover truth is the cornerstone of PerfectCoaches. What, when, why, how, where, and who are the fundamental fact-finding questions that journalists, detectives, scientists and others use to quickly understand the facts in a situation. A seventh question is added to the list: what if? What if goes beyond facts to explore possibilities. PerfectCoaches builds self-awareness using the following questions:
1. Who am I?
2. What do I do?
3. Why do I do it?
4. When do I do it best?
5. Where do I want to go?
6. How do I change?
7. What if I could change the world?
These questions are the PerfectCoaches. The Coaches are the questions and the questions are The Coaches. In the PerfectCoaches method, the term The Coaches is capitalized and treated as a proper noun, a “one-of-a-kind thing.” They are not just any coaches. They are perfect Coaches. In the dictionary sense, they are entirely without flaws, defects, or shortcomings. The Coaches you imagine possess all the characteristics you would seek in a person helping you develop as a professional and, just as important, as a person. The Coaches are:
- Perfectly patient
- Perfectly focused on the future
- Perfectly committed to simplicity
- Perfectly disciplined
- Perfectly at ease with the human condition.
Because PerfectCoaches is a thought experiment limited only by your imagination, you can take advantage of each of these characteristics and the part they play.
Patience is perhaps the most important quality for a sports coach or a life coach. It is particularly important in the PerfectCoaches thought experiment which can endure for a lifetime. Patience is the willingness to live with delay, the willingness to wait. Effective coaches are in it for the long haul. Botanist Liberty Hyde Bailey said:
A garden requires patient labor and attention. Plants do not grow merely to satisfy ambitions or to fulfill good intentions. They thrive because someone expended effort on them.
With PerfectCoaches, you can thrive because of the effort that you and others are expending on you.
Perfectly Focused on the Future
The Coaches begin the journey with you looking forward, not backward. One of the most consistent and enduring themes in the literature dealing with personal development, or, for that matter, organizational development, is that each day can be a new start. Each day can be a time for improvement or even re-invention. The Coaches agree with the old saying that today is the first day of the rest of your life.
This focus on the future means The Coaches will never judge you based on what you did last year or what you did yesterday. There are rules and laws to obey in life and failing to do so can have negative consequences. The Coaches can’t change that, but they can help you keep set-backs or even disasters in perspective.
If you are a person who wants to be judged or believe that you should be judged, you can give one or even all of your Coaches that responsibility. Sometimes being judged can bring a constructive sense of closure, as if to say, “Alright, I did that, I admit it, and now I can move on.” Otherwise, in this method you will never be judged.
Perfectly Committed to Simplicity
The third source of their perfection is that The Coaches are committed to keeping things simple. Less is more. They embrace a principle known as Occam’s razor, which favors describing or explaining a phenomenon by using the fewest possible concepts. Here, important concepts like mindfulness are used in their simplest form. Their meaning is mostly self-evident and can be explored through concrete examples.
This emphasis on simplicity is at the heart of PerfectCoaches. For example, PerfectCoaches.com is built to be simple and straightforward. Whether you access it via a PC or mobile device, you build self-awareness quickly with a few short questions. Your journal entries should be short and simple. The questions you receive as feedback are short and thought provoking. It is a trimmed-down version of a Socratic dialog.
The Coaches are also perfectly disciplined. In this method, discipline refers to staying on track to achieve a well-defined goal. Discipline involves knowing what needs to be done and doing it. It doesn’t mean that The Coaches are “disciplinarians” in the negative sense—stern or unyielding or just plain mean, which the term discipline might imply to some people. Rather, it means that they are focused on goals and progress, serving as models for the self-discipline that you can achieve. True discipline in life is self-discipline.
Perfectly at Ease with the Human Condition
Finally, The Coaches are perfectly at ease with the human condition and, for that matter, the world as it is. They completely accept the idea that life is a struggle and that every human being lives imperfectly in an imperfect world. Just as The Coaches do not judge or condemn you, they do not judge or condemn the world.
Ironically, understanding that the world is imperfect and accepting the world as it is makes it easier to envision what would happen if you could change it. In other words, instead of pretending the world is without its many problems, or simply wishing it was, face into the world as it presents itself in this moment and do what can be done to make yourself better and, if possible, make the world around you a better place.
PerfectCoaches enables a process for making small sustainable changes to the world just as you can make small, sustainable changes to yourself. In fact, most modern enterprises where the skills of leaders, salespeople, and customer service staff are valued encourage suggestions for change. The PerfectCoaches Journal enables not just individual excellence but enterprise performance and quality simply by asking the question “What If?”
PerfectCoaches is a virtuous cycle, a series of events which reinforce themselves through what is sometimes called a self-amplifying feedback loop. In a virtuous cycle, things keep getting better because each step not only brings improvement, but sets the stage for further improvement. The cycle can bring benefits in both individuals and the teams and organizations where they practice their profession.
Everyone will interact with this book and the online resources according to their own preferences. Yet the process is always the same. It begins with asking questions that create self-awareness. Self-awareness, in turn, makes it easier for you to focus on specific behaviors you want to change. Finally, feedback and reinforcement create the path for continuous growth.
No matter if you are writing in the Pen and Paper Workbook or using PerfectCoaches.com as you read this book, answer the questions using a stream of consciousness approach. Blurt out the first things that come to mind. Psychologists call this free-association. By answering off the top of your head, you are less likely to consider how other people might react to your answers and more likely to say what you really think or feel.
This first pass through the questions is a snapshot of you. You are not sitting for a portrait. Rather, you are snapping a selfie that is meant to be candid and revealing. The answers can be as short as a tweet. If you refine your answers later, they will become more precise and meaningful, but they can remain short.
As you get started, particularly if you are using the online tool, don’t be self-conscious or allow the notebook to feel like hard work. You aren’t sitting down in a classroom somewhere to take a test that has right and wrong answers. You are not completing some sort of personality profile for a new job.
Rather, you are taking the time to learn about yourself. Picture yourself in a pleasant place, say, a quiet park on a sunny afternoon, talking to The Coaches. Each, in their turn, will ask you to think about an important question. You’ll quickly jot down the first few answers that come to mind. Getting started at all is what counts. You’ll be able to come back as often as you like to add more.
PerfectCoaches is based on self-awareness, behavioral focus and feedback. You can perfect the process every day by focusing on at least one thing you want to start, stop or improve. Self-awareness sets the stage for mindfulness and behavioral focus; feedback sustains the focus. The process works because you make it work. Perfect, i.e., perfecting the process, is possible.
Who Am I?
This is perhaps life’s single most important question. Knowing the answer helps make sense out of what otherwise would be a jumble of disjointed experiences and feelings. Many people pose the question to themselves, but can’t quite figure out how to find the answer. PerfectCoaches can help.
Who are you, right now, right this minute? What are the first thoughts that come to mind? Write them down in your Pen and Paper Workbook or at PerfectCoaches.com, or even on a piece of paper that happens to be handy right now. Your answer to this first question is your understanding of who you are, written spontaneously in the first words that come to you.
Many people find this exercise challenging. In the initial snapshot pass through the questions, you can give a quick, superficial answer, but this first question is designed to put you in touch with your Core Self, defined as the animating force in your day- to-day life, revealed in who you are and what you do.
To understand the source of your energy is a valuable insight in its own right. It is useful to revisit this question often as you perfect your use of PerfectCoaches. No matter how you answer this question, you are describing the face you glimpse in a mirror, sometimes vaguely, sometimes with great clarity. When you look into the mirror, you will see a person who can be defined in three ways: the roles you play, specific behaviors that you and others see, and private inner experiences. People often answer the question “Who Am I?” in this order:
People often introduce themselves to others by naming socially defined categories that could be a check box on a census form or a job application. “I am a manager,” “I am an American,” and “I am a student” are examples. “Playing a role” like manager or student ultimately involves specific behaviors, and roles are labels that group behaviors together. They offer a convenient way to see the big picture of your place in life.
You are what you repeatedly do. To say that your self consists of behaviors is to say that, in one sense, you are specific skills, activities, and habits that people who know you well, or observe you in action, could list. “I talk fast,” “I go back to my hometown for holidays,” “I always refer to Wikipedia,” and “I eat lunch at my desk” are examples.
And finally, your Self consists of inner experiences that are private to you. “I enjoy working in teams,” “I’m afraid of failing math,” “I don’t like to drive,” and “I dread seeing the quarterly results,” are examples.
Inner experiences can be thought of as behaviors. They are things you do. What makes them different is that they are things you are doing where others can’t see. They are things you are feeling and thoughts you are having inside, although they can sometimes manifest themselves in behavior seen by others, like the expressions on your face.
Attempting to express those experiences in words sets the stage for improving “mind-sight,” the ability to understand the thoughts and feelings that drive behavior in both your professional and personal life.
What Do I Do?
Your answer to the question who am I describes the big picture of your core self. In PerfectCoaches, it is basically an essay that you write about how you see yourself at a given moment.
Your core self is also revealed in the small details of what you actually do. PerfectCoaches is about understanding your behaviors, activities, habits, and skills. Your capacity to develop each day by changing one behavior at a time is enhanced when you see each behavior in the context of your total self.
A quotation attributed to Aristotle says simply, you are what you repeatedly do. The actions you take and the roles you fulfill are the ingredients of your life. The answer to this question is factual. If you had a camera and microphone follow you around the clock, wherever you went, it would record what you do. PerfectCoaches wants you to become aware of what you are doing, as if you were commenting on what the 24x7 video. After watching yourself 24x7 for let’s say a month, could you develop a list of the top ten things you do, either because they are important or because you do them a lot.
Who you are and what you do are, in many respects, flip sides of the same coin. You can describe what you do in terms of roles you play, specific behaviors that you and others can see, and inner experiences.
Although PerfectCoaches.com only asks you to name the five most important things you do, if you tried to list everything you do, the list would seem endless. Here is a list of possible answers to the question:
- Conduct meetings
- Have dinner with colleagues and customers
- Remember names and faces
- Greet people with a smile
- Lead meetings
- Attend meetings
- Write papers
- Work out
- Spend time with family
- Do conference calls
- Keep a journal
- Be happy
- Be sad
- Be angry
- Be amused
- Be afraid
If you are using the Pen and Paper Workbook or PerfectCoaches.com, three or four answers like these are fine as an initial snapshot. The online tool, in fact, only asks you to name the five most important things you do.
Why Do I Do It?
This is another question that people deal with vaguely or avoid altogether. Imagine someone interviewing you and asking simply, “Why do you do what you do?” Or, imagine an inner accountant constantly asking “Why are you doing that? Have you really considered the costs and awards associated with each thing you do?”
For each of the things you do, try to identify the predominate reason you have for doing it. You may do a thing for more than one reason, and feel free to indicate that. But it is important that you at least understand the predominant reason. Here are some examples:
- For money
- For fame
- For fun
- To prove that I can
- To help me grow professionally
- To get revenge
- To please my friends
- To feel like a woman
- To feel like a man
- To serve my company
- To feel responsible
- To prove mindfulness counts
- To outdo my competitors
- For self-actualization
- To meet and beat my number
- To meet basic needs
Asking why you do things can help you identify actions and behaviors that are done for no reason, or the wrong reason. As will be discussed later, this same concept in Business Process Reengineering is used to eliminate what are called “non-value-added” activities.
Psychologists offer theories of motivation to explain why people do things. One of the most enduring ideas is Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs. According to Maslow, the first needs you are motivated to meet involve survival, i.e., physiological requirements for food, water and comfort and the need for safety and security. Next come social needs for intimacy, friendship, prestige, and a sense of accomplishment. Once the physiological and social needs are met, the need to fulfill one's highest potential, referred to as the need for self-actualization, becomes your primary motivator.
Your inner accountant might want to draw upon this idea and ask if basic needs, social needs, or the more subtle need for self-actualization explain why you do each thing you do.
When Do I Do It Best?
Each of us can develop an inner craftsman, always asking if this is the best work you can do. To excel at the things you do, it pays to know when you do them best. The question doesn’t refer to the time of day, but rather deals with the conditions under which you do a thing best. There are a lot of ways to identify when you do something best. Here are a few:
- When I am rested
- When I am eager to do it
- When I want to get it over with
- In the morning
- In the evening
- Before eating
- After eating
- With other people
- By myself
- Well in advance of deadlines
- Right at the deadline
- When I have practiced
- Last thing at night
- When I am mindful
The concept of doing something “best” implies that your behavior has been evaluated. In social psychology, the concept of the looking-glass self says that we see ourselves through the mirror of how we think others see us.
When we evaluate how well we do, we are to some extent using other people’s standards. This begins when parents and caretakers correct us or praise us as children. In professional life, you are in fact being evaluated by others. As will be discussed later, this feedback if important.
PerfectCoaches invites you to be mindful of the standards used by others, but also to set your own standards. Take advantage of this opportunity to clearly set and apply your own criteria for assessing your performance. These may be the same standards that other people apply, but they do not have to be. You decide on the standards, and but, more importantly, it is up to you to apply them.
Where Do I Want to Go?
At this point PerfectCoaches shifts emphasis from the present “As-Is” you—what you now do, why you do it, and when you do it best—to the future “To-Be” you —where you are going, and how you change in order to get there.
As Oprah Winfrey said, “Right now you are one choice away from a new beginning.” There is a question, however: the beginning of what? Many people never have a “vision of a future self” that is vivid enough to help them plan for their life or their career. Think of your career as a journey towards a destination. Your career is a central part of your life, and it may be true that your career is driving your life and your future.
Throughout life, parents, teachers, coaches, friends, intimates, and others make plans for us. Ultimately, of course, it is your responsibility to plan your life and act upon that plan. Imagine that you have an inner planner focused on defining your to-be self and making it happen.
There is an old saying, “if you don’t know where you’re going, any bus will take you there.” The bottom line is that you need to have at least a general concept of where you want to go in life, and who you want to become. In some cases, it is perhaps even more important to know where you do not want to go and who you do not want to be, or become. Perhaps you are truly troubled by a lot of bad habits and do not want to stay that way. Perhaps your career is in a rut and you want to get out. When you say where you want to go, feel free to include your thoughts on where you do not want to go in life.
How Do I Change?
Although building self-awareness and mindfulness are important goals, the fulcrum of PerfectCoaches is a reliable method for changing what you do. How do you change your career in order to become the “To-Be Me” envisioned by an inner planner? Or, for that matter, how can you change something you named when you answered the question what do I do?
The coach who helps you focus on making changes in your career and your behavior is the motivation coach. In the PerfectCoaches thought experiment, you can imagine this to be a real or fictional person chosen by you to play the role. Or, you can use your online Journal to maintain a dialog with the motivation coach feature that comes with a subscription to PerfectCoaches.com.
The motivation coach will facilitate your effort to improve the quality of your professional life by engaging you in a dialog about specific behaviors to add, eliminate, or improve. If you truly believe that you are what you repeatedly do, then changing yourself ultimately comes down to changing what you do. When posing the question How Do I Change? the first clarifying question in the dialogue is “change what?” People often try to change a lot of things at once, a complete “make-over.” PerfectCoaches focuses on changing one “target” behavior at a time.
Changing behavior involves stopping something you are doing because doing it is not consistent with the person you want to be; starting something new because it is what you want to do; or doing something you already do, only better. Discussed below are several simple ways to begin the process of changing behavior. They are not mutually exclusive. If you want to change your behavior, you can do one or more of the following things:
Use another person, or the best practices discussed throughout in the book, as a model. Studies have shown that children will imitate adults or other children performing a specific activity. Adults choose role models for themselves, and in some sense, imitate what their role models do.
One simple way to change is to substitute one behavior for another. For example, if you want to drink less soda or alcohol, drink a glass of water instead.
If you want to keep doing something but do it better, you can substitute one way of doing it for another; here your inner craftsman’s question When Do I Do It Best? offers useful ideas.
“Scripts” for roles we play determine what we do. According to this “dramaturgic model,” people perform one or more roles each day as if they were on a stage.
You can learn an entirely new role, by adopting behaviors that you believe are consistent with it. For example, if you are promoted to manager, you may begin to behave differently toward members of your team, because you are now their manager and not their peer. Or, if you are already a manager and want to become more effective, you may adopt new behaviors that you believe are those of an effective manager.
Training and formal lessons usually teach specific behaviors required to perform a specific task. Formal training, either in person or virtual, can be an effective way to change behaviors and learn new ones, so long as the behaviors are clearly identified and used after the training is complete. Another rich source of best practice target behaviors are the many online courses offered by universities and corporate training programs.
PerfectCoaches is an extremely useful supplement to formal training, because you can practice new behaviors after the training is complete. This works best if you can define the behavior as a thing you either do or do not perform. This lets you measure your success.
Increase Perspective and Mindfulness
Your inner accountant’s question, “Why Do I Do It?” can help you gain perspective on the inner experiences that motivate things you do.
There are theories and approaches that say you can change behavior by gaining perspective on your emotions and inner thoughts. Early practitioners of this view include Sigmund Freud, Karl Jung, Viktor Frankl and Carl Rogers. Writers today also emphasize the role of mindfulness. For our purposes, being mindful allows you to understand why you behave in certain ways and the impact your actions have on people and situations.
New behaviors stay and old behaviors go because of their consequences. Once you’ve decided on the behavior to change, and your strategy for changing it, you can begin to focus on the conditions under which the behavior is most likely to change. This is where the psychological concept of reinforcement and the related concept of antecedents, or triggers, enter the picture.
As you focus on changing a behavior, be aware of the events, or triggers, that seem to bring it out, and what happens next, i.e, the consequences of the behavior that reinforce it. Reinforcement means that rewarding a behavior makes it more likely, while punishing or ignoring it makes it less likely. What happens after you do something will influence whether you do it again. No matter how you choose your target behavior or skill, the next challenge is to make it a habit. This requires you to be aware of the triggers (cues, antecedents and discriminative stimuli) and the reinforcements (rewards and punishments) that influence what you do.
Cues are things that happen in your environment before or while you do something. To improve your chances of making change stick, eliminate or avoid cues for the behavior you want to stop. In other words, make it as easy as possible for you to perform the desirable behavior while making it difficult to perform the undesirable behavior.
Similar approaches apply for the consequences of behavior. Here, you provide only positive reinforcement/ rewards for the new behavior and provide either no reinforcement, or negative reinforcement for the undesirable behavior.
Managing the conditions under which behavior takes place is something you perfect as you use PerfectCoaches. Feedback received via your Journal moves the process forward until you make the Journal entry that says “GOT IT!” and the new habit becomes part of your skillset stack.
What if I could change the world?
The world shapes us. From earliest childhood, we learn habits based on the consequences of what we do. The question “How Do I Change?” takes on additional meaning when you are mindful of the fact that what you do, and what you are able and permitted to do, is constrained by the world you live and work in. Could you change that world, thereby opening new opportunities to excel and get things done?
This question is important for three reasons. First, when you closely examine your thoughts on how you would change the world, you learn about yourself. Your vision of a perfect world is in many respects a projection of your vision of a perfect self, and you should study both visions side-by-side.
Second, defining and pursuing possibilities is a hallmark of leadership. Leaders often ask what if we defined and solved this problem in this particular way, and leaders often encourage the same kind of thinking for those they hope to lead and inspire.
The third reason this question is important is that you can change the world. Think of what you would want the world to be if you could change it. It can be a sweeping change to affect all of humanity, or it could be a change in the way your company or school does business. Often it is better to begin by asking WHAT IF you could make simple changes to how people interact or how things get done. Any Journal entry can begin with the simple question What if?
The same principles of self-awareness and behavioral focus that apply when you change what you do are also useful when you are trying to change a situation or a process that involves other people or a larger enterprise. You can ask questions like “What if we eliminated upper management approval purchases under $100?” or "What if we could take practice tests online and get the results right away?"
As you become more self-aware, you will become mindful of the environment around you. That mindfulness enables you to see that there are some things that would make the world better not just for you, but for you and others. Some things you might want to change are outside of the scope of what your immediate team can do, or your organization can do, or your community can do.
Even when they are small changes in, say, the procedures used by your work team, these are often things you cannot accomplish alone. When that is the case, simply ask the question “What if” at the beginning of a journal entry.
This will alert you and the motivation coach to the fact that there is an opportunity for improvement outside of the boundaries of you, and you want to get that process started. In some instances, you may actually be able to lead that process, using the best practices for leadership discussed in the book. That's why the final question is "how do I change – myself, or even things around me?"
PerfectCoaches.com can be used as a “24x7 virtual suggestion box” or, better yet, a “24x7 virtual Kaizen.” Kaizen is a Japanese word for the practice of continuous improvement in business. It means “good change,” and usually involves specific changes suggested by individuals or teams at Kaizen events, typically workshops where problems are identified and corrective actions are proposed. Big results can come from small changes that get their start from a Journal entry that simply begins “What if?"