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This simple but powerful coaching tool is the first step to creating the life you want

Some clients come to coaching with a specific change they want to make or goal they want to achieve. Most clients, however, come to me with a somewhat vague sense of wanting their lives to be better, or a feeling that their life isn’t as fulfilling as it could be. They describe feeling stuck, stagnant or rudderless. And these feelings are often present despite admirable accomplishments, busy days, and outward success, which is even more troubling to the client, because they may start asking themselves, “Why can’t I just be happy with my life right now? Is there something wrong with me for wanting more? Is it wrong to lament over #firstworldproblems?”

I am totally familiar with these feelings. After finishing my doctorate degree at age 26, completing a clinical internship and postdoctoral fellowship affiliated with Harvard Medical School, and then working as a neuropsychologist, I had these feelings. I had finally “arrived”, had finally achieved the major goals on my checklist. Everyone around me figured I must be so happy to have accomplished so much and be past the hurdles that I worked so hard to jump. I was happy, and grateful, but also confused as to why I didn’t feel fulfilled.

What I didn’t realize is that I had stopped living life with intention. I was staying busy with the day-to-day humdrum, the typical to-do list, general “adulting”. But when I stepped back to look at how I was spending my time, it became evident there was a major disconnect between my daily actions and my larger priorities, values, and sense of purpose in life. For example, one of the things I value in life is continuing to find and master new challenges in my professional life in order to grow, learn and develop. Now that I was doing clinical work, seeing multiple patients with similar presenting problems, going through the same routine day in and day out, I was getting very little new challenges or ways to stretch my brain. Also, because I was feeling burnt out with work, I didn’t have much energy and used that as a rationalization not to exercise. Exercise happens to be another thing I consider part of a well-lived life (not to mention it enhances energy and would have been the best things for me to do at the time), and yet I was not making it a part of my life.

So many of us get so busy doing all the things that seem necessary and urgent that we forget to prioritize the things that are most important to us in the long-run, the things that make life worth living. These values and priorities often don’t feel urgent in the moment. Instead, I urgently need to get my new iPhone figured out and get all my data transferred from my old phone. I’ve got to reply to emails and text messages and get that freaking red dot with the number in it to go away. I’ve got to figure out what we’re going to eat for dinner (because I didn’t make a plan for the week’s meals ahead of time – better planning is another coaching topic ripe for a blog post!).

Then I sit back and complete a values exercise like the one here, and I am reminded of some things that are truly important to me. Things like spending time in nature, getting regular physical exercise and movement, and engaging in new experiences with my son, showing him things he’s never seen before. I realize that not once in the last seven days have I intentionally done any physical exercise, deliberately spent any time in nature, or set out with my son on even a small adventure.

Whoops. How did that happen?

The "urgent” to-do's all took precedence over my valued priorities. No wonder I’m feeling off balance!

Having a clear idea of what’s truly important to us in our own lives -- our personal values -- gives us direction for living our lives in a meaningful and intentional way. That’s why one of the very first coaching tools I implement with clients (and regularly use myself) focuses on this. Below are the steps I incorporate as part of this coaching tool. I work with clients one-on-one to complete the steps, create a plan and follow through on that plan. I’m sharing the tool here so you can use it in your own life. If you do, please let me know how it goes for you and if you have any questions! I consistently find that when I use this tool the way I’ve laid it out below, I live life more in line with my values and true priorities, and I feel calmer and have a sense of being more aligned with my true self. I have increased energy and openness and positivity, which in turn motivates me to keep making more positive changes.

MBH Coaching Tool #1: Steps to a Values-Driven Life

1. Complete this values probe exercise.

2. Decide on 1-2 values that you would like to take more action on. Highlight them.

  • For example, I recently decided that I want to focus on a new avenue in my career (coaching!)

3. Set a specific goal for how to achieve that, and make a realistic plan for doing so. Write it down.

  • My goal is to start my own coaching business, start a blog and consistently write for it, and develop coaching programs to offer to specific types of clients

  • My plan is to spend 4 hours a week doing specific tasks related to these goals (e.g., website development, blog writing, business planning, creation of coaching programs)

4. Calendar the plan. This is ESSENTIAL. Being specific about what you’re going to do is fantastic, but that plan must get put on the calendar or else all those other “urgent” things will again take precedence.

  • In my example, I laid out specific office hours for myself on a weekly basis for the month, and did not allow any distractions during those times.

  • I then took each of the tasks I knew I needed to complete as part of my plan, and inserted them in my office hours (e.g., Wednesday from 2-3 pm: write and post blog)

5. Follow through. You have to honor what you put on your calendar, in the same way you would honor an appointment with your boss or honor a tax filing deadline. Having a coach or accountabili-buddy for this is very helpful!


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