Coach yourself to your career goals

On 20 June, freelance life coach Rachael Stevens came to the RCA to run a workshop on using the principles of coaching to achieve the career you want. Here you'll find a list of questions and prompts that she used in the workshop. These questions are intended to help you define what you want and how to achieve it. You can do this exercise on your own or with a friend. 

1. Topic

  • Think of an area of your life you want to work on for the next 30 minutes, an area where you want to improve how you are doing
  • It is likely to be a current area of concern for you
  • Think of a general area to begin with, not specific: for example, time management, fitness, healthy eating, relationship with a partner
  • It must be real
  • It must really matter to you that you begin to find a way to move forward in this area
  • It must be something that you have some control over
  • It must be for you, not someone else. You can only be coached on what you can do, not what you wish someone else would do

 Can you write what you want to work on in one sentence for easy reference? This sentence should sound like, for example, "My topic is time management and I want to find more time for myself" or "My topic is selling my work and I want to be represented by a gallery". 

2. Goal

Go forward in time to when your general area of concern is as you want it to be – resolved, sorted, scoring 10 out of 10 for your satisfaction with your performance. 

  • What do you see happening that shows that this issue is resolved?
  • What are you doing that shows that you have achieved what you wanted?
  • What are other people doing?
  • What are you thinking and feeling now it's resolved?

From what you have written down, you should have before you lots of different components that make up your area of concern. Which one aspect is the most important one for you to address? Can you highlight it? What made you choose that one? What are the advantages of addressing that one aspect? 

Using this one component, you should now write yourself a specific goal related to that aspect. It needs to take you towards completely resolving your general issue. It should be a goal for the next three to four months – perhaps a shorter time, but definitely not any longer.

Write this goal down as an outcome, using phrases like "I am", "I have", "I do". For example, "I meditate for at least 10 minutes every day", or "My new design is in production", or "I am represented by a gallery in London". Describe this goal positively, not negatively – say what you want, not what you don't want.  

Think about what you want to achieve in this session. You have 20 to 30 minutes to work on this, so what do you want to go away with: a first step, a strategy or plan, two actions...? Be specific and make sure this goal is personal to you. Write down your goal for this session carefully so you can see if you've achieved it at the end of this process.

 When is it realistic for you to achieve this goal? Check the timing – if you have a long-term target date, you might want to come up with a short-term goal towards that target, to help you be more focused and motivated. What would this smaller goal be? 

If you're looking at your goal and thinking it sounds impossible, too big, too challenging, can you break it down into a smaller goal to be achieved within a shorter time? Or, if you are already bored by your goal, beef it up a bit! 

Check that your goal is within your control. For example, if you have a collaborative practice and want you and your partner to work better together, you can only be coached on what you can do to achieve that, not what your partner should do. 


You should be clear about your topic. You should know what 'finished' will look like – the point when you will have resolved this area of concern. You have a clear goal for progress towards this point. You should have a clear goal for this coaching session. 

 3. Reality 

What is happening that tells you this is an issue for you?
What is going on that is causing you concern?
List the ways this issue has an impact on you and others. 

Why is it an issue now particularly?

What is missing that you want? Can you be precise?
Can you describe in detail the things that are missing? 

What is good right now that you want to keep because it is contributing towards your goal?
What are you doing right?
What good habits do you have in this area?

Think about things you have already done to try to improve the situation.
For those things that were successful, even if only for a short time, what exactly did you do? In what ways, when, how? What were you thinking at the time? What kept you going? What made it work? 
For those things that were not successful either short term or long term, identify at what point it stopped working and how this happened. When exactly did it go wrong? What do you think might have contributed to that setback? What was the first thing that triggered the setback? What was going on around you? What were the circumstances? 
On reflection, what might have made the biggest difference and made you successful? What have you learned from these previous attempts that you could use moving forward? 
What strikes you as being absolutely crucial to your success? 

Let's think about obstacles... What are the obstacles are there now that you think might prevent you from moving forward? 
Dip back into your experiences of obstacles you've met before.
Imagine yourself being successful in achieving your goal: what obstacles will you have had to overcome?
What's the major an obstacle? In what way is it an obstacle?
Look closely at this obstacle. What exactly is it about it that gets in your way? Move away from generalisations like "my boss" – what aspect of your boss is an obstacle to your progress? Don't let yourself get away with big, general statements.

How have you tried to negotiate obstacles in the past? In what ways were you successful?
What still needs to be dealt with to overcome this obstacle?
Have you dealt with a similar problem in a different context? How did you overcome that?

What skills have you got that you could use in this area? What skills from work, home, your hobbies, etc, could you also use here?


You have a specific goal for this session.
You know what is and isn't working for you right now.
You've highlighted what you've done about it so far and what success you have had.
You have thought about possible obstacles.
You are now able to begin thinking about moving forward.

4. Options

We are now thinking about options – what could you do, not what will you do. This is not the stage to select one or two definite options, but to generate several ideas on possible ways forward. Brainstorm a few ideas. 

Can you write down six ideas? Let them flow, don't edit them. 

What could you do if... weren't answerable to anyone?
...resources were unlimited? could devote yourself to just this issue? didn't have to live with the consequences? weren't scared of anything? totally believed in yourself? 

What would a friend or tutor suggest?

Refer back to what you've already written down earlier in this session – does this help you come up with any new ideas?

Look at your list. What else is there? Have you missed the obvious?
What other ideas are linked to the ones you've written down?

Look back to your session goal. What do you need to do now to make sure you achieve this?   

Now look more critically at your list. Choose the ideas or options that will move you forward. 

5. Way forward 

We need to get these ideas really specific, to ensure success. So – what do you need to do to put these actions into practice? 
Split it down into small, manageable parts. 
Write down all the little things that need to happen, the tiny steps. 

What might stop you from completing these tiny steps? What barriers are in the way? Can you write down some specific actions to help you negotiate these barriers?

If you're already thinking, "I can't do this", break it down into smaller bits until you come up with something you feel like you can do now.

 Should anyone else get involved? Who? When will you involve him or her? 

Regarding the actions that you have written down, when do you want to have done this by? What is a realistic time span? 

What will be the benefit of taking these actions?
Who else will benefit besides you?
When you take this step or steps, what will you be saying to yourself?
How will you be feeling?  

How strong is your intention to take this step or steps? Rate your intention between 0 to 10, with 0 being 'won't bother at all' and 10 being 'I'm absolutely committed'.

Congratulations, you've finished your first coaching session!