Chapter 4: Your Inner Sensei

The Coach Without

I was an athlete in my youth and spent a lot of time with track coaches who helped me improve by scheduling and monitoring my workouts. I followed their plans, kept a training log, and checked in with them on a regular basis. These coaches were people I trusted to be the overall directors of my athletic activities. This idea of what a coach does in the world of sports is one that is well known by the general public. However, the sports coaching model is not an accurate reflection of what I think career change coaching offers, and it is definitely not what self-coaching is about.

A career change coach is someone who offers a combination of accountability partner and cheerleader to their clients. This dual approach works well with people who are open to being coached and who are therefore willing to take the actions that will get them closer to their goals.

Unfortunately, problems can arise when either the coach or the client begins to believe that the coach’s job is mainly one of telling the client what to do. The client then starts to become dependent on the coach for direction and reassurance while the coach slowly but surely dilutes their client’s will to act. The coach can end up adopting a confusing mishmash of conflicting roles – teacher, mentor, counselor, consultant and coach all rolled into one. An excellent coach will know when they are crossing into one of the non-coaching roles and will either avoid doing so, or ask for the client’s agreement before continuing with their ‘teachable moment.’ This flexibility is more of an art than a skill and requires a great deal of empathy and trust between client and coach.

The Coach Within

Self-coaching is a discovery process based around a core strength of self-trust. An inability to trust is what often holds people back from believing they can coach themselves. Self-doubts then have them searching for validation from others – friends, colleagues, and therapists come to mind.

Self-coaching is a move away from having others first tell you what to do and then you going off and doing it. The premise of this book is that you will best hone and tone your self-coaching muscles by using them. This can eventually lead to a positive feedback loop between intentions and results.

The Inner Sensei

When you begin to trust yourself more and act on your impulses, you become both the coach and the teacher within. The teacher (‘sensei’ in Japanese) is that part of you who knows what to do, and the coach is the part who ‘has your back.’ (Hint: I’ve found it helpful to imagine both the teacher and coach within to be iconic personifications of the unconscious mind.)

Let’s now look at four simple exercises that can help get a self-coaching ‘couch potato’ into shape. Have fun with these. Take your time doing them.

Exercise 8: Behind The Dumbness of Setting Unreachable Goals

Here’s an exercise that is a lot of fun and can also help develop your self-coaching ‘mental muscles’. Use it as part of a career change plan where you are checking out possible new paths, or just exploring a future hobby.

In the personal development world there’s a commonly received wisdom that goal setting is a requirement for success in almost every endeavor. And not just any old goals, these must be SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Rewarding and Time-bound. But what if there was another way – a DUMB way?


Take one of your ‘smart’ career change goals and think of all the interesting things about it that you’d love to spend time on, for no other reason than it would be fun. Doing those activities are what I call doodling and they are the very essence of dumb goals. For example, consider an amateur opera singer who loves to read about the world’s finest concert halls and often dreams of going to see famous singers perform there. Perhaps she imagines following them from city to city as part of an extended vacation. Such is her doodling over these dreams that she’s drafted travel plans and knows just where to buy concert tickets online. And there’s not a smart goal in sight!


Unlimited refers to unlimited time. No deadlines, no tracking metrics or external accountability. There’s just an open-ended path to explore an interest or a dream for as long as the desire and the means to do so exist. Fitting in with the ebb and flow of life as you pass through it is one of the most delightful aspects to owning a dumb goal. For our aspiring opera singer, this might mean she joins an amateur operatic society and goes on short trips with them to other countries. Or maybe she starts pen friend relationships with other opera singers in the cities where these famous theaters and concert halls are located.


After a little while on this path you may notice something peculiar in the reactions of people who know you well. Some will be discrete about telling you. Others will be more direct. But what both will hold in common is an opinion that you are mad! Yes, you’re stark raving mad to be planning that three-week trip to Greece because you’re an ancient history buff. And you are deluding yourself by planning to interview the top ten ‘indie’ female crime fiction writers because you want to be a better writer. If there isn’t yet an element of madness to your dumb goals then I suggest that you go get a little crazy!


This final element involves you. I mean, you, as in ‘best effort’ you. The you that loves the whole dumb topic so much that you’re prepared to put up with an awful lot to find those diamonds in the rough. Because they’ll be your diamonds, mined and polished from your own experiences. This is totally dumb on a massive scale and you shouldn’t waste another minute before beginning it.

To which your ever-watchful and often fearful ego-self may respond, “cobblers.” Loosely translated, this means, “No way are you leaving the straight and narrow path of setting smart goals.”

Relax! Those smart goals will take care of themselves once you learn to kick back and look for the dumbness in whatever area of your personal or professional life you decide to change. As day follows night, smart goals follow dumb!

Exercise 9: Hypnotic Goal Setting Unleashed

For a few minutes, as an exercise, I’d like you to focus on what you might be eating for a celebratory breakfast on the very day you finally achieve your career change goal. Got it? Can you taste it? Goal setting can sometimes be like that – a savory snack from a future feast.

It might seem unusual to mention hypnosis and goal setting in the same sentence but we are not concerned here with the showbiz version, or even with the practices of professional psychotherapists. There is a gentler version of hypnosis that I will call suggestibility. You can apply suggestibility to reinforce the setting of goals and subsequent actions.

I have found that four personality traits lend themselves to the constructive use of this suggestive state. These traits are: curiosity, motivation, concentration and imagination.

It’s a great shame that many people seem to lose their sense of curiosity as they move from childhood to adulthood. As far as I can tell, successful people maintain an intense curiosity about setting and implementing goals. Just how curious are you about the most important goal in your life right now? You can nourish a state of curiosity by copying what children do naturally – ask lots of questions! In particular, asking ‘what, when, why, how and where’ questions will lead you to seek answers from yourself and, within reason, from others.

When you feel demotivated by some aspect of your goal, then find a quiet spot and begin to ask yourself some of those ‘what, when, why, how and where’ questions – without any expectation of receiving definitive answers at this stage. Remember, you are trying to enhance your curiosity about the motivation for taking on this goal in the first place. Somewhere within you are the answers.

Concentration is no great mystery if you recall ever having been so interested in something that you lost track of time while still being aware of your surroundings. This is a very effective state to be in when giving suggestions about your goals.

By the way, it is not necessary to watch a favorite movie, or get engrossed in a book, for this state to show itself. Just by sitting quietly in a natural setting and concentrating on the appearance of a flower, or on the ripples moving over a pond, you can learn to apply curiosity, motivation and concentration in a matter of minutes.

Imagination is the fourth and final trait to add to this practice because it helps you see what might be possible. If you practice sitting quietly (as described in the previous paragraph) for a few minutes each day, you should find it becomes easier to slip into this suggestive state.

And from that relaxed and suggestive state you simply repeat the following statement to yourself for a few minutes:

“My career change goal is my own and I form it.“

Then bring your awareness back to where you are at that moment and go about your normal activities.

The cultivation of these four traits can lead to a deeper understanding of this goal. And if you like what you see, then carry on. And if you don’t? Well, you now have within you the power to start changing it.

Exercise 10: The Goal Setting Form Letter

Imagination allied with accountability can be a very powerful combination for achieving your goals. I have seen this work in the corporate world when a formal goal setting process is part of the annual performance review system.

First, imagination from both employee and manager is required to come up with realistic yet challenging goals. And then accountability arises because both parties know they will be involved in evaluating progress at six monthly intervals.

Here’s how to apply a similar system to your personal goal setting using low-tech materials.

It might seem a little strange to request that you use pen and paper in this digital day and age. Nonetheless, please obtain good quality writing paper, envelopes and a pen before we go any further. It’s a good idea to get stationery of different colors. And make sure that the pen is a good quality implement.

Now you are going to write a letter to a very important person – someone you know very well. Yourself! The first thing is to date the letter. The time that will pass between writing your letter and seeing your goal achieved is unknown, or at least uncertain, at this stage. However, by dating the letter you begin the goal creation process in the very act of writing about it.

The next part of this form letter is to address it. So, please write, ‘Dear your-name’, and begin your letter with respect and appreciation for what you are about to attempt. The contents of this letter will be specific and relevant only to you. I would however recommend the following guidelines:

  • Focus on one specific goal for this letter. Write a separate letter for each additional goal you want to work with. This is where the different colored paper and envelopes will come in handy.
  • Begin the letter with a high-level look at what you think the outcome of the goal may be.
  • Describe briefly how you think your world will be a better place for the achievement of your goal.

And that’s about it! This letter is not the place to start writing specific time-bound objectives, strategies and plans. Rather, it is a chance for you to direct your imagination into thinking about what you want to achieve with this goal.

Sign the letter, address the envelope to yourself and store it in a safe and private location.

So where does the accountability arise from? I think it’s important to remember that accountability can be a gentle but supportive part of a personal development journey. Make a note in your diary or planner to review this letter six months from now. An awareness of a pending review can be all it takes to help you take regular action toward the goal.

Exercise 11: The Success Trigger

This is a powerful self-coaching exercise that links a timeline (past, present and future) in your life with rich, warm emotions and heartfelt goals.

Take a blank sheet of paper and write the following information at the top. By way of example, I will use my own data, as it was at the start of 2007:

Name: Mark McClure

Birthplace: Northern Ireland

Location: Tokyo, Japan

Occupation: Corporate employee (IT)

Success trigger: 1977

Goal: Freedom business owner

Date: 1st June 2007

You should have no trouble completing the first four fields above. (Note that location refers to the current location you are living in.)

‘Success trigger’ – what’s that? Think of a time in your life when you were particularly successful. Perhaps it was at college, or on the sports field, or in the workplace. The image in your mind’s eye should be a generally happy one, filled with surprise and astonishment that you pulled it off! And don’t worry if your success event doesn’t rate highly with anyone but yourself – only you need be proud of it. (If you can’t find a real example, then make one up that could have occurred in your life.)

Now label this success image. In the example above, I used ‘1977’ to signify an event that happened thirty years ago in Limerick, Ireland. On that rainy summer’s day (this is Ireland, remember!) a very nervous 16-year-old athlete lined up for the final of the Irish Schools 400 meters hurdles. Going by previous race times, I was expected to place fourth or fifth but I won the event, took nearly a second from my personal best time, and remained deliriously happy for the rest of that summer!

Decades later, the memory of that day is still with me – mainly because it was my one true experience of running ‘in the zone.’ (The zone in that race being an almost transcendental peak state of experience where time appeared to be slowed way down, and the pure joy of running itself was almost indescribable.

Actually I’m struggling right now to find suitable words for it.) Now you might better understand why ‘1977’ triggers back such a powerful ‘can-do’ feeling for me.

Anyway, the point of a search like this through the archives of your mind is that your own future success event (the career change goal) most likely will evoke some of the same feelings and emotions as the one you just selected from your past experience. When you next think of a major goal you want to set and achieve, recall first this success keyword from your past, and bask in the warmth that the memory brings with it.

Of course, the recollection will probably not be exactly the same each time but the essential elements of happiness, satisfaction and gratitude are likely to be in there somewhere. If they are missing, then look at the goal from another perspective and notice what is present.

Play around with different outcomes for the goal until a combination presents itself that feels right. In my case, a ‘freedom business owner’ feels a whole lot closer to those wonderful days of 1977 than just being another ‘business owner.’

Add today’s date to the success trigger and then read it out loud. For example, “My name is Mark McClure. I was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland etc”. It’s even more interesting if you look into a mirror when speaking – especially when you get to the ‘my goal is’ part. Pay close attention to how you feel at that point.

This powerful and inspiring exercise takes but a few minutes. Try it and see for yourself!

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