Life Coaching: How to Evaluate Your Client’s Reality

Phil Dixon

Ask a lot of challenging questions and allow the other person to come up with their own answers.


This is the fourth of a four part series of articles that walks you through the first couple of life coaching sessions with a client. All articles within this series include:


Analyzing Your Client’s Behavior Patterns

Often the one thing preventing us from achieving our desired objectives comes down to our behavior patterns. These are the decisions we make and the things we consistently do on a daily basis that shape our reality.

These patterns of behavior are either taking us closer to our desired objectives, or they are pulling us away from what we want most. And if they are pulling us away from what we want most, then we are obviously doing and focusing on the wrong things. Therefore unless we make the necessary changes to these patterns, then unfortunately our goals will always remain out of reach.

As you work with your client, it’s important to pinpoint various behaviors that might be hindering your client from moving forward. However, don’t concern yourself so much about identifying the origins of each behavior. That’s not necessary when it comes to standard coaching practices. Rather focus on exploring this behavior while paving the way forward for positive change.

Behavior Analysis Process

To get this process started, it’s important to explore your client’s unhelpful behaviors in order to determine what effect they have on their life. Begin by asking your client:

Are you getting the results you desire to have in your life?

Why are you not getting these results?

What behaviors, rituals, and/or habits might be letting you down?

How are these behaviors undesirable?

How are your behaviors preventing you from getting what you want?

How does this make you feel?

Is it realistic to continue indulging in this behavior given what you want to achieve?

Where are your present behaviors taking you?

Are they keeping you on course to realizing your goals?

At what point did you decide that it was important to consistently indulge in these behaviors?

What part of each behavior do you control?

Could you change each behavior in a positive way if you wanted to?

What is your motivation to change?

What is your belief that you can make these changes?

What is your commitment to making this change?

Is changing this behavior in your best interests?

Is changing this behavior in the best interests of others? Why? Why not? Does it matter?

These questions will at the very least provide your client with a wake-up call. No longer will they be ignorant of the behaviors they consistently indulge in throughout the day. They will instead now begin to question their daily choices, decisions and actions moving forward.

Your main objective here is to use this process to help unlock patterns that are holding your client back. However, these patterns might not be straight forward. There might in fact be some underlying causes to your client’s behavior. These causes can come in the form of limiting beliefs, unhelpful thoughts, and a poor self-concept, which can ultimately manifest in a fear of some kind. You might therefore need to explore each of these areas in a little more detail. Here are some handy links:

As you work through this process, you will also come across helpful behaviors that your client partakes in. These are behaviors that are congruent with the goals that they would like to achieve, and as such they are helping them move closer towards their desired outcomes. Encourage your client to continue working with these behaviors, however also consider ways you could potentially optimize these behaviors in order to further improve your client’s results.

Life Coach: Analyzing Client's Behavior


Analyzing Your Client’s Learning Style

Analyzing your client’s learning style might seem a little strange on the surface, however there are numerous reasons why you might want to spend a little time exploring this area.

For starters, understanding your client’s learning preferences will provide you with the necessary insights you need to help guide you client down the right path more effectively. Along this path your client might need to apply certain strategies, learn some new skills, and work with specific techniques that will help move them forward. And this of course might not be easy. In fact, it will become ever so more difficult if your client approaches each of these areas in a less than optimal way.

As a coach, you will be setting your client homework, exercises, tasks and activities that you would like them to complete over a specific time period. Thoroughly understanding your client’s learning preferences will allow you to set these tasks in optimal ways that will keep your client focused and motivated. However, without having a clear understanding of your client’s preferred learning style, you might end up setting tasks in a less than optimal way, and as a result your client might not follow through with these actions. This of course doesn’t mean that your client isn’t capable of making positive changes; it just means that they are simply approaching things the wrong way.

Given all this, it’s important to first identify your client’s preferred learning style, and secondly to ensure that the tasks and activities you give them fall into their Learning Zone. Let’s look at both these areas in a little detail.

Learning Styles

When it comes to preferences for learning, your client will fall into one of four styles.

The Activist

The first learning style is the Activist. An Activist prefers time-framed activities; they seek involvement in a task and they learn best while taking risks. As such, it’s important to set them tasks that have clear dates and deadlines. It’s also important to challenge them to step out of their comfort zone and get involved in a task straight away. Make sure you set them various activities that will put them into learning situations, while also ensuring that there’s enough variety in these activities to keep their interests alive.

The key here will be to make the Activist feel as though they are the center of attention in a crowd of like-minded individuals. That in itself could be the most effective way to keep them motivated long-term.

Here are some questions that will help you to identify an Activist:

Can you describe to me how you go about tackling a problem?

Can you describe to me how you tend to approach a new activity?

Here are several more questions you might want to ask your client. Affirmative answers to these questions indicate that your client has an Activist learning style.

Do deadlines help motivate you?

Do you have a tendency to take risks?

Do you enjoy doing new things?

Do you like being the center of attention?

Do you consider yourself to be an optimistic person?

Do you feel comfortable making mistakes?

Do you get bored easily doing the same things over again?

Keep in mind while setting tasks for an Activist that they have a tendency to take quick action without weighing up other possibilities. They also tend to want to do too much by themselves; they sometimes take unnecessary risks; and can get bored when it comes to implementing things long-term. However, they are often very open minded, optimistic, enthusiastic, willing to have a go, and enjoys new experiences. It’s therefore important to keep all these things in mind when setting them tasks and activities.

The Reflector

The second learning style is the Reflector. A Reflector absolutely dislikes deadlines. If you set deadlines for them they will most likely run the other way. Instead, they prefer to learn by watching, listening and by journaling their thoughts and experiences on paper. Above all else they prefer thinking tasks that challenge them intellectually. As such it’s important to set them activities that allow them time to think and reflect upon things before taking action.

Here are a couple of questions that will help you to identify a Reflector.

Can you describe to me how you go about tackling a problem?

Can you describe to me how you tend to approach a new activity?

Here are several more questions you might want to ask your client. Affirmative answers to these questions indicate that your client has a Reflector learning style.

Do you enjoy working with deadlines?

Do you prefer to think and reflect before you act?

Do you tend to procrastinate and make decisions slowly?

Do you tend to hold yourself back from participating in activities?

Do you enjoy observing things from afar?

Do you enjoy intellectual challenges?

Do you tend to feel uncomfortable during pressure situations?

Keep in mind while setting tasks for a Reflector that they have a tendency to procrastinate. They will also hold themselves back from direct participation in an activity and prefer to let other people take the spotlight. Reflectors are also very passive and slow to make up their minds about things. As such, they tend not to take risks. However, they are often very careful, thorough, methodical, thoughtful, and fully assimilate information without jumping to quick conclusions. It’s therefore important to keep all these things in mind when setting them tasks and activities.

The Theorist

The third learning style is the Theorist. A Theorist enjoys connecting and making associations between things. They love gathering new information, insights and perspectives then using this new found knowledge to improve their life. They are often very logical, objective, systematic and analytical. In some respects they are very much perfectionists by nature and will therefore do everything within their power to ensure that they avoid making mistakes. As a result, they learn best using a rational approach. It’s therefore important to set them tasks that involve a lot of research so that they can make sense of their world and circumstances before taking positive action.

Here are some questions that will help you to identify a Theorist:

Can you describe to me how you go about tackling a problem?

Can you describe to me how you tend to approach a new activity?

Here are several more questions you might want to ask your client. Affirmative answers to these questions indicate that your client has a Theorist learning style.

Would you call yourself a rational thinker?

Would you consider yourself to be a disciplined person?

Do you enjoy making connections and associations between things?

Do you often conduct research before you take action on a problem?

Do you see yourself as a perfectionist?

Do you tend to feel uncomfortable when faced with uncertainty?

Keep in mind while setting tasks for a Theorist that they are limited in their creative capacity. They also have a low tolerance for uncertainty, disorder and ambiguity. Above all else, if something doesn’t make rational sense, then they will resist the idea. As such all the tasks and activities you set for them must be of a rational and measurable nature. However, a Theorist is very disciplined once they are committed to something, but they will tend to question the rational purpose of any task you set.

The Pragmatist

The fourth learning style is the Pragmatist. A Pragmatist enjoys solving problems and laying down their own path towards their goal and objective. They have a very practical approach to life and therefore learn best via real life experiences. As such, it’s important to set them tasks that are practical and challenge their capacity to solve real world problems. In fact, provide them space and time to experiment and make mistakes. Even better, allow them to set their own tasks and plans of action for solving problems. That is after all how they work best.

Here are some questions that will help you to identify a Theorist:

Can you describe to me how you go about tackling a problem?

Can you describe to me how you tend to approach a new activity?

Here are several more questions you might want to ask your client. Affirmative answers to these questions indicate that your client has a Pragmatist learning style.

Do you prefer to set your own plans?

Would you call yourself a practical and realistic thinker?

Do you get impatient with theories that don’t have any practical application?

Do you have a task-oriented nature?

Do you enjoy experimenting and learning from experience?

Do you prefer to solve your own problems?

Keep in mind while setting tasks for a Pragmatist that they have a tendency to reject anything without obvious application. They also show disinterest in theories and can become rather impatient very quickly. Furthermore, they are often more task-oriented rather than people-oriented. However, they are often keen to test things out in practice and they have a very business-oriented approach to their problems. In other words, a Pragmatist always likes to get to the point straight away. It’s therefore important to keep all these things in mind when setting them tasks and activities.

Life Coach: Analyzing Client's Learning Style


As you can probably tell, each learning style has very different preferences for learning. These preferences help keep people motivated and focused on the right things while undertaking tasks and activities. Yes, of course an Activist is for instance more action-oriented then a Reflector. However, an Activist is also prone to making more mistakes than a Reflector because they often jump into things without much thought and reflection. This of course doesn’t mean that one is any better than the other. All it means is that different people have various preferences for learning, and it’s up to you as a coach to hone-in on your client’s preferred learning style.

Remember that no matter what your client’s learning style, the goal will always remain unchanged. Whatever goal they are wanting to achieve will be the same no matter what their learning style is. The only thing that changes is how they work towards achieving that goal. For instance asking a Theorist to approach their problems in a practical manner will immediately put them off. The same is true if you asked a Pragmatist to spend time collecting information and researching their problem before taking action. They too will find this task difficult to follow. It’s therefore important that any suggestions you make are aligned with your client’s preferred learning style; otherwise don’t be surprised if they fail to follow-through with the tasks you set them.

In the end it’s not what activities or tasks you set for your client, it’s rather how you instruct your client to approach these activities. That’s really what makes all the difference when it comes to helping your client’s overcome their personal challenges. In other words, what you are essentially doing here is optimizing your client’s behavior patterns in order to help them get the outcome they are after. As such, you are working to your client’s strengths in order to keep them focused and motivated to ensure that they see the task through to the end successfully.

Targeting the Learning Zone

When setting your client tasks and activities, it’s always important to balance the difficulty of the task or activity with the resources that your client has at their disposal. In other words, your client must be sufficiently challenged, however they must also be adequately capable of getting through this challenge successfully. This is in essence the realm of the Learning Zone where your client’s resources and the level of difficulty of the task is more or less equal. As such your client’s ability to perform to their highest potential has been optimized.

Given all this, it’s important to always set tasks and activities that are positioned dead-center of the Learning Zone. You can of course miss the mark and set tasks and activities on either side of this zone. You could for instance target the Anxiety Zone. Within this zone the difficulty of the task is far greater than the resources your client has at their disposal, and as such they will experience a lot of anxiety and resistance. Alternatively you could target the Boredom Zone. Within this zone the difficulty of the task is far less than the resources your client has at their disposal, and as such they will not be sufficiently challenged, which may lead to stagnation and boredom.

In order to target that “sweet-spot” where the difficulty of the task and your client’s resources are more or less equal, you must thoroughly understand your client’s strengths, weaknesses and their resourcefulness in specific situations. Only with a thorough understanding of each of these areas will you have the necessary information you need to help guide your client in the right direction.


Optimizing Your Client’s Learning

For your client life coaching might seem as though it’s just about making breakthroughs and achieving goals, however it’s so much more. Life coaching is all about learning, making progress, and advancing forward in a more positive way.

Every little bit of progress your client makes along this journey helps them to learn more about themselves; it helps them grow and gain the necessary insights and experience to become a better person in every way. And as they change they begin making better choices and decisions, which helps them capitalize on the opportunities that they create for themselves. In fact, the more your client grows and learns, the more resourceful they become, and the more resourceful they are the easier their journey becomes. However, things might not always be this way.

It’s very possible that there might be a number of obstacles to learning that you will have to deal with. For instance your client might have limiting beliefs and habits, unhelpful thoughts, clashing values, low self-esteem, or a number of debilitation emotions that could very well prevent them from being open to learning from experience. And if they don’t learn, then they don’t grow, and if they’re not growing then they will continue to make the same mistakes time and again. As a result their life will stagnate and they might determine that there is absolutely no value in coaching. However, there is a great deal of value in coaching as long as you help your client overcome these learning obstacles successfully.

Even though your client might have a few of these challenges, this doesn’t necessarily mean that you now need to take a step back and work through their limiting beliefs, or help them improve their self-esteem. Working through these areas is of course important but might not be necessary during these early stages of coaching because you can in fact help your client successfully overcome these challenges by setting tasks in more optimal ways.

If ever one of your clients is struggling with a task you set them, then consider for a moment how people learn at their best.

The task you set your client might be the perfect task that will help them learn, grow and move forward in a positive way, however maybe you set this task in a less than optimal way. For instance, consider that people learn best in a fun and supportive environment. Consider also that people are often motivated when they are challenged and rewarded for their efforts. Likewise consider that people gain inspiration when they are fascinated, curious, interested and passionate about something. This creates a sense of excitement that helps keep them focused on the task at hand.

Now, have a think about the task you just set your client and ask yourself:

Does the task I set my client meet this criteria?

Does the task sufficiently challenge them?

Is the task measurable and are there specific rewards for hitting certain targets?

Does this task motivate and inspire them?

Does this task help spark their curiosity and fascination?

Is this task meaningful enough that it help keep them interested and focused?

Does this task provide my client with flexibility in thought and action?

Does this task allow them to express themselves independently and creatively?

Have I set up a supportive and fun environment that encourages them to work through this task successfully?

Have I taken into consideration their preferred learning style when setting this task?

It’s important to take all these questions into consideration when setting your client tasks and activities that will help move them forward between coaching sessions. This way you will ensure that you’re working to your client’s strengths while optimizing their capacity to learn and grow from each experience. Furthermore, if you follow these guidelines you will find that the obstacles to learning you might have identified a little earlier will probably have very little influence on your client’s decisions and actions. Why? Because you have basically turned the task into a game.

Think back to when you were a child. During this early stage of your life it’s likely that you had a plethora of your own insecurities; in fact some of these insecurities might have been related to learning or related to gaining new experiences. However, there was probably always that Primary School teacher who had a special way with kids and always found the perfect recipe that helped you successfully move through these challenges; and often this recipe came in the form of a game that “checked off” all the above mentioned criteria.

Things are no different when we are adults. In fact, we aren’t really adults because we never really grow up. We are simply big kids who still find motivation and inspiration as we did years ago, it might just take a little more convincing these days. 🙂 And that’s of course the key to optimizing your client’s ability to learn and grow from every task, activity and experience. All that’s required is that you use these questions as a checklist and make sure that everything your client does — that puts them on a path towards their desired outcomes — follows this criteria. Only in this way will their resistance subside and they will finally free themselves to reach for their highest potential.

The Four Stages of Competence

No matter how much effort you put into setting up optimal learning environments, there will no doubt be times when the going will be tough and your client will struggle to make progress. In fact, they might be doing all the right things; they might even be learning from mistakes and failure, however their progress just seems slow and arduous. It’s during these times that you must encourage your client to keep persisting. Remind them that learning a new skill or learning how to handle a situation more effectively is a journey of many steps. In fact, it might be helpful to remind them about the four stages of competence.

The four stages of competence were originally developed at Gordon Training International by Noel Burch during the 1970s. These stages of competence provide a model that explains the four distinct stages of learning that lead to the successful mastery of a particular skill or area under study. These four stages include:

  • Unconscious Incompetence
  • Conscious Incompetence
  • Conscious Competence
  • Unconscious Competence

I have already discussed these four stages in detail as they apply to learning a new skill. Please read The Four Stages of Competence as they apply to the process of visual thinking.

In the end, your client must strive to keep improving, learning and growing from every experience. Yes of course they will make mistakes and at times they will struggle to make noticeable progress. However, mastery in any area of life isn’t achieved overnight. It takes time, discipline and effort.

Life Coach: Optimizing Client's Learning Experience


Your Client’s Success Strategy

While working through the process of helping your client optimize their learning, it’s important to also consider the overall strategy they use to get their desired outcomes. Some of the things they do will obviously work in their favor as they learn and grow from every experience, however there will be other strategies that won’t work so well for them. In this respect your client must become consciously aware of what is working and what is not working for them in relation to the outcomes they would like to achieve.

I believe that Albert Einstein was once quoted as saying that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result. Your client must understand that everything they do is a learning experience. However, these learning experiences will be filled with ups and downs, and as a result they must be vigilant and aware of the strategies that work for them, as well as the strategies that don’t work for them.

A strategy is a set of behavior patterns that include choices, decisions and actions. A strategy does however also incorporate your client’s thoughts, attitude, expectations and other psychological factors. These two elements come together to form your client’s strategy of how they go about doing things in specific situations.

Your client might for instance have a specific strategy they use while preparing themselves for a presentation. This strategy includes certain behavioral and psychological patterns that they might use in such instances. Furthermore, your client will also have a strategy for conducting each presentation.

The success of your client’s strategy will hinge upon the behavioral and psychological patterns they utilize. When a presentation for instance goes well, they effectively used a successful strategy to get this outcome. However, if the presentation doesn’t go so well, then that means they used a less than optimal strategy. Your client therefore has patterns that work well for them, and patterns that don’t work so well for them.

Your goal as a coach is to help empower your client by unlocking their “success strategy” in key life areas. Awareness of these strategies means that your client can model themselves upon these existing patterns in order to replicate the same fruitful outcomes. No longer will they need to experiment and continue to make mistakes. Instead, they can just focus on doing what works in order to optimize their results.

All this of course doesn’t mean that after a success strategy is identified that there will no longer be room for improvement. There is always room for improvement. However, awareness of what already works allows for better decision-making in the moment, which helps accelerate your client’s results.

Unlocking Your Client’s Success Strategy

To begin working through this process, it’s important to clarify the outcomes that your client would like to achieve in a certain life area. Ask your client:

What outcome would you like to achieve in this area of your life?

How successful have you been so far?

Did you struggled with anything in particular?

If your client has been relatively successful, then it’s important to immediately begin unlocking the strategy they used in this area. However, if your client hasn’t been overly successful, then you might want to ask a few more questions:

Was there ever a time when you were successful, or at least partially successful? [exception times]

What worked for you during this time?

What specifically were you trying to achieve?

What was the first step of this process?

What decisions did you make?

What actions did you take? What was the outcome?

Did you think about things a certain way?

Did you ask yourself a specific set of questions? Why?

What were your expectations like at this time?

What did you do after that? Why did that work for you?

How did you know when your outcome was successfully achieved?

Did you do these things deliberately or did they simply come about randomly?

What you are attempting to do here is to build your client’s strategy from the ground-up, step-by-step. It’s as though you’re creating a recipe for a chocolate cake. In order to bake a delicious cake your client will need to follow a specific set of instructions. These instructions come in the form of a strategy they use that works for them to achieve a certain outcome. However, the reality of the matter is that you will rarely get a complete working strategy that your client can readily apply to similar situations. Although unlocking a partial strategy is better than no strategy at all because it at the very least gives you something to work with.

What’s also important here is that you pinpoint whether or not the strategy your client used was deliberate or random. If it was deliberate then that’s an indication that your client did it with purpose in mind. However if there was a random behavior or occurrence that just happened to work in their favor, then ask your client:

Why did this random act work for you?

Do you think that because you are now consciously aware of this random act that you might be able to do it with purpose the next time around? How?

Use the answers your client gives you to keep building upon their strategy. Your goal is to pinpoint a clear pattern in their behavior that will allow them to replicate the same kinds of results within similar circumstances in the future.

But what if your client hasn’t at all been successful in this area of life? What if they’ve repeatedly failed and nothing seems to have worked for them? Well in such instances you can gain some insight into your client’s failure strategy — what not to do to get the desired outcome. That alone can provide you with insights about what could potentially work if your client took a different approach. However, in order to explore these possibilities, you need to first get your client in the right frame-of-mind. Ask them:

Can you imagine for a moment that you have a high achiever’s mentality?

Taking this mindset with you, what if you were successful in this area of your life? What would you have done?

What would be your first step? Why would this be successful?

What would be your next step? How would this work for you?

Why would you have done these things in this specific way?

As with the “exception times” above, it’s important here to delve into all the behavioral and psychological factors that might come into play in this situation. For instance ask your client how they might think, the questions they might ask, the decisions they might make, the expectations they might have, and the actions they might take when they successfully manage to attain their desired outcome. All this information will provide you with the insights you need to help build a picture of the “success strategy” your client could potentially utilize to improve their results in this specific area.

Having finished working through these questions, it’s now time to put your client’s success strategy on paper. Actually take the time to draw up the exact strategy they could now use in order to succeed in a specific life area. Then once this is done, ask your client:

How can you gain value from knowing what you now know?

Encourage your client to take this strategy and apply it in the real world. This of course doesn’t guarantee that it will work. It might very well not work, however as long as your client is flexible and willing to learn, grow and adapt, then they will be on course towards making positive improvements to their life.

Finally, take into account that a “success strategy” in one area of life can most certainly be applied to other areas of life. Yes, it might need to be tweaked somewhat, however the foundations will certainly be there. In the end it all comes down to your client’s willingness to experiment and have some fun with this process. In fact, encourage your client to see themselves as a wacky scientist conducting all these crazy experiments. Some experiments will bear fruit, while others may need to be scrapped. But mistakes don’t really matter as long as your client is willing to learn and grow from every experience. And it’s of course up to you as the coach to help them build the optimal learning environment that will allow your client to excel in every area of life.

Life Coach: Identifying Client's Success Strategy


Moving Forward

This article concludes the four part series that leads into the MasterMind Matrix. From here on as a coach, it’s helpful to work with the MasterMind Matrix chart as a guide and reference tool that will allow you to support your client’s development during successive coaching sessions. In fact, within this chart you will find an answer to literally any psychological or behavioral problem, concern or issue your client will ever face.

Because of its nature, the MasterMind Matrix chart is limited in scope, however there are 300+ additional smaller maps that expand upon many different segments of the chart in significant detail. To access all these maps including the MasterMind Matrix please click through to the Lifetime Membership page. This chart and all accompanying maps could very quickly become one of your most indispensable coaching tools. You might even begin to wonder how you ever coached without them. 🙂


Time to Assimilate these Concepts

Life Coaching: Evaluate Client's Reality

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Adam is a life coach, mind mapper, doodler and visual thinker. He founded IQ Matrix in 2009 and has created over 350 self-growth mind maps. He also has a Free 40 Day How to Doodle Course where he teaches how to doodle using simple daily lessons. Read more about Adam's story, and how he created the concept for IQ Matrix. Feel free to also get in touch and send Adam a message here.