Coaching can help in a ways nothing else can. It can unblock us, lift us over challenges, or fan into flames latent strengths and opportunities. It impacts on significant, bespoke to who-you-are, and often hard-to-reach parts of us. It brings light to our internal, unwritten rules which sit and reign from a few layers deep in our minds.
But coaching will not avail us if we don’t see a coach; and often we don’t see a coach because we don’t know what “topic” we’d bring, or even if we have one! It’s like the millions who suffer a recurring or continual physical ailment, but it remains undiagnosed, and thus the accepted norm¹ - when seeking a doctor could remedy the issue.
How do we find ‘enough’ of a topic, or at least have something to say when the coach inevitably asks “What do you want to talk about today?” Lets examine what makes a good topic, and then how to find one that applies to us!
What makes a good coaching topic?
The great strength of coaching arises from the fact it’s a partnership between yourself and the coach. The natural, personally crafted dialogue achieves what no book, podcast or video can manage – relevance, meaning and focus entirely bespoke to you – so make it something that has a personal significance.² If you really could just as easily move forwards in your topic by reading a book on the subject – there is a good chance a deeper topic is available to you.
Doesn't need to be specific
Personal doesn’t mean it is well specified.² “I get a general sense of anxiety when I think about the future” is fairly vague, but it makes a great topic to bring to a coach. If more specificity will help you, that can be found during the conversation. Keeping it vague, can actually leave room for curiosity, and away from pre-meditated solutions which usually skip past your chances to discover new insights.
A topic should be an area you where want to see change, but change is challenging. Growing your business, gaining confidence, trusting people, stopping procrastination, making a decision, learning to be more optimistic, all of these involve change. If the change you want is ‘for the world to be a better place’ or ‘to cook better’, that’s fine to bring; but expect the conversation to take a few turns before it lands on an area that can be improved within the scope of a coaching conversation. Its fine to start there, if that is the topic on your heart.
Don’t limit it to ‘fixing problems’
We naturally think of coaching as a place to help overcome our problems or challenges. I’ve already compared seeing a coach to seeing a doctor – but actually, coaches can help you take something that is ‘just fine’, and help you cause it to flourish. You can have a topic such as “I want to feel as happy as I did when I was eight”, or “I want to discover ways to grow my skills and use them to give something to the community”.
Coaching impact compounds with consistency
The longer you receive coaching, the more ambitious and outward your topics tend to become – you start to act positively with agency, rather than sure up your weak sides. The more your brain becomes like a quiet, ever-present coach in the background of your mind. Your self-awareness is heightened. This happens not because you have chosen the best topics for your coaching conversation – but simply because you’ve had consistent coaching – so picking a topic, and showing up at all is more important than picking something perfect.
How to find a topic?
Its all very well to know the qualities that contribute towards a meaningful coaching topic – but how can you find one for yourself?
What have you been ruminating about?
This is often a good source of topics for classic ‘over-thinkers’ like me, but is not necessarily the best way to find a topic for everyone. It can also lean towards a negative bias – which isn’t a problem, but if you can think of a positive way to phrase the same issue, so much the better.
What would you be doing if your fears and doubts dropped away?
What would you do, if you had all the courage and confidence necessary? (See what I did there? Phrased the same issue but a positive way). Sometimes that question itself is a powerful confrontation – we often struggle to be kind to ourselves as we face how much our own mindset or mental strength may be limiting our apparent options. This can be where coaching gold lies!
What dynamic or way of experience life have you enjoyed that you want to cultivate more?
A few months ago, I found myself between appointments, walking home in the sunshine, with more time than I needed. There was a sense of peace, to the point of bliss, and I asked myself – why can’t my mind be like this more often, even if I don’t happen to have this ‘quiet sunny interlude’ in my day? There may be many times you’ve noticed something in yourself you’d like to see more of – that’s a worthy coaching topic.
What inner dialogue would you change if you could?
The classic ‘inner critic’! If you could swap out the voice of that inner critic for another voice – what would that voice be called? Inner champion? A heart-felt encourager? A personal fan? We all have an inner voice, and it’s possible to cultivate qualities in that voice, and often it will be through objective listening and replaying what the voice is currently concerned about – with the help of a coach – that we can understand what is really going on for us.
What is hard that could be easy?
I often felt overrated by others. A contributing reason is I could do things which I found hard and uncomfortable to do, but did them anyway, with something close to a smile on my face, and then fall apart privately afterwards – only to slowly emerge later wondering why I was even in this job, company, area of work. I had the skills, but something about the context meant I didn’t enjoy applying them.
This has been a key area for my own personal growth and coaching journey – fail of failure, fear of conflict, and other energy-drainers live here, and a coach can help you dismantle the unintentional beliefs you are holding that feed this cycle. Put more broadly, when do you feel too much, too easily? Does a particular topic, face, or negative word send you spiraling? What could be behind that?
What pattern can you observe, that you’d love to break or rise above?
Our behavioral patterns often serve us well; but sadly, some patterns undermine our long-term potential. Patterns can have a seductive power to them, and even contemplating shifting a habit, which can seem unchangeable, can take some focused effort. But these patterns come from our minds, and determine, one day at a time, where we end up 10 years from now. Interrogating these patterns, and getting serious about mastering the use of our own time, bodies and attention, is another source of powerful coaching topics.
The big takeaway – we always have something worth taking to a coach. We don’t always know what it is; but you’ll quickly get adept at finding those topics the more coaching you receive and by keeping notes throughout the week, with the points above in mind. Don’t worry too much about ‘how could this topic really help’ – its the coach’s job to help you see your underlying state and operation – then help you can reform your thinking – with vast quantities of inherent wisdom you already have - into a new, healthy understanding! Becoming the best version of yourself a one conversation at a time.
"Undiagnosed diseases are relatively common", Susan Buckles, Mayo Clinic
"Tips For Choosing Coaching Topics", Gia Storms, Co-Active Training Institute