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How to change a life

May 18, 2021 - 6 min read


BetterUp data gives us a peak at what predicts a life changing moment in coaching.

Think of the last time you had a life changing moment. Pandemic aside, what surfaces for me as “life changing” were the birth of my daughter and a cross-country move. 

But when I really think about it, many life changing moments are only recognizable in retrospect. For example, it may not be obvious that a particular piece of feedback will become a guiding principle or that an accomplishment would lead to a permanent mindset shift — that happened to me when I ran my first 5K and my mindset shifted to that of an athlete. 

Oftentimes, we don’t realize a life changing moment when it happens — only with deep reflection do we identify those moments as critical turning points. 

Yet coaching not only creates such critical moments, but the Member recognizes it when it happens. We know this because after every coaching session, we collect feedback from the Member around the significance of the session. Members tell us when they’ve had a life-changing moment in their session. 

But, how often does this actually happen? When it does happen, what are Members discussing with their coach? And, are there certain groups that are more likely to have this experience? 

What the data say

First, the rate of life changing sessions is higher than 1 in 10. What that means is that if a person commits to 10 sessions with a coach, they are highly likely to experience a profound ah-ha moment that they consider life changing.

Next, we looked at the most common topics of discussion for sessions deemed “life changing.”  Keep in mind that not every session should change our lives. That would be exhausting. Just like personal training, most sessions are doing foundational work and holding us accountable. 

However, when life-changing sessions happen, they are most often around one of three topics: 

  1. Values. These sessions focus on finding purpose, finding passion, reflecting on the role of work and the importance of family, making decisions, and solving problems. 
  2. Well-being. These sessions focus on stress management, coping skills, self-care, and setting boundaries.
  3. Communication. These sessions focus on public speaking and presentation skills, negotiating, and managing difficult conversations and conflict. These high stakes communication scenarios can uncover underlying issues with confidence, lack of control, fear, regulating emotions, and maladaptive self-talk. 

The commonality among these topics is “making choices.” The insight is that coaching can help us recognize where we have choices to make, and to be more aware of the consequences that result from our choices. These topics prompt Members to explore questions: “What is most important to me and what do I really want?” “Where do I draw my boundaries?” “How do I want to show up and be received in critical moments?” 

We also know that those who may have historically been under-served or who are in high-stakes lines of work experience higher rates of life changing sessions. 

  • Members in one of BetterUp’s Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging coaching programs are 41% more likely to have life changing moments than others. 
  • Those coming from the Sales function have nearly double the life changing rate of the average Member! 

More on coaching for diversity and inclusion here and for sales here

Finally, we see that anyone who is navigating a change – like taking a new role, a change in leadership, a change in business priorities, or even a shift into or out of remote work – is more likely to experience a life changing moment in the sessions around the time of the change event. Transitions disrupt our personal status quo. These shifts fracture our patterns, open space, and can naturally catalyze reflection. 

Why it matters

So many organizations are hoping to help their people develop as leaders and thrive personally. But it takes meaningful investment – by the individual and the organization – to shift thought patterns, belief systems, socialized ideals, and, of course, behavior in a profound way. 

But we know it’s possible. And with coaching, it happens regularly. 

How many HR technologies create life changing moments for people? I struggle to think of many products at all that have actually changed my life. 

What’s unique about coaching is that it can facilitate the “ah-ha” or help something finally “click,” but it also brings awareness to that process happening. It both leads people to revelations and creates a space for attention and reflection on the revelation. This meta-awareness is part of the “teaching people to fish” aspect of coaching that amplifies the impact. The combination of answering important personal and professional questions with the self-awareness that you’ve found an answer? That is life-changing. 

At BetterUp we know firsthand the potential for coaching to touch people and change lives because we all have coaches. We’ve experienced these moments. We’ve seen them in others. Facilitating moments of transformation for others is a profound privilege.

The fact that they also recognize that they’ve had them is proof of the power of coaching. 

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Published May 18, 2021

Erin Eatough, PhD

Sr. Insights Manager

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