Millennials have, on more than one occasion, been dubbed the soul-searching generation. We’re more likely to travel, job hop and delay starting a family.
But who can blame us? We’re saddled with more debt than our parents, and it’s predicted that 1 in 3 of us will never own a home.
That’s probably the reason why life coaching is a booming industry right now – recent figures estimate that it’s worth $1.08 billion in the US alone and that there are 17,000 coaches worldwide.
The idea is that an expert picks apart your muddled thinking and helps to identify your life goals, before pointing out ways to get you to where you want to be.
Life coaching is different from therapy, in that it’s not about fixing mental health problems, but is focused instead on self-improvement when it comes to business, personal projects and (as the Instagram cliche goes) living your best life.
So, does brainstorming your life with a professional actually work? I decided to try it for three months. Here’s what I learned…
1. Everyone that’s stuck in a rut should do soft play
My sessions took place for one hour each week, over Skype, with women’s life coach Lucy Atkinson from Find a Balanced Life. One of the big things that helped to get me out of a creative rut was something called ‘soft play’, a tool that Atkinson prescribes to all of her clients.
The idea is to pick a pleasurable activity to do each week that helps to replenish and recharge your batteries. The only rule is that it has to be done alone. Over the course of the three months, I tried everything from life drawing and aerial hooping, to horse riding and watching a documentary at my local cinema.
‘Soft play’ is great because it presses you to try new things, and it soon became the most rewarding part of my week. It’s amazing how little time I’d actually spent by myself, prior to Lucy forcing me to schedule it in.
Once I started expanding my horizons, I felt more creatively challenged. I networked with new people and it helped me to gain some insight into the types of tasks that could hold my focus and get me into a deep state of concentration.
2. Using ‘soft power’ is key
According to UK statistics, women are 60% more likely to suffer job stress and burnout than men – and stress at work is something that we can all relate to. Atkinson believes that the key to staying afloat at work is harnessing something called ‘soft power’, where you’re able to flow between both hard and soft energies at the same time.
It sounds obvious, but when you become conscious of the types of energy you put into your day, it becomes much easier to actively switch between them – rather than constantly fuelling on stress and adrenaline.
For instance, sometimes you need a bit of hard energy to have a difficult conversation at work, or churn out a last-minute project, but you probably want dial it down when it comes to trying to win over a new client.
3. Journal your thoughts to find your mojo
I kept a diary from the age of eight until I left home at 18, and I’d forgotten how helpful dumping your thoughts onto paper actually is. It’s a habit that was really easy to pick back up in adult life, too. Last thing at night, I took 15 minutes to write down everything that was going on in my mind.
As well as being a highly entertaining read, keeping a three-month journal allowed me to comb back over the entries to better understand my goals, prioritise my problems and pick up on any niggling, recurring fears.
4. Use ‘soft power planning’ instead of goal setting
I love goal setting, but I’m a sucker for writing to-do lists in notebooks, and then abandoning them when the going gets tough. Atkinson explains that this is because most of us have goals that keep us busy, setting them from the head and not the heart.
Soft power planning is all about shooting for your dreams, rather than endlessly keeping yourself busy with those must-do tasks that don’t factor the actual goal in sight.
First you start by creating your ultimate goal (this doesn’t need to have a timeline) and then you plan in annual milestones, followed by quarterly milestones. The idea is that it gives you intentions and plans that are right for you – not just goals that are designed pragmatically.
5. Identifying needs is the way to find out what’s really going wrong
Everyone has needs, but not everyone’s needs are the same; as well as eating, drinking and sleeping, there are other less obvious pursuits that keep us grounded.
It could be escaping to the coast to go surfing each month, being able to travel from country to country or just making time for a cup of tea. The point is that everyone has different soul-pleasing rituals that make life feel more enjoyable. Defining your needs is important, because once you’ve mapped them out, you can start designing a life that makes sure they’re met.
Even the most inspiring CEOs will have different ideas about what they actually need to be happy and successful. When it comes to figuring out a direction, Atkinson says it’s all about finding a balance that works for you.