When I tell people that I’m becoming a life coach, most of them ask me: but what is this thing called coaching?

I’ve been thinking for a while about how I could give an answer to this recurring question easily. I have found that there are many possible answers coming from different sources, some too simple, some too difficult, but none clear enough for everyone to understand coaching straight forward. At least this is my point of view. Analyzing the manner to do this I reached the conclusion that the best way would be by illustrating the main ideas behind a coaching process with an example. And recently I had that eureka moment (known in the coaching jargon as insight) while watching in YouTube a documentary called “The Mars Underground”. SPACE! The example I was looking for! Let’s illustrate coaching with missions around our solar system.

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The key to accomplish any enterprise relies on goals. This applies to everything, from the space race, to business, sports, and of course your daily life. That’s why during a coaching process we give a lot of importance to goal setting, not only because of the goals themselves, also because during the process you need to analyze the current situation and you have to envision the ideal outcome, something that we tend to skip. Then grosso modo this is what happens in a first coaching session: the coach make you questions so you stop and think about where you are now (reality check), and where you want to be (vision). After that you can set your goals, and later you’ll make an action plan to achieve them, but we’ll come to those steps in the future. Let’s focus now on the goals.

Another important point is that behind any goal there are always values which give you the solid reasons to accomplish them. Coming to the space race to illustrate the coaching process, let’s see how the situation was in the early sixties. Bear in mind that those were the Cold War years between USA and the USSR, and space was a priority for security (what a subjective concept!) and propaganda reasons. The capitalism needed to beat the communism, which so far had been winning all the time with the Sputniks, Laika and Gagarin. Thus the USA needed a big victory to show their supremacy. The first man on the moon would mean to win the space race. What’s more, as it was really a race, the deadline had to be tight, as short as possible. All this is clearly shown during John F. Kennedy’s famous speech in September 12th 1962, when he challenged NASA to put a man on the moon before the end of the decade, and of course bring him back alive. He made a pretty good coaching job there. Let’s have a look to a fragment of the speech with coach-point-of-view comments [in brackets]:

“These are extraordinary times. And we face an extraordinary challenge [Placement: world is moving fast, we need to move]. Our strength as well as our convictions have imposed upon this nation the role of leader in freedom’s cause. [Values: we are the good guys]

… if we are to win the battle that is now going on around the world between freedom and tyranny, the dramatic achievements in space which occurred in recent weeks should have made clear to us all, as did the Sputnik in 1957, the impact of this adventure on the minds of men everywhere, who are attempting to make a determination of which road they should take [Reality check: space is crucial, and communists are kicking our butts]. … Now it is time to take longer strides—time for a great new American enterprise—time for this nation to take a clearly leading role in space achievement, which in many ways may hold the key to our future on Earth [Placement: we need to turn the situation around].

I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth [this is the actual GOAL statement]. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish [Placement highlighting how important and challenging this is].”

Precise, inspiring, challenging, and with a deadline. The perfect goal statement, one of the keys of a coaching process. And as we know, freedom won, and the USA managed to put a human on the moon on time, specifically on July 20th 1969.

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Now you know that one of the important points during a coaching process is to set your goals properly. Let’s go a little further continuing with NASA as an example of someone able to do things both the right and the wrong way.

After the Cold War, the main NASA mistake that made them be overtaken by other space agencies has been simply not having an inspiring goal with a clear deadline. Maybe due to the fact that reasons/values have changed for everyone, and nowadays space is not a priority any more, and there is no Cold War (?). Moon is boring, and Mars too distant and too expensive, and there is no precise goal for NASA right now. There has been some attempts, like the one in 2004 from George Bush to go back to the moon to create a permanent base there: “Establishing an extended human presence on the moon could vastly reduce the costs of further space exploration, making possible ever more ambitious missions.” Idea is smart (did it really come from Bush?) but the timeline was too long, by 2020, so 16 years ahead. As expected, in the meantime the administration changed, the economy collapsed, USA went to fight terror around… That’s why there aren’t new funny flags fluttering on the moon or anywhere else out there. Goals deadlines need to be close. If not you can witness how in recent years NASA is merely wandering around with meh random space missions. This makes the people loose interest, what brings NASA’s budget to be cut by the politicians, what brings them to even more meh missions, yielding less interest from the audience… Unlike during the sixties, when they were able to engage everyone, from engineers/scientists at NASA to the politicians and public opinion.

Coming back to the movie I mentioned at the beginning of the post (The Mars underground), it is about the concept of a guy called Dr. Robert Zubrin who wanted to convince NASA to follow his project named Mars Direct to put a man on Mars in less than 10 years with available technology. The concept itself is pretty good, and the idea of humans on Mars as the next big goal for space exploration sounds like the right thing to do next. Actually Mars Direct was the inspiration for the guy called Andy Weir who wrote the science fiction novel “The Martian”, which later became that cool movie with Matt Damon. And Kate Mara. Two of my favorite humans ever, for different reasons. Nevertheless, we need to mention that this Mars Direct idea started in the early nineties…

So what happens with Dr. Zubrin? Why if he had strong reasons plus a clear goal with a short deadline there is no one right now flipping red rocks on Mars searching for small alien bugs? Well, because this was not his goal. It was in a way, but he wanted to plant it on NASA. And what happens when somebody tells you what to do? Simply that you oppose, that’s a very human reaction. Then we have another factor needed to get what you want: Solid reasons + challenging goal + short deadline + walk your own way. Don’t expect others to accomplish your goals!

Now we must talk about Elon Musk, the World’s raddest man. During the conception of this post he made the announcement of SpaceX plans to colonize Mars. He goes one step beyond, highlighting another point to the coaching process: think different. Take a complete new approach. Because if you repeat what others did you’ll only reach to the same place where they arrived. If what you are doing is not working, try something different. So they did. Reuse the ships, refuel in orbit… Check out their concept to bring humans to Mars. Awesome to the max!

And why to believe that SpaceX is going to succeed? Because they are using a coaching approach, which is:

  • Strong reasons: Elon Musk (and hopefully we all) knows that we cannot continue treating the Earth like this, so to assure the survival of the Homo sapiens sapiens he proposes two things, which are a) change the way we use energy to move and at home, introducing Tesla motors and the PowerWall batteries, respectively, and b) start colonizing another planet, in case plan a) is not enough.
  • Clear goal with a deadline: they will start sending a capsule to Mars by 2018, and the first humans by 2024. So we’ll see guys flipping red rocks during our lifetimes. Not “during the next 30 years” like NASA was saying. Start now!
  • Independency: they are doing all by themselves, without the danger of changes in the government, public funds cuts… Don’t rely on external factors but on yourself.
  • Think different: if whatever has been done until now didn’t work, time to do something new. Start from scratch if necessary. If you repeat the same procedures you’ll get the same results. Take a new approach. Be a game changer.

And these are some notions on how coaching works using space exploration as an example. Clearer now? Comment your ideas, contact us for more info, and share if you enjoyed the reading.

TL;DR: Coaching provides a methodology to make you progress from being NASA to be SpaceX. Analyze your values. Check your situation, current and desired. Set clear goals. Make a novel action plan and implement it by yourself. 

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