What Exactly is Life Coaching?

Sir John Whitmore was one of the pioneering and influential figures in the life coaching industry. In his seminal book, Coaching for performance, Whitmore drew on Timothy Gallwey’s inner game model that recognises that the internal state of an individual plays a significant factor in performance. Whitmore states in his book that coaching is about “unlocking a person’s potential to maximise their own performance. It is helping them to learn instead of teaching them – a facilitation approach” (Whitmore, 1992, p. 8 as cited in Passmore & Tee, 2020). Reflecting on one’s own life, consider the impact of self-talk on performance, decision-making, and problem-solving. How crucial do self-awareness and personal responsibility become when considering such matters?

When an individual enters into a life coaching engagement, they will experience a transformational process created by a unique relationship based on collaboration, trust, confidentiality, and conversations that are meant to develop self-awareness, inspire change and create action (Passmore & Tee, 2020; Van Zyl et al., 2016). The role of the life coach is to facilitate and support the client as they move towards reaching their goals and enhancing their well-being, in a collaborative solution-focused, result-orientated way (Passmore & Tee, 2020).

While the life coaching process is focused on goal attainment, it also allows room for self-reflection so the client can make sense of their situation. This is designed to help the client link their personal identity with specific action perspectives. The reflective process that the coaching client experiences is often a joint experience by the life coach, as together they reflect on the challenges the client is enduring. This meaning-making dialogue opens up awareness of how actions, limited thinking patterns, and self-sabotaging behaviours affect one’s life. As the coaching conversation progresses over time a new narrative unfolds in the developmental process. Van Zyl et al. (2016) state that the art of life coaching is to alter the client’s past history in a collaborative way by incorporating new events and persons and by creating and challenging the story’s plot.

By providing a safe and collaborative space for the client to explore the deeper aspects of their lives and their presenting issues, the life coach gives the client permission to delve into the potential of what change means to them. Defined as goals, these changes play a key role in transitions from existing states to desired states or outcomes (Van Zyl et al., 2016).


Passmore, J. & Tee, D. (2020). Defining coaching. Passmore, J. & Tee, D. (Eds.), Coaching researched – A coaching psychology reader for practitioners and researchers. Wiley-Blackwell

Van Zyl, L. E., Stander, M. W., & Odendaal, A. (2016). Coach as a fellow human companion. Van Zyl, L. E., Stander, M. W., & Odendaal, A. (Eds.), Coaching Psychology: Meta-theoretical perspectives and applications in multicultural contexts. Springer international publishing

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