Our Coaching Philosophy: The Momentum Method

Coach.me's default philosophy on coaching is to focus on momentum. 

Practically everything we've ever encountered in behavior design relies on or is aided by focusing on consistency first. This is the unique value proposition of online coaching--coaches can now make daily contact which means they can focus their coaching on immediate and repeatable actions. It's like the difference between sitting in an office once per week to talk about your golf swing versus being on the driving range every day with a swing instructor.

Focusing on consistency has the following benefits:

  • All coaching advice and optimizations are triggered by reality-based observations.
  • Your client sees immediate results and doesn't have to worry about the investment they're making in your coaching.
  • You open up opportunities for positive reinforcement and shaping (a la Karen Pryor).
  • You change mindsets a la Carol Dweck. Proof of progress creates confidence that a client is capable of growth.
  • Works with online coaching. Other methods flat out don't work.

The Four Phases of Momentum

1. Start with Assessment. What is the person's larger goal and why? What do they expect from their coach? You need this assessment in order to identify and initial practice and to be able to personalize your coaching. 

2. Use the assessment to move on to Habituation. Find a regular practice that will support your client's larger goal. Then focus on building consistency. 

3. Once there is consistency, you can work on Growth. This where you can expand the difficulty of the practice, build skills, identify and solve challenges, and introduce optimizations.

4. You and your client should look for Graduation milestones where you can re-assess and either end the coaching relationship or restart the momentum cycle based on what you and your client learned the first time through. It's much better to do multiple trips through the Momentum Cycle than it is to be bogged down in one phase.

Below, we'll go through each phase and give example scripts to use.

Phase 1: Assessment

When you first talk to your client, you'll have a chance to ask questions and perform a simple assessment. Typically, this assessment comes in the form of short set of one to five questions that get sent automatically to new clients (via your Coach.me welcome message).

The right questions can accomplish the following:

1. Get the bigger picture. By finding out why the client has picked a goal and how they expect that goal to change their life, you'll have more context for how to adjust and personalize your coaching during the rest of the cycle.

2. Identify blockers. This way you can know what needs to be worked around and what put together a plan for removing them.

3. Identify your client's expectations. You'll start to be able to identify personas that need to be coached with different techniques. You'll also be able to correct expectations. Nothing ruins a coaching relationship faster than mismatched expectations.

Here is a welcome message from a coach that contains a simple assessment in order to achieve the goals above (while also giving background on the context and expectations of coaching). Feel free to copy and edit this for yourself.

Thank you for signing up for coaching with me.

You can send me a message at any time and I'll respond as quickly as I can. I make sure to check in with all my clients by 3pm Pacific Time.

My process is based on building momentum, so one of the first things we'll do is find a first step that you can take toward your goal. But before we do that, I need to hear more about your goal and why you hired me.

Here are a few questions to kick off the process.

1. What goal do you want to achieve and why?

2. What would your life be like if you achieved this goal?

3. Describe your perfect day?

4. Describe your typical (not perfect) day. What's stopping you from achieving your goal?

5. How do you hope my coaching will help you? If you've been coached before, do you have any preferences about how I should coach you?

My goal is for you to see major results within two weeks. I'll use your answers to the questions above to explain the process for getting there.

Related skills and strategies:

1.  Active listening. It is crucial that you summarize and repeat back your client's goal so that they know you are paying attention.

2.  Personas. You can go as far as offering a personality test in order to learn how you should personalize your approach.

This phase normally only lasts one or two days. Any longer and the clients tend to wonder, "When does the coaching start?"

Phase 2: Habituation

Momentum only works if the client has identified a daily practice. Some people call this Baby Steps or Tiny Habits. We call it a minimum daily practice.

Coach.me encourages clients in this direction by asking them to pick a specific goal when they hire their coach.

In most cases, you should be able to identify and jump right to a regular practice. If your client wants to run a marathon, then they need to build the habit of running. Often, your client will even suggest a first step--but be on the lookout for a suggestion that's too big. When this happens you can reframe the habit as something much smaller. 

Below is an example response to a client who had the goal to finish their dissertation. They thought they were struggling with procrastination and "just can't focus on writing for 8 hours at a time."  

This is what I'm hearing. You want to write every day in order to make faster progress on your dissertation. When you try to spend 8 hours writing, you feel like you mostly end up procrastinating. Is that right?

So, the way I work is to use a momentum based methodology. The idea is to focus on consistency first so that we can build momentum. And then once their is consistency, we can work on quality and quantity. In your case that second phase would be how long do you write, how you feel about the quality of the writing, and (maybe) how many words did you write. But for now, let's just work on consistency.

For tomorrow, what do you think about really focusing on sitting down and getting right to work? Can you time yourself and tell me how long it takes between the time you sit down at your desk and the time you've finished writing your first sentence?

Notice the above response also makes active use of active listening techniques, using exact words and phrases from the client's last message.

Once you've identified a minimum daily practice, you'll need to make sure that practice is truly consistent. The most common strategies for building consistency are:

  • Goal definition: try the anchoring and goal statement exercises in order to clarify the how and when of the habit.
  • Habit building basics: habits work best when you scope them down to a minimum daily practice, anchor them to existing habits, and treat different contexts (work, home, travel) as separate habits. 
  • Environmental design: one time decisions that make the habit easier to achieve.
  • Accountability and positive reinforcement: these strategies help reinforce and motivate your client until their habit is built.

If the client already has the habit, then it should take 1-2 days for you to verify that. If the client is starting from scratch, then it will take 1-2 weeks for the habit to take hold. Note, they won't have a permanent habit at two weeks, rather, they'll have enough consistency to move on to the next phase.

Phase 3: Growth

Once you have consistency, you can work on helping the client increase the difficulty. If they're just working on a habit, then you'll work on making the habit permanent. But usually the goal also has a skill or volume component.

There are a million things to do here and a lot of them are specific to the goal that you're coaching. A running coach might work the client through a progressively harder training load. A productivity coach might help their client identify patterns and design processes for handling them, for example, how to quickly process expense reports.

Here are the main tactics:

  • Spotlighting questions: you can help the client plan, examine and optimize their own goal. In this mode, you use questions to spotlight area for improvement and the client provides the answers.
  • Skill progression: this is where you can use your expertise to improve the client's performance one element at a time.

This phase can go on indefinitely, especially if your client is looking to you for accountability. However, it's always better to be on the lookout for a milestone where you can claim success and then start a new trip through the Momentum Cycle.

Phase 4: Graduation

When your client has achieved their goal or an important milestone, you should work them through this graduation step with the goal of revising, reevaluating or truly graduating. These are the main potential outcomes:

1. Go through the Momentum Cycle again, starting with a re-assessment to see how to be even better. For example, you could train for one marathon, consider that a graduation moment, and then reassess in order to run faster at a second marathon.

2. Move to an adjacent goal and start the Momentum Cycle for that goal. For example, a productivity coach working on prioritization might follow up with Inbox Zero.

3. Allow for a true goodbye: you've done your work and your client has truly graduated. 

4. Go into maintenance mode. In this period, 90% of your value will be in holding the client accountable. Occasionally you may spot room for improvements, but mostly you'll just be an external source of  motivation.