Be Your Own Coach (and Client!): Build on What Works

“Here’s what I’m finally going to fix about myself.”

It’s something we’re all tempted to declare from time to time. After all, if we want to make things better, we need to start by fixing what Isn’t working, right?

Well, no. There’s plenty of research that demonstrates that it’s far more effective to focus on what is Embrace your strengths and work hard to improve them.

Why? There are at most three reasons.

  1. What’s working has already shown itself to work! It is working in a positive way. It gives us something to work on and provides insights into how we can succeed.
  2. Building on what’s working is far more enjoyable than knocking our heads against what isn’t, so we’re far more likely to stick with the changes we make that capitalize on the things that are going well.
  3. If we add up the volume of things that are doing well, they can crowd out the things going poorly. This can lead to significant change.

Does that mean that if we’ve recently gotten into a great exercising routine but things are going badly at work, we should just keep working out and ignore the problems in the office? Not at all. We need to pay real attention to the areas where we’re struggling. However, if we start with something positive, our attention to them will be much more productive. Is going well that we can build on—even in those areas of our lives where Most things aren’t working as we’d wish.

So that’s the background. Now here’s how to be your own coach around this.

Think of an area of your life that’s important to you. It could be your family, friends, health, work, or any other area that is important to you. It can be an area in which things overall are going well or in which things in general aren’t going so well.

Ask yourself two questions. Answer the questions as concretely and specific as possible.

What is one specific thing that’s working well in this area of my life? Remember that “working well” doesn’t mean “working perfectly.” If you’re having a hard time naming something that’s going well in a particular area, lower your standards—at least for the moment! Think of something that’s going better than other things in that part of your life.

What small, specific action can I take to build upon that? For example, something that’s going well in my work life is that I’m making progress in focusing on one thing at a time rather than pretending that I can be effective at doing multiple things at once. This has allowed me be more productive and less harried. One way I could build on that might be to shut down my email when I write so I’m not tempted to check out new messages as they come in.

Okay, here’s the part that really matters. You just came up with one small, specific way that you can build on something that’s going well. Now, get more specific and concrete. How would it be done? How often would you do it? How often would you do it? How do you start?

Then commit to doing that one thing—that one small, concrete thing.

Writing down your commitments is a key component of making them stick. Another is being specific about when you’ll do them. For example:

  • I’ll do _________ for five minutes every morning before breakfast.
  • Tomorrow afternoon when I see my boss, I’ll _________.
  • Every time _________ happens, I’ll _________.


That’s it. It was easy. You were your coach. You can now be your own client!

You can be a great client by simply doing what you’ve committed to doing and then repeating it repeatedly and consistently. That is the key to sustainable change—taking small steps immediately, repeatedly, and consistently.

As you act on your commitment, pay attention to how it’s going, either with some brief journaling, a regular conversation with a friend, or just by checking in with yourself each day. Be conscious about paying attention to what’s working and how you can build on it. That way, you’ll be able to find even more ways to build momentum as you move forward.

Do you want to see positive change in your life or the lives of your clients? Connect positive psychology research with practical skills in WBI’s Positive Psychology Coaching Fundamentals with Lynda Wallace. 

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