What is Life Coaching?

what is life coaching

What is Life Coaching?

“What is life coaching?”

This used to be a pretty straightforward question to answer in the early days of coaching.  

To some extent it still is an easy question to answer.

It is coaching that focuses on a person’s whole life rather than just a specific part.

However, as coaching has become more refined, nuanced and specialised, the concept of the life coach has become somewhat lost.

I noticed this recently when I was asked the difference between life coaching and transformational coaching.

My answer was, “potentially nothing”! Transformational coaching is how one coaches and the change that is being evoked.  Life coaching is what is being coached and the nature of the coach-client relationship.

So, in this Bitesize article, we answer the question: “What is life coaching?”

Origin and Evolution of Life Coaching

Life coaching has a relatively young history, tracing its origins back to the late 20th century. 

Its advent can be seen as synonymous with the rapid pace of societal change that demanded new ways to navigate life’s complexities. 

Precursors to the “life coach” can be found in the motivational speakers of the self-help industry such as Tony Robbins, Wayne Dyer and Jack Canfield.  However, whilst life coaching might share in some of the roots and aspirations of the self-help world, its practices are different, and they stem from a more robust background of humanistic and positive psychology. 

The term “life coaching” was adopted, of course, because this form of coaching, unlike more specialised coaching (such as career, wellness or executive) applies to all facets of life, from personal development and relationships to careers and self-confidence. 

The Life Coach-Client Relationship

A particular feature of life coaching is that the coach-client relationship is typically unmediated by a third-party such as HR or an organisational programme of change. 

The coach-client relationship in life coaching is almost always self-initiated by the client, in a similar manner to psychotherapy. 

This allows the coach and client complete freedom and scope to focus on whatever is important to the client.  This is not to say that other forms of coaching don’t also offer this, but yet they may also be constrained by the wider context of what the coaching is for. 

At all times in life coaching, it is the client who is presumed to be the source of their own answers and it is the role of the coach to facilitate them to whatever answer of decision feels right.

In a sense, rather like George Kelly’ concept of the client as a scientist of their own life, life coaching seeks to encourage clients to take ownership of their life and decisions.. 

Debunking the Myth of the Guru-Life Coach

A prevalent myth about life coaching is the idea that life coaches teach people how to live. 

This misconception leads to a range of inaccurate assumptions about the role of a life coach and what they offer.

A life coach does not prescribe a roadmap to an ideal life not do they have a bunch of life hacks that you might find on YouTube. 

They do not stand on a pedestal of perfection, instructing others on how to live based on their experiences or perspectives. 

In reality, life coaching is rooted in the principle of facilitation rather than instruction. The life coach is a catalyst and a collaborator, empowering clients to discover their answers and map their paths. Life coaching is based on the belief that every individual possesses the resources and answers within themselves. 

The life coach’s role is to guide and support the client in exploring their values, goals, motivations and obstacles. They ask thought-provoking questions and use effective tools and techniques to help the client gain insights and make meaningful changes. 

The client’s autonomy is always respected and nurtured.

The idea, then, that a life coach sets themselves up as a kind of guru is misleading at best and a slur of epic proportions at worst (OK, maybe I’m going overboard there!).

what is life coaching

Distinctive Features of Life Coaching

As we’ve seen, the unique quality = of life coaching lies in its holistic nature. 

While executive coaching may focus on an individual’s professional growth, wellness coaching on their physical health, or career coaching on their career journey, life coaching takes a fully-encompassing view. 

The coach and client collaboratively explore themes like personal development, relationship improvement, career guidance, and achieving a work-life balance. Life coaching is designed to assist individuals in realising their potential and living more fulfilling lives.

One part of this is the focus on emotional and cognitive blocks that come up in the process of change.  If it was as simple as “set a goal and go do it!”, we probably wouldn’t need life coaches and psychotherapists.

In reality, however, life coaches become skilled in helping their explore the more thorny aspects of change including, to name but a few:

Limiting Beliefs: Life coaches can help clients identify and challenge beliefs that may be inhibiting their growth or progress. These can be deeply ingrained assumptions about oneself or the world that hinder the attainment of goals.

Fear of Change: Coaches can work with clients to address their fears or anxieties about changes they need to make. This could involve helping the client to reframe their perception of change as an opportunity rather than a threat.

Impostor Syndrome: A life coach can support a client in overcoming feelings of being a fraud or not deserving their success, allowing them to embrace their achievements and capabilities.

Procrastination: By exploring the reasons behind a client’s habit of procrastination, a life coach can help develop strategies to increase productivity and take action.

Lack of Clarity: Sometimes, the barrier to progress is not knowing what one truly wants. A coach can facilitate introspection to help the client identify their genuine desires and goals.

Low Self-Esteem: A life coach can assist a client in boosting their self-esteem by focusing on their strengths and achievements and by challenging negative self-talk.

Fear of Failure: By redefining the concept of failure and helping the client to see it as a learning opportunity, a life coach can help alleviate this fear.

Emotional Blocks: Emotions like anger, sadness, or guilt can stymie progress. Life coaches can support clients in acknowledging, expressing, and managing these emotions effectively.

Resistance to Feedback: Some people struggle with receiving criticism. A life coach can help clients become more receptive to feedback, seeing it as a tool for growth and improvement.

Perfectionism: The pursuit of perfection can lead to a fear of making mistakes, stifling creativity and action. Coaches can help clients recognise the negative impact of perfectionism and work towards embracing ‘good enough’.

These are but a few of the themes that life coaches deal with in their practice and are indicative of the complexity that significant personal change involves.

Tools and Techniques in Life Coaching

Life coaching is fundamentally what it says on the tin – coaching.  

This means that like all coaching it relies on facilitating clients to their own answers through questioning, reflecting, goal-setting, decision making and so on.

However, in reality, many life coaches will blend coaching with other approaches.  This might include things like visualisation, meditation and journaling.  Whilst this is not strictly coaching, it may certainly support the coaching journey just, in the same way, the use of psychometrics might support executive coaching.

In addition, many life coaches draw upon practices from other disciplines including mindfulness, Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), hypnotherapy, and other complementary techniques. 

By doing so, life coaches can offer a bespoke and multifaceted approach to self-improvement. 

The Impact and Benefits of Life Coaching

Life coaching brings transformative benefits, from boosting self-confidence to improving decision-making skills. 

However, the impact is often deeply personal, varying from one individual to another. 

Some might experience drastic life changes, while others notice a gradual improvement in their overall well-being. 

The key in all this, however, is that the change is discovered and implemented by the client.


In conclusion, life coaching’s holistic, comprehensive approach sets it apart from many other forms of coaching. 

It incorporates a wide array of tools and techniques, and the coach-client relationship is direct and unmediated by third parties. 

As societal demands continue to evolve, life coaching’s importance and influence are set to increase, helping individuals navigate their journeys to self-fulfilment.

Author Details
Nick is the founder and CEO of Animas Centre for Coaching and the International Centre for Coaching Supervision. Nick is an existentially oriented coach and supervisor with a passion for the ideas, principles and philosophy that sits behind coaching.
Nick Bolton Avatar
Nick Bolton

Nick is the founder and CEO of Animas Centre for Coaching and the International Centre for Coaching Supervision. Nick is an existentially oriented coach and supervisor with a passion for the ideas, principles and philosophy that sits behind coaching.

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