When Coaching Works

This is a picture of my garden after 8 months of having a gardening coach
The result of motivation, change, coaching and commitment

Getting to where you want to be in life can take many routes when it comes to personal development.

Thanks to the introduction of mass education in the Western World in the 19th century and since then, in the UK at least, education or full-time training has become compulsory up to the age of 18. So, many of us are guaranteed a free general education.But what do you do when you’re an adult and you want to develop? When you’re weak or lacking and feel the need to become competent in a certain area, what do you do?

As I see it, the choice you make depends on several factors:

  • the skill, ability or behaviour you want to change and your confidence level with it
  • the urgency or priority of the situation motivating you to learn
  • how you learn, and
  • your ability to financial commitment to it.

What is it you want to change or learn?

In August 2018, I reached a point of exasperation with my hopeless inability to garden. I’d like to use this article to show you the journey I took and why coaching was the best choice. It’s probably relevant to share that my confidence was very low in this area. I had failed to grow anything as a child. As an adult, plants tended to die around me through neglect or too much attention. If I ignored them they died, if I watered them they died. I was a self-proclaimed herbacidalist. For most of my life, I didn’t have the interest or the patience and when I developed an interest, I didn’t have the skills, ability or knowledge. Does this resonate with an area of your life?

In support of this, I self-diagnosed as zero in Environmental Intelligence, having studied Multiple Intelligence Theory for my Speech and Drama LTCL Thesis!

Why? Your Motivation

The four stages of learning are unconscious incompetence, conscious incompetence, conscious competence and unconscious competence
We all go through these four stages

There are four stages of learning we all must go through for learning and change to take place. I refer to the first as ‘Ignorance is bliss’ and the final stage as ‘Eureka’. The middle two stages are quite uncomfortable, especially Conscious Incompetence, so a person needs to be motivated to move themselves from their comfort zone to a place of discomfort.

For me, the major motivation came when reading about ‘Place’ as one of the Ten Components of Nancy Kline’s Thinking Environment. Kline states that

When the physical environment affirms our importance, we think more clearly and boldly”.

Nancy Kline, Time to Think

I operate my home office from my conservatory, so the garden is like the wallpaper; I decided I wanted people to feel valued in that space. On a practical level, with two out of three children having left for university, I also had the bandwidth to take on this project, the desire for which had been building since we bought the property in 2006.

The human element is probably a key to my motivation for anything I do. As an extrovert, I am energised by being around people and with a husband disinterested in gardening, it promised to be an isolated activity. Are you an introvert or extrovert? How does that impact your motivation?

How do we learn?

It’s helpful to understand that we all learn differently. In the same way we are motivated differently, we also learning differently.

Although it’s gone in and out of fashion, the VAK or VARK model has endured. In brief, this states that we have four basic ways of learning: visual, auditory, reading and/or writing and kinaesthetic. I note-take as a form of kinaesthetic learning; the process of writing (doing) helps me process and learn. It’s also visual as I can see and read my notes. You can take a test here if you’re interested in finding out your learning style.

I discovered I learned best with visual, auditory and kinaesthetic methods combined. Based on my low confidence with gardening, I had tried and failed to self-educate reading a simple gardening book, something like ‘Gardening for Idiots’. I just felt overwhelmed. Then, some years ago, a couple of excellent gardeners had a daughter join my drama studio. I proposed that we exchange skills for skills, and they help me with our garden in exchange for drama coaching. They did an excellent job of planning and landscaping the garden and talking through what we were going to do. We = I agreed to everything and proceeded to let them do it! I learnt how to do edges with a wonderful instrument they gifted us. I was delighted but I didn’t sustain it, possibly because I was running a studio, working during school hours and co-raising a family. It was not a priority.

The garden after a long hot summer and neglect
How bad does it have to get before you get help?

A few years later, I befriended an excellent gardener in the village who encouraged me to try my hand at gardening again. I became enthusiastic at the time, but the results were similar: I got it right for a while but as summer drew to a close, so did my interest. However, I knew that the human interaction around gardening was more helpful than anything else I had tried. I just couldn’t seem to sustain it.

What are you willing to sacrifice for what you want?

This is the bottom line. Whether it’s money, time, blood, sweat or tears, you’re not going to move forward until you’re ready to make sacrifices. I’ve already talked about motivation, so I’m just going to talk a little about money.

There are lots of books in the library and YouTube videos freely available on gardening – on everything and anything you want to learn or change in fact. But if you need a person to come alongside you, like I did, you’re going to have to value their skills, abilities and knowledge enough to make sacrifices and commit to paying someone to help.

Having helped many people to develop in public speaking and performance over the years, I knew the value of being alongside someone in a coaching capacity. Although there was no such thing to my knowledge, I knew that I needed a gardening coach. I posted a message on my village Facebook page, asking if anyone was willing to spend half an hour a week for a year showing me how to garden. A delightful and knowledgeable retired lady responded positively, and we started meeting regularly from September. I didn’t expect or request official qualifications in gardening or coaching, so what did Kate do to work such magic in me and my garden? I think the results speak for themselves in the photographs.

What makes a good coach?

Here’s what she does that makes her a brilliant coach, from my experience and perspective:

  • Kate ‘got’ me. She knew what I meant when I described my predicament and identified that she not only could help but wanted to.
  • She was very encouraging. Some weeks I worked hard and some weeks I did very little, but she always found something positive in what I had done and let the rest go with a dollop of good humour.
  • She kept me accountable. Just knowing Kate was going to turn up had me out in the garden doing the task that had the most visible return on time invested! She sent an email from time to time with some advice on what we’d discussed or needed to do, especially when we couldn’t meet.
  • She was reasonable, patient and flexible. There were times when we didn’t meet for a fortnight due to other commitments or even longer over Christmas and in the spring snow.  I was always encouraged and affirmed for what I did, never admonished for what I didn’t.
  • Kate really knows and loves gardening. She takes great pleasure in passing on what she has learnt, imparting it to me in enough quantity and detail for me to engage. Some would place knowledge higher on a list of priorities but I’m with Teddy Roosevelt: “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” And with my low gardening confidence, I needed to be built up, not impressed or overwhelmed. I now get exciting about what I can achieve all year ‘round, know what to do so far and know I have someone alongside me to consult should I get into a pickle.
  • She worked within my criteria. I wanted to do most of it myself after been shown and I wanted homework to get on with between session. Kate understood and respected that.
  • She is inspirational. I let Kate know that Andrew had no interest in gardening and she often checked with me that he was happy with some of the requests I was going to make of him. Within 3 months, he was getting involved with emptying the composter (which had been filled with the wrong stuff over the years), painting the fence and even accompanying us on one garden centre escapade. It’s impressive when a coach inspires more than her coachee!
  • She worked within my budget. I suggested a fee which was accepted and as a result, we’ve been able to buy plants and equipment to make the garden beautiful.

In summary, Kate effectively coaching me, as per John Whitmore’s definition:

“Coaching is unlocking a person’s potential to maximise their own performance. It is helping them to learn rather than teaching them.”

John Whitmore, Coaching for Performance

You can read more about coaching here if you’re interested.

Picture of gardening tools and bucket of weeds
With the right direction and tools I was eager to get started

I planted 115 bulbs in November, virtually eliminated ivy from my gardens, learnt to prune and understood that a garden is alive all year ‘round. I love the sight of freshly turned soil and possess edging shears and know how to use them! I still have four months to go but if anyone told me a year ago, I could get this far, I would have laughed out loud. But more than the confidence it’s bringing me: my family, friends and clients are enjoying the beauty of a well-kept garden.

The challenge

What is it that has become overgrown, neglected or perhaps underdeveloped in you? If you’re not moving forwards, you’re sliding backwards. If a book or video aren’t doing it for you, have courage: reach out and find the right coach to move you on. You have nothing to lose and so much to gain.

What are you waiting for?

Part way through: the newly discovered joy of freshly turned soil and new plants!
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