A Coachee's Guide to..., coaching, coaching tools

A Coachee’s Guide to… Metaphors

Metaphors can be a powerful tool in coaching. I know to some people that sounds a bit of a stretch from the solution focussed coaching they may be expecting, but our lives are full of metaphor so it makes sense that it would be useful in coaching too. Now metaphors are highly personal, but this week brings two metaphors that resonate with coaching for me – Balloons around the World and World Yarn Day.

A fleet of colourful hot air balloons float in a blue sky above a landscape containing mountains and forests.
Hot air balloons

Balloons are often bright and colourful. They can soar above the clouds and access the clear blue sky offering a different perspective and a different view. That’s why I chose a balloon for the logo of my coaching practice SendThemSoaring. If you follow the metaphor a bit deeper, balloon pilots have some control over where they go by heating gas and releasing weights, but they are also to some extent at the bidding of the wind and the thermals. That’s a bit similar to a coaching session or programme in some way – we might have an idea of where we want to go and how to start the journey, but along the way we may meander through a variety of different topics and approaches before we find a place to land and move forward.

There’s an image that’s around that describes working with a therapist or coach as taking a tangled mess of yarn in someone’s head and rewinding them into tidy balls. As a crocheter I know there is a great deal of satisfaction in restoring neatness to a jumble of threads, but the real excitement is that having sorted it out, you are then ready to create something new and beautiful. That’s true in coaching – a coaching session gives you the space to sort out the complex and get ready to make something brand new.

A thought bubble containing tangled yarn connected by an arrow pointing towards a thought bubble containing multi-coloured neatly wound balls of yarn
Coaching as untangling

When I was training, a couple of coachees volunteered their own metaphors and I learnt to go with them when they showed up, but explicitly directing coachees to use metaphors felt a little awkward probably because metaphors are so personal. However, as a coach I undergo supervision and I recently attended a session where we were asked much more explicitly to use metaphor – describing our life and coaching approach in terms of a journey – choice of mode of transport etc. I didn’t feel awkward at all as the image of a river came into my head with a small kayak or canoe. So many dimensions in terms of changing pace, size etc of the river, being carried along at some points, and free to explore and control direction at others. It was fascinating and really powerful in understanding myself and I got an insight into how being asked about metaphor feels and it wasn’t as awkward as I expected. Whilst I might not ask explicitly in a first session I do think it might be useful when a different perspective might help. Which brings me right back to my balloon.

A Coachee's Guide to..., coaching, coaching tools, strengths

A Coachee’s Guide to.. Finding your strengths

Although we often think about strengths in terms of skills and tasks or activities that you feel you are good at, the broader idea of Strengths, or Character Strengths, comes from Positive Psychology. They are described as “built in capacities for particular ways of thinking, feeling and behaving”.  Identifying your relative strengths and weaknesses can help you develop more self-confidence and self-awareness.

Let’s think about strengths in the broadest sense: Think about someone you admire – a friend, family member, colleague or anyone that you know reasonably well. List all the personal and / or skills-based strengths that you believe this person has (are they brave, wise, funny, caring, loud, a team player, take charge, great with numbers). Now list their weaknesses.

Now repeat this exercise thinking about yourself.

Did you list a similar balance of strengths and weaknesses for yourself as you did for the other person?

Most people find it easier to list strengths for other people and weaknesses for themselves.

Listing your strengths and weaknesses can:

•          Build your self-awareness

•          Help you understand other perspectives

•          Allow you to identify areas for improvement

•          Increase your positive vocabulary and positive self-talk

•          Bring greater appreciation for areas you may have previously undervalued.

So let’s focus a little more on your strengths. Positive Psychology theory (Seligman, 2002) suggests that we all possess distinct character strengths that are associated with one of six “virtues” as shown in the figure.

Actually finding your Strengths can be done in several different ways. One way is to use an online toolcalled the VIA Character Strengths Inventory. It is a short questionnaire, made up of a series of statements to which you respond. Your results then rank the character strengths in order of your strongest to your weakest. Try to answer with your “gut instinct” – don’t overthink it.

Find the VIA Institute on Character at viacharacter.org You’ll need to “Take the Free Survey”. Now, it does ask you to register to do this but you can opt out of the newsletter etc. There is a screen at the end of the survey where they ask for more information about you but this is optional so skip through and get your results. They will try to sell you a detailed report – YOU DO NOT NEED THIS!


  • What is unique about your profile is the position of each strength. Strengths near the top are likely to be those most representative of the “real you”.
  • Everyone has all 24 strengths, just in different amounts.
  • In this context, the strengths near the bottom of the profile are not weaknesses. They are strengths that come to you less naturally and require more effort to use.

What did you come up with? Do they make sense? Are there any surprises? Do you utilise those strengths in your life?

coaching, coaching tools, Self-reflection

What would you write to yourself?

She manages to be a top quality student without being at all boring or a SWOT“. Classic letter writing there from my undergraduate tutor to my prospective PhD supervisors.

Today is World Letter Writing Day! What’s been the most memorable letter you’ve received?

The ones that stick with me are usually handwritten, and these days few and far between. But then I don’t write many either. My grandfather, who passed away a couple of months ago, was really the only person to whom I still wrote conventional letters.

My other memorable “letter experiences” include:

1. My mum writing to me weekly when I was an undergraduate – and occasionally including a “Guiness cake” that was so heavy it cost more to post than to make;

2. A series of postcards and letters from undergraduate students telling me what they were up to after graduating;

3. A letter from a Dutch amateur atmospheric chemist telling me all about his pollution measuring bicycle and addressed to “lady Eleanor”. Accompanied by hand-drawn illustrations.

I have been fortunate enough never to have received hate-mail unlike many climate and diversity and inclusion colleagues, though no-one likes rejection letters and I’ve had a few of those.

I do write letters to myself sometimes (though I try not to make those hate-mail either!). I had one on my wall at work reminding me of all the good things about my previous role. Writing to ourselves can be more effective than giving ourselves a good talking to. What would you write to yourself?

coaching, coaching tools, coaching topics

Wheel of Life Exercise

This exercise helps you to identify what you are most happy with and where you might want to make changes.

The Wheel of Life exercise is a way to visualise all the different parts of your life and to balance up how you feel about each area.

Start by drawing a circle-ish shape, then divide it into segments or slices that represent different parts of your life. Typical categories that are used might include:

Finances                                                          Fun

Friends and Family                                         Personal development/learning

Creativity                                                        Adventure

Relationship                                                   Physical environment

Health (including mental wellbeing)              Spiritual

Work / Career                                                 Community

Or you could look at different parts of your working life.

Next, taking the centre of the wheel as 0 and the outer edge as 10, rank your level of satisfaction with each area out of 10 by drawing a straight or curved line to create a new outer edge (see example). You can colour the segments in if it makes it easier for you to visualise. The new perimeter of the circle represents your ‘Wheel of Life’. Is it a bumpy ride?

A wheel of life split into segments for Community, work, finances, my health, family, hobbies. Lines are drawn in each segment current situation and dashed lines for desired future situation.

Then you can start to think about what needs to change to get back to a more comfortable, even ride.