Are You Coachable?

How to get better at any one thing in your life.

It’s not that you’re ungrateful about the good things in your life, but admit it: you lie in bed at night, beating yourself up about some failure that day. And the gratitude exercise that Oprah promised would work doesn’t help. You made a mistake, and you can’t let it go.

If we showed you a way to melt away all those negative feelings around your own shortcomings, would you take it? If so, you’re in luck because the latest episode of The Big Payoff podcast does just that. (Listen here.)

The bottom line is that you need to become your own best coach. Can you imagine Bill Belichick (a world class coach, no matter what you think of the Patriots) in the locker room at halftime saying to his team: “You guys suck. You’re bad people, and you should be ashamed of yourselves. Just give up.” Um. No. So why should you do the same thing to yourself?

If you want to coach yourself toward greatness, you need to be coachable. That starts with changing the question from: “Am I good or bad?” to “How do I get better?” When you focus on improvement versus achievement, you’re happier, healthier, and more aligned with how progress actually happens.

Getting better at something takes time. But you know what? Eventually, we all do get better. And if you can pay attention to when and how that’s happening (and maybe where you fall short), you can make getting better a regular occurrence in your life.

Remember: being coachable is about creating the conditions to build on feedback. Here’s how to do it.

Don’t Get Defensive

Unless you are under physical attack, nothing good happens in a defensive posture. What are you protecting yourself from? Learning? Growing? Connecting? Exactly. So put your hands down and accept critical feedback not like it’s a hand grenade, but for what it is: a precious gift wrapped in ugly paper.

If what you’re hearing is dead wrong, you can sort that out later. For now, just listen and identify the opportunities for improvement. Facing a less-than-flattering view of yourself can be painful. But that pain can be balanced by the knowledge that only by looking at this view can you make yourself better.

Look for Patterns

When you do hear criticism, ask yourself honestly if you have heard something similar before. If it’s been said more than once, then chances are, there’s gold to be mined. Just pondering a pattern and reflecting on why it exists is half the battle – and you’re that much closer to improving upon whatever that is.

Warning: Seeing a pattern can easily lead to more self-loathing. (“I’m a terrible wife/test-taker/team player/manager.”) Indulging in that is an enormous waste of time, and more important, self-flagellation is a cop out — an easy detour from the longer road to reflection and improvement.

Remember to Look Back

You can’t see patterns without looking back in time. Instead of berating yourself for the meeting you didn’t run very well today, try this: Cast back a few years and ask yourself if you’ve gotten any better at running meetings since the first time you ran one. The answer is most likely yes.

Taking stock of those things you’ve gotten a bit better at is an essential step on your path to getting even better still.

Build a Practice

Now that you’ve been able to hear where you need to improve without collapsing in self-disgust or lashing out at others, it’s time to get focused. Do you want to change the way you behave in brainstorming sessions with your colleagues? Do you want to back off from rushing to help your children now that they’re getting older and need more independence?

Think about one very small behavior that you can change in that particular circumstance. For example, next time you enter a brainstorming session, decide that you will never be the first to react to others’ ideas and that, when you do react, you will start your comments by saying, “That’s interesting, and…”

Or the next time you find yourself wanting to take charge of something for your child, change the dynamic by first asking: “Do you mind if I make a suggestion?” That puts them in charge of saying yes or no. You never know, maybe they actually want to hear from you…on their terms.

The point is, these small behaviors will become the norm, and that’s how getting better happens.