Life coaching in Beijing

Need a little help to get yourself going in the new year?

Sitting cross-legged on Chris Williams’s couch feels like I’m sharing cocktails at a girlfriend’s condo – except I've never met Williams before and this meeting is going to cost me 1,200RMB. Williams, you see, is a life coach. He helps people define, develop and get a firm footing on the yellow brick road to their goals. Although he says there is no set season for his service, if you’re going to dive into the world of life coaching, there’s probably no better time than this month: a new year for all (both western and Chinese), and the busiest time for new gym memberships, fresh starts, lofty plans and a flurry of resolutions.

And yet, according to a study by youGov, last year it took a third of Americans less than a week to break their new year’s resolutions. And by the end of the year, studies show that pretty much 90 percent of us have crashed and burned into a crumpled heap of failure. Our intentions may be good, but how can we avoid empty treadmills and mass confusion? What’s stopping us from achieving our goals? I’m hoping that Williams, a qualified life coach and counsellor, has the answer.

‘If you could do it yourself, you would have done it already,’ he says, as we talk in his Chaoyang apartment – a comfortable, private space that acts as the official meeting place for all his appointments. His wife once owned a shop dedicated to tea from Yunnan, and Williams immediately offers up some speciality cha , with unlimited refills. One glass later, he asks: ‘Think of an incident in your life when you were totally prevented from being your true self. What were the characteristics of this occasion?’

Questions like this leave me talking in circles, and him taking careful notes. We’re on the first of our two appointments – both of which are two hours – and during this first meeting we talk about how I define my values. ‘By identifying and clarifying our governing values, we can tap their power to increase our personal happiness, effectiveness and fulfilment,’ he says. ‘When our behaviour is in line with our governing values, we experience inner peace.

About 20 questions later, we've made a list of ten core values, which range from freedom (‘the ability to do what i want, when i want’) to connectedness (‘the joy of hearing and being heard’). Williams is a master at open-ended questions such as ‘ what is happiness?’ and never forces you to rationalise your response. Yet, two hours later, I'm the one asking questions. Seeing Williams feels like paying for a nice conversation: nothing more, nothing less. And at 600RMB per hour, I have to wonder what the deal is.

Clearly, life coaching is popular. During the recent economic downturn in the west, 70 percent of organisations surveyed said they planned to maintain or increase their commitment to staff coaching, according to research by the Chartered institute of Personnel and Development. Survey respondents replied they ‘know’ the coaching to be effective. And yes, talking about yourself is fun. But, more importantly, I am one of those one-week washouts: someone who generally forgets their resolutions by January 8. I needed help figuring out how to change my life, and, after the first coaching session, I still didn't feel like any strides had been made toward achieving my goals.

How was Williams going to help me get there? ‘Imagine you are going on a train journey,’ he says, at our next appointment. ‘You are walking on to the platform to embark on the train of life and you are carrying two suitcases, each representing a value. You can only take a limited number of suitcases with you. So, first of all, I’d like to ask you if you’ll take happiness or connection to self?’ As far as I’m concerned, the two seem to define each other, but Williams urges me not to dwell too deeply. This isn't a philosophical study. Rather, we’re using value definitions from the previous session.

We proceed to rank my values to make sure they correspond to my aims, and eventually assess my goals to make sure they’re what Williams calls ‘SMART’: Specific; Measurable; attractive; Realistic; Time-linked. One key goal I have is to stop filling my calendar with unnecessary appointments. I want to spend more time alone, getting to know myself and reflecting on my life. Williams asks how I plan to achieve this, and with some help from him I decide to start reflecting on myself in a journal. On the Measurement scale: I decide to do this three times a week. Is this attractive? Sure, I want to write. Realistic? Well, 15 minutes per entry seems reasonable. and linked to Time? I'll start on January 1.

At this point, the only thing holding me back seems to be my faulty pen. Properly phrased, my goal reads: ‘I will write reflectively in my journal three times a week, starting January 1,’ and I promise Williams I will figure out the writing utensil situation soon. Our four hours together have now passed. He urges me to share my goals with someone supportive – a friend, a boyfriend, anyone supportive – until he remembers I'm writing an article about them, effectively sharing my dreams with everyone.

Meeting with Williams was overall a positive experience. But while life coaching is popular, it may not be for those who are already decisive. Ultimately, the benefit of a life coach is the same as any kind of coach – hockey, football, or simply heading to the gym with a friend – he’s there to motivate you, force you to think about and express your goals, and help you you put in the work needed to begin the journey toward your dreams.

Chris Williams offers life coaching on weekends. Call 138 1048 8569 or email to schedule an appointment.
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