examples of breakthrough coaching . . .
Herself Permission to Reconsider Old Loves
Janice Tries on a
Thought Experiment to Identify What Keeps Her From
Leaving the Firm
Can't Get Motivated to Meet His Goal -- Studying for his
Rita Gets Help Very
Different From What She Expected
Karen's Story of
Gaining the Self-Esteem to Learn New Things and Plan Her
Afterword - Applause
Bill Can't Get Motivated to Meet His
Goal -- Studying for his
Bill is a graduate student at a large
university. He says his problem is that while he's
excited about his program, he hasn't been studying. He
has done poorly on the exams he's taken so far and he's
worried he'll get kicked out of the program if he
doesn't develop some study habits. Here is an edited,
greatly abbreviated excerpt of our initial, free conversation. The goal is to give you a flavor of Bill's breakthrough
coaching challenge and just some of a coach's questions and
approaches to a quick solution.
Bill (via email): I am having difficulty focusing on
my school work and studying. I have always had very poor
study skills and those bad habits have caught up with
me. I am already failing my classes and without some
quick changes to my routine I will flunk out of school. I don't have much discipline and little actual support
to keep me motivated.
Cameron (on phone): What
are you doing instead of studying?
Bill: I study
for 40 to 90 minutes at a time, then I take a break,
then maybe get a snack, and then I turn on the TV, and
hopefully go back to studying. I love to study on sunny
days, outside, but I'm worthless on a cloudy
Cameron: So you are doing some
Bill: Yeah, but I can't seem to retain
anything. I read it over and by the next time I look at
it I don't recall much. I can't regurgitate it back
during the tests. And I've never had essay tests
Cameron: What you read isn't sticking,
huh? What have the results been?
Bill: In one of
my classes I did very poorly on the first test. In the
other, I had to do a presentation and I wasn't prepared
for that either. It went pretty badly.
Cameron: What's next?
Bill: I'm only taking two classes
right now. But the amount of studying I need to do is
huge. There are 11 chapters on the mid-term I have on
Monday, and I have another mid-term on Wednesday.
Cameron: When you watch TV, what to do you
Bill: Nothing important, that's for sure. PBS mainly. MTV. That sort of thing. I've got a great
deal on HBO, Showtime.
Cameron: Okay. You've got
one test in three days and another in five. What
do you think you need to do?
Bill: Study, I guess.
Cameron: Do you want
Cameron: Assuming you're equally prepared for both and
they're both equally hard -- and you're a better judge
of that -- I'd recommend you spend two-thirds to
three-quarters of your time until the first test
studying for it, and the rest studying for the second
test. You need to study a little for the second test now
just to get it into medium-term memory, not just the
short-term memory of cramming. After the first exam is
over, of course you spend full-time on the
is not strictly coaching
now. I'm giving advice, which is a last
resort when the client has run out of ideas of their
own, just so you understand.
Cameron: There are
three parts to your day. The part between breakfast and
lunch, when you study. The part between lunch and
dinner, when you study. And the part between dinner and
bedtime. When you study. You take breaks to exercise. You've got to be in finals mode. It's no
Bill: I'm only allowed two Cs in the entire
program. I've got to do something.
thing. What can you do about your TV?
Bill: Watch it less?
Cameron: That hasn't
been working, right? Can you turn off your cable TV
Bill: I'm not sure I can. It comes with the Internet access
and I need the Internet. I can't cut off the TV without
losing the Internet cable.
Cameron: Who's your
gives you a cheaper price if you bundle. But they don't
require that you do it. Will you look into
Bill: Yeah, but the problem is that I'm in a
Cameron: No problem. Call them up
and tell them, "I'll keep paying you what I owe you, but
you've got to stop sending me this crack cocaine. Turn
off my cable TV. At least the movie channels." Or at
least put your TV in a closet. On the TV stand, it's
like an impulse item in the supermarket checkout aisle:
too easy to turn on. It needs to be harder. Sure, you
can go into the closet and pull it out and hook it all
up again, but you'll have to think about it. It won't be
automatic and painless.
Bill: I'll at least do
that. [That day, Bill took his cable box off his TV and
put it in the trunk of his car]. But how can I retain
what I'm studying?
Cameron: What do you do while
you study? Just read? Do you use a pen or
Bill: Yeah. I highlight
Cameron: That may be too passive. Try
something new. Can you get in a study
Bill: I think it's too late for that. I
really don't have any relationships with my classmates. I think I tend to try to be provocative and I offend
them. I don't really have any friends
Cameron: That's definitely something for
the next session. And if you can get into a study group
later, you can kill two birds with one stone, studying
and socializing. What about a study partner? Maybe just
one person? Or go to the library.
Cameron: So for now you may study solo. Fine. Lock yourself in. And don't just read. Memory is
jarred by the unusual; you need to do unusual things to
make things impress themselves in your memory, and be
active. In law school we used four-color pens to clearly
delineate what we were reading. Red for facts, blue for
the legal issue, green for the judge's opinion, etc. Are
you better at remembering what you hear?
Bill: Better. I'm pretty good if I hear the stuff in a
Cameron: People absorb information
differently. Why be a visual studier when you might be
someone who gets their info aurally -- through your
ears? If you get a study partner, recite to each other. Teach chapters to each other. You learn best when you
teach. If you're alone, set your book on a lectern and
deliver the information to an imaginary audience. Walk
around your apartment, even if you feel silly, with your
book in hand and declaim aloud. Try a British accent.
Make the words yours. By the time you get to the test,
you'll remember what you were studying and you'll only
have to write down what you remember saying.
Bill: It's worth a try.
else can you do?
Bill: I could go to the the campus test repository, or
call some classmates, and get copies of old
Cameron: That's a
good idea. Email or IM
me over the weekend, let me know if you're still on
track. We'll talk about social life next week.
[In later sessions, Cameron
would question Bill's assertion that getting a Ph.D. in
his particular course of study was really what Bill
wanted to do, given the clear preferences expressed by
his inaction. Several weeks into the coaching,
Bill narrowly pulled his academic semester out of its
nosedive, and, better yet, affirmed for himself the
clarity that he would not be returning to beat himself
up in the same graduate program. He'd found
another that he liked better, criminal justice
psychology, a progsram that, as his coach pointed out,
seemed more in alignment with his real interests, news
Go to to the fourth of the recent
breakthrough coaching conversations, Rita Gets Help Very
Different From What She Expected