The below is a lesson I provide to the coaches I train. But it applies to everyone. Please enjoy! If you’d like to train as a creativity coach, the next online creativity coaching trainings begin Monday, June 6. You can sign up for the Introduction to Creativity Coaching training here or sign up for the Advanced Creativity Coaching training here (and they can be taken at the same time). I look forward to seeing you aboard.


There are a number of powerful reasons why cognitive-behavioral therapy is the most popular brand of therapy. The top three are that it is easy to understand, easy to apply, and true to life. Who doubts that thinking as we would like to think and behaving as we would like to behave wouldn’t amount to huge benefits? That just about goes without saying.

I’ve found it remarkably easy to work with clients “in a cognitive way” just by presenting one idea. All I do is invite clients to “think thoughts that serve them.” I then go on to do a tiny bit of explaining. This sounds like: “I think you can tell that I’m saying that in a very careful way. This isn’t about the truth or falsity of a thought. Even true thoughts may not serve you. The criterion you want to use to judge whether to countenance a thought that’s popped into your head is whether or not that thought actually serves you.”

Then I’ll give a simple example. If I’m working with a writer, I might say, “Say that you go online to a big online bookstore, see the millions of books there, and think to yourself, ‘Wow, there are a lot of writers out there!’ That is an abundantly true thought that, although true, will not serve you to think. It will demoralize you and discourage you and three days later you may stop writing and never even know why. Why did you stop? Because three days before you let that thought ‘Wow, there are a lot of writers out there!’ just sit there. It would have been much better if, the instant you heard that thought, you rejected it by saying, ‘Nope, sorry, that’s not a thought that serves me!”

If I’m working with a client on existential issues of meaning and purpose, my mini-explanation might sound like, “You know, many of the things we do in the service of our meaning needs don’t feel meaningful as we’re doing them. They may just feel like drudgery. So, it may pop into our head to think, ‘Wow, this doesn’t feel very meaningful. Why on earth am I doing this?’ You have to be very careful here, remind yourself that our efforts in the service of meaning may not always feel meaningful, and reject a thought like ‘This doesn’t feel very meaningful’ as not serving you. Get what I mean?”

Although this is a simple idea, that we don’t need to countenance thoughts that aren’t serving us, it is also a tremendously important idea. And it may amount to all the “cognitive work” that you need to do with clients. Calling for a moment when a client says something that you’re sure isn’t serving her and wondering aloud, “I wonder if what you just said is serving you?” can become one of your great “secret weapons” in coaching. You can just that easily help clients get a grip on their mind without the heavy lifting of thought blocking, thought substitution, and the others tactics of cognitive therapy.

You may be holding the idea that “cognitive work” is something that only therapists are allowed to do. But if you think about it for a moment, I think you’ll come to the conclusion that there can’t be any prohibition against a coach helping a client think thoughts that align with her dreams, goals, and intentions. How could there be such a prohibition? And why should there be one?

Exercises. Please try your hand at one or more.

EASY. Say, “I think I can do this sort of easy cognitive work with clients.”

EASY. Say, “Yes, I would like to think thoughts that serve me.”

MEDIUM. Feel through what it would be like to do a better job of only thinking thoughts that serve you. Can you picture that?

HIGH BAR. Picture a hypothetical client scenario. Your client has just said something that you know can’t be serving him very well to think. Picture yourself asking for a moment and bringing your concern up. Can you picture managing that? How might that play out?

Food-for-Thought for Informal Coaches

Does the sort of “easy” cognitive work I’ve described in this lesson feel out of bounds with regard to your informal coaching? Or might it have its place?

Writing Prompt for Self-Coaches

Write to the prompt, “I am very aware that I often think the following true thought that, although true, isn’t serving me …”

Share This