When I was in 8th grade English class, I was taught a formula for writing an essay.
As someone who very much appreciates systems and structure, this appealed to me: here was a template I could use every time I had an essay to write, and I would always know where to start and how to go about it.
The idea was that the first paragraph was your “road map,” where you outlined your thesis statement and spelled out exactly where the rest of the paper was going to be headed.
Each of the following paragraphs, the "body" of the paper, would follow along one of the topics mentioned in the introduction, while also supporting the overall thesis.
It was a super simple format to follow, and it removed the "where do I even begin?" feeling that (at least for me) would arise whenever I was assigned a paper to write.
Even at the time, it was like a lightbulb went off in my head: I could literally take this formula, plug in whatever topic I was writing about, and I’d have my essay completely mapped out - all I had to do was follow the plan and fill in the rest!
I am not kidding when I say I used this exact formula throughout middle school, high school, and college for *every* paper I had to write.
And, without fail, every essay (whether or not the actual content was good) would come back with a comment saying something about how it was well organized, clear, and easy to read.
The other day I realized that my coaching process follows this same pattern.
There is a basic formula that provides the structure; but just as each essay has its own topic, each individual I coach has their own unique path.
And with coaching, my goal is the same as it was with all those essays - to make everything very simple, clear, and easy to follow.
In the case of an essay, this structure gives you a starting point and guidance, but it doesn’t determine what you write about, how long the essay is, or the overall theme – each one will be unique and have its own path.
In coaching, having this structure means the general plan is clearly mapped out, and the client’s needs and goals allow us to write their own individual story.
This certainly doesn’t mean there won’t be work involved, or that challenges won’t come up, or that the “essay” will just write itself.
And it definitely doesn’t mean that each person’s journey will be the same.
The structure is there as a foundation, but you as the client fill it in with your own distinct needs.
For example, if someone comes to me wanting to improve their sleep, the structure we follow will be the same as someone who’s goal is to change their eating habits:
We will break that goal down into the skills that need to be developed, break those skills down into practices to focus on, and then take those practices and create daily actions that put them into use.
But depending on whether you want to improve sleep or want to change your eating habits (or something else entirely), this is where the individual “essays” will differ.
The client looking to improve sleep might want to work on the skill of getting a consistent amount of sleep each night. That skill could be broken down into the practice of setting a specific bedtime, with a daily action of setting an alarm reminder half an hour beforehand.
The client looking to improve eating habits might want to build the skill of eating more intuitively, by practicing eating more slowly, with a daily action of putting their fork down between bites of food.
In both scenarios, the structure remains the same, even while the inputs you plug into the formula could have endless variations.
It’s been a long time since I’ve had to write a paper for school, but this concept of creating and using a structure has stuck with me after all these years!
And now that I see how this idea applies to my coaching process, I understand why it is such a successful formula.
Having a well-defined starting point and a framework to build upon makes it much easier to get started, stay on track, and know you are moving forward.
And even if you have to make some edits or write a couple drafts, you'll always have that plan to guide you.
If you find that you’re struggling to take that first step, make progress, or accomplish your goals, perhaps there is an opportunity to create a system or structure that outlines your path.
Finding a way to make things clear and easy to follow might not mean you always get an “A+,” but it will certainly help you get that paper written.