How coaching helps you improve quicker

You’ve heard that your brain gets worse as you age, and your neuroplasticity disappears. As a result, as you grow older, you need to do more Sudoku to keep you intelligent and stop the brain rot. By consistently challenging yourself and learning new things, you keep your synapses firing and stay sharp. 

But learning and doing new things can be a pain in the butt and not as much fun as watching Netflix. There are a lot more people moving towards coaching at the moment, and it seems to help people shortcut the process of achieving their goals.

I have had two recent experiences with trying new skills: in both mental and physical areas. I had a coach and a group of fellow students which made a real difference in how I approached the process and my success.

Informal Wordle coaching

As many people are doing, I have been trying to solve Wordle every day for the last couple of months. Unlike many people who have taken it up, I’ve never been able to do Sudoku and crossword puzzles. They frustrate me, and I don’t know how to solve them. Interestingly, Wordle is not just a word puzzle; it’s more of an information theory puzzle you’re learning and implementing through a word puzzle (or at least that’s how 3Blue1Brown sees it). My wife is a poor speller but is much better at Wordle than I am (and I’m a pretty good speller), and my daughter is doing Wortel in Afrikaans (which she has only studied for six months). It’s not all about fluency in a language.

I have managed to improve through a couple of tips from my wife/coach. Suggestions on how to structure your guesses and encouragement have been very helpful. Another part of my (modest) Wordle success is having a Whatsapp group where people share their wins and I have the same daily exchange with my daughter. That spurs me to do it even when I don’t feel like it. I also feel joy when I complete it in 3 or do it in a couple of minutes, and I can show off to people who will be impressed by it.


I’m now at a level where I complete it often, and it’s interesting to see the progress that I’m making in it due to having a coach and an accountability team. I haven’t yet gone into a new word every day to start with, I still rely on “ADIEU” and “STORM” as my first two words, but it’s definite progress.

Using a swimming coach

The other thing where I can see progress is through swimming. Swimming is quite weird because it is one of those practices that once you learn it it becomes somewhat automatic. It’s like walking in that it’s something ingrained and semi-instinctual; you learn it as a kid and then forget about it.

I have always swum like a bear. Very inefficient, like my father. There is a lot of splashing but not a lot of grace and not much progress through the water. I swim every so often at the gym because I think it’s great exercise.

I am a big nerd and reader. I have, in the past, read books, watched YouTube videos, and tried to improve my swimming by taking the best practices and implementing them on my own.

To be honest, this has been variably successful. It’s complicated to conduct an audit of what your issues are and then synthesise all the information to create an action plan.Over the last couple of months, I have had a coach who helps me, and the difference is incredible. A coach can look at you and take you on a structured improvement journey. 

I would swim a kilometre in half an hour. After the first lesson, I dropped five minutes and then an additional one minute in the second week. I was stunned at the immediate impact, and my performance continues to improve.

It’s hard to keep all of the new processes in your mind about what you should be doing and what is essential. My coach gives me just enough feedback. We’ll concentrate on only one improvement at a time until it is improved and I have a “body memory” of it. We work on fitness in conjunction with technique, and he takes videos that we look at afterwards, and he dissects where I’m going wrong. I swim every Sunday with my wife, and walking to the gym is an excellent forum to discuss technique. I also discuss what works and what doesn’t with an old friend of mine. We have healthy disagreements about an approach and what is working for us. I’m invested in the process and have a lot of people to discuss my progress with (e.g. I had a debate on the weekend about whether I should use fins or arm paddles)

Some theory behind coaching

If I look at Google trends, I can see that the idea of coaching has nearly doubled over the last five years .

The idea of coaching keeps popping up in what I’m reading. Some people say that the decline of personal tutoring (replaced by ordinary education) has resulted in the lack of any new Einsteins or decreasing geniuses ( a counterargument is that that was just one element in the overall process, the problems are getting harder and its difficult to attribute everything to tutoring). However I believe that individual tutoring can advance you much quicker (but its not a very scaleable solution)

The number of acclaimed scientists divided by the effective population

BJ Fogg has his behaviour model which talks about your ability to change a specific behaviour.

Using his theory Behavior change = Motivation x Ability x Prompts.

You can see that a coach is really helpful across all of these parameters, they can help change:

Motivation- by encouraging you and having a designed process.

Ability- by its nature coaching is designed to improve your ability

Prompts- they’ll know what stage you’re at, and what you should do next to progress.

Coaching as part of a life or business coaching practise has become a lot more prevalent lately. What interests me in the audit of people who were receiving business coaching was the focus on experience and methodology and the lack of interest in certification.

This corresponds with my perspective: you want to know someone has done it before and has a replicable process for going through the challenges with you.

What we’ve learned about coaching through Now Novel

Coaching is a factor we’ve found with Now Novel, too. When people are writing a book, it’s uncharted territory, people don’t know what to do, and it’s beneficial to learn from someone who has been there before. You can benefit from their mistakes, so you don’t have to make the same elementary mistakes. 

We find that people who have a coach are much more likely to complete a book. Perhaps there’s a causation/correlation element in that you’re willing to commit to a coach if you’re serious. Writing a book is also different from swimming in that it’s a creative enterprise, there isn’t a clear path that you have to follow to achieve your aim (you and I can both draw a frog, but we don’t have to do it in the same way). The fact that it is a personal journey and the path is open to interpretation means that it’s uncharted territory (and can be worrying to know how to achieve it). If someone tells me I am a crap swimmer, it’s less offensive than someone telling me my novel sucks as your creative output reflects on you personally. There is some form of therapy to helping people achieve their creative goals, it is a way of defining who you are. Having a coach allows you to share the germinating ideas in private and give you that motivation. It’s great to have an accountability partner that can show you what to do and help you understand the process in more detail. When you’re stuck, they can give you the necessary solution to let you take the next step. We’ve found that it’s helpful to have a group of likeminded people to work with. Its great to know that there are other people in the trenches with you and this group helps spur you on when you don’t feel like it.

What I take from this analysis is:

  • personal coaching is becoming more of a thing (which is probably a fashion as it once was more prevalent)
  • its great to get help from someone who has done it before and knows the processes
  • qualifications aren’t as important
  • having a forum/people to share the journey with is helpful
  • coaching helps with your motivation, ability and coaching sessions trigger you to practise

You can do a lot more if you have a capable and wise coach who has a process for advancing your skills. And I’m intrigued to see how I can apply this to other areas of my life.