The intrinsic coaching methodology offers an insightful deviation from traditional methods that can offer something of benefit for practitioners everywhere, regardless of specialism. Deeply rooted in science with a dash of philosophical seasoning, it aims to instill sustainable change in coaches and clients alike by combining fascinating psychological constructs like locus of control, ethics, and thinking structures.

Read on to find out what intrinsic coaching is all about, who it is for, and the central premises that underline this coaching methodology.

What is Intrinsic Coaching?

Intrinsic coaching is based on the principle that the person being coached holds the key to accomplish what they are after.

Whether it’s nutrition, getting a job promotion, or being able to cope better with their mental health, in intrinsic coaching the coach does not tell the student what to do, or not to do, for that matter.

Instead, the approach takes on the premise that the student is indeed the expert and they have what it takes to turn their life around and master what they need to in order to succeed.

While this type of coaching can present some unique challenges, it’s a highly flexible approach with a key potential part to play in life coaching, business coaching, and other related fields of practice.

Key Concepts in Intrinsic Coaching

There are several factors that need to be taken into account when using intrinsic coaching methods, both in-person and if you’re offering online coaching.

Locus of control, which we will talk about later, is where people place the source of control.[1] This can greatly affect the mechanisms involved in order for both coaches and students to reach their goal.

Great emphasis is also placed on thinking structures and how these can be employed in order to achieve the desired outcome; that the student has what it takes to be able to achieve a certain goal.

Indeed, intrinsic coaching, which is based on intrinsic motivation, tends to focus more on the goal rather than the obstacles.[2]

Intrinsic vs. Traditional coaching

Traditional coaching often, and particularly in certain cases, employs nudging or telling; that is to say the student is nudged towards certain mindsets that have, generally speaking, reached certain consensus in being considered best practices. Examples can be seen in frameworks such as Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), which uses positive reinforcement to encourage desirable behavior.

Nudging is referred to, as systematic thinking, whilst telling is extrinsic thinking.

In intrinsic coaching, the coach ‘knows’ that the student knows what is wrong, and has the tools to fix that which is wrong. There is no nudging or telling; the only thing the coach can do is to help the student discover their inner energy, will, and knowledge to achieve his or her goals.

The Role of Assets

As intrinsic coaching focuses on the individual’s assets in order to overcome their struggles, the locus of control plays a very important part in the coach-ability of the student.

For someone with an external locus of control – or a belief that outside factors have a larger degree of control on his or her life than him or herself. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), a common mental health coaching technique, may need to be employed before intrinsic coaching takes place.

There are many different ways of how this can be tackled. These techniques can be employed to effectively move the control needle in different ways so that the student is able to undertake intrinsic coaching.

By aligning individual values and behavior, intrinsic coaching aims for self-efficacy and long-term success.

The Asset Approach

So what are assets, exactly?

Succinctly, assets are those positive qualities that can help any given person achieve their goals.[3]

Intrinsic coaching students have hidden assets; that is to say, positive qualities they do not know they have or that for one reason or another cannot access.

It then becomes the job of the intrinsic coach to elicit those positive qualities; helping students see and understand their full potential. The student will then be able to embrace these newfound qualities so that they can overcome the issues and hurdles they are facing which are essentially keeping them back from achieving their goals.[4]

What Are Assets?

In a nutshell, assets are:

  • Positive qualities inherent in all of us
  • Allow us to overcome adversity

Axiology

Axiology, which is the study of values, is a key factor in intrinsic coaching.

The premise here is that our values shape our personality and our understanding of others and us.

The use of the term Axiology is an interesting concept that requires further examination to understand its implications in intrinsic coaching. Axiology is a branch of philosophy, which examines the nature of principles and values.

Ethics and Aesthetics

There are 2 sub-branches, if you will, in this category: ethics and aesthetics.

  • Ethics looks at morality and our values, which tend to be internally focused (though some philosophers will argue this).
  • Aesthetics, in contrast, is the study of what is beautiful and enjoyable. This can be seen as being externally focused.

As such, what the inclusion of axiology tells us is that in intrinsic coaching, what a person believes to be right and wrong, and what a person sees as beautiful and enjoyable, determines how they act and how they see themselves and others.

Whilst both ethics and aesthetics can be a very complicated subject, inquiring into the subjective aspect of, for example, meta and normative ethics can hold key information into an individual’s outlook which can assist coaches in helping their clients.

Related: Coaching Management 101: Everything You Need To Know

Different Types of Thinking

Defining thinking methodologies can take many different forms.

However, context can help us narrow down the conversation enough so that we can coherently talk about this important topic.

Intrinsic Coaching: 3 Thinking Systems

We discussed earlier the three types of thinking pertinent to this subject:

  • Systemic
  • Extrinsic, and
  • Intrinsic

It is important to note at this stage, that it would be improper to classify any one person as either-or. Thinking is a complex subject and most people tend to switch from one type of thinking to another depending on the topic being discussed or thought about.

Understanding this is very important to intrinsic coaching.

Moving towards intrinsic thinking is the key goal of intrinsic coaching.

We will now, very briefly, discuss the nature of each type of thinking. However, it is important to understand how a student thinks about a certain subject.

Whilst intrinsic thinking is at the center of intrinsic coaching, understanding how you as a coach, as well as how your student thinks on any given subject is crucial. Moving towards intrinsic thinking is the key goal of intrinsic coaching.

The premise here is that change is more likely to occur, and stay if that change is adopted in and for itself. This is what intrinsic coaching is about and why it is so important to understand.

Systemic Thinking

In systemic thinking, thinking adheres to a system of how things should be.

  • Systemic thinking, which is also known as pattern thinking, allows us to build patterns, which in turn tell us how things should be.

Patterns can both help us and hinder us depending, of course, on how effective the pattern in question is.

  • Without patterns, we would have difficulty functioning properly.
  • Harmful patterns can also put us in a filter bubble, however, which essentially locks us in a negative feedback loop.

The latter makes behavior harder to change and why intrinsic coaching moves away from it.

Extrinsic Thinking

In extrinsic thinking, external motivations or labels shape the way we think.

  • The opposite of intrinsic thinking, in extrinsic thinking the motivation for any given behavior is external.

Whilst this might present a worthy proposition in changing behavior, it is for the most part short-lived and the reason why most diets, for example, do not work.

According to intrinsic coaching, when the motivation is externally placed it does not align properly with the internal axiological structure, due to the incoherence of the value structure.

This represents changes, which tend to be short-lived, expedited by the fact that external factors tend to change.

Intrinsic Thinking

In intrinsic thinking, value is placed on the self rather than adhering to a set standard or an external motivation.

  • This type of thinking recognizes the importance of the individual as the driving force of change.

What this translates to is that any undertaking of behaviors are done because they are intrinsically good or profitable and, as such, not as susceptible to external forces or motivations.

This type of thinking is recognized in various circles as the driving force behind sustainable change as it is in line with the values and principles of the individual undertaking the said behaviors.

Why Thinking Structures Matter

Each thinking type is important because it allows us to deal with different situations and scenarios throughout our lives.

In intrinsic coaching, intrinsic thinking needs to be applied to those factors and positions or directions that require change on the student’s part. This is because when the new behavior and the individual’s values (and by extension personality) are in line and in sync with each other we have the greatest chances of lasting success.

The student already has this capacity within him or her – recognizing this and empowering the student to recognize this is the key to intrinsic coaching success.

Locus of Control

An individual’s locus of control can play a big factor in how open he or she is to intrinsic thinking.

Here’s what internal, and external locus of control look like:[5]

Internal Locus

External Locus

  • A coachee attributes their behavior to personal effort and decisions.
  • A coachee believes their behavior is dictated by luck, fate, or other external circumstances.
  • What occurs in their lives is thus within their control.
  • Events and outcomes in their lives are seen as beyond their control.
  • In intrinsic coaching, someone with an internal locus of control will require less work than someone with an external locus of control. 
  • More preliminary work may be required before intrinsic coaching can be applied effectively, e.g. CBT techniques. 

Recognizing your student’s disposition will allow you to tailor their intrinsic coaching program to their needs and requirements.

Examples of Applied Intrinsic Coaching Methods

Now that we better understand where intrinsic coaching comes from, let’s explore some applied methods of nurturing existing assets and using that force to drive us towards success.

These are some exercises that you can expect doing throughout your intrinsic coaching process or certain sessions in any coaching program.

Intrinsic Coaching Technique

Goal

Details

Self-compassion Letter to Yourself

We are often used to putting ourselves down, thinking that we are disappointing someone, and self-compassion can be  hard to practice. 

This exercise allows coachees to see themselves without criticism. 

  • Coachees write a self-directed letter, avoiding criticism in order to focus instead on their assets and strengths
  • This helps them understand more about what drives them, and facilitate self-acceptance that they won’t perform perfectly all the time.

Taking a Daily Vacation

Research has shown that a good indicator of someone’s general level of happiness is not the intensity of happy experiences, but their frequency. 

In other words, you don’t have to do extraordinary things to be happy, but to do things you like as often as you can. This exercise gives them a daily “vacation” from obligations, stress, and things that don’t allow them to connect to yourself and your close ones.

  • Make time daily for pleasurable activity, changing it every day. 
  • Today it might be a walk with a friend, tomorrow you may like spending half an hour watching a TV show by yourself. 
  • Be present and practice mindfulness while you are on vacation.

Three Minute Breathing Space

With its positive psychology roots, intrinsic coaching does not ignore or minimize the impact negative events have on us. What is important is how we cope with them, and what resources we put to use during this process. 

A useful exercise is to take our time to process bad news or bad experiences and not act according to the first emotion we get.

The three-minute breathing space is meant to prevent the immediate process of ruminating that can follow an upsetting event: overthinking negative aspects of life and that event, plus dwelling in negative emotions.

  • The three-minute breathing space involves detaching yourself from negative emotions and reconnecting with the present
  • Coachees rationalize a few key elements (where they are, how they are doing, and such) to become more aware of what’s happening and how to better cope with it.

Healing Through Writing

Writing has been known to be a therapeutic experience for a long time. 

Many patients and coachees are encouraged to keep journals and to make a habit out of expressive writing when they are experiencing intense emotions. 

  • Individuals write about traumatic experiences to put them in perspective and rationalize them. 
  • Structured writing will help put an order to thoughts, while allowing individuals to revisit certain details and process negative feelings adaptively.

Intrinsic Coaching Certification Programs

There are numerous programs that can help you get certified in intrinsic coaching methodologies.

The depth at which this subject is covered will depend on the program in question so if you’re looking at intrinsic coaching certification, make sure you do your homework well.

You can also find this methodology applied in different exercises and materials such as in toolbox subscription models which have the added benefit of ensuring you have access to the latest science behind any given coaching methodology.

An understanding of the subject is well recommended to ensure a higher success rate with your students when using this method.

What To Consider

Whether you’re a life, personal, health, or business coach, the intrinsic methodology can have a huge range of potential applications for your practice.

Here are a few practical tips to keep in mind when you’re looking for an intrinsic coaching certification program.

  • Take the time to check whether any certification obtained is recognized for the purposes you would like to pursue it for.
  • Depending on where your practice will take place this can mean different things so always check before making any commitments to avoid disappointment.
  • Also, consider the schedule of the required studies and any related study expenses – some schools will offer a payment plan, which can help you spread the costs.
  • Finally, depending on the program, bear in mind that in-person or online attendance might be required.

Why Become an Intrinsic Coach?

There are a few reasons why intrinsic coaching can be a valuable addition to your psychology toolkit.

This table might help you decide whether it’s a technique that you could use to help others grow even more effectively.

Benefit

Detail

Help More Clients

  • Individual coachees are unique, with different techniques being more or less engaging and effective 
  • Intrinsic coaching can help you reach a new customer base, whilst also giving you the skills and tools to be able to help current clients with new approaches.

Empowers Coachees

  • Intrinsic coaching empowers people by seeing them for who they truly are and equipping them to make their own decisions.
  • By aligning individual values and behavior, intrinsic coaching aims for self-efficacy and long-term success. 

Professional Development

  • Continued development helps you be as effective as possible as a coach by expanding your skills and knowledge to implement new practices.

Ultimately, each person will carry their own set of different problems and biases. With an understanding of how intrinsic coaching principles can be applied to real-life scenarios, you will have a wider and deeper set of tools at your disposal, giving you a bigger advantage as a coach.

Final Thoughts

Intrinsic coaching offers an interesting and promising proposition to give coaches yet another methodology in helping out their clients. The science is there and whilst it might not be for everyone, different supplementary methods can go a long way in ensuring that everyone is able to gain something from intrinsic coaching.

By attaining a deeper understanding of the inner workings of this type of coaching, you can empower people, your clients, to undertake everlasting change. Take the time to understand how to best apply intrinsic methodologies with your clients, and both you and them will surely be able to fly higher than ever before.

References

  1. ^ Lefcourt, H. M. (1991). Locus of Control. Cambridge, MA: Academic Press.
  2. ^ Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2008). Self-determination theory: A macro theory of human motivation, development, and health. Canadian Psychology/Psychologie Canadienne, 49(3), 182.
  3. ^ Park. N., Peterson C., & Brunwasser, S. M. Positive Psychology and Therapy. In Kazantzis, N., Reinecke, M. A., & Freeman, A. (Eds.) Cognitive and Behavioral Theories in Clinical Practice. NY: Guilford Press.
  4. ^ Quinlan, D., Swain, N., & Vella-Brodrick, D. A. (2012). Character strengths interventions: Building on what we know for improved outcomes. Journal of Happiness Studies, 13(6), 1145.
  5. ^ Ajzen, I. (2002). Perceived behavioral control, self‐efficacy, locus of control, and the Theory of Planned Behavior 1. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 32(4), 665.

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