If you’ve ever asked yourself how positive psychology and life coaching differ, you’re definitely not alone. The surface level definitions don’t really do a great job of distinguishing these 2 very different approaches towards well-being.
However, what’s even more surprising than their marked differences is how powerful positive psychology and life coaching are when used in harmony. In order to truly understand how these 2 compare, let’s start by gaining a better understanding of what they really entail.
To start, it is worth noting that life coaching is a highly unregulated industry and there is no standard format for coaching. Therefore, there are different schools of practice and everyone has a unique coaching style, so I will just be describing life coaching at a high level.
Life coaching is generally predicated on the belief that a person has the solutions to their most pressing questions and challenges within them — the role of the coach is to help a client uncover these solutions themselves. Through asking the right questions, providing insight and an objective perspective, and serving as a source of accountability, coaches help people remove their personal limitations in order to reach their true potential.
Coaches help people recognize and break the unwanted negative cycles of behavior that govern their lives and empower them to choose how they want to live. Lastly, clients often lead the coaching process.
The client sets the goals they want to achieve and is led by their coach to find the appropriate actions to reach their goals within themselves. Coaching is a booming industry and has applications across many domains, including business, relationships, health, finding purpose, and more. There is hardly a field that life coaching cannot add to, including positive psychology.
For anyone completely unfamiliar with positive psychology, I would highly recommend reading this article, which provides a very useful introduction to the field-click here.
In short, positive psychology seeks to understand what constitutes an optimal lifestyle and uses research-based interventions to help people live pleasant, meaningful, and engaged lives.
It is largely based on identifying the strengths and virtues of individuals and promoting them. The study of positive psychology has allowed for the discovery and validation of many practices known to assist in achieving an optimal life.
For example, writing down things that you are grateful for in a weekly journal has been shown to boost positive emotions, and is often recommended by positive psychology practitioners. An understanding of positive psychology principles can be applied to many industries such as education, consulting, research, law, and, you guessed it, coaching.
Comparing the Two
I will admit, the title of this article belies the fact positive psychology and life coaching actually have quite a bit in common. Primarily, they both operate off of the belief that people are basically healthy, resourceful, and motivated to grow (MentorCoach).
They both operate with healthy individuals and do not try to fill the role of therapy. Additionally, neither of them promotes ignoring negative feelings in blind pursuit of constant happiness.
Both recognize the value of negative emotion and use it to foster individual growth. Furthermore, they both emphasize personal and professional growth.
They attempt to contribute to an individual’s self-awareness so that they may live a life of greater fulfillment. Though it is not part of its explicit mission statement, coaching often results in the same optimal states of life enjoyment, fulfillment, and engagement that positive psychology strives for.
However, coaching and positive psychology’s methods of achieving this result can often differ. One of the beliefs of coaching is that people have the answers to reach their own goals and that the answers should come from within.
Alternatively, positive psychology is based off research that has proven results for a large number of people. Practitioners of positive psychology often recommend the interventions supported by this research to people they seek to help.
There are many people who prefer this approach, as the approaches are scientifically validated and it is much easier to visualize an action plan from the onset.
Nonetheless, life coaching has a long history of success and coaches often include science when helping clients learn about themselves and when giving suggestions for ways to help clients reach their goals. Though coaching generally steers away from giving advice, it does make use of exercises to help clients grow and provides a framework to guide them.
This integrative aspect of coaching combined with the flexibility of positive psychology to be used in any domain allows the two to come together in a beautiful field known as Positive Psychology Coaching.
Positive Psychology Coaching
When combining the strength of intuition and built-in accountability of life coaching and the research backed solutions of positive psychology, clients can achieve powerful growth that neither can provide individually. Let me introduce a simple example from my own practice:
One very powerful tenet of life coaching is that awareness breeds useful change. By raising your own awareness of your unconscious habits and patterns and learning to see your life from a more objective perspective, you can then choose how you wish to live your life.
However, people often hit a roadblock as they may not often like what they learn about themselves and will get in the way of their own awareness. This is where I like to introduce a bit of positive psychology.
There are exercises such as a self-compassion letter, which allow a person to learn to silence their own inner critic and motivate himself or herself without constant criticism. By training their own self-compassion through positive psychology exercises, clients can often reach higher levels of awareness without any further instruction.
This is just a small instance of the combination of coaching and psychology but I hope it helps to illustrate how they may be used in unison.
Learn more about positive psychology coaching here.
Whether your interest stems from a desire to help yourself or others, a search for a career change, or just curiosity, you cannot go wrong with either life coaching or positive psychology. They are both very powerful tools and it is simply a matter of preference whether you prefer to utilize one or the other, or even both. Hopefully, the distinction between the 2 is a little clearer now, and I welcome you to comment with any questions you may have.