If your new year’s resolutions are already teetering on the edge of ruin or, worse, have already been dismissed as wishful thinking fuelled by too much champagne, it could be time to call in a professional. True, the only one who can accomplish lasting change in your life is you, but why go it alone when there’s a range of experts ready to help?
But who are these people prepared to take on the task of whipping you into shape? What sort of personality lends itself to helping other people achieve their goals? Are they saints or sadists? Xtra takes you in for a closer look.
“New year’s resolutions are a way of getting in alignment with who you are,” says Troy Yorke, life coach and instructor at the Coaches Training Institute. “It’s brought into our awareness, ‘Oh, there’s stuff not working in my life.'”
But the problem with putting too much pressure on yourself to realize your resolutions is that it can backfire all too easily.
“Often they just stay in the realm of, ‘Oh, it’s a good idea’ and then there’s a lot of guilt if it doesn’t work and the person gets really depressed,” says Yorke. “But what’s important is the person is realizing a change needs to be made.”
According to Yorke, life coaching is “all about connecting with people and what makes them tick, getting them in touch with their innermost desires and wants and dreams. Going forward despite the obstacles, despite the circumstances. Beating the odds.”
Yorke knows all about beating the odds. A “bit of a renaissance man,” his first career was as an award-winning concert pianist. But when he started to feel stuck he knew it was time for a change.
“I felt like I had 30 people trying to drive my life in different directions,” recalls Yorke. “I didn’t feel like I had a choice. I was numbing out. I was beginning to feel like a robot.”
From music, Yorke turned to acting. Before long he’d opened an acting studio and began teaching technique — with a twist.
“I found the same blocks [actors] had at home were the blocks they had in their acting technique,” says Yorke. “They had all the answers. It was more about removing the stuff that was getting in their way and just letting them run with it. It was brought to my attention that I was teaching life coaching.”
A performer himself — his magnificent alter ego Magenta Butterfly has graced stages across the city, while his Cabaret Vulgare theatre events at Buddies In Bad Times have attracted a loyal following — Yorke’s thriving practice focusses on coaching creative professionals and people in leadership positions.
“A lot of clients like to focus on where they suck, what they’re failing at. We want to shift them around to what is brilliant. We tend to gloss over that. Once they focus on their brilliance they get into an easier space; a little more unburdened. They stop sucking.
“I learned this as a pianist. When I focussed on all the wrong notes, what I was doing wrong, I got tighter and tighter. I turned it around to ‘What am I doing right? I’m going to spend all day celebrating all the right notes I’m playing.’ I got into a zone where I felt pretty invincible and then I was actually taking more risks.”
Wendy Bottrell also had already had a successful career before she started coaching. She’d been working in the corporate world for 20 years when her life took an unexpected turn.
“I was in two car accidents in eight months,” says Bottrell. “It left me not able to do much of anything for a bit.”
Bottrell attributes her recovery to time, nutrition and exercise. “I never was on prescription drugs,” she says. “That was very important to me.”
It was through her own journey back to health that Bottrell found her new calling.
“I was trying to decide what I wanted to do so I decided to start with life coaching. I didn’t get certified but I went through the courses. Coaching is a really cool way of connecting with people, but my passion has always been sports. That’s where I made the decision.”
Now a certified personal trainer and registered nutrition consultant, Bottrell makes getting in shape easier for her clients by taking the workout to them.
“I go to people’s homes. That way they don’t have to show up; they’re already there.”
She says there’s definitely more demand for her services early in the new year. “Around new year’s, weight and health is always a big consideration for sure,” she says, but she adds that having a resolution alone isn’t enough to guarantee success.
“The reason most resolutions don’t stick is they write it down but they don’t know the why behind it. Why do they want it? If I know why when they start to go off track I go back to the why and say, ‘Is this still true?’
“Sometimes people say it and then it gets too hard and they say, ‘No, I didn’t really mean that.’ That’s part of coaching and training and keeping them in line with what they really want.
“I’ve had clients that do that and clients who whine and complain, ‘You’re working me too hard.’ We all ebb and flow. Sometimes we don’t have the energy and that’s just human nature, so it’s being in tune and knowing today they really don’t have the energy or… they’ve had a bad day and are stressed out and the last thing they want to do is work out. But they come through the other end and they’re like, ‘Thank you, I feel so much better.'”
For some resolutions, the route to success may not be physical so much as spiritual. Life coach Adam Guzkowski works with his clients to find the divine in everyday life.
“The work I do is very much focussed on helping clients see and do more in their lives than they did before,” says Guzkowski, “about helping them get clear about what they want, how to get it and support them as they get it.
“In terms of how it’s different [from regular life coaching] the frame or context that I work in is that spirituality is a part of everything we do, everything that we are. When we talk about different aspects of life — work, parenting, fitness — how does that connect with your values how does that feed your soul and keep you inspired?”
Guzkowski offers the analogy in which paint cans represent various aspects of life, with one paint can labelled spirituality. “What I like to talk about with my clients is opening that can up and mixing it in with every other colour so that that sparkle is added into what you’re already doing.”
He’s quick to make a distinction between spirituality and religion. “It’s really more about tapping into how you connect with the world and less about what does this mean in terms of a higher power.”
Guzkowski, who describes himself as “spiritual and coincidently involved in a religious community,” acknowledges that talk of spirituality can freak a lot of homos out at first.
“Spirituality is a bad word to a lot of folks who identify as queer. If they hear it they’re like, ‘Oh no, don’t even go there.'”
At the same time, “there are folks who identify as queer having this need for something more, for some explanation, but because they’re queer those avenues feel closed off,” he says. “So we’re throwing open those doors to spirituality again. The locks of religion cannot hold you back from experiencing a place of power.”
Guzkowski says that one of the important things about new year’s resolutions is recognizing competing commitments.
“We’re always really hard on ourselves that we didn’t follow through with our resolutions; there’s a lot of guilt and shame. But really we decided that other commitments were more important, whether it was spending time with the new boyfriend, going out and sharing a good time with friends.”
He says the key is being deliberate about those choices. “It’s not just, ‘Oh, I didn’t make it,’ it’s that I went for a walk with my sweetie instead of going to the gym. Fabulous.”
Guzkowski says being successful in creating life change includes creating a balance of short-term and long-term goals.
“It’s about breaking it down into very small steps, but it’s also about having some big dreams at the end. The small steps are great but if they don’t feel like moments in time that are connected to something bigger you’re gonna stop doing it ’cause they don’t have any meaning…. It’s not just every step on the way to the top of the mountain, but also what is the top of the mountain going to look like when I get there.”
There’s no question that new year’s resolutions, whether breaking bad habits or picking up new routines, can be hard work. But there’s at least one way to step aside and let someone else nudge you along.
“Hypnosis is a high state of concentration so the person really is aware, but as though they were slightly removed as well,” says hypnotherapist Serge Grandbois. “Like being in the backseat for instance and letting the hypnotist do a little bit of the driving for a while; kind of tinker with the engine in there. Once you put the hood down, the owner of the vehicle gets back in the driver’s seat and goes home.”
Although hypnosis can’t make you do something you wouldn’t do otherwise (“Bela Lugosi was really good at that but no hypnotists I know have beady little red eyes”), it can help to interrupt the self-defeating thoughts that we may not even be aware of.
“We’re running all sorts of different programs in there,” says Grandbois. “A lot of them are in conflict with each other and so we’re feeling overwhelmed, frustrated, depressed, down about life. If we just say, ‘Okay, wait a minute. I’ve got too many programs. Let’s flip the off switch and let’s start with one and let’s change that program and let’s make it practical, useful, fulfilling.'”
According to Grandbois, self-defeating brain chatter often stems from childhood. “It could be something that was picked up by inference, even as a child in their family situation — ‘Oh, you’ll never amount to anything. You’re stupid. You’re such an idiot. You’ll never learn’ — and after a little while it seeps in and you start to believe it yourself, and when you believe it enough then you behave in accordance with those beliefs.”
Offering positive suggestions while in a state of hypnosis “literally puts an interrupt in that process,” says Grandbois. “When that happens [the negative programming] holds a lot less influence and then you can offer suggestions to create a better process for the client, one that works for them instead of against them.”
Grandbois says that although hypnosis doesn’t work instantaneously — “It’s not magical. I’m not Tinkerbelle. I may have wings, but I’m not Tinkerbelle” — clients do see results early on in the process.
“Sometimes it’s a very profound experience for a person, especially if they’ve been struggling in that area for a long time. All of a sudden, dammit all, they’ve done it and… it just snowballs and within a short amount of time they’ve got a totally new life.”