Actually Helpful Life Tips From a Life Coach

Collage by Maria Jia Ling Pitt. 

In honor of the launch of the new (but same old), we’ll be debuting makeovers all week. First up was Monday’s makeover-that-wasn’t-a-makeover with Stacy London. Tuesday and Wednesday, hair and apartments were on the menu. Today, life. Tomorrow, style. If you’re into before-and-afters, do stick around. And if you’re not, please see me after class. We need to talk. Happy makeover week!

I was somewhat dreading my call with life coach Lauren Handel Zander, and I’m telling you that because she suggested I stop lying. It’s true: I was dragging my feet, mostly because I’ve been skeptical of her profession for as long as I can remember. What even is a life coach? Could one really tell people how to make over their lives? While compelling, the title of her book — MAYBE IT’S YOU: Cut the Crap. Face Your Fears. Love Your Life —  sounded about as self-help-y as it gets.

By the end of the call, I was completely on board. I’m not kidding. It’s not that Zander said things I’d never heard, it’s that she framed problems and solutions in a way that made them feel new. And approachable. She has a knack for making big, complex patterns feel simple, like they fit in the palm of her hand. Perhaps that’s her gift, or the job of a life coach in general: to take something sticky and sharp and make it feel smooth enough to put in your pocket. She’s honest, funny, gutsy and unafraid to mine her own life for material. She put me at ease.

The greatest gift you can give to yourself is to catch and stop your lying.

“People are not in love with being alive, there’s so much suffering,” Zander tells me at the start of our call. “Life sucks for so many people. And they’re faking it.” She got into coaching because she wanted to change that. She’s now been life coaching for over 20 years. The Handel Method, a coaching framework she developed and taught at MIT, is taught and used in over 35 major universities. Today, she’s busy public speaking and running the consulting and coaching business she co-founded, Handel Group, but still fits in 15 hours of coaching a week. Just because she loves it.

“I honestly have the balls to think I am changing the way humanity ought to evaluate themselves and what life is for,” Zander says, with her signature down-to-earth candor. “I’m going deeper. My joke is: I’m re-branding, re-packaging and re-marketing one’s soul. And what it is to have one, manage one, fulfill one.” Suffice it to say, every cell in her body believes in what she teaches, making it easy for me to get on board, too. Below are five ways she thinks you can get started on making over your life, or better put, the way you live it.

1. Maybe it’s you.

Zander can’t stress this enough — it’s the title of her book, after all. “Anything working in your life, please take credit for,” she says. “Anything not working in your life, please take credit for.” She tells me I’d be amazed how often people don’t take credit for good things in their lives, citing luck as the sole driving force. I ask her if she believes in luck and she gives me a quick and definitive no.

She concedes there is luck on broader levels — as far as systematic privilege goes — but beyond that, people need to better acknowledge their role in their lives. She suggests you reshape your problems and retell your stories with yourself at the center. She says once you learn to look at your successes and your failures that way, solutions begin to readily present themselves.

“It’s revolutionary,” she says.

2. Own your dark side.

We must all stop lying so much, about this Zander feels quite passionate. “Lighten up about your dark side,” Zander says, her voice picking up. “Start facing the way you lie. Humans are hysterically dark and no one talks about it. It’s ridiculous!” She starts listing the way everyone is constantly lying to each other, in ways big and small, and can’t stop laughing. “If you’re running late, don’t blame fake traffic!!!” I can’t help but laugh, too. I get what she means.

Zander says the greatest gift you can give to yourself is to catch and stop your lying. To stop under and over exaggerating. To find a sense of humor in your shittiest parts and stop feeling bad, guilty and shameful about them. “If you’re covering up all your lies, you think the person laying next to you in your bed is covering up their lies?,” she asks. “If you’re lying, my baby, isn’t everybody? No one wants to sniff this bad joke.”

Zander is convinced lying is at the sticky center of so many problems. She never lies. Not even to her cab driver. “I’m hardcore trying to sell the truth. Wish me luck.”

3. Start tackling your weaknesses.

She refers to this as “putting the cookie down,” the cookie being a metaphor for whatever your vices are — be they related to your health, relationships or habits. “Think about where you really struggle to stop your own behavior, where you continually break promises to yourself.” She says she often starts by asking her clients: What’s one promise that, if you could keep it, would change your whole life? Zander believes personal integrity is a muscle you can build.

Find a sense of humor in your shittiest parts and stop feeling bad, guilty and shameful about them.

“Can’t we all just accept that there are places we can keep promises to ourselves well and places we can’t? If you’re suffering in an area of your life, I bet it’s because you aren’t keeping promises to yourself. That’s something you can learn to do.” She says she’s watched people change their lives by learning to keep one good promise. How? Be honest, for one, and hold yourself accountable. Establish a consequence for the behavior you want to fix, she suggests — a healthy consequence — and then share it with others.

I ask her for an example and she gives me one from her own life: “I’ve been married for 20 years and, honest to god, I know I want to fuck my husband twice a week in order to keep us hot,” she says with a laugh. It’s something she’s deemed important; a promise she wants to keep. “And what am I most often doing instead of sleeping with my husband? Netflix! So I remove my right to Netflix unless I’ve had sex twice that week. And EVERYONE knows. My husband knows, my kids even know. I can find humor in my own dark side — which is that I’m lazy — and it makes me be true to myself.”

Make your promise a game of integrity, she suggests.

4. Manage your mind.

“The amount we edit and manage our bodies — getting dressed, waxing our legs, dying our hair — is massive compared to how much we manage what’s going on in our own heads,” Zander says. She believes everyone needs to give more thought to caring for and curating their inner dialogues. In particular, their negative inner dialogues. “You have no idea how mean people are to themselves.”

Focus more on breaking into your own mind, she suggests. Unpack and unearth the thoughts you don’t even notice you’re having, or aren’t willing to say out loud. Start by stopping three times a day and tracking where your head is. She tells a story of a client who wanted to eat healthier but ended up binging on ice cream when her family was out of the house. When Zander asked her to describe her thought process in minute detail, they found she’d decided by 8 a.m. that morning that she was going to break her promise to herself later that day. It was all triggered by a moment of loneliness and a need for external comfort. “Having to tell on herself was the beginning of never doing it again. That’s true self-awareness.” says Zander.

Breaking down your thoughts can teach you so much about yourself: your moods, your habits, your struggles.

5. Create a vision of your future.

“Start dreaming again,” says Zander. “If you were my client, I’d break your life out into 12 different areas and expect you to have dreams in all areas of your life. Not achievement, like a salary. Whatever you’re chasing in life — it needs to be you true north.” She says people don’t take enough time to figure out what they really want and where they’d like to be, that actually sitting down and designing your life and making it explicit helps guide the way you live and think.

What’s one promise that, if you could keep it, would change your whole life?

Her 12 areas of life are: spirituality (whatever that means to you); fun, learning and adventure; money; career; health and body; sex; family; friends; community; vices and relationship to self; home; and love. I question her on the word “dream.” Aren’t all of us dreaming a lot already? “I very rarely come across some who has thought very specifically about what they want. People who are clear about what they want can go get it,” she replies. Envision a future state and then break down what that looks like practically, she suggests. Update it every year.

It’s clear to see how her tips are all connected: owning your role in your life, being honest about your failures, setting a vision that feels honest, making promises to get there and managing your thought patterns along the way. It’s nothing you probably haven’t heard before, right? What Zander helped me see, though, is that being open, honest and explicit is what separates the talk from the action. She wants people to think big, but act small. It’s the kind of orderly approach that seems appropriate for our chaotic minds. At the very least, it can’t hurt.

Haley Nahman

Haley Nahman

Haley Nahman is the Features Director at Man Repeller.

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