7 Life Coaching Terms You’ve Never Heard Of

Life Coaching isn’t an industry full of that much jargon, but it can have it’s moments so today I thought I’d share with you 7 Life Coaching terms that you don’t hear that often.

1. Submodalities

If you think of your senses as modalities, of ways that we interact with the world, then all a submodality is, is a breakdown of those senses.

You telling me you have a song going round and round in your head tells me you are using the modality of hearing or listening.

But if I then ask you to explain in more detail things like, “How loud is the music?” “Can you feel the bass?” “Where is the sound coming from?” then we’re into submodality territory.

If I asked you to think of something that scared you, you would have to visualize that thing first to generate the feelings.

If I then asked you to think of something that made you happy, similarly your brain would recreate an image or a movie.

Other than the actual images themselves there will be much more subtle differences and it’s these that tell your brain when something is good or bad, not the actual image or sounds.

For example, the scary image may be black and white whereas the happy one in full color. The soundtrack may be right at the back of your head for the negative event, but top front for the positive one.

There are dozens of other ways you can break this down and I encourage you to try it out.

Normally this happens at such lightening speed we’re completely unaware of it – but trust me we ALL do it.

On the course I train coaches how to use submodalities to shift a clients state permanently and remove things like fear of flying or snakes.

I have performed this exercise hundreds of times, including once on a plane with a woman having a panic attack through fear of flying and the success rate is startling.

2. Tensing Verbs

One of the things I am constantly on the lookout for with clients is when they make statements about themselves that are set in every tense. Let me give you a couple of examples and how to deal with them so you can see what I mean.

“I’m useless at doing X.”

“My Y skills are really bad.”

Both of those example are set in all three tenses.

I’m useless at X means the person think she has always been useless at that.

It also means she thinks she is useless at X now.

And finally, and this is the real killer, there is a presupposition that she will be useless at it in the future.

In effect the client is future pacing herself to be poor at something and has ruled out the opportunity for growth and improvement further down the road.

Suppose I say, “I’m useless at golf,” (unfortunately this happens to be true!).  When I do that, my brain immediately remembers every bad shot, every missed putt, and every occasion I have stormed off vowing never to play again.

And this is what will happen with your clients without them even knowing it.

There are certain times I will let this slide, such as if it’s something the client has no desire to improve on.

If you were my coach and I said, “I’m terrible at accounting,” and you responded, “Do you mean you have been terrible at accounting in the past?”

I would probably say, “Yes, and I will be in the future because I can’t be bothered to learn it, I’d rather hire an accountant.”

In other words, don’t beat your client to death with this, use it with care and focus on making changes that you know are important to your client.

With my golf example, if I were to change that to:

“I haven’t managed to master golf yet,” I am sending an entirely different message to my brain.

In this case I have pushed the problem into the past where it rightfully belongs. Not only that, but by adding the ‘yet’ word I have added the presupposition that things will change moving forward.

All of a sudden my brain is sifting for examples that support the presupposition and avoid cognitive dissonance (more in a moment).

The five iron I nailed to 2 feet from the hole out of rough from 160 yards, the 40 foot putt I sunk to win a game, and the time I drove the green on a 320 yard Par 4 from the tee.

Of course none of those things have ever happened, but if they had, I’d be good to go!

Get clients to say things like:

“In the past I have been useless at doing X.

“My Y skills aren’t where I would like them to be, yet.”

If you do, you open up possibility, remove the chance of them creating self-fulfilling prophecies, and look like a coaching genius!


3. Cognitive Dissonance

Imagine there is a really cool party being thrown down the road and all the hot babes and luscious guys from miles around will be attending.

You eagerly await your inevitable invite as a cool kid yourself and you’re crushed when it never arrives.

After the initial incredulity followed up by tears and a hissy fit you’d probably tell yourself with all conviction that the party was going to be a disaster, that most of the people were shallow and uninteresting and you’d prefer to stay in with a nice meal and watch a good movie.

To begin with it would feel really uncomfortable as you tried to grapple with two different ‘beliefs’.

Cognitive dissonance arises when we simultaneously hold two contradictory points of view, (you want to go to the party, you don’t want to go to the party) and people will often do what they can to avoid it because it feels terrible.

So what you would do is search your mind for reasons to support the more useful belief that it’s no big deal missing out on the party.

You don’t need to worry what to wear, your liver will be happy, you won’t have to make boring small talk etc.

It may or may not work but your brains got your back and will do its best to find evidence to support your new belief

This is huge for me because it’s one of the things I’m looking for when I do a core value elicitation.

Imagine you have a number one value of health and you’re a smoker. That is some serious cognitive dissonance you’ve got going on there and it’s my job to prod and poke you with it to help you take action.

Nobody likes the feeling and we often avoid it by lying to ourselves or moving into denial and refusing to recognize it even when it’s useful.

I wont allow my clients to do either of those things and I’m more than happy to remind them when they are out of alignment with their core values which is classic cognitive dissonance.

cognitive dissonance

4. Deframing

You may be familiar with reframing where we help clients look at situations more positively by changing the frame of reference.

Franklins quote of “I have not failed 10,000 times, but found 10,000 ways that didn’t work” is a classic reframe.

With deframing we’re again removing the frame, but this time we’re going to batter the hell out of it with a large hammer so there’s no frame left. That then leaves us free to view things however we want.

The thing with deframing is that you can lead a horse to water but fish must be carried there with care and consideration, especially after a night of heavy drinking and dancing with the Queen of England.

What was your response to that last sentence?

My guess would be you were thinking WTF?? Has he completely lost the plot? That makes no sense whatsoever.

That’s a deframe.

With a deframe we’re trying to literally remove or smash the frame of reference for the other person.

What that does is momentarily throw them into a state of confusion as they do a double-take and their brain scrambles to make sense of what they’ve just heard and/or seen.

Imagine you’re in an argument with a friend and it’s getting heated because you both have really strong contrary opinions, what can you do?

You can dig in and continue to maintain and defend your position, thus making the situation worse. Or you can deframe things by saying something completely unrelated and throwing your friend out of his or her stride.

Humor works really well in such situations and it’s difficult to maintain the intensity of an argument after somebody has used a deframe and completely broken your state.

You’re not going to use deframing regularly with clients but there are occasions when it can be a useful tactic, especially with a client who is wallowing in a victim mindset from an event or situation that has recently caused them some angst.

In such cases you may want to break a clients state so you can actually get some work done. Throwing in a questions such as, “What’s the best vacation you have ever taken?” can immediately drag them out of their self imposed misery by shifting their focus

Again, as with reframing and preframing, you’ll see politicians deframing, or changing the subject as it is more often called.

On many occasions I’ve seen politicians who are struggling to cope with an interviewer’s line of questioning suddenly throw a deframe in to get them to change tack.

Sarah Palin was constantly trying to deframe in the lead up to the last election. Winking at the camera was in effect a visual deframe and her mention of being able to see Russia from her kitchen window was a brilliant deframe even if she didn’t know it.

I actually saw that interview live. Or rather I had it on in the background as I was cleaning the bedroom. When I heard her say it, I blinked, looked up at my wife and said “Did you hear that? Surely she didn’t just say what I think she said.”

My wife was equally as stunned and we immediately wound the DVR back to confirm our initial thoughts.

5. The Map Is Not The Territory

Have you ever gone into a fine restaurant, sat down with a nice cocktail looking forward to a top class meal and then tucked eagerly into the menu as the waiter hands it to you?

Oblivious to the strange looks from your boss and new client who have accompanied you, you devour the entire leather bound Carte du Jour and wash it down with a full-bodied Chateauneuf du Pape.

On finishing you declare to your guests you’re slightly disappointed in the food because even though it looked great on the menu it was a tad bland and the dishes all tasted the same.

I suspect that hasn’t happened to you because you know the difference between the food and the menu, even though the menu can sound temptingly delicious.

Similarly you know the difference between a map and the actual territory it’s describing.

Not many people have spread a large map out on their floor and after bounding from one side to the other declared confidently they were now in China when in reality they were in a lunatic asylum just outside Cleveland..

You’d need a very special magic map to do that and they’re very thin on the ground.

So if this presupposition has nothing to do with maps, territories or fancy restaurants, what does it mean you may be wondering?

You view the world through a massive lens. It’s a lens you’ve taken years to build up and it suits your needs very well for the most part.

Unfortunately though, the other 7 billion people hanging around on Planet Earth with you have got their own lenses too. And guess what? Theirs are completely different to yours.

Each day you are experiencing the world, but it is a subjective world and reality specific to you and you alone. Nobody else exists in your world; everybody else is in their own.

Therefore, when we try and describe how things are, all we are doing is describing how they are for US and this is at the heart of the map is not the territory.

If we can all accept that our view of the world is no more accurate and no more real than the next persons, we are well on our way to removing judgment and becoming a better coach.

map is not the territory

6. The Meta Model

‘The Structure of Magic Vol 1’ introduced NLP (neurolinguistic programming) courtesy of the Meta Model of language to the world.

The Meta Model deals with the specificity of language (deep structure and surface structure – hence the name of the book)  in a therapeutic setting.

It’s similar to clean language and it removes, or at least minimizes, the chances of the therapist jumping to conclusions by presuming she knows what a client means even if some information is deleted, distorted or generalized.

Stop Right Now, I’m a Life Coach, Not A Therapist!

Indeed you are, and so am I.

However, the Meta, and to a lesser extent the Milton Model of language (which is the total opposite and is also known as artfully vague language) , can be highly useful in a coaching setting too.

Even Life Coaches shouldn’t jump to conclusions, so understanding how language works and what it can tell you about how your client is thinking can only be a good thing, right?

Of course, which is why I’d definitely encourage you to read ‘The Structure of Magic Vol 1‘, if you don’t read another single book on NLP.

It’s not super exciting, in fact you may have to glue your ass back on by the end because it was bored off, but you will have in your possession a lot of very useful information.

7. Tag Questions

We’re now getting into what, in NLP, is known as sleight of mouth, as we take a look at tag questions and tensing verbs.

A tag question isn’t actually a question as such. Or at least it doesn’t start off as a question, but more a statement of fact.

You may be tempted to say to a client:

Do you think you can do that?

And you may get lucky with the client responding, “Sure I can.” Or you may not and they tell you they can’t.

And that can be the problem with a closed question (one that requires a yes or no response).

You give the client the opportunity to say ‘no’ which puts you in a bind because you then have to work back and start to isolate any objections and look for limiting beliefs you may have allowed to rise to the surface

Imagine, rather than saying the above, you say something like:

That will be easy for you.

Now you have cunningly backed a client into a corner because you have delivered a statement of fact and there’s nowhere for them to go unless they are prepared to challenge your belief in them.

However, we are always looking to ensure we don’t create too big a gap between what a client believes is possible for them and what we say is possible.

If we do, we create the dreaded cognitive dissonance and internal resistance that can paralyze a client and bring things to a screeching halt.

The way we soften the blow and make it more acceptable to the client is by making the statement into a question by adding a tag.

That will be easy for you, won’t it?

The first part of the sentence (“That will be easy for you”) remains the same and is still a statement of fact, but by adding the tag of ‘won’t it?’ we totally change the way the client receives the information.

IMPORTANT: You must add the tag as though it were still a statement of fact. Normally questions end with an upward intonation of the voice which signals it is, in fact, a question.

Do not deliver a tag question as though it were a real question, otherwise you risk the client saying, ‘No.’ You have to keep the intonation the same as if it were a statement.

My advice is to practice this because it can be tricky to break your normal pattern of speech when you first adopt or look to use this technique.

When you use a tag question like this, you are making it very difficult for the client to say no, especially when the tag question is delivered with a smile and a nod of your head.

The smile and the nod encourages co-operation by using non-verbal communication (a very underestimated skill in Life Coaching in my opinion) as support and helps the client’s confidence.

You have told them they can do it and you have asked them to confirm back that that is the case and, in the majority of cases, they will do just that.

If you want to get started with learning and applying these techniques I suggest you start with our Core Values Method. It helps coaches help get to the heart of their client’s issues and find breakthroughs.

What About You?

If you have done the course you should know all these. If you haven’t let us know in the comments which you did know, and no fibbing!


  1. Oxford Nordberg

    I am interested in becoming a Life Coach and I knew nothing about these methods. I am going to get the core values method course for now and will wait for your next Coaching class to begin. I have read a lot of books and even looked into a Coaching Certification program, which only discussed helping couples and nothing more, and have found your website alone offers more information than what I have seen so far. Thank you for everything you do for the Coaching Community. Looking forward to becoming a student.

    • Tim Brownson

      Don’t worry Oxford, I didn’t know any of them 10 years ago, it’s a learning process and a willingness to learn is all you need to make it mate!