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.

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  • Merrynell

    “Create your future” and “design your life” — all these first steps sound doable enough — but did she give any tips on how to keep up? What motivates people to follow through? What makes it easy to stay the course? How do people do it?? That’s the area I struggle with.

    • Katrina Elizabeth

      Yes! What about roadblocks like illness or major life events and how to deal with them?

      • I think people deal with so many different problems and there isn’t really a one size fits all kind of solution. I’m interested in her book because her ideas are really in line with how I’ve parsed and dealt with my own problems and goals. I sense that a lot of her principles are based on being present and self-aware, which with social media and so many distractions is harder than ever. With roadblocks and life events, I think it’s probably a similar thing. Paying attention to how you feel, being present, aware of what you need, and giving yourself space and/or time. Ultimately I think if you can get to a point where you are living in the moment (which if you have anxiety or depression can be awfully hard) you are able to get a better handle on your problems and as she puts it “be honest with yourself.”

        @Merrynell:disqus I know exactly what you mean, I struggle so much with accountability to myself! Plus it doesn’t help that my partner so vigorously stays the course with things. This is easily my biggest challenge recently!


    I also view life coaches with some skepticism, while at the same time wondering if I should see one. All her tips are practical even helpful but nothing I haven’t come across already. I agree with Merrynell, it’s all in the follow through, show me the coach that stresses that.

    • Show me the life coach who has achieved success *outside* the field of life coaching. The route of my scepticism is that all they seem able to prove is that they are highly skilled rhetoricians. If all they have done with their tips/hacks/methods is build a business premised on people listening to their tips/hacks/methods all they have proved is that their delivery is appealing, not that any of it works in practice.
      What I wore this week | Fashion, Feminism, Mirror Selfies

      • alansa

        Exactly, that irony always gets to me (the whole, “if you can’t do, teach” but x 100). But to your point of highly skilled rhetoricians: isn’t that the entire idea of corporate America? I assume if the life coach worked at a multinational firm, she’d be able to rise to seniority pretty quickly through the same approach of excellent delivery. On the other hand, creating a business by and on herself in an already saturated market does speak to entrepreneurial skills as well. Perhaps it’s just our that ideas of success are different from hers. If her goal is to be able to help people reach their full potential, and she successfully does that, she is indeed fulfilling her *purpose*

        • For me it’s not really important whether she’s fulfilling her ‘purpose’ or not, as she is purporting to sell something that works to make people’s lives better, but she can only prove that it works to make her more well known in the self help market. What irritates me is that you don’t get self help coaches who are like ‘I built a huge multinational company here’s how I found the motivation to do it etc’ but you get tonnes who say ‘I used my self help tips to build my self help practice and sell self help courses’. It’s all very inward looking and circular and that makes me doubt whether any of it has any efficacy outside sounding really plausible.

          As for corporate America I don’t know what it’s like as I am from the UK, but speaking from experience of working in a corporate role here (advertising) it is definitely not the case that you can get ahead by talking yourself up and not backing it up with ability and objective results.

          • Marcella

            Actually she owns her ien company and coaches huge US corporations. She has an entire corporate division with pretty tangible results

          • Marcella

            She also has a UK division. Have you looked into her company?

          • No. My point is about life coaching more generally – that it tends to be very inward looking. I was replying to another commenter and then to you. I’m not attempting a comments section take down of this particular person.

        • I get the skepticism with life coaches completely, but as someone who’s never had a mentor in life, I’m wondering if the mentoring (even if it’s nearly peer) is more the thing that matters in the relationship. Life beats you down as it is, so to have someone on your side, cheering you on (even if their paid) can be really beneficial. Positive encouragement can do wonders for some people – me included!

  • Abby

    “Put the cookie down”

    I despise food metaphors for a lack of self control or motivation. Eat the fucking cookie, live your life!

    • Haley Nahman

      I totally agree! But I think she means put down your comfort object, whatever it is. For a lot of us, it’s food (me included!), so I see why she uses it.

      That said, eat the fucking cookie!

    • alansa

      I get where you’re coming from. As important as it is to be eating disorder aware, and try to de-stigmitize “bad foods” like cookies and decrease their importance as a decision, to many people who suffer from other eating disorders which are barely spoken about in comparison, like food addiction and binge eating disorder, it actually is a big deal. Living their best lives often means making the informed decision that the cookie is just really not what they need. I’m not talking about a small percentage of people, either. There’s a reason that the nation is obese and mortality rates are increasing. In this frame, it might be empowering for people to think of using their willpower muscle to use control around food so that more important things can come first.

  • Anne Dyer

    I too have found myself eye rolling at the thought of a “life coach” but this article, more specifically this life coach takes the bullshit right out of it. Bookmarking this article.

  • Alexis Towle

    So basically this is a personal SWOT analysis? Personally, I’m not one for a “life coach” as I am a supporter of surrounding yourself with positive people.


  • Lindsay D

    I work on my physical health often but not my mental health. I do believe she’s a little tough but the point gets across you have to be an agent in your life and not passive to really appreciate what you have…

  • freudianslippers

    I’m trained as a counsellor so I’m especially skeptical of life coaches. I really like her advice, though, especially breaking your life down and thinking about what you want in each area. This is similar to some therapeutic techniques around life balance and living in line with your values!

  • I find that all of these tips are quite achievable for anybody and there are so many good points. I have never really been in to life coaching, funding that it can become quite ‘cult’, but these ideas and mindsets I appreciate and definitely will put into practice.

    M. x |

  • Inaat

    Good article. I usually have some skepticism about life coaches, because I feel most of them are all talk. And a lot of my impression with life coaches is that there always needs to be a new goal, something better. I want to enjoy my life as much as I can, and of course improving where it needs, but I feel that constant “more goals, New goals” stuff many of them talk about take away alot in just living and enjoying what you have.

  • Kay Nguyen

    These tips all sound much easier than they actually are and there aren’t anything new that I haven’t heard of, I don’t think having a life coach is necessary! I think it’s best to do what your want and listen to the right thing your heart tell you to.

  • Joanne Van Halteren

    Luck does exist. Taking credit for an imperfect life results in blaming yourself for not having a perfect live. I’ve noticed that lots of people from my generation (#millennials) are unhappy or even depressed because of this way of thinking. We (I’m European, but I guess it goes for all Western countries) grew up in a fully developed neoliberal society and got this idea, “You can make your life whatever you want it to be and if you don’t you’re a failure”, shoved down our throats. You don’t have everything under control. That’s okay. It’s time we hop off the neoliberalist train and just live your life without feeling the pressure to be something more.

  • Mary

    I loved the areas to dream – I’ve been leaning into my 1-3-5 goals so hard they’ve all mashed together into one massive, work/home scramble to The Top (whatever that is). I’m giving myself permission to have TWELVE dreams.

  • Francesca

    Great content, articulated in a simple way, pleasure reading! So good! ✌❤

  • Anna

    @haley_nahman:disqus – curious as to how she came about being your life coach. Does she offer individual sessions…?