Putting things in writing has a remarkable effect on what we think and how we feel about it. It’s one way of getting things out of our head and out there in the real world, where we can actually step back and notice what it looks like ‘over there’ rather than ‘in here’. You are probably familiar with the well-used statistic that says although less than 10% of people actually write their goals down, those that do are TWICE as likely to achieve success. Although for many years there was no solid research to base that on, recently the psychology professor Gail Matthews has conducted a study that provides proof to the power of writing goals down. You can read more about her study here.

It also highlights that sharing our written goals with another has the biggest impact. Matthew states that her study provides empirical evidence for the effectiveness of three coaching tools: accountabilitycommitment, and writing down one’s goals. Many coaches encourage their clients to write down their goals, perhaps as part of their preparation for coaching. Fewer actually encourage their clients to write regular updates on their progress, a factor that Matthews discovered brought about the most significant improvement in results.

Clean Coaching

I use an approach to coaching which includes Clean Language and other ‘Clean’ methods and techniques. Within our Clean Coaching approach, the act of writing things down is part of the coaching process itself. Many of the techniques provide a framework of questions that help coaches to clarify their goals by putting them in writing on paper and gradually adding and exploring anything else that needs to be added. The paper is then the central focus for the session, and the coachee is encouraged to engage with the words on the paper and explore meanings and insights contained within. The goal becomes a living breathing and evolving symbol that can participate in the coaching exploration. I often witness goals that become ‘personified’ during the coaching process, where the coachee projects into the goal a part of themselves that they may not yet consciously identify with or fully own.


The beauty of working cleanly is that the coach does not get embroiled within the detail and by having the coachee put things down in writing, it helps them disassociate from the experience. Being on the paper means its no longer within them and they can take more control over it – through manipulating the paper on which the issue or goal has been written. In Clean Coaching, we encourage the coachee to move their paper and place it in different spaces around them and notice what difference it makes to what they know and how they feel.  Recent research has also highlighted that it’s not just writing down goals that can help. Laura King did some fascinating research into the HEALTH benefits of writing things down. King’s research explored what happened to study participants after being asked to write about their most traumatic life event and / or their best possible future self. In both cases, the act of writing resulted in decreased illness and improved mood.

What does this tell us about using writing within coaching and especially with Clean Coaching? It means that the coachee may find benefit from writing down not only positive outcomes but also a description of their problem and/or events that lead to it. Although coaches aim to start with the client’s articulated outcome, sometimes the coachee is not yet ready to decide on a single, clear coaching goal. Part of what they need from coaching is the opportunity to explore their situation so they can gain enough clarity in order to decide on a meaningful  outcome. King’s research confirms that writing about past traumas and / or a description of better future self can both result in positive change.

Contact Angela Dunbar through www.cleancoaching.com for more information.

Angela Dunbar is a highly experienced Coach Supervisor, AC accredited, a former AC council member, and now a lifetime fellow. Trained to Master NLP Practitioner level, Angela’s passion is Clean Language, a powerful non-directive facilitation process that engages the coachee’s non-conscious resources through the metaphors they use to describe their experience.


Read more blogs from Angela: 7 ways that coaches could DAMPEN the spark of creativity