How to coach yourself

The standard model of behavior change is silly. Come read about my much weirder systems model!

Buster Benson
Foolish Journey
Published in
7 min readOct 24, 2022

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Around the new year, people start thinking about goals and resolutions. I’ve written tips on how to create better resolutions — ones that are less likely to immediately fail — but after thinking about it for a while (I wrote that almost 9 years ago), I think it’s jumping the gun a bit. Before I talk about coaching yourself, let me back up a bit and talk about two different ways to think about self-change. Then we’ll go into why coaching yourself is the best approach for making progress towards whatever goal you have.

The Standard Model

This is how many people think about goals and resolutions:

There’s a simple path between you and your goal.

“I want to do a triathlon.”

“I want to learn a new language.”

“I want to lose 15 pounds and keep them off.”

“I want to start a meditation habit.”

The arrow simply represents the strength of your will, the level of commitment that you have, whether or not you are “serious” about your goal or not.

Let’s call this model the Standard model of behavior change. We are each fully rational about our behaviors, habits, and goals. We plot personal changes on a map, turn on our motivation engines, and drive in a straight line to our goal, point A to B — done.

Of course, nobody really believes in the Standard model exactly, but many tools, programs, and products still rely on it as the framework for thinking about any change people are trying to make. In other words, people may not think it’s easy to go from A to B, but they still think that that’s what they need to do (just need better tools, another app, etc). And people are definitely still operating under the assumption that you must pick out a goal / spot on the map before you do anything else.

New Year’s Resolutions are all about making the goal you pick a statement about your new year. It will perhaps even define your new year.

The Standard model isn’t just a simplification of reality, it’s completely wrong. As long as we have this model (me + force of will = goal & happiness) as the framework for how we think about personal change, we are going to continue being frustrated in our attempts.

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Buster Benson
Foolish Journey

Product at @Medium. Author of “Why Are We Yelling? The Art of Productive Disagreement”. Also: busterbenson.com, new.750words.com, me.dm/@buster