Philosophy and Background of Intrinsic Coaching®

The overarching philosophy of Intrinsic Coaching® is that people are their own change agents in their own lives and that they themselves have their own intrinsically derived, unique answers to achieving such changes. Underlying this philosophy are two foundational premises

  1. Intrinsic Coaching® is based on an “asset approach” to people
  2. Intrinsic Coaching® is based on an established and powerful science of thinking

1. Intrinsic Coaching® is based on an “asset approach” to people:

Intrinsic Coaching® elicits new thinking from the individual being coached (the 'coachee’) based on an “asset approach” to learning. This focuses and builds on the positive qualities the person already possesses but either do not yet realize they have, or are not yet able to access. Educational research out of Stanford University in the 1980’s (on what was ultimately termed ”Cognitive Coaching”) reported that an approach focusing and building on teaching ‘strengths’ (i.e. what was done well) elicited high quality learning, while an approach focusing on teaching ‘deficits’ (i.e. telling people what they were doing ‘wrong’ and correcting ‘mistakes’) was far less effective in eliciting quality learning.

The Intrinsic Coach® chooses to regard their coachees as ”capable, creative and complete©". In other words coachees are the expert on themselves, and so already have in place all the “assets” needed to discover their own answers which, uniquely, reside within them. Intrinsic Coaching® therefore is not about ‘telling’, ‘advising', or even ‘guiding’, since this approach invariably involves the imposition of other people’s thinking (and so other people’s answers) about what is ‘best’ for the coachee.

The Intrinsic Coaching® model is diametrically opposite to the current “wellness/disease management” model, which is predominantly based on a “deficit approach”. This, in essence, tells people what is ‘wrong’ with them, or what they are doing ‘wrong’ (too fat, too inactive, too high cholesterol, too much of the wrong foods, smoking etc). It often also tells them the ‘bad’ things that will happen to them if they continue to do things ‘wrong’, and then tells them what they ‘need’ to do or what they ‘should’ do to ‘put them right’. In addition, personal trainers, wellness experts, health educators/case managers are trained (and indeed are expected) to offer their own thinking and expertise to the client as to what they ‘should’ do. With this highly “deficit based” approach there is clearly an unspoken assumption (whether conscious or unconscious) that the client does not know what to do, or is not capable of doing it without help. In contrast an “asset based” approach builds on people’s strengths and what is important to them. It focuses on goals to accomplish, rather than obstacles to overcome, thus eliciting a generative and empowering process, the results of which have been shown to be far more readily assimilated into new lifestyle behaviors.

2. Intrinsic Coaching® is based on an established and powerful science of thinking:

Intrinsic Coaching® is also based on the work of Dr. Robert S. Hartman who first formulated what he termed “Axiology” – the Science of Values. Dr Hartman, a Nobel Prize nominee for this work, launched the science of thinking on which the discipline of Intrinsic Coaching® is based. Dr. Hartman’s unique research has been conducted for more than two decades at The Robert S. Hartman Institute for Formal and Applied Axiology in Knoxville, TN. It continues after his death to be expanded and disseminated by his surviving colleagues and collaborators. Dr. Hartman’s work was based on the axiom that

“Our values are the keys to our personalities, to self-knowledge, and to understanding others”

Dimensions of Thinking

Dr. Hartman proposed three dimensions of thinking about values (Systemic, Extrinsic and Intrinsic), which may be very briefly summarized as follows

  • Systemic Thinking. This dimension of thinking values how things ‘should’ be or ‘ought’ to be (e.g. I should get fit; I should weigh less; I ought to stop smoking)
  • Extrinsic Thinking. This dimension of thinking values compartmentalizing issues and behavioral ‘labels’ (e.g. this is a good way to lose weight, to stop smoking, to get fit etc)
  • Intrinsic Thinking. This dimension of thinking values uniqueness and individuality (e.g. what is important to me is unique to me, and cannot be known or predicted by any other person).

While all of these dimensions are part of, and essential to our daily lives, Dr. Hartman’s work has demonstrated that Intrinsic thinking is most important and relevant to personal and individual behavior change. It is self evident that meaningful, long-term behavior change is only likely to occur if the ‘new’ behavior and the rationale for its adoption is, in and of itself, meaningful (intrinsically important, or of value) to that particular individual. The Intrinsic Coaching® approach elicits such thinking from individuals and the process itself acts as a catalyst for the individual being coached to discover for themselves what is most important to them (hence ‘new thinking’).

Again, this is not the typical scenario in either lifestyle change, health care or case management today. These typically are driven by, and value information and advice from the ‘expert’. Little or no attention or importance is given to the thinking, or to the values of the client. The majority of lifestyle change approaches today, perhaps particularly in health care and disease management, are premised on Systemic Thinking (“You should do this to achieve your goal”), and/or Extrinsic Thinking (“Just follow these steps/directions/advice and you will achieve your goal”). Such approaches also assert (directly or indirectly) that if you simply provide people important and understandable information about healthy behaviors, or the risks of unhealthy behaviors, then they will take this to heart and ‘just do it’. These approaches can certainly show some relatively short term success, particularly if monitored closely with, for example, regular meetings and/or reminders of various kinds. However a burgeoning amount of research and clinical experience has shown that, in the long term, this “inform and instruct/advise” approach does not work. Too many case managers and health educators can relate to ‘disease management’ sessions that they themselves dread and/or are frustrated with (because they are repeating the same information with little or no effect) and that their clients want to avoid (because they are hearing the same information with little or no effect). When people ‘fail’ at lifestyle change it is almost always because the goals they were trying to achieve, or the paths they were adopting to achieve them, were not important or meaningful to them. How many people have ‘failed’ at achieving and maintaining regular physical activity – how many of those ‘hated’ exercise in the first place – but did it anyway because they knew they ‘should’. This is an approach doomed to fail from the outset! If a patient or client does not have “ownership” of a particular goal (i.e. it is not intrinsically valued by them), there is little chance that it will be adopted and incorporated into lifestyle. Intrinsic Coaching®, in contrast adopts a more powerful, relevant and resonant ‘values-centric’ approach. 

What is Intrinsic Coaching®?

Intrinsic Coaching is “...conversation that elicits best thinking and decision making so people can create results that are important to them”©. It is about taking action based on reflection, self-assessment, and self-determined decisions and plans. While there is formal 1-1 coaching there is also what is called “coaching infused professional practices”, or a “coaching approach”. This means integrating Intrinsic Coaching® with wellness programs, presentations, disease management, weight management or any other aspect of wellness or health care. Such an approach engages people to think better (‘more deeply’) about the goals they want to accomplish and recognizes that effective long term change occurs when someone is making a goal related decision, thinks better about it, and then makes a better decision. It’s the step beyond simply receiving information and knowing what you ‘should’ do – or knowing what would work if you would only do it. It is also - as experience has told us all too frequently - the step that is rarely taken. Providing knowledge is the easy part, and although research has told us for decades that knowledge itself is a poor agent for changing behaviors, this continues to be the predominant approach to achieve such changes.

In summary Intrinsic Coaching®, uniquely, has the constant aim to elicit ‘best thinking’ about choices, especially by thinking more intrinsically about choices. It is focused on achieving goals rather than overcoming obstacles. The power of such thinking is that it can be applied not only to professionals dealing with health care/health related behavior change issues but also be integrated into the lifestyle of any individual.

Acknowledgements: Parts of this article has utilized information adapted from the Intrinsic Coach® training manual and the Totally Coached Website 

If you have been asking yourself questions such as ...“how can I be more active?” “how can I manage my weight?” “How can I improve my diet?” “How can I manage my stress?”

Come and discover your own, unique (and sometimes surprising) answers!

For more information contact Dr. Wayne Phillips
Phone: (661) 26 B WELL
Email: [email protected]

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