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The Power of Designing Your Life

As we go through life, we often live on auto-pilot where our behavior becomes a reaction to the situations we face instead of a contemplative decision. Habits, dispositions, and routines have a tendency to enclose our thought processes toward unintentional repeated action, which can hold us back from our goals and aspirations. Executive coaches address this repetitive behavior that psychologists often refer to as an individual’s disposition or habits, and encourage clients to actively engage in their destiny. Instead of making choices based on emotion, habits, and fears, learn how you and your clients can apply life design counseling to make more intentional and successful goal-oriented decisions.

Life design counseling

Research conducted by Maree and Twigge focuses on a similar idea to executive coaching; they call it “life design counseling” (2016). Life design counseling is seen as a subgroup of career counseling which emphasizes that in one’s career choices, “conversation facilitates the… meaning of life” (Maree and Twigge, 2016).

Similar to executive coaching, life design counseling seeks to make the client an active worker in their own career goals. Therefore, with the data provided in this research article and the findings produced, we can make fair use of the results in the executive coaching setting.

However, a key difference must be noted; individuals seeking life design counseling are not in thriving careers, while those receiving executive coaching often are. Regardless, both groups of individuals seek to become more successful in their work/corporate lives and must learn to become active agents in their own life.

“The aim of exploring and building on the magic in the life stories of individuals is to compile a life portrait that does not only transform the individual's life, but also makes a difference in the broader context.” - Maree and Twigge, 2016

Addressing the need for purpose

After studying the effects of life design counseling on young adults, Maree and Twigge found that clients have a need to examine their lives as a whole ongoing story (2016). They relate this finding to social psychology theories which emphasize a need for communal purpose and belonging. This need for purpose and drive is directly related to a career choice as it is one of the central roles an individual plays in society, especially those that are collectivist in nature.

Executive coaches also confront this need in their practice with clients. Their clients often haven’t thought about what the genuine purpose is in their decisions, much like life design clients often don’t recognize a specific life purpose. By using some of the tools offered in life design counseling, executive coaches can further spur their clients to greatness.

Tools used to inspire

In life design counseling, conversations are used as tools much like they are in executive coaching. Specifically in this study, Maree and Twigge focused on seven aspects of life design counseling (2016):

  1. Defining the problem and identifying the targeted achievement

  2. Joint investigation of the current scenario

  3. Retelling of a participant/clients story from the perspective of counselor/researcher with revisions

  4. Placing the previously identified problem in a new story for the development of new ideas

  5. Identifying concrete actions

  6. Conducting follow-up activities

  7. Continual reflective journaling

A similarity between six out of seven of these tools is that they involve conversation and speculation. They seek to drive the client to imagine new solutions to their current situation and innovate their own new ideas to achieve their goals. The other tool used focused on the individual’s self-reflection of what was covered during the sessions. This tool allowed the individual to focus on the concrete actions that were prescribed.

Overall, all tools sought to inspire clients to imagine their potential and address all their possibilities in the future. In order for clients to find meaning in their corporate life, they were guided through the process of realizing that they are active agents in their own destiny. They were instructed to define the potential outcomes of their choices and make decisions based on their goals and intentional thoughts. Clients were inspired to look towards the future for possibilities and see the potential in their own choices.

In a case study published by Cardoso, Goncalves, Duarte, Silva, and Alves, a sixteen-year-old who participated in life design counseling had significant changes in their behavior (2016). Their results indicated that over time, there was an increase in “innovative conversations” and “innovative moments.” They believe that these results support the validity of life design counseling and the tools used within it. The sixteen-year-old also developed a new “self-representation,” greater ability to develop an understanding of the issues at hand, and increased ability to create concrete and actionable solutions to address the issues (Cardoso et al., 2016). These results are important because they indicate that the methods used in life design counseling have an impact on individuals. Because of this finding, we can apply the tools used to our daily practices and watch ourselves and our clients grow to our full potential.

Applying life designing

Mark L. Savickas of Northeast Ohio Medical University states that life design counseling “views clients as authors who may be characterized by autobiographical stories and who may be helped to reflect on life themes with which to construct their careers” (2012). Savickas also holds that life design counseling is “effective for its intended purpose” which is to inspire clients to take hold of their own lives and intentionally chase their goals (2012).

With an understanding that life design counseling is an effective way for clients to become active agents in their life story, we can then apply its tools to executive coaching. These tools seek to advance the client’s intentional action in their own lives by having conversations about potential solutions, desired outcomes, current situations, and the creation of new narratives that surround identified issues.

If we use these tools in our executive coaching practices, we can further support our client’s ambition and motivation towards their individual goals. The most intriguing application from this study is that of creating new stories. If we can encourage our clients to make new stories in their lives, what are the potential life-changes they could make for their own good? This research indicates that it would be beneficial for coaches to repeat a client's stories back to them from a different perspective and with potential changes in plot, result, or conflict. This creative expression of autonomy and initial action in life supports a client’s cognitive journey toward being intentional actors in their own life stories.

Furthermore, executive leaders can partake in these tools in their own time. Instead of making choices based on emotion, habits, and fears, executive leaders through future-based contemplation and story-telling, can push themselves toward making more intentional and successful goal-oriented decisions.

What does it all mean?

After understanding the implications that life design counseling has on its clients, we are called to apply its practices to our executive coaching sessions. If we invite and guide clients through the storytelling of their lives from a different perspective, we can encourage clients to be actors in their own lives. We can support the realization of intentional action towards goals and ambition which is the central goal of executive coaching.

When we support a client’s ambition using these tactics, we are further supporting their life story and legacy. So in your next client session, encourage them to change the narrative of their story. Embrace the opportunity that intentional action could provide your client. Encourage them to write their own story and rewrite the narrative of their life. Support them as they investigate and identify decisions, choices, and problems in their situations, and call them to action through the creative process of storytelling and life designing.

For inspiration on asking questions that inspire, check out Episode #1009 of the Arete Coach Podcast with Larry Cassidy.


Maree, J. G., & Twigge, A. (2015, December 22). Career and Self-Construction of Emerging Adults: The Value of Life Designing. Frontiers.

Savickas, M. L. (2012, January 1). Life Design: A Paradigm for Career Intervention in the 21st Century. Scinapse.

Cardoso, P., Goncalves, M., Duarte, M., Silva, J., & Alves, D. (2016, January 11). Life Design Counseling outcome and process: A case study with an adolescent. ScienceDirect.

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