I’m sitting in a conference room, listening to the two speakers.
“We don’t know anyone else who uses this process.”
They’re life coaches, and they’re spouting off big claims. Their special process is going to help us break through blind spots and limiting beliefs we don’t even know we have.
Less fear? Check. More confidence? Check. Issues with other people? This will help us solve them all.
They’re going to share the process with us, and I can’t wait! I know lots of processes, and it’s always fun to learn more.
There’s my regular coaching process which some might call “co-active coaching” after the training company by the same name. I enjoy a process called Clean Language which can get at those blind spots, and I’m familiar with Debbie Ford’s shadow coaching, which involves coming to terms with the parts of us we don’t like and try and hide away and more.
These two coaches are claiming their new, revolutionary process can make people have a breakthrough in just two minutes!
How does it work?
They told us it worked because they were going to help us connect with our “higher selves” and “raise our consciousness.”
There are coaches out there who teach things like the Law of Attraction. For myself, I like my coaching backed up by neuroscience when possible. And if a process I learn about hasn’t been studied, if it has a framework I can relate to the way our brains actually work and is well explained, I can get on-board with it.
Hearing this, I’m skeptical. But! I’m going to give their process a shot. It might be the most mind blowing coaching process in the world, so I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt until they show it off and tell us how it’s done.
“We call it clearing.”
… that’s odd, since “going clear” is a Scientology term, but ok. Let’s see it.
“Close your eyes.”
The people in the room do it, but I keep mine open – I want to see what they’re doing! Is the process a visualization? Guided meditation? Something I can’t even imagine?
As it turns out it was something I couldn’t even imagine. I would’ve never been able to even guess it in a thousand years.
How to Tell Your Life Coach is a Con Artist
With everyone’s eyes closed, one of the “life coaches” pulls out his cellphone. He looks at the screen. Two minutes pass, and he puts the phone away.
“Go ahead and open your eyes. I’ve just cleared you. Your higher self is working within you to break those fears and barriers holding you back.”
These coaches literally… did… NOTHING.
They used a process they can’t prove to cure the people in the room of things they can’t prove were there to begin with.
They didn’t explain it. Didn’t talk about what they did. But on the other hand, no one can disprove it, either. That means it’s legit, right?
They moved on to slides filled with made-up statistics and used a pseudo-scientific process that scientists – after much testing – say “is no more useful than random guessing.”
What followed that demonstration (if you can call it that, since they didn’t actually demonstrate anything) was an hour sales pitch for the course they were offering us. A course that was normally $5,000 but just for us they were only going to charge $1,000.
In a 1 and ½ hour presentation, they didn’t give us a single actionable step we could take other than purchasing their course.
But they did use a lot of manipulative speech and sales tactics. Not just the kind skeezy salesmen use, but the kind faith healers and cult leaders use to attract followers.
Signs that Won’t Tell You If Your Coach can Actually Help You
How about testimonials?
A coach better have testimonials. It would be a huge red flag if they had zero. But testimonials are easy to get. They’re great to get from happy clients, sure, but if a person was taken in by a con artist you have no way of knowing.
What about making sure they’re certified?
One of these coaches was certified. There are coaching programs that will certify you in a weekend. And there are coaches who are amazing who aren’t certified, so that doesn’t work either.
What if they offer a money back guarantee?
That’s not a bad thing. But the thing with money back guarantees is that even if someone is dissatisfied they’ll rarely try to get their money back.
It makes it very good marketing to offer one, because it helps consumers feel safe, and someone should be able to get their money back if it doesn’t work for them. It’s not a good way though to tell if someone is legitimate.
Then what do I do?
Here’s seven red flags to watch out for with your coach. Just one doesn’t mean they’re a con artist (or that they just don’t know what they’re doing), but if you see a couple of these it’s time to ask if they’re trying to rip you off.
1. They can’t explain what they’re doing.
If a coach is explaining a process to you, it should be clear and simple. The basic, co-active coaching process is to shed light on a client’s blind spots and new ways of thinking through asking questions. It’s dead simple, and more, it’s backed up by neuroscience.
There’s a rule our brain follows that Nobel prize winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman names, “All you see is all there is.” Our brain naturally creates blind spots, and a good coach helps shine a light on them.
I can explain all my processes simply and clearly. If I can’t, I probably shouldn’t be using that process.
If a coach has to explain a process by referring to forces that may-or-may-not exist, that should be a red flag. I want to make clear: there’s absolutely nothing wrong with coaching that comes from a religious standpoint.
If someone brings up any kind of religion or spirituality and uses to help a client gain perspective (“What would Jesus do in this situation?”), that’s fine. If they’re using it to make a process seem legitimate that’s an issue.
If while explaining a process they go around in circles, can’t get to the point, or are incredibly vague and sound like they just pulled the process out of a hat (“I’m going to be elevating your consciousness so you can connect with your higher-self”) then yes, they’ve probably just made it up or have no clue how it works.
There are some processes out there and techniques (like some Neurolinguistic Programming ones) that are effective and no one knows for sure why they work. If a coach is good, they won’t hide that. They will happily outright tell you, “I have no idea why this works.” There’s no need for smoke and mirrors.
2. Their sources are all personal anecdotes or made up numbers.
These coaches used a lot a lot of statistics…. and didn’t back them up with a single source of where they came from or how they were determined. I looked up what they were talking about when I came home, and the person who made them up is a doctor who is regarded as a quack and completely made them up.
If a person is giving out statistics or quoting anecdotes as truth, are the sources reputable? When I talk about stress, I like quoting sources like the American Psychological Institute or experts on the subject like Dr. Alia Crum or Dr. Kelly McGonigal who have massive amounts of research backing them up.
If there’s no research, or it’s only been done with a few people who have never been followed up on, that’s trouble.
3. They claim God talks to them.
One of the coaches today didn’t just claim he created this “revolutionary” process.
One night, while in great physical pain, he thought about whether he wanted to live or not. Night after night he suffered, struggled, and then one moment in the darkness God told him to go out into the world and share this process.
Throughout history cult leaders and con men have used it to justify their actions. If your life coach – or anyone – is claiming a higher power outright told them to do something, get far away from them.
4. They say a lot but give no value.
If you’re at a presentation being given by a coach, did they actually give you a process or technique you can use in your daily life?
If you go through a whole talk and then at the end the coaches sounded really good and even make you feel great… but gave you nothing you can use without paying tons out of pocket, that’s an issue.
5. They flatter you.
There’s nothing wrong with making an audience or a client feel good. But when they use flattery like, “I’ve measured the people in this room and the levels of your consciousness are all way above average,” that’s trying to sucker you.
6. They make you feel pressured.
How hard is the sell?
It’s ok for a coach or speaker to promote their service or product – they need to make a living, after all.
The coaches today didn’t ask us if we wanted to sign-up for their course, they assumed we did and just started passing out order forms to each of us whether we wanted them or not.
If you’re not given time to think over a choice (especially an expensive one), that’s a huge red flag. No coach should ever pressure you into buying in person or over the phone.
I’ve heard of coaches charging people huge amounts of money, even if they can’t afford it. A coach with a good sense of integrity isn’t going to to make you take out a second mortgage to pay their $35,000 fee, (usually backed up with some version of the phrase, “If you want it bad enough, you’ll find a way.”)
If they want an answer “now,” get away. A good coach will be fine if you want to take your time to think about it or do more research.
7. Their promises are too good to be true.
Change your entire life and overcome fears and limiting beliefs in just two minutes?
That was definitely a claim that was too good to be true. There are some processes out there that work very, very fast such as the NLP phobia cure which can cure phobias in under half an hour. That’s incredible.
But change your life in just a simple, two minute process that’s going to not only help you make more money, but is going to help you make TEN TIMES that amount?
Personal development isn’t a one-off process. It’s not even a six-week course like the one they tried to sell.
That’s because personal development isn’t an event that happens and then is over. You work on yourself, you grow. Sometimes you think an issue is gone for good and it comes back in a different form down the line. You backslide on certain things you wanted to do and have to get back on the horse to work toward them.
These coaches were promising all the success you could dream of (which no one can ever guarantee), and not only that, they were claiming their process would raise your consciousness so you could be enlightened. You know, like Buddha.
Martial arts master Masaaki Hatsumi has a great quote on this. He says,
“There was a famous Zen master whom people would seek out to become enlightened. He was strict and would occupy people with things having nothing to do with seeking enlightenment. You see, that is the only way to achieve enlightenment; by not focusing on achieving it. Then, one day it will just come to you.”
You don’t achieve enlightenment because someone is selling it to you so you can make more money.
Even if you did achieve it, trust me, there’s not much more obnoxious than someone who thinks they’re enlightened telling you how great it is and why you should become enlightened, too.
When it’s Time to Run
I stuck around for almost the whole talk out of politeness to the rest of the group I was with, but left when the order forms started coming out.
I left angry. Furious, even. For me, I enjoy personal development, and I love helping clients. But I can’t stand it when someone abuses it to swindle people out of their money.
If a coach sends up any of these red flags for you – even if it’s me! – feel free to run the other way as fast – and far – as you can, and find a coach who isn’t trying to steal your money and will legitimately help you instead.