Right Driver

Using a life coach to help you pass your practical or theory driving test

dr gary wood life coach

Dr Gary Wood

A life coach is an option you can use if you are having trouble either passing your driving test, or you need to figure out a path for you to upgrade your skills, experience and confidence to upgrade your licence to a heavier class of vehicle. We spoke to Dr Gary Wood. He’s a life coach but with a solid background in psychology to back up his techniques. We asked him a few questions.

Under what circumstances would a person use a life coach in relation to learning to drive, or increasing their driving skills?

Learning to drive taps into a range of abilities: our attitudes to ourselves and our abilities, how we process and retain information, how we set goals and improve our performance and how we control our stress responses. Our attitudes have a notable effect on how we learn.

Negative attitudes are like bouncers on a night club door on a VIP night. If you’re not on the list or you don’t look the part then you are not going to get in. The word attitude means ‘fit and ready for action’. At the heart of confidence is having the courage to take action. By adopting a positive mental attitude and looking at ways to rise to the challenge the information meets less resistance. So life coaching can help by helping you to take stock of skills and strengths. It helps create a ‘can do attitude.

If you employ a coaching with teaching experience, the coach can also help you to discover your learning style and how you best retain information. Driving requires many different cognitive abilities but heavily depends on visual learning. If you this doesn’t play to your strengths a coach can help you explore other ways of making sense of information in ways that suit you better.

If learning to drive is part of a long term career path this is clearly a strong motivation. A coach can work with you to explore other motivations so that you can create a really compelling future outcome and also work with you on setting goals and helping you to create an action plan to get there.

A phrase I often use is that “a coach helps you to get from A to where you want to B.

Our ability to relax and control stress is a strong influence on how we learn and perform under pressure. If we are stressed we fall into survival mode. This where the blinkers go on and some of mental process close down because we are only thinking about survival which triggers the classic fight or flight response. This is not a great mindset for learning new skills or coping in complex situations.

A coach can work with you to help you improve your ability to relax and so keep your stress levels in a productive range. We need a little stress for optimal performance but too much and we ‘fall to pieces’. When we are in a more relaxed state we access the full range of our mental abilities and have a broader range of resources to hand. Clearly hazard perception is about reading cues from complex situations and behave safely in accordance with the law and the highway code. Stressed people engage in road rage or else just try to get out of the situation by whatever means.

What should a person expect when they engage you as a life coach, and how long would you spend with them (typically) to help achieve their objectives, and what is the process?

Research indicates the the optimal number if sessions for coaching (and therapy) is between 4 and 10. By four sessions you get the feel for the alternative way of thinking that coaching provides. After ten sessions there’s a law of diminishing returns. The majority of progress is made between 4 and 10 after that there are usually smaller increments.

For driving you might decide that you need support over a longer period and your driving instructor will be able to give you an idea of how many lessons you will need. You can then plan your coaching accordingly. If you are very nervous you might want a burst of intensive coaching at the outset and then periodic top up sessions to support your driving lessons. This is really where you need to go with what you think is right. Coaching should be about empowerment not dependency.

Coaching is basically a series of focused conversations where you provide the agenda and the coach facilitates the process. I work as a solution-focused coach which includes a number of specifically worded questions designed to tap into your skills and strengths. So if you visit a coach and you can’t really see the point and the coach is suggesting odd and abstract exercises then it’s okay to question the meaningfulness. It it doesn’t seem to have a point and is all wrapped up in glamour and mystery and focuses on the coach’s expertise then it’s not coaching.

Using the solution focused process we would describe the issue or problem for 20% of the time and then spending the remaining 80% of the time discussing solutions. It’s also important not to underestimate a small shift in attitude or a small step in the right direction. These small shifts are often the building blocks of coaching.

The coach shouldn’t do the majority of the talking and giving advice. The coach’s skill lies choosing the right questions to get those eureka moments. If you feel like you’ve just been on the receiving end of a lecture, then it’s not coaching.

What questions should you ask your life coach to ensure they’re the right fit for you?

People approach coaches because they feel they have a need and this makes them vulnerable. Therefore it’s important to be objective about approaching a coach. Find out beforehand about their qualifications and what they did before coaching.

Some people look at coaching as a profession before they have gained any life experience. Doing a three week correspondence course does not qualify anyone to poke around in other people’s lives. I got into coaching from a background in psychology and teaching. It started as a way to gain skills to better help my students. Seeing private clients was a development from this. I didn’t set out to be a coach. It is natural extension of my other training. So don’t feel embarrassed to ask the coach how they are qualifications to help and of their past experience. If they seem evasive, arrogant or appear to waffle, then walk away.

Find out what organizations the coaches belong to and what they do for their own continuing professional development. You should be able to find out a lot of this information on-line from their websites and directory listings. You may also have a personal recommendation but just because it’s worked for one person doesn’t mean the coach will be a good match for you. It’s never an alternative to doing your homework.

Make yourself a short list of coaches and then contact them. Give them a brief summary of the issues you want to tackle and then arrange to have a consultation. Most coaches offer a free, no-strings chat. Take them up on the offer and prepare a few questions. On various listings and on my blog I offer a number of questions that people should consider. I’m prepared to answer them and I don’t see why any other coach shouldn’t be prepared to answer them either.

Decide what the most important factors are to you when hiring a coach. Is is qualifications, experience, rapport or cost. All everyone will order these differently, it’s important to consider them all. Just because coaches costs the the most doesn’t mean they will be the best one for you. There are a lot of coaches out there who have no coaching qualifications at all and they may well charge the highest fees. On the other hand, if someone is very cheap you need to ask why. If budget is really tight, you may be better off buying a good self-help book.

It’s important for me as a coach to get a good match between my style and what the client needs. With the best will in the world, if the client thinks ‘His voice goes right through me’, it’s hardly like to be a productive experience.

Are there any other techniques/methods/treatments that you would recommend that augment life coaching and improve its results?

A coach might use a range of techniques or recommend books to support the process. For driving there are a number of skills that are usual:

  • Doing some form of stretching exercises before and after a driving lesson. Driving requires use our bodies in different ways. These might seem awkward and uncomfortable such as having a foot poised over a pedal. Also sitting still for a hour. So treating the driving lesson like a work-out can help with muscle tension and fatigue.
  • Visualisation has also been found very useful in learning and practising new skills. Practising in between lessons in your imagination can help to develop skills. Also don’t underestimate sitting on the sofa with a with a colander for a steering well, a loo brush for a gear stick and tins of bears for pedals. It can help take skills to become less self-conscious and is a bit of fun and takes some of the stress out of the process. [check out our article on using visualisation here]
  • Affirmations are often used in self help but it has been found that they work best to maintain people’s self-esteem who already have high self-esteem. They may have the opposite effect for people with lower self-esteem. For instance you can chant ‘I am a brilliant driver. I am a brilliant driver’ to your heart’s content. However a little voice in your head might say ‘No you’re not you nearly ran over that squirrel last Tuesday’. If affirmations appeal to you, it;s important to know how to phrase them. Contradictory statements do not work. [check out our article about using affirmations here]

Here’s a video on the subject of overcoming negative self-talk:

You can also check out Gary’s book Unlock Your Confidence here.

Darren has owned several companies in the automotive, advertising and education industries. He has run driving theory educational websites since 2010.

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Posted in Advice, Car, Heavy Vehicle, Motorbike, Passenger Vehicle
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