Results-Proof your Goals Coaching with these 8 Magic Ingredients | Wendy Buckingham

Happy client at desk with laptop working on goals on notepad

Coaching is about taking your clients from where they are to where they want to be—driven by their goals and outcomes.

So all coaches—whatever their niche or specialty—are, in fact, goals coaches.

The following eight components of successful goals coaching come from my book Mastering the Art of Goals Coaching, and they're often overlooked. Each of these components will help you, your clients, teams and groups achieve results with more ease and certainty.

Here are 8 Ways to Help Your Clients Achieve their Goals with More Ease

1. Clear up any past failed goals

Check that no disappointment or negative energy is still hanging around because of past failures. This can seriously affect the client's ability to confidently move forward to new goals.

To restore confidence, you need to coach clients to reframe past failures so they see them as platforms for future achievement. You can do this by helping the client identify and reflect on what they learned from the perceived failure:

  • How are they now stronger and cleverer?
  • What mistake can they avoid making again?
  • What did they successfully learn or find out that will help them achieve in the future?

2. Start the uncertain client off with a "Soft" rather than a "Specific" goal

Yes! Contrary to what you may have been taught, it is okay for the client not to have a really specific goal or outcome and still move forward.

Here's why. SMART (Specific, Measurable, Realistic, Achievable, Timebound) goals are an invaluable tool for goal setting when a client is pretty certain about what they want to achieve.

But sometimes clients are vague and don't know specifically what—yet.

They're aware that something is missing, and they come to coaching wanting you to guide them toward ways to make life better than it currently is.

When this happens, don't keep pushing them to identify a specific, powerful goal. That may not be helpful, and in some cases it may be counterproductive as they may try to come up with something just to please you.

So, then it's better to start them off with a "Soft" goal. And their first goal can simply be to discover what it is they specifically want to achieve.

You can use something like The Coaching Tools Company's Wheel of Life or a simple checklist of questions to help them identify what is (and what is not) the ideal situation in various areas of their life: financial, career, relationships, leisure, well-being, environment, etc.

Here is an example of how that first "Soft" goal might look: I have identified how I want my coaching business to look and the best way to get there.

And, of course, whatever that "Soft" goal is, it still needs to be MART: Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and on a Timeline.

These "Soft" goals are a good start and will give the client permission to explore their options so they are confidently ready to be more specific.

And that's exactly what they can tell people who ask about their goals: I'm exploring my options for _____.

3. Harness the extra power of SMART(EY) goals

I also do SMART(EY) goals. The "E" stands for "Exciting" and the "Y" for "Yours." In my goals clinics I even give out packets of Smarties to whoever guesses first what the E and the Y stand for!

The "Yours" can be easily overlooked and needs to be carefully checked.

Make sure the goal the client wants to set is truly theirs and not a "should" or an "ought" inspired by a family member, employer or well-meaning friends.

Do they really want to get that promotion, write that book, have a big wedding or hike up Kilimanjaro? Or is it part of someone else's hopes and ambitions for them?

4. Say it out loud!

We know it's important to write goals down because it brings them out of the head and into the physical world. I suggest taking it one step further.

When the wording of the goal has been decided, ask the client to say it out loud—not just once, but several times, and with intention, in the present tense.

For example: I have successfully completed the 16K City to Surf marathon in 2023 (that's an actual annual event, here in Sydney, Australia).

Then ask them how it felt.

It should be exciting and energizing, even if a little scary. Ideally the words should make their heart sing!

But if they own up to a sinking feeling when they say it, or a feeling of dread, there may be more coaching to be done on the validity of the goal.

Check out these possibilities:

  • Where is that sinking feeling coming from?
  • Is the goal too big? Does it need breaking down into smaller achievement steps?
  • Is it really what they want?
  • Is the time frame too short or too long?
  • Is the wording not quite right yet?
  • Have they gone for something like this goal before and had it not work out? (See the first bullet)

5. Help the client devise a Personal Success Policy

There is a saying: "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result."

A valuable component of goals coaching is to help the client identify and list:

  • What has worked when going for past goals
  • What hasn't worked and been a problem

As a coach, you then help them decide what they need to do or avoid doing again so they have a smooth path to achieving the current goal.

In the past, they may have avoided some changes, such as to habits and behaviours, because the change would have taken them right out of their comfort zone.

This can be an excellent opportunity for your coaching to support them in growing into a new comfort zone and new confidence.

6. Recognize that goals should not be set in stone

I'm not a fan of the "If you can dream it, you can do it" philosophy of goal setting. Or the belief that the only thing standing in the way of achieving any dream or goal is intention and perseverance.

Sometimes a goal, however carefully SMARTEY checked, will not work out, for whatever reason.

Metaphorically, going down a blind alley and coming to a dead end can be frustrating, both for the client and the coach. This is especially true if it has been a long and tortuous journey toward the goal, which ends in frustration and disappointment.

If this happens, it doesn't mean you've messed up as a coach. Instead, be willing to be flexible and agile, rather than insistent about your client sticking to a goal.

I have found that checking in with the client at the beginning of each session on how they feel about each goal they're working on is a good strategy.

If a goal needs to be changed, or even abandoned, the good news is that lessons will have been learned.

The client can then acknowledge—and even celebrate—what they have learned and move forward again, maybe to a new goal, with greater clarity and confidence.

7. Move forward by looking back

Of course, it's important for the client to keep moving forward toward the goal, motivated and inspired.

But it's just as important for ongoing motivation to keep looking back and acknowledging what has already been achieved.

To do this, I suggest using a goal progress form that the client can fill in before each session.

It can save loads of time for both you and the client. It's also the perfect way for them to anchor and acknowledge progress and reveal to you what may need working on during the session.

Explaining to the client how valuable this is should overcome any reluctance around preparation forms. And of course, you can always choose to ask them in the session instead.

There are lots of goal tracking forms around. I use a simple format for my goals coaching: have a heading for the goal, then list these questions.

  • What steps did you achieve towards this goal, big and small? (Give them plenty of acknowledgement.)
  • What did you intend to do but not do, and why?
  • What challenges did you experience around this goal?
  • What are you learning about yourself (and others)?
  • What aspect of the goal would you like to work on in this session? (And here you as the coach can make suggestions.)

 8. Fill in the missing link for team goals

When working on setting goals with a group or team, be it business, sporting, community or even family, an important step is often missed.

You need to make sure each member is personally inspired toward achieving the goal, rather than just going along with what they see as an "imposed" goal.

The way to do this is to allow time in the goal-setting process with the group or team for every person involved to identify their own reason for achieving the goal—a reason that will make it worthwhile to put in the effort.

It can take only one person who is not enthusiastic about the goal to affect the enthusiasm and sabotage the results of the whole team.

This personal goal setting can be done during a session or given as homework or, as I prefer to call it, fieldwork.

Of course, some members of the group or team may have a personal reason they are not comfortable with sharing with the rest, so be sensitive to this. Just make sure they do have their own reason to achieve the goal, even if they only share it confidentially with you.


So there you have it: eight often-overlooked ingredients of successful goal setting, planning and achieving.

In closing, I invite you to ask yourself:

  • Which of these ideas have you perhaps not considered in the past?
  • Which are you most inspired to incorporate into your goals coaching in the future?

I hope they help you to lots of success with your own goals too!

Mastering the Art of Goals Coaching

Book Details:

You can find the eBook edition of Wendy's Mastering the Art of Goals Coaching here on her website.

Mastering the Art of Goals Coaching is a step-by-step guide for coaches to help clients achieve their goals with confidence, ease and certainty. Wendy's extensive experience as a coach has led her to refine goal-setting principles into a proven system in this new book.

Note: You may also recognize Wendy as she is an invaluable Moderator in our Facebook Group Coaches Helping Coaches!

Like this? You may also like these other goal-setting articles by Wendy:

And our:

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Contributing Author:

Wendy Buckingham is a certified life coach with over 20 years' experience. She now supports new and experienced coaches through her website Life Coaching Professionally. Wendy also offers a free subscription to her regular Life Coaching Accelerators of insider tips to enhance your coaching skills and grow your practice.

Over the last 10 years Life Coaching Professionally has evolved into a valued, independent and free resource for coaches and become Wendy's life’s work and legacy.

Wendy’s Life Coaching Successfully Series of books is also an evolving expression of her work, passing on information and skills for successful coaching in a compact and user-friendly format. You can find details of the books here for the best bundle price deals, and also on Amazon.

Learn more about Wendy & see all their articles here >>

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