The gap: moving from A to B, self-coaching tips and tools

Students today find themselves navigating many different types of challenges in their personal, academic, and, if now looking for a job, their professional life. Talking with students recently prompted this article to support them as the road they are traveling is both unfamiliar and unknown to all of us – the impact of Covid19, economic slowdown, quarantine, on-line learning, physical distancing, etc. There is a lot we are living with today that can cause uncertainty and anxiety, not only for ourselves but also for our families and friends.

We can all feel a bit lost when we face a problem and do not have a known strategy for it (yet). The effect can create feelings of overwhelm and anxiousness. These are amplified if the stakes are high and we believe we do not have the knowledge, tools, or strategies required.
Often, we feel apprehension when there is a significant gap between what we already know and what we need to know, when there is a time constraint involved and we don’t have good information on how to proceed or take action. We feel unprepared for the challenge we are facing and this does not feel good.  

A recent instance was for students who were preparing for admissions interviews into master’s programs. Several hundred students accessed our self-coaching technology in preparation for their interviews and the common challenge was the fact that they just didn’t know what to expect; some had no previous interview experience at all, some were concerned they would not know how to answer interviewers’ questions, some felt they weren’t as good as other candidates, some felt that if they couldn’t differentiate themselves from others in some way they would not be accepted. Their future academic path was dependent on a successful outcome and so the stakes were high. In a situation like this, the brain can quickly get into confusion. As we imagine the situation, what could go wrong, we have too many conflicting thoughts coming all at once which reduces our ability to think clearly and bring solutions.

This is a natural reaction to a stressful situation but we do have the keys to transform this response into something we can deal with and find our solutions. Our perception may be that we are stuck and do not have the tools or skills, but with a change in mindset (our way of thinking and opinions) and some strategies we can change this perception. A first step is to pause, take a couple of deep breaths to slow our brain waves and calm both brain and body to access our creative mind and a clearer path of thought. Then notice how you are talking to yourself. Are you telling yourself you can’t do this? Or, “I am not good enough, or not smart enough”? Is this what you would tell a friend? To upgrade your mindset, change the words you use to talk to yourself into words that are empowering. Sounds cliché, but telling yourself “I can do this” or “I got this”, really works. The goal is to change our mindset to embrace new possibilities, to change our perception that we have tried everything and nothing is working, to open ourselves to our own creativity and potential.

From this new mindset, we can ask ourselves questions to move from feelings of being stuck or overwhelmed into a state of possibility where we have created some steps to move towards positive action. The first step is to think about our thinking (metacognition). Becoming aware of feeling unprepared and nervous, and even that we might prefer to avoid the situation altogether and make our escape is a great place from which to start asking questions. Research tells us that taking the time to pause and reflect and ask ourselves questions improves our learning by 23%.

A strategy for an issue that needs reflection:

  • Start with a blank piece of paper and a pen.
  • Take 2 or 3 deep breaths through your nose, letting the air out slowly through your mouth as if you are letting it out through a straw. This calms the mind and sets up a more creative mindset where the answers will come more easily.
  • Ask yourself this question and take 5 to 10 minutes to write down every thought that comes to you without editing anything. What am I fearing? You will be surprised what comes to you and I guarantee that as you write you will see how some of the things that come up seem not quite as problematic as you first thought.
  • Then, ask this question: What will I do to succeed? This question puts you in the driver seat, activates your creative brain, and shows you possibilities. Again, write everything that comes to mind.
  • Reviewing both lists you will see the obstacles that are truly causing that “gap” I mentioned earlier, and the solutions that will close the gap have emerged so you can work with them.
  • Choose those ideas that will give you the biggest impact on the action you will take.

The students who worked with our self-coaching technology in preparation for their interviews were deep-diving into thinking about their thinking to find their creative solutions. We are all able to do this. We can do this work with friends, family, or co-workers, we can do it with a technology like PocketConfidant AI and we can do the work on our own.

I hope this article has encouraged you to give yourself the gift of taking a pause, slowing your brain down to make space for your creativity, and reflecting on your thinking when you are facing difficulty, in order to move from stuck into a resourceful state. I welcome your feedback and comments. Please contact me at

By Isla Reddin, Coach and Chief Learning Officer at PocketConfidant AI