By Andrew Leigh


Are there links between modern life coaching techniques and the wisdom of the ancients? When the author went in search he was surprised at what he found.

It started out as a simple idea – show the undoubted link between something as thoroughly modern as life coaching – and the wisdom of the ancient sages. After all – so many of the best coaching quotes are from hundreds or even thousands of years back.

But – the minute I started looking I found trouble – and the trouble I found was that these wise old sages could rarely agree amongst themselves. If you put them all in the same room there’d have been one heck of a fight.

In fact they couldn’t even agree on what wisdom itself was. Where one said it was absolute frankness in all situations (how wise is that?) another said it was the ability to say nothing. And when yet another argued it was the willingness to always take action in defence of your beliefs – well of course, an opposing voice tells us that wisdom is about having the good judgement to do nothing.

Getting confused? So was I – which is why I resorted to my Oxford Compact Dictionary (not very ancient). It said:

Wisdom: experience and knowledge together, with the power of applying them.

Now that’s a good enough definition of wisdom for me. So time to move to the next phase of my search – those powerful messages from the past that show us just how long our ideas about modern coaching have been around.

Oh dear – and what a shock at how deeply negative much of this ancient ‘wisdom’ seems to be. From Hindu scripture to the Chinese sage Lao-Tse the message often appears to be (and I’m paraphrasing here):

Life sucks – learn to put up with it!

Now that has nothing to do with the empowering, can-do attitude that coaching brings about.

Luckily there were also real diamonds to be found that did reflect some of the central ideas of coaching – particularly the ideas that:

  • we have our answers within ourselves

What the wise seek is in themselves (Confucius)

  • we should be willing to take action

Not by refraining from action does one attain the freedom from action (Krishna)

  • we need to embrace change

They must often change who would be constant in happiness or wisdom (Confucius)

  • and finally the power of achieving our goals

The desire accomplished is sweet to the soul (Old Testament)

These quotations go back thousands of years – but if coaching is rooted in such ancient ideas, what is it that makes coaching so modern, powerful and effective? I believe it’s the newer ways of learning – the more scientific approach of the last century that has helped coaching become such a profound life tool.

Because of this we now know much more of how the conscious and subconscious mind get along together – and how each can affect the other. We not only understand some of the ways that we can consciously make decisions to change the way we are and way we do things – way also have a pretty good idea of how they work..

We are beginning to understand the real power of words and the way that a single well targeted question can trigger deep and beneficial changes in a client’s life.

So is coaching in debt to the ancients? Well – yes and no. We’ve definitely taken a lot from them but we’ve probably rejected a lot more. And it’s the newer and very modern insights into how we work as humans that has added the final touch.

Having said that, I’ll leave you with this very ancient thought:

Where ever you go, go with all your heart (Confucius)

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Andrew Leigh helps people achieve better work and business performance, whole-life wellbeing, achievement and change, and fulfilling new life directions.

To find out more about how life coaching can transform your life visit

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