Episode 62: Self-Coaching for Success with Dr Karen Castille, OBE

Have you ever felt stuck and wish you knew what to do next? Many people with high-stress jobs find themselves with competing priorities and too much to think about and do. You may have considered getting a coach, but what if you don’t have the time and resources? When you want to find clarity and be more happy and successful, know that you can actually do it yourself through self-coaching!

Dr Karen Castille joins me in this episode to discuss her book on self-coaching. She shares powerful questions to ask yourself which will jumpstart your self-coaching journey. She also talks about the importance of developing this vital skill and crafting powerful life questions. Before we close the show, Karen gives her top tips for self-coaching.

Don’t miss this episode if you want to learn how you can find clarity and achieve success through self-coaching!

Here are three reasons why you should listen to the full episode:

  1. Learn how self-coaching works and how you can fit it into your weekly schedule.
  2. Discover the power of crafting your own life questions.
  3. Find out why getting advice from other people often doesn’t work.


Episode Highlights

[04:28] Karen’s Career Changes

  • Karen had several career changes.
  • With her different experiences, she was shocked by how slow implementing changes can be in the NHS.
  • Change is fast in companies where people are paid to create change.

[07:51] The Tripartite Arrangement for Change

  • There are three key roles in implementing change — key professionals, a senior manager and a hands-on project manager.
  • All three roles need to work closely to create change.

[10:11] The Importance of Delegation

  • Delegation can reduce overwhelm.
  • It can also empower the people to whom you delegate tasks.
  • You can delegate to someone who is hardworking and competent as long as they have the support of their seniors, which is often what is lacking.
  • Many professionals often struggle with delegating and see it as a weakness.
  • It takes planning, and this is where coaching comes in.

[11:43] What Is Self-Coaching?

  • Self-coaching is a way of thinking and being that helps you get to your aspirations.
  • It is founded on the belief that you have the answers and what it takes to solve your problems.
  • You have to ask yourself key questions as you work through dilemmas in a structured manner.
  • Ultimately, you develop this skill and get better at it.
  • Self-coaching is a great way to delve into coaching when you don’t have the time or resources for one-to-one coaching.

[17:12] How to Get Started with Self-Coaching

  • Karen wrote The Self-Coaching Workbook, which contains well-researched questions to help you start.
  • You can also develop your own powerful questions.
  • What are you trying to achieve and how are you going to get there?
  • Listen to the full episode to learn why these questions can be transformational.

[22:40] Reframing Questions

  • Some questions might not work for certain people; you can reframe them in a way that speaks to you.
  • What does success look like to you?
  • What’s in your control?
  • What is this making me feel?
  • Listen to the episode for more questions you can start with!

[24:50] Self-Coaching Is a Skill

  • Self-coaching takes time and effort.
  • Do not expect a breakthrough immediately.
  • Self-coaching applies differently for different people. Find what works for you.
  • It’s tough because it takes responsibility and commitment to take ownership of your life.

[30:16] Why Coaching?

  • There are now many top performers who get coaches.
  • Don’t fall into the generalisation that it is only for those who are struggling.
  • Don’t just work on problems — work on aspirations and goals.
  • Self-coaching is a habit you need to create.
  • Listen to the full episode to find out about the aspiration-challenge-experience framework!

[37:22] Karen’s Top Tips to Developing the Skill of Self-Coaching

  • Create a self-coaching appointment with yourself.
  • Be patient with the process.
  • Build, reflect and learn.

7 Powerful Quotes from This Episode

[15:15] ‘It can be absolutely life-changing to work with a qualified coach, but not everybody has the opportunity, or the time or the resource, or sometimes the desire to book sessions with a coach and to fix themselves to the time and the place’.

[23:44] ‘People do start to work on problems more than aspirations, and I do believe there are lots of solutions to every problem’.

[24:03] ‘What’s in your control? And what isn’t in your control? [These] are important because sometimes people are trying to grab hold of something that they can’t control, and that’s quite disempowering’.

[27:48] ‘You taking ownership for your own life — you’re basically saying to yourself, I’m going to sort this out. And therefore I’m going to make an appointment with myself’.

[32:00] ‘We’re honed in to focus on the negative. It’s a natural human protection mechanism to see negative things that we can prepare ourselves and avoid disastrous situations – We need to retrain our brain to think more about positive situations’.

[37:12] ‘Write down the questions even if you don’t have the answer right now. Write down the questions that you find helpful — and that will definitely get you started on coaching yourself’.

[38:45] ‘Don’t expect a life changing situation with the first time you do it. Expect to build on it, and reflect on it and learn from it’.

About Karen

Dr. Karen Castille, OBE is an accomplished healthcare leader with more than 30 years of NHS experience. She has served as a national director to the Department of Health, the NHS Modernisation Agency and the NHS Confederation. Due to her work in improving emergency care for patients across England, she was awarded an OBE.

Karen is also a leadership and performance coach. Her consultancy work brings her to the international platform, working with several American, Asian, and European countries.

In 2016, she was named one of the most inspirational women in healthcare by the HSJ and NHS Leadership Academy due to her work leading a national drive to support women leaders.

Interested in Karen’s work? Get Karen’s ‘The Self-coaching workbook’ here. You can find out more on her website. You can also connect with her on Twitter reach her at Karen.castille@btinternet.com and Karen@Karencastille.com.

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Episode Transcript

Dr Rachel Morris: Do you have any areas in your life where you feel a bit stuck and would really like to figure out what to do next? Do you wish you regularly had the time to be able to think stuff through? And how much more successful and happy do you think you could be if you were able to get a plan to tackle what you wanted in life and get the first steps nailed?

Welcome to another episode of You Are Not A Frog: Self-Coaching for Success. And I’m joined by Dr Karen Castille. She’s an ex-NHS chief executive and a leadership coach, an expert in self-coaching. We explore how we can take control and help ourselves get unstuck without having to spend time and money on coaching.

Now, as an executive coach myself, I know how transformational coaching can be. But many of us don’t have the time or resources to access it or we want to be able to work on our smaller goals in between coaching sessions. So Karen and I explore how self-coaching works, and how you can fit it into your weekly routine and the power of asking yourself the right questions.

So listen, if you want to know how to get started with self-coaching, why developing your own life questions can be so powerful, and why getting advice from other people often just doesn’t work.

Introduction: Welcome to You Are Not A Frog—the podcast for GPs, doctors, and other busy professionals in high-stress jobs. Even before the coronavirus crisis, many of us were feeling stressed and one crisis away from not coping. We felt like frogs in boiling water—overwhelmed and exhausted. But this has crept up on us slowly, so we hardly noticed the extra-long days becoming the norm. And let’s face it, frogs generally only have two choices, stay and be boiled alive, or jump out of the pan and leave. But you are not a frog. And that’s where this podcast comes in. You have many more options than you think you do. It is possible to be master of your own destiny and to craft your life so that you can thrive even in the most difficult of circumstances.

I’m your host, Dr Rachel Morris, GP, and executive coach and specialist in resilience at work. I work with doctors and other organisations all over the country to help professionals and their teams beat stress and take control of their work. I’ll be talking to friends, colleagues, and experts, all who have an interesting take on this. So that together, we can take back control to survive and thrive in our work and lives.

Rachel: For those of you listening to the podcast who need to get some continuous professional development hours under your belt, did you know that we create a CPD form for every episode so that you can use it for your documentation and in your appraisal?

Now, if you’re a doctor, and you’re a fan of inspiring CPT, and you’re sick of wasting a lot of time, you don’t have, on boring and irrelevant stuff. And you want to put those 50 hours that you have to do to good use. And why not check out our permission to thrive membership. This is a new venture, a joint venture between me and Caroline Walker, who’s the joyful doctor. And every month we’re going to be releasing a webinar fully focused on helping you thrive in work and in life.

Every webinar is accompanied by an optional workbook with a reflective activity so that you can take control of your work and your life. You can increase your well being and you can design a life that you’re going to love. You’ve got to get those hours so why not make your CPD count to CPT that’s good for you. So check out the link to find out more. Thanks for listening to my shameless plug. And back to the episode.

Rachel: It’s really great to have with me on the podcast today, Dr. Karen Castille, OBE. Now Karen is an executive and leadership coach. So hi, Karen! Thank you so much for joining us.

Karen: Hello, Rachel. It’s great to be here. And thank you for inviting me.

Rachel: Well, I think you’ve got a lot of really fascinating stuff that’s going to be really helpful for our listeners. But before we go any further, could you just tell us a little bit about who you are, about your background, about what you’re doing at the moment?

Karen: Okay. Well, I’m one of those people who’ve done lots and lots of jobs and had lots of career changes throughout my life. And so, primarily, I was in health care. I was an emergency nurse for quite a while, and then I moved on to being a midwife. Then I went back to emergency nursing and kind of started to feel I want to do more, for more than one person, which is the patient in front of you.

So I started to migrate up the greasy management pole until I got into very senior positions in—mostly in big hospital trusts. And then I did some regional jobs. And I did some national roles as well, working across England. And eventually I ended up back in acute trust working on hospital boards. So I’ve been an executive, probably in about eight different executive positions. I’ve moved from the board table to which is very interesting.

Most people tend to stay with one portfolio. But I’ve done quite a few different executive jobs, culminating in, I became chief executive of a very big teaching hospital in the UK. And then I decided I wanted to do something different. So I did some training, and got some qualifications in coaching. So I became an executive and leadership coach, which now I really, really enjoy.

Rachel: Wow, that’s a really amazing—very career… And like you said, it’s not usual for someone to have all those different experiences of the different positions on the executive board, as well as having come through, working on the frontline as the midwives, emergency nurse, all that sort of stuff as well. So it’s brilliant to have you because you’ve got the perspective from both sides, haven’t you?

Karen: Yes, and also, I’ve got some commercial experience as well. So before I did all my NHS work, I worked in the commercial sector. I like to say, I worked in bodybuilding, but actually, it was commercial vehicle bodybuilding. So not quite as excited as a real bodybuilder. But anyway, I learned a lot about production and manufacturing and working in big companies. And so that was different, too. That’s why I say I’ve moved around quite a bit until I kind of settled with where my passion was.

Rachel: That must be really fascinating to come into NHS after having worked in a sort of production type industry. We’re fairly short in efficiencies in the NHS. So what was your sort of big impression moving into that from the commercial world?

Karen: In a word, yes. I was shocked at how difficult it was to make change happen in the NHS. In companies, they say, ‘Let’s do it’. And everybody just gets on with it, because that’s what you’re paid to do. But in the NHS, it’s far more about partnership, collaboration, winning people over, influencing people. There’s so much more, and persuading those above you, as well as those below you, that it’s a good idea, whatever the change is.

So I found it very slow to make any changes happen in the NHS, very difficult. But it can happen with the right people and the right attitudes. And that’s why some of the national work I did was around change and making change happen. And indeed, that was my PhD, making change happen in the NHS. So..

Rachel: Oh, wow!

Karen: Yes, it was where my interest came about. How did you get it to happen in such a massive, complex organisation with very, very intelligent key professionals, all of whom had opinions.

Rachel: Wow! In a minute, we’re gonna get on to the topic of this podcast, but that’s really fascinating. Have you got any key take home messages from your PhD? What did you discover?

Karen: I guess. Well, I discovered that there’s a kind of tripartite arrangement that needs to be in place if you want something to change. And that is, you need the key professionals, like clinicians to be up for it, involved, engaged, and part of making it happen. So usually a very senior doctor, nurse, or physio, or whoever, really gung ho about that this is the right thing to do, because it’s better for patients and better for the people they serve.

The second part of that tripartite arrangement is you need a very senior manager who can authorise it and take it off and give you the headroom to make it happen. Because without that, it can be blocked and stopped from above, so usually a board member.

And the third part of the tripartite arrangement is to have somebody who’s a jobbing project manager, hands on person who can get stuff to happen on a day to day basis. Because the clinicians are too busy, the senior managers have got other things that are involved in. So you need a permanent full time person whose job it is to get stuff to happen.

And those three working closely together and an agreement is what makes change happen is what I found with some of the work I did. And I worked with—on my PhD It included every acute hospital in England. So it was quite a big piece of work.

Rachel: Wow, that—I mean, looking at that you think actually. That’s a no brainer, isn’t it? An engaged clinician, a senior manager, a jobbing person on the ground. But so often we don’t have those three things in place, do we?

Karen: No, we don’t. And clinicians are busy people and they try to do it themselves and it can’t be though. They’ve got other things to do. Likewise with the senior manager. They’re so busy trying to create the headroom for the piece of work to happen. But they’ve got other things on their agenda too. So yes, it does need those three things to come together in a kind of harmony.

Rachel: Yes, I think that speaks to the whole delegation piece, doesn’t it? That often clinicians are worried about delegating to people because they think they need to do everything themselves. But actually, this is a really great message that actually you can delegate to someone who’s hard working, really competent, as long as they have the adequate senior support behind them, sort of cheering them on and saying, ‘We’re here for you. And we’ll push things through a senior level at board level, with whatever you need’. And actually, often people it’s not variability that’s lacking it. It’s the senior support and the sign off that’s lacking.

Karen: And so I think, I want to talk delegation, and it empowers people who you delegate to, as well, makes them feel engaged and involved and excited about what they’re doing.

Rachel: Yes. It’s funny, you know, whatever guests I have on this podcast, we always end up talking about delegation. But it’s such—I just think it’s the way that we will become resilient and sustainable, that jobs can be sustainable. And it’s like he said, ‘We worry about delegating, because we think it shows that we’re not capable, or we’re too overwhelmed’, or whatever. But actually, it’s really good for not only you because you get some of the work off your hands, but the person that’s being delegated to.

And I’ve been so grateful to be that person who is delegated to to give me some more opportunities. And some interest and it’s just developed me…

Karen: That a lot of professionals struggle with delegation, they see it just somehow it’s a—it shows some form of weakness.

Rachel: But it takes planning. And I think that’s where this stuff around coaching comes in. Because a lot of times when I’m—got one-to-one coaching clients, and I wonder if this is your experience. A lot of the conversation is, ‘’how do we manage our teams? And how do I shed some of my work? Because I’m just busy and overwhelmed’. And delegation is the key to that. But people just have been so overwhelmed, they haven’t had time to think about it.

So one of the reasons I wanted to—really wanted you to come on the podcast, Karen, is that not only are you a brilliant one-to-one coach, but you’ve also written a book about self-coaching. So can you tell me a little bit about what is self-coaching?

Karen: Well, self-coaching has been around for a long, long time, actually. People think it’s new and it’s not. So self-coaching is, it’s really a mindset. It’s a way of thinking and being that means that when you have issues in your world, whether it’s a new challenge, or something you want to do, or to achieve or create, or even if it’s some huge aspirational goal that you want to get to.

Self-coaching is a way of helping yourself to get there. And it’s completely founded on the belief that you actually have the answers to your own problems, as an adult. Adults learn by thinking through things themselves and doing for themselves. And rarely does it work if we give adults advice. I mean, my father’s in his 80s. And he still gives me advice. And it kind of makes me cringe when he does, because I’m a grown woman and I can—even on little things, he’ll give me advice. It doesn’t work with adults.

So self-coaching is a way of mindset of trying to ask yourself some key questions when you have a dilemma, or a challenge, or problem to help you work your way through it in a structured way. But it’s difficult, and it’s—like anything, it’s a skill, and skills take time to learn. So it’s practice, practice, practice that gets you better at it.

So at first, it might feel difficult, but people after they’ve been doing it a while—I have some key questions I asked myself when I have dilemmas or decisions to make. And there’s a few key questions that get me on the path to coming up with what the options might be for me. That’s a bit of a long-winded way of saying what self-coaching is, but it’s not no different than coaching except you’re doing it for yourself.

Rachel: And does it—in a minute I’m gonna ask you what your key questions are because I’m fascinated. Does doing it for yourself really work? Don’t you need somebody in front of you asking you the questions?

Karen: Well, the answer to that is yes and no. So you don’t need someone in front of you. There are some questions that will get you going with a bit different train of thought—a better train of thought. Some new trains of thought will help you to be more creative in your thinking.

But clearly, if you have someone in front of you or with you, albeit on a virtual system then they can. Ask you different questions that you perhaps weren’t expecting. And they can make a paradigm shift with you, or help you to get a paradigm shift because they can ask you something that you perhaps wouldn’t have thought of asking yourself.

So yes, one-to-one coaching is, it can be absolutely life-changing to work with a qualified coach. But not everybody has the opportunity, or the time or the resource, or sometimes the desire to book sessions with a coach and to fix themselves to the time, and the place, and the how, not everybody has the opportunity to do that.

And I also found—I was doing quite a lot of pro-bono work for the region. And what I found is that the people that had a little bit of a lift, because they couldn’t afford it for themselves or their organisation couldn’t pay for it, it was helpful. And part of what I try to do is build a little bit of capability for them before they leave me, when the sessions have finished. So that they can start to ask themselves similar types of questions.

So it’s not quite as the same as one-to-one coaching. But it can still be very helpful to people with busy lives. When your brain is so full of stuff that you can’t sort the wheat from the chaff, really. And you can’t get to the crux of the matter, because you’re so busy, and so overwhelmed with the thoughts in your head. So it certainly helps. You just sort things out and to think it through in a more structured way.

Rachel: And I can see the power of that because I think, you know, once one to one executive coaching is really powerful. I’m an executive coach myself. I had coaching, which just sort of got me leaps and bounds ahead—18 months ahead of where I would have been if I’d have sort of just thought about it myself. But I know that organising coaching sessions and getting the time to do them can be quite onerous. And it takes quite a lot of emotional investment. And thinking through and you know, so it’s absolutely brilliant, you need to be very committed to it and have be able to afford it, etc. Although the good news is there’s quite a lot of free coaching that is out there, particularly for people in health care at the moment. There’s..

Yes, since coaching you can do yourself just for five or 10 minutes when you’re feeling stuck about something or just want to think through the week can be really, really powerful. And in fact, I think I read a—it was either a podcast or a LinkedIn blog. And then somebody made a suggestion that if you have an issue that you want to work out or you’re just feeling a bit stuck, you just spend 10 minutes on your own, and you just write down all the questions that you have about this issue. What do you need to know? So just brainstorm everything that’s bothering you. You don’t know. And then he spends another 10 minutes writing down the answers. And so I’ve done that on a couple of occasions. And oh my, is it’s always—had some breakthrough we’ll come up with, ‘Ah! That’s what I need to do next’. So that’s just the first of the many types of self-coaching, I guess.

But then what you’ve done, very brilliantly is write a whole handbook with questions and stuff that you can ask about. You know, you can ask yourself. You’ve actually given us a structure that we can use for self-coaching and doing in a much more structured manner, which I think is a genius idea.

Karen: Well, hopefully. And what I say in the book is that the questions I present are, they’re quite well researched. So they’ve come from a lot of coaching manuals about what are good questions to ask. But they’re not the be all and end all. So they’re a starting point for people who may have even better questions for themselves. They may think of even better questions, particularly context receptive questions that talk to the topic that they’re thinking about. So it’s to help people get started really with it, and then to develop their own questions.

And I put plenty of space in the box so that if they think of a good question for themselves that it may live with them for life, that question. Sometimes somebody will say something to you. And you’ll think, ‘Wow, that is really making me think in a different way’. And so that’s the power of having a set of questions to get you going, when you don’t really know what kind of questions to ask. But the questions that spin off from that, for yourself are probably even more powerful to be honest.

Rachel: That’s interesting, because in a previous podcast, I was talking to Dr. Surina Chibber. And she recalled the coaching session she had. When the coach asked her, they asked her, ‘Okay. Surina, you’ve told us a lot about what’s on your to do list, what’s on your to be list’? And that question was transformational for her. And now whenever she’s stuck, that’s the question she always asks herself.

Karen: Brilliant. I’m gonna steal that. I’m writing it down.

Rachel: It’s beautiful. It’s a really good question. But there are always fun questions that yes, that just will completely deeply resonate with the person who will help them get clear. What kind of—what are your key questions that you would suggest people to ask themselves if they want to do some self-coaching?

Karen: Well, I’ll tell you the first one. And the first one—they’re not in any order—but the first one is, my fantastic mentor said to me once. And I repeat this to my clients as well, but I give it to them in a context that they understand. And I was—my mentor was Professor Aidan Halligan. I don’t know if you know him. He was an amazing Professor of Medicine. He was an obstetrician by background. And I used to meet with him about once a month, and it was really coaching, but he called it mentorship.

So I went to him as a mentor. And I think I was in a rant one day about everything that was going wrong in my world, and how I just couldn’t cope. And it was all too much and blah, blah, blah. And he said—he was a lovely, gentle Irishman. And he said to me, ‘So Karen, just answer one question for me. Tell me how many babies died in all of this’? And I said, ‘Babies? No babies died’. He said, ‘Oh, thank goodness for that. Because in my world, the worst thing that can happen is when a baby dies, and it sounds like at least 10 must have died the way you’re describing it’. And so what he was saying is for goodness sake, I was catastrophizing. Clearly I was catastrophizing. So now if I’m really feeling stressed and overwhelmed, I say, ‘Come on, Karen, how many babies have died’? ‘None’. Because mostly, most of our day to day problems are not at that level but we escalate them to that level. So that’s one but that isn’t my favorite one.

My favorite one, if I want to achieve something, or do something, or get somewhere or create something, the best one for me is, ‘So what is it you’re actually trying to achieve? What outcome are you looking for’? Because I used to think in process—probably because I did a lot of process jobs nationally, to try and help the NHS be better at process. So it helped me to stop thinking in processes and start thinking in, ‘What’s the outcome you’re looking for? What’s the end goal? What’s the vision that you want to get to’? And so for me, the words I use in my head are, ‘What outcome you’re looking for Karen’? And then once I know that, the rest of the process steps are more easy to slot in.

Rachel: That is such a helpful question, isn’t it? They use that in the model for improvement…

Karen: Yes, they do. ‘What are you trying to achieve? How are you going to get there’? Indeed. Yes.

Rachel: It’s so relevant to all sorts of areas of life. You know, I have teenagers at the moment. And, you know, it’s challenging. They are lovely, but there are some things that are quite challenging. And you just find yourself nagging them all the time. Well, you know, ‘Have you done this’? And then just asking yourself, you know, ‘I’m really worried about this’, and maybe the amount of screen time or that, and you think, ‘Actually, what outcome am I trying to achieve’?

Sometimes it feels like I just want to stop them being on screen. So I want to stop them. But actually no, I don’t. I want to achieve them being a balanced nice human being without an addiction or something like that. And it just—it helps bring you back to actually and it helps pay interaction, doesn’t it? And put you on the right route. Otherwise, we just break up going off on all the wrong things. And it can be quite confusing. So that’s really powerful.

Karen: Yes, and I think language is important. So for some people, that language may not speak to them. So you know, the way of asking that question can be framed differently. It can be well, ‘what does success look like for you’? If this was, you know, if you did this, if you got there? What would success look like? So that’s another good question.

And then when people do start to work on problems more than aspirations. And I do believe there are lots of problems, lots of solutions to every problem. And it’s helping them to think through the options, what are your options is a good question, or what’s stopping you? Or what’s in your control? And what isn’t in your control are important? Because sometimes people are trying to grab hold of something that they can’t control, and that’s quite disempowering. So what is in your control is an important question.

And if they’re expressing emotions, like anger or sadness or frustration or they’re upset, then a good question is, ‘what is it about the situation that’s making you feel whatever it is that they’re feeling’? And for me whatever it is, I’m feeling. ‘What is it that’s making me feel angry’? To try and help me to honour the real issues that I’m grappling with? Those are kind of the best ones that I use. And I think I’ve probably put those in the box somewhere threaded amongst it.

Rachel: Yes. Oh, there’s lots of—loads and loads of absolutely brilliant questions. I think those questions help us understand what’s going on and understand reality are so important, aren’t they? Because until you understand what’s really going on and why you’re feeling like this—you are so angry about something or upset about something, you’ve no idea what the best course of action is. And I guess that’s why in any good coaching conversation, you spend a lot more time on the—well I tend to—on exploring what’s really going on. And then but if you’ve done that properly, then actually the actions are pretty obvious and clear, aren’t they?

I think the thing about coaching, whether it’s self-coaching or coaching that people maybe don’t realise is that it takes quite a lot of effort on your part, not in the coach’s part, on your own part. Because all the—I think some people would love a magic bullet to solve their problems and to get everything done. And I think—I mean, we have that problem with patients when they go to physio. And they think that the physio is going to give them some sort of treatment that it’s gonna kill all their ails and suddenly, they’re given all these exercises, and then they have to go off and do these exercises in order to get better. Occasion’s a bit like that as you go along, perhaps expecting everything just to be magically sorted out. But you come away with far more actions than when you went in. And you’ve got to really put the work in.

So even though it’s quite a joyous thing, and actually can be very freeing, because I think just being stuck in a situation and just not knowing what to do is really, really demoralising, isn’t it? But it does take a little bit of time and effort. And I think even with self-coaching, you’re going to have to put aside a little bit of time to do it. And then make sure you’ve done your action.

So how long would you suggest someone took for with self-coaching session? Would you suggest they did the whole self-coaching session? Or just do it in little bits? How do you normally suggest people do it?

Karen: That’s a great question, Rachel. Because my answer is, it’s different for different people. And the reason for that is if you’ve only got 15 minutes to spare in the day, where you can be totally by yourself, with your devices switched off, in a comfy place, whether that’s on a park bench, probably not in the winter, or sitting in your cozy armchair at home. If you can have 15 minutes with no distractions, that’s better than half an hour with the kids running in and out, the dog barking, the postman at the door, and all those and you’re bing bongs going on your computer and notifications on your phone, well, that’s not going to work for you. You’ve got to be able to put everything else down.And really commit yourself to it.

So when you said it’s tough, it’s tough for lots of reasons. It’s tough because you have to commit. And you’ve got to—it takes responsibility. Your taking ownership for your own life. You’re basically saying to yourself, I’m going to sort this out. And therefore I’m going to make an appointment with myself. I tell people to book an appointment in their calendar with themselves and under no circumstances can it be cancelled, or postponed, or rearranged.

Make an appointment and stick to it as though it’s your highest level boss that’s made that appointment, something you would not cancel. And marketers, you know, bright red or whatever colour codes you use in your calendar, that this is important and urgent and needs to be done. So I wouldn’t be strict on the time. But it does need some time that’s dedicated is more important than the actual length of time.

For some people, they’ll sit for an hour. And they’ll work the way through the template in the book and work their way through the questions. And they don’t have to be worked through logically either. They don’t have to be in a particular linear way. You can mix and match and do the sections that you feel comfortable with to start with to get you going, if you wish. One interesting client who’s done self-coaching with the book. And she said to me that—and she’s a doctor, interestingly. But she said, ‘While I started off, I thought this is my problem’. I wrote it down as the topic for discussion, I started to work through the questions. And when I got to the bit that says what does success look like? I wrote down a sentence with what success looked like to me? And I realised it wasn’t the problem at all. I labelled the problem wrong. So I had to go back to the beginning and restate the problem. And so—that’s how powerful it can be. That’s the probably the most important thing she was able to do in that particular self-coaching session, that she was able to reframe the problem in a way that mentorship is going to reach the goal that she was looking for.

Rachel: So that takes you all the way back to that first question you said, ‘What is it you’re trying to achieve? Or you can reframe that as what problem you’re trying to’…?

Karen: Yes, yes, indeed. And that that is straight from the improvement model. Because that’s what you start with, if you’re doing your PDSA cycles and improvements. That’s the first thing you need to get right.

Rachel: Yes, and most people do coaching, or self-coaching, because they have a problem they want to solve for their circle, or—if everything’s going completely swimmingly then often people don’t take up coaching or this. But actually, you know, in today’s, you know, vocal world, we’ve all got issues and challenges. You know, no matter how well your job is going. And I think that sort of brings me to another question about coaching because something that I think we haven’t got hold of in the medical world.

We think that coaching is for remediation. It’s for people who are really struggling. It’s for people who can’t cope, you know, all that sort of stuff. Whereas, in the business, what I think they’ve got a much better handle on it. If you’re a very senior executive, you’ll nine times out of 10, you’ll have a coach, and you’ll have someone that you go to sort of sift through. And of course, if you were a professional sports person, you would always have a coach because he just wants to improve. So why do you think we’ve got it into our heads that coaching is just for people who are really having a bad time?

Karen: Well, that’s an interesting question. I mean, I’d say the majority of my clients now are not in health care at all. They’re in big commercial global organisations. I have quite a lot of American clients. And they often want me to work with what they call that, you know, their top talent, their top performers. So they’re not saying work with this person because they’re struggling, or they’re failing, or they’re saying ‘Work with this person, because they’re amazing, and they’re on the way to somewhere great. And we want to get everything we can out of this person and retain them in the company’.

And I think sometimes, we are kind of tuned. We’re honed in to focus on the negative. It’s a natural human protection mechanism, isn’t it, for us to see negative things that we can prepare ourselves and avoid disastrous situations. But you know, there are not many tigers out there about to eat us anymore. So we need to retrain our brain to think more about—positive situations are not just about the bad things, or the challenging things or the difficult things.

So certainly, in the book, I do say to people, ‘Don’t spend all of your sessions on problems. By all means do work on some problems, but also choose a big goal or a big aspiration, something that you’re really excited about. You’re much more likely to commit actually, if it’s something you’re really excited about. Because it’s going to help you to feel that you’re moving forward. It gives you that momentum. It motivates you to keep going with something, and to get to where it is wherever it is you want to get to in life’. So I think we need to just encourage people more to do the aspirational things as well.

I use a little mnemonic, ABC. And I say to people, ‘You need to work on an aspiration, a challenge, or an experience, and that those three things are different. And the experience can be a good or a bad experience to kind of understand what it is about that experience that made you feel what you felt’. And so I say, ‘Don’t spend all your time on B, which is the challenge’. You know, make sure you spend some time on something you’re aspiring to. And of course, we’re coming up to that time of the year when everybody sets goals in January, don’t they? And by the end of January, they’re all gone.

So we know from some of the literature out there that people do not stick with goals that they make on January the first. You know they want to lose weight or start running or eat more healthily or give up alcohol. We know that more people fail at that than succeed. And often they’re framed in quite a negative way. The frame does something you want to give up or get rid of out of your life. And it’s a very hard thing to change a habit. So I guess with self-coaching, I say to people, ‘It is a habit you need to create. And it doesn’t really matter when you do it’.If you know Monday morning is your 15 minutes or your half hour of self-coaching. Make it a habit. Do it every week. And after a while you will start to become more skilful at it. Just like any habit.

Rachel: Yes. I think that’s so fascinating what you said about firstly making it a habit, but secondly focusing on the positives as well. Because, from all the sort of strength research and theory, we know that if you focus on developing your strengths, you aren’t going to be much much—you’re going to get much more success than if you focus on developing your weaknesses.

And like you said, if you focus on aspirations and goals and developing those, and you’re going to be much more motivated to do it, you’ll enjoy doing it. And you’ll have much more success than maybe if you’re only focusing on overcoming problems and big slugs, and all of that stuff. So really, really important to remember that. I still have to remind myself that as well.

And I like what you said about the habits because… I’ve read a book recently that I really loved. It was some—called Free to Focus by Michael Hyatt, I don’t know if you’ve come across any of his work.

Karen: I’m gonna write that down.

Rachel: He’s very much about prioritisation. And every day, you’re supposed to think through your day, and set three priorities for the day and three priorities for the week and three priorities for the next 90 days.

But it says sort of, review of the day before you do the day. And then sort of at the end of the week, you’ll review the week and then you’ll once every three months, review the months. And I’ve been trying to sort of sit down in the morning and think, ‘What is it that I really want to do today’? And as a habit, it’s been really helpful for me just to plan what I’m going to do, set my priorities. But actually, I’m thinking with your self-coaching workbook in front of me, planning, see one of these once a week as well and use some of those questions in conjunction with that sort of prioritising my work plan, etc, is going to be really, really helpful. I can see how powerful that would be.

Karen: Yes, and I would say if you do think of a great question for yourself, write it down somewhere. It doesn’t really matter where. Put it on a post-it. Stick it on your computer. If you’ve got a, ‘what am I trying to achieve’? or ‘what does success look like’? And it works for you as a question. Use it again and again, with different problems, different challenges, different aspirations.

Because we like our own language and our own words, it resonates with us better than when someone else is saying it in a way that perhaps might not resonate quite so well. So write down the questions even if you don’t have the answer right now. Write down the questions that you find helpful. And that will definitely get you started on coaching yourself.

Rachel: That’s really good advice, Karen. What other top tips—if you had three top tips about how to get going with self-coaching, what would they be?

Karen: Number one commit. So book an appointment with yourself and don’t cancel it. Don’t rearrange it. Don’t put it off. It’s very easy to put these things off. We’re very good at procrastinating with things that we’re afraid of or things that we are not sure we know how to do, things that we think, ‘oh, I’m not sure it’s going to be that helpful’. So I’d say number one, commit. Make an appointment. Put it in your calendar. Write it on the wall. Whatever you do with something that’s important.

Number two, I’d say, be patient. As I said earlier, it is a skill that you need to learn, we need to learn. I’m still learning and I’ve done a lot of work on self-coaching and coaching. And it’s a lifelong skill. And I get better at it and better at it, the more I do it. So remember, it’s a skill.

And if your goal was to run a marathon, you wouldn’t run a marathon tomorrow, you might walk for 20 minutes to start with. And then you might run for five and walk for 15. And you’d build it gradually. So treat it like it’s something that you’re learning to do in the beginning.

And I’d say don’t expect a life-changing situation the first time you do it. Expect to build on it, build on it, and reflect on it, and learn from it. Particularly if you come up with a good question that you like, in your own language, using your own narrative in your own words. And you’ll find you’re saying it to yourself. You know I say these things to myself even—just because it’s become a habit with me now and it’s really helpful when that happens. And so was that three things or two things?

Rachel: That was four or five actually, really really amazing advice. What some—Karen, what resources are out there to help people with this?

Karen: With self-coaching or with coaching?

Rachel: I guess, with self-coaching.

Karen: I’m not really sure what’s out there for self-coaching. There are a few books on the market. But one of the reasons why I wrote the book I did was because I found that the books out there, they’re quite theoretical. They’re quite a lengthy read and you can read them from beginning to end and not really know where to start. So they might not be very practical.

But there are some books—if you’re the sort of person that likes to read there are quite a few books now on self-coaching and coaching. And I quite—I’m a tennis player, so I quite like the sporting and coaching books on self-coaching. So the books, like Zen Tennis is a good one. I love that. That talks about how you get in the right winning mindset. And that applies to self-coaching. A ‘can do’ mindset. ‘I can solve this’. ‘I can sort this out’. Or ‘I can get to where I want to go’, is a great mindset to develop.

And that there’s quite a few—it depends what your sport is. If you like sport, there’s plenty of coaching books that use sport as a backdrop to have the conversation and it makes it much more engaging than a textbook or a theory book.

Rachel: That’s a great, great suggestion. There’s a book called The Inner Game I think.

Karen: Inner Game, definitely of tennis, it’s on my bedside table actually.

Rachel: Actually a book that I often recommend to city managers who wants to take a coaching approach is called The Coaching Habit by Michael Bungay Stanier, which—it just got seven really key helpful questions to help you get into that habit of asking those those coaching questions first, just before you give advice.

And of course, Karen, there is your book, which I think is absolutely brilliant. And we’ll put it there. It’s still available, presumably people can get it.

Karen: Yes. And it’s still selling, it’s selling really well. And I’m amazed at how well it’s selling.

Rachel: Oh, it’s a good book. That’s why it’s selling well. So we’ll put the link on the show notes so people can get hold of it. And I’d recommend it because of it’s lovely templates and questions. And it’s an awful lot cheaper than a load of executive coaching.

Karen: Well, I try to not make it theoretical. So although it’s underpinned with theory—so underneath every paragraph, there’s a theory that you could back it up with, it’s—usually from social sciences or psychology. But I tried to make it one that was readable and not too theoretical. Yes, it’s exciting. I keep looking at there’s more copies sold. And I’m amazed at how well it’s sold in America and in the UK.

Rachel: Yes. Well, congratulations. And so Karen, we nearly ran out of time. If people wanted to contact you, get hold of you fully on Twitter, how can they do that?

Karen: They can follow me on Twitter, and they can certainly DM me. I do look at DMs that’s @KarenCastille. I think it’s just on Twitter. They can email me, karen@karencastille.com.

Rachel: Lovely. Great. Well, thank you so much for coming on, Karen. That’s a really fascinating—it’s actually really encouraged me to sit down and do my own self-coaching sessions now. I’m definitely gonna..

Karen: Let me know how you get on Rachel.

Rachel: I will do. I will do.

Karen: I love to receive feedback.

Rachel: Yes, yes. 100% and just encourage any of our listeners, you know, really give it a go. I think you’ll be surprised about how powerful it is. And of course, if you are feeling stuck, or if you have these aspirations and goals, and you are able to access them, one to one executive coaching, I’d really encourage you to do that as well if the chance is available to you.

That’s great. Karen, thank you so much for being on and that we’ll have to get you back on the podcast soon to talk some more.

Karen: Well. I’m writing another book, so maybe when I’ve done that one.

Rachel: Fantastic. You’re on. Thanks, Karen. Bye.

Karen: Okay. Bye bye!

Rachel: Thanks for listening. If you’ve enjoyed this episode, then please share it with your friends and colleagues. Please subscribe to my You Are Not A Frog email list and subscribe to the podcast. And if you have enjoyed it, then please leave me a rating wherever you listen to your podcasts. So keep well everyone. You’re doing a great job. You got this!

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Podcast links

Permission to thrive

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The Self-Coaching Workbook by Dr Karen Castille

Free to Focus by Michael Hyatt

Zen Tennis by Dr Joseph Parent

The Inner Game of Tennis by W. Timothy Gallway

The Coaching Habit by Michael Bungay Stanier

You Are Not A Frog Episode 54 with Dr Surina Chibber

Karen’s website

Implementing change in the NHS: Effects of clinical leadership on performance improvement, Karen’s DBA thesis

Shapes Toolkit for professionals in high-stress jobs

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Here’s to surviving and thriving inside and outside our work!


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Dr Giles P Croft is back to chat with Rachel about his experiences following a revolutionary read he was recommended. You might remember Giles from episode 46, where he talked about how as humans, we naturally default to happiness.

Episode 52 – A year of the frog

The week’s episode is a special one as the Frog celebrates a year of podcasting! It’s been quite a year - including charting in Apple’s Top 100 Business Podcasts in the UK!

Episode 50 – Freeing yourself from the money trap

Joining Rachel in this week’s episode is Dr Tommy Perkins, as well as being a GP Partner, and father, Tommy is one half of Medics Money. Medics Money is an organisation specifically aimed at helping doctors make better decisions with their finances. It’s run by Tommy and Dr Ed Cantelo who is not only a doctor but a qualified accountant.

Episode 49 – The Self Help Book Group No 2 with Nik Kendrew

This week Rachel is joined by You Are Not A Frog regular, Nik Kendrew. Last time Nik joined us, we discussed a book that has helped him in his professional life as a GP, trainer and partner as well as his personal life. Nik’s back this week to talk about another brilliant book and to share what insights and learnings he’s gained from it.

Episode 47 – How to Have a Courageous Conversation

Rachel talks with Beccie D'Cunha about the conversations that we avoid and the conversations we really need to have with our colleagues, teams and managers. They can be described as difficult conversations, but we can redefine them as courageous conversations - because ultimately it takes courage for both parties to listen and be heard.

Episode 46 – Default to happy

Rachel talks with Dr Giles P Croft about his take on how to beat stress and burnout. Giles  is a psychology graduate and former NHS surgeon who stepped aside from clinical practice for a decade to explore a number of career paths, including health informatics, cycling journalism, public speaking and high street retail with his wife.

Episode 45 – Rest. The final frontier

Rachel is joined by Sheela Hobden, Professional Certified Coach, wellbeing expert and fellow Shapes Toolkit facilitator. We talk about why rest isn’t just important for wellbeing, but important for productivity and creativity too. 

Episode 40 – Leading with tough love with Gary Hughes

In this episode, Rachel is joined by Gary Hughes, author of the book Leadership in Practice, blogger, educator and facilitator who is a Practice Manager by day. We chat about how leadership in the COVID-19 crisis has had to adapt, and the different roles that a leader has had to take.

Episode 37 – How to manage conflict during COVID with Jane Gunn

Rachel is thrilled to welcome back Jane Gunn – lawyer, mediator and expert in conflict resolution who has been known as the Corporate Peacemaker. This episode is for you if the thought of addressing a difficult issue with one of your colleagues send you running for the hills…

Episode 20 – A creative solution to stress with Ruth Cocksedge

In this episode, Rachel is joined by Ruth Cocksedge a Practitioner Psychologist who started her career as a mental health nurse. She practices in Cambridge and has a particular interest in EMDR for PTSD and creative writing as a way to improve mental health and wellbeing.

Episode 11 – The magical art of reading sweary books

In this episode, Rachel is joined once again by Dr Liz O’Riordan, the ‘Breast Surgeon with Breast Cancer’, TEDx speaker, author, blogger, triathlete and all round superstar who has been nominated for ‘Woman of the Year’.

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