Door 8: Understanding yourself with self-coaching

Welcome to a new monthly addition to The Hoot, from The Open University's PLA service. Session one - discover your strengths and potential.

Welcome to a new monthly addition to The Hoot! 

Want to discover more about yourself? Read on…..each month we’ll publish an article which represents a new opportunity to focus on your personal and professional development to support your studies, work and life. 

So grab a coffee or tea, find a comfy spot and pause for a moment…

When you’re busy with study and life, it often feels impossible to stop and think about your achievements, how well you’re doing, what resources you have to support you and how you can overcome obstacles to reach your goals. Coaching is designed to give you the tools to do this. Coaching can be summed up as: 

“… unlocking a person’s potential to maximise their own performance. It is helping them to learn rather than teaching them” (Whitmore)

What is self-coaching?

Coaching usually takes place between a coach and the coachee (you), however you may not have access to a coach and this is where self-coaching can really help. Through self-coaching you’ll learn things about yourself you may not have consciously been aware of before. 

Self-coaching can be a great way to get past obstacles, identify your goals or create a plan to get ‘unstuck’. It can be incredibly empowering, helping you take control of your own success by developing your self-awareness and self-confidence, strengthening your determination and developing your motivation. 

Session 1 – Your strengths and potential

Getting started…

You’re amazing and unique! Yes, really! 

Identifying your personal strengths is often seen as a key step in self-coaching as it’s useful to focus on what you can do easily, naturally, skilfully, and energetically – rather than focussing on the things you can or could improve.

What do we mean by personal strengths? 

Within positive psychology, personal strengths are defined as our built-in capacities for particular ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving (Linley, 2008). Extensive research by two of positive psychology’s leading figures, Peterson and Seligman (2004) explored what an individual’s personal strengths might look like and came up with 24 core strengths that are associated with the six virtues of positive psychology theory:

Wisdom/Knowledge Creativity, curiosity, love of learning, judgement and open-mindedness, perspective
Courage Honesty/authenticity, bravery, persistence, zest
Humanity Kindness, love, social intelligence
Justice Fairness, leadership, teamwork
Temperance Forgiveness, modesty/humility, prudence, self-regulation
Transcendence Appreciation of beauty, gratitude, hope, humour, religiousness/spirituality

These 24 core strengths are often referred to as character strengths and research has identified that:

  • These 24 strengths are evident across human history and world cultures.
  • Each of the 24 strengths exists in all of us to varying degrees.

Working with your strengths

Focussing on your strengths can make you more effective when tackling everyday challenges. Rather than focusing on deficits, difficulties or weaknesses, a strengths-based approach aims to make your abilities the main focus. 

Identifying your character strengths can help you recognise that you may be stronger in some areas and weaker in others, and that’s okay. It’s what makes us all different and unique. 

Through self-reflection, identifying your character strengths can help you:

  • boost your confidence 
  • develop your potential
  • improve your performance and help you achieve your goals 
  • increase your happiness and general wellbeing with positive vocabulary and self-talk
Step one

Using the 6 virtues/24 core strengths (or others you may want to use) reflect on the following statements and make a list of your responses:

  • My positive qualities are…
  • Things I like about myself/things others like about me… (perhaps ask a close friend/family member, a work colleague or a course mate to help you out here)
  • I’m great because…

Try not to censor or over think your initial responses to these statements – just write down your immediate thoughts, feelings, reactions and ideas. 

Remember: there’s no right, wrong, good or bad responses – this is about you.

Step two

From your list of responses from activity one, take a deeper look to see if you can identify any patterns. Are there any character strengths that:

  • are very familiar to you? 
  • are repeated? 
  • are similar and you could group them together?
  • are a surprise to you? 

Ask yourself:

  • What might be my top three character strengths? 
  • How can I use ALL my character strengths to succeed in my OU studies?
  • Where in other areas of my life can I use my character strengths? (relationships, work, hobbies, activities)
  • What character strengths could I develop further? How could I develop these? Who or what could help me?
Step three

In addition, you can find out more about your character strengths by using one of many online tools including: the VIA Character Strengths Inventory – where you can complete a short questionnaire and receive your results based on their 24-character strengths.

Other fun online activities and quizzes to help you explore more about personality traits and types include The Big Five personality traits and 16 Personalities

Additional steps…

You’ve now started an exciting journey towards self-improvement and personal development!

Buckingham and Clifton (2005) maintain that a person’s talents are enduring and unique, and that their greatest room for growth is in the areas of their greatest strength. As a result, developing your existing strengths as a student will not only bring you satisfaction but can also be used as a resource to support you in overcoming any areas of weakness. In fact, there’s nothing wrong with viewing yourself as an ongoing work-in-progress!

Finally, identifying your strengths isn’t a one-off exercise. Your ideas about your strengths will almost certainly change over time, and it’s useful to revisit your strengths on a regular basis to review your development and any changes.

We welcome comments, questions and chat about the article and activities. 

Next article – January 2022 – New Year, New You!

If there’s anything you’d particularly like to see in this new self-coaching feature, please let us know. 

We look forward to seeing you again in 2022!

If you’re interested in finding out more…
  • Buckingham, M. and Clifton, D. (2005). Now, Discover Your Strengths. London: Pocket Books.
  • Linley, A. (2008). Average to A+: Realising Strengths in Yourself and Others. Coventry: CAPP Press.
  • Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. New York: Oxford University Press and Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
  • Whitmore, J. (2017). Coaching for Performance: The Principles and Practice of Coaching and Leadership, 5th edn, London, Nicholas Brealey.

The Open University (OU) has set an ambitious Access and Participation Strategy with progressive targets over the next 5 years to tackle inequalities. The OU has many areas in which we need to improve and do better, and one focus is on the degree outcomes between students from underrepresented groups and the wider student body. 

To help address this, we have set up a dedicated team providing personalised coaching and mentoring to our students. This service is known as the Personal Learning Advice Service. 

Students who are eligible for coaching are contacted directly by us and cannot currently self-refer. We are a new service, and we are currently delivering and evaluating pilot projects with small groups of students at the OU. We worked with the OU Students Association in designing and setting up this support for students.  

If you would like to know more, please email

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