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What is the flow model of coaching and how can I use it?

In this post we explore the flow model of coaching and how you can use it as a coach. This content is excerpted from Foundations of Professional Coaching.

About the Flow Model of Coaching

How do coaches work so that clients experience a sustained flow of energy and other resources to achieve their dreams? Clients enter a coaching relationship with varying levels of energy and resources for change. They may want change they may be in the midst of a personal drought of energy and resources. It may well be that the first task of coaching is to address the energy levels and resources available to clients at the onset of coaching. Once the change process is initiated, clients may fluctuate over time in their energy flow. By clarifying clients’ intentions, small actions may be planned. If they are well constructed, these actions can enhance the energy available for future actions. As noted in goal theory research, strategizing for early wins in coaching through codesigning significant yet achievable tasks can propel clients forward in their efforts (McLean, 2012). Of course, disruptions and obstacles may occur along the way to diminish flow. No matter how well intended clients are, unexpected events may arise and redirect energy flow into other streams. Change also requires energy not only in the moment but in a sustained manner over time.

The flow model is divided into two major phases: engagement and goal pursuit.

Image taken from Foundations of Professional Coaching

In this blog post we will explore two of the engagement phases in the flow model of coaching: insight and patterns.


Each client begins with a wish or intention. It may be broad or circumscribed, short or long term, concrete or abstract. This intention cannot be separated from the rest of the client’s existence, and as a coach, your role is to understand this desire in context. The gift of this phase of the flow model is that as the coach expresses genuine curiosity in deepening her/his understanding of the client, awareness is also created within the client. In the safe space of a coaching relationship, clients begin to put together the pieces of their own puzzles.

A focus on insight is about generating awareness and access to sustainable motivation. It is meant to provide strength and clarity for the journey. However, it is not an end in itself. This stage is intended to ground clients’ dreams in the practical realities they will likely face. When the distance to a goal seems far, more immediately attainable goals can be created to feed motivation along the path. Helping clients appreciate their intentions within the broader frame of their lives facilitates action planning to account for all relevant elements.

Creating insight does not mean finding out all the areas where clients are unconscious or asleep, but it does involve exploring critical beliefs that could interfere with success.

Main focus during insight phase

In fostering insight, coaches guide clients to focus on the following:

  • Understanding oneself in the context of this change
  • Perceiving oneself clearly and accurately
  • Mapping “all of me” in the world
  • Seeing the interactions of all the forces at play
  • Understanding the sources and depth of one’s motivation
  • Appreciating the larger picture of other visions, dreams, needs and realities
  • Exploring the likelihood of intended and unintended changes over the long term
  • Identifying the deeper wants and needs that will be met by this pursuit.


Another gift of a coaching relationship is how it enables people to be mindful of their habitual behaviors when they are trying to approach things in novel ways. Coaching often involves implementing unfamiliar approaches to action. Your chronic patterns may urge you to go back to the tried and true, rather than chance uncertainty. Coaches need to know how clients go about change and what happens when things don’t work as planned. Some aspects of clients’ patterns may have fostered success; others may have resulted in less desirable outcomes when applied in certain situations.

Exploring clients’ patterns means uncovering how they make decisions, how they plan, how they implement actions, and how they energize themselves. While identifying relevant sources of motivation represents part of the insight focus, the emphasis here is on clients’ patterns in calling upon certain motivations. For instance, when a client is falling down in his commitments, he may typically prod himself to action by self-labeling his behavior as “lazy.” Through such explorations, clients might discover more beneficial motivational strategies that can be readily applied to their coaching agendas. At other times, they might glimpse how old ways of being prevent progress toward outcomes they desire.

A focus on patterns is not entirely separate from the previous focus on insights. Throughout, you are trying to understand your clients—how they function, what they value, how they know, what helps them start, and what hinders them. After learning about these things, coaches develop a sense of where clients will leap forward and what might stop them in their tracks.

Patterns are usually ingrained ways of being or habitual manners of thinking, feeling, and acting. There is a sequencing that is represented in patterns of behavior, feeling, or thought. One thing leads to another, and then a certain, perhaps predictable, outcome occurs. It’s likely that when people hire coaches, one of their dominant patterns for creating success in their lives is no longer working. They may have experienced a number of disappointments in relying on their tried-and-true ways. If that’s not the case, it may be that they don’t yet see how their old patterns are misaligned with their new intentions. A new path has not yet been taken.

Main focus during patterns phase

Coaches enable clients to explore and reveal the following patterns:

  • Habits and patterns of daily life
  • Preferred ways of organising or scheduling life events
  • Criteria by which clients prioritise life agendas
  • Characteristic modes of thinking and feeling
  • Habitual ways of generating motivation for action
  • Go-to places or defaults when they are stuck or under stress
  • Bodily patterns of movement or inactivity
  • Preferred modes of sensing-auditory, visual, or kinesthetic
  • Strong attractions and aversions.

This blog post explores the first two engagement phases in the flow model of coaching: insight and patterns. You can learn about all 6 stages of the model in Foundations of Professional Coaching.

Foundations of Professional Coaching book cover

Adapted from:

Foundations of Professional Coaching

James Gavin

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