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11 Secrets of Life Coaches

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There are an estimated 47,500 life coaches across the globe, and nearly 16,000 of those can be found in North America [PDF]. These “experts” help clients set goals in every realm of life—from health to romance to career—and create a strategy to meet those goals, all the while maintaining a cheery, motivational disposition. While there’s some debate about how legit a practice life coaching is (one recent lawsuit accuses a life coaching business in Colorado of running a lucrative Ponzi scheme), there’s no doubt business is booming. One study found that total annual industry revenue was $2 billion and climbing. We talked to a few professional coaches about their jobs and what they’ve learned about human nature during their tenure.

1. THERE’S NO CERTIFICATION.

Interested in becoming a life coach? You’re in luck: There is no regulated certification process to complete before you can put “life coach” on your business cards. 

“It’s not regulated by any governing body,” says coach Jay Cataldo. “There’s plenty of people with credentials that have no business coaching anyone and there are people with no credentials that are great coaches. I’m certified by the fact that I am an IACT certified Master Hypnosis Trainer. I tell my clients I have 10 certificates on the wall but they mean nothing. All that matters is can I help you?”

But there are hundreds of training programs that promise to teach the essentials, and at least one accrediting body, the International Coaching Federation, maintains a list of what it considers more legitimate training programs. To be accredited, a program must offer at least 125 hours of contact between students and teacher, six hours of observed coaching sessions, and 10 hours of mentor coaching and performance evaluation, among other requirements. 

Some coaches get certified to add a layer of credibility to their resume, but many consider the school of hard knocks to be the best education. 

“I just feel like I’ve had a lot of life, you know?” says life coach Stefanie Ziev, who studied spiritual psychology before discovering the accredited coaching program she completed. “In an effort to decipher the meaning of my life, I’ve done a lot of work.”

2. “POWERFUL QUESTIONS” ARE KEY.

According to Ziev, one solid coaching method is “listening and asking powerful questions.” By that she means open-ended questions that can’t be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.” “For instance, ‘What would be a stretch goal for you? What would bring you out of your comfort zone that might push you to the next level as it relates to what you want to achieve in your life?’”

3. DON’T CALL THEM THERAPISTS.

Ziev is quick to establish that coaching and therapy are very different services. “Coaching looks forward and therapy looks back,” she says. “Coaching is not as worried about your mommy or daddy issues as it is about what’s happening now and what do you want next?” 

If a client is depressed or wallowing in the past, Ziev says she’ll refer them to a therapist. “I’m like look, I can’t help you.” 

The way Cataldo puts it, coaching requires a lot more hands-on work on behalf of the client than therapy. “You have to want this more than I want it for you,” he says. “You gotta push yourself, put yourself in uncomfortable situations. I’m not gonna waste my time with someone who isn’t gonna put the work in.” 

4. THEY CAN AFFORD TO TURN PEOPLE DOWN.

Life coaches can be picky about who they choose to take on as a client. Usually the process begins with a questionnaire or an introductory session in which the coach asks a series of questions that tell them something about a prospective client’s personality and chances for success. 

“Listen, a victim, someone who lives comfortably in their victim consciousness, is not a coaching client,” says Ziev. “I don’t deal with people who wallow in their problems.”

Annie Lin, a life coach in New York, estimates that she turns down roughly 15 percent of people who approach her, usually because they have a pessimistic attitude. “I prefer to work with clients who really believe in themselves and outside help would add support, accountability, and guidance to that,” she says. “That’s a much better match.”

5. COACHES HAVE THEIR OWN COACHES.

“Any good coach should have a coach,” says Ziev. “I’m a client for sure.”

Cataldo says he’s had four or five different hypnosis mentors and a health coach. “You can’t really be a good coach unless you’ve gone through the coaching process yourself,” he says.

6. YOU’RE IN IT FOR THE LONG HAUL.

Most coaches don’t let clients just drop in for a session here and there. Instead, their services come in big packages, so clients have to make a time commitment. “I won’t work with anyone for less than three months,” says Cataldo. “Once a week for at least three months. Some people, I can literally change their life in three or four months. Other people need more time. I’ve had clients for almost six years.”

Ziev is unusual in that she offers a one-month course for $1495.

7. THEY DON’T HAVE TO BE IN THE SAME ROOM AS YOU. 

In fact, e-coaching is huge, and it means coaches aren’t limited by geography. At any given time, Ziev is managing roughly 20 clients, and all the coaching takes place over the phone or Skype.

“A lot of coaches have built a practice around Skype sessions,” says Cataldo. “The technology is so fantastic these days it’s like you’re literally in the room with the person.”

8. GOING TO A BAR CAN BE HOMEWORK.

Cataldo and other coaches often give their clients assignments to do between sessions. This “homework” is meant to help clients reach their goals. “Usually homework is all predicated on what’s the smallest thing you can do to move towards your goal while also learning what you’re not supposed to do,” says Cataldo. “The best way to do that is to make lots of mistakes. So let’s say I’m working with a guy with social anxiety issues. Homework might just be go to a bar after work and just stand there. Do that for five days in a row. The week after that might be just randomly approaching three people and say[ing], ‘Cheers, how’s your night going?’ Then walk away.”

9. THEY SEE THE SAME ISSUES OVER AND OVER. 

While each client is unique, coaches say there are a handful of weaknesses we all have in common. “Most of us do not know how to experience the negative feelings,” says Lin. “We either avoid them, resist them, or over-react to them. It’s only when we have learned to experience and process the negative flows, [that] we’ll be ready to think differently and take different kind[s] of action to generate different results.”

According to Cataldo, we’re also incredibly insecure. “People truly believe deep down they don’t measure up and are not as good as everyone else,” he says. “They don’t believe they’re worthy of love. Also, people believe their negative thoughts are true and not just a bunch of random gibberish. Every single person I’ve come across suffers from this.”

10. BUT SOMETIMES MEN AND WOMEN HAVE DIFFERENT COACHING NEEDS.

“I would say that in general, men have a higher need of feeling significant/independent while women need to feel love and connection,” says Lin, though she stresses this is an oversimplification. “When it comes to relationships, many of my male clients need help to better tap into their masculinity (feeling more confident and comfortable with their desires) while my high-achieving female clients need to allow their femininity to come forth (thus becoming more laid-back and trusting, instead of controlling). But differences are mostly of individual nature and not necessarily gender-driven.” 

11. FACEBOOK HAS BEEN GOOD FOR BUSINESS.

Social media’s suffocating effects on our mental health and self-esteem have been well-documented, and may drive some people into the arms of a life coach. 

“Facebook and Instagram aren’t real,” says Cataldo. “Everyone seems so much cooler and funnier and wittier, but it’s all an illusion.” He and other coaches sometimes recommend clients leave social media entirely. “I do occasionally advise clients to take the Facebook app off their phone,” says Lin. “It’s a constant barrage of information you don’t need and it appears to be useful but really it makes us feel more alienated.”

All images provided by iStock. 

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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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