A life you love starts with promises and consequences—for you.

She’ll listen to all your excuses, but Laurie Gerber isn’t here to indulge your fears. Her mission is to advocate for your dreams.

Gerber’s job as co-president of Handel Group Life Coaching, and that of her fellow coaches, is to help clients who are struggling with their career, love life, health—or some combination of the above—blow past their internal roadblocks and design a life that they love.

“We are trained to listen to the dream louder than anything else you say,” Gerber says. “Then we become the lawyer for your dream, arguing for why it’s possible while you argue for why it isn’t.”

Sure, life coaching does involve a little tough love, but Gerber says if she believed all her clients’ excuses, she wouldn’t be able to help them move forward.

“They hire us,” Gerber says, “to help them get from where they are now to where they want to be.”

Her path

Gerber is no stranger to the excuses, having done the same work herself more than a decade ago when she was running an academic tutoring business and struggling on many fronts.

“I always knew I wanted to help people,” she says. But helping with test scores and grades wasn’t enough. She saw a lot of dysfunction in her clients’ families but felt powerless to make a difference outside of the grades and test scores.

She was a seeker and had tried everything from yoga to shamanism, read self-help books and took motivational courses since she was a teenager, trying to find the serenity and satisfaction she was after.

Still, by the time she was in her 30s, she still wasn’t happy. “I was addicted to sugar, I was not doing well with my relationship. I was not in a career that I loved,” Gerber says. “So I hired [life] coach Lauren Zander. … She very quickly altered my entire life in a way that nothing had before. And then I looked at my career and said, “What do I really want to do?”

Gerber decided to help others redesign their life in the same way that she had overhauled hers.

How do you design a life?

Gerber starts by having her clients talk about a number of areas of their life, including body, health, love, career, spirituality fun, home and relationships, and they tell her what they wish they had in these areas. On a scale of 1 to 10, what does a perfect 10 look like in each of those areas?

Next, she asks clients to assess where they are now with each area from 1 to 10. Are they an 8 or a 5 in their love life or career? If they don’t rate very high, why not? What’s holding them back? Here, Gerber really digs in and questions clients’ beliefs about why they think something isn’t possible.

Then it’s time to question the erroneous beliefs and move past self-defeating inner dialogue.

Gerber remembers her initial coaching with Zander and discussing her reasons why she couldn’t have the body she wanted, from her disgust for healthy food to her resistance to exercise, and a belief that having a healthy body meant not having any fun.

“I had a list of many reasons why I couldn’t possibly eat healthy and exercise,” Gerber recalls.

“One by one, she just argued with me. … At one point in the process, she said, ‘Why don’t you like the taste of healthy food? There are so many delicious-tasting healthy foods. … Have you ever had a carrot dipped in guacamole?’”

Gerber couldn’t even recall the last time she had had a carrot, and she was ordered by Zander to go try one before honestly saying that she hated them.

“It’s one of my favorite snacks now, carrots dipped in guacamole,” Gerber says.

The carrot example is just proof, she says, of how she and her coach had to tackle mindset first because “my mind had all these silly things to say about why I couldn’t have my dream.”

“The more she proved my thinking was not helping me,” Gerber says, “the more I wanted to change my thinking.”

The purge

The key to moving forward on your goals is identifying this self-defeating dialogue, and that means keeping track of every time you have one of these negative thoughts, writing it down and questioning it. There’s usually a “kernel or two” of truth there, but there’s also a lot of BS, she says, mostly unfounded fear about what could happen. That’s your inner chicken talking.

She also advises clients to look for their inner brats who rebel against things, saying, “I don’t need to” or “I shouldn’t have to.” And lastly, she says many people put forth erroneous theories about their dreams, such as finding love, because they haven’t experienced it or haven’t seen it happen with their own parents.

“Just because you haven’t done it yet, doesn’t mean it’s not possible,” Gerber says. “Everything that impresses us as human beings happens after a period of it not happening.”

Most people need to realize, she says, that they are not that inner voice and that you don’t have to listen to it. You can make choices about what you listen to and what you do.

“It becomes a daily practice of designing your life in alignment with your highest ideals versus just listening to the voices in your head that are automatic,” Gerber says.

Making promises to yourself

Like her clients, Gerber chooses three to five areas to focus on each year, typically the ones that need the most attention. She writes down her goals for these areas, then checks in with her steps to those goals at least once a week to make sure she’s on track.

Each day, she keeps a checklist of things she needs to do to stay on track with her promises— from eating enough fruits and vegetables to working out five times a week and eating dinner with her family each night at 6:30.

But it’s not good enough just to set goals. Gerber says one of the most powerful tools to achieving dreams is building consequences around not taking the actions to achieve them. It’s a key tenet of the Handel Group’s approach to life coaching.

For Gerber, a self-professed workaholic, that means if she doesn’t get to the family dinner table on time—even a minute late—she must pay her children $20, something she finds painful. According to the methodology, consequences are not punishment, but they must be annoying enough that you’ll prefer to avoid them.

Likewise, to improve the communication in her marriage, which had been suffering, she made a promise not to interrupt her husband when he was talking—one of the major things eroding their connection—and if she did, she had to do one of his chores. Unlike the gradual consequences of withdrawal and dissatisfaction, setting an immediate, annoying consequence helped her pay attention and squash the bad habit.

“All of a sudden, lo and behold, I am able to control myself from interrupting because that consequence is immediate,” she says

The same thing works, she says, with her three children. Instead of repeating the same order “Set the table” over and over again, she set a consequence at the outset, such as “Set the table or I take the phone away.” With consequences, she says, kids suddenly hear you and hop to it.

Personal integrity

Most people, Gerber says, are great at keeping promises to others, but they fail miserably when asked to keep promises to themselves. That’s where a coach comes in, she says, to help hold you accountable for taking steps to the life you want.

“I needed somebody to say, ‘Listen, talk to me. And talk to me if you’re thinking of breaking that promise because I’ll remind you of why you don’t want to.’ That’s what a good coach does for you, right? She reminds you, ‘No, no, no. It’s worth it to hold out for this thing you really want.’”

Ultimately, Gerber says, what she teaches her clients is that self-confidence comes from being able to make and keep a promise to yourself. Just like you practice basketball at a gym, you practice personal integrity by making and keeping promises to yourself.

Start with your body

The first place that Gerber and her clients start with is the body, not only because it’s an area that most people want to work on, with very visible results, but also because it’s a way to teach people that they control their thoughts and actions. Nobody else is involved, just a client and her own mind.

And once her clients begin to physically feel better, they are more confident and motivated to tackle other areas of their life.

Of course, the promises you make and the consequences you use to keep yourself on track will change as your situation changes.

“There was a time in my life when being a size 8 was a miracle,” Gerber says, “and my promises and consequences set me up for that.” However, after she reached that point, she wanted to shoot for a higher level of fitness, including running a marathon. “I wanted to do some different things that would impress me more that required stricter promises and consequences about food and exercise.”

Her daily schedule is now more highly designed than ever, with three children, a growing business and more responsibilities than ever before.

But, she says, it doesn’t feel too rigorous because some flexible time is scheduled in both day and night and because it allows her to do the things she really wants, such as spend time with her toddler each morning and spend time exercising or watching TV with her 15-year-old in the evening.

“The truth is … that you feel great when your actions are aligned with your highest goals for yourself,” Gerber says.

Tips for designing a life you love

“Life by design means that when your thoughts, your plans and your actions all line up with your dreams … with your heart,” Gerber says. Here’s how to set that in motion:

  • Dream big. Think about the different areas of your life—from your body to career to family, community, spirituality and even sex. What are your dreams for these areas? Try to imagine the ideal scenario and describe it. Many people enjoy making a vision board of what their ideal life looks like, with images cut out from magazines.
  • Look at what’s holding you back. Next, rate your life in each of these areas from 1 to 10. If the number’s not up there, what’s keeping you from living the dream? Examine your reasons and pinpoint where it’s just fear, a tantrum or erroneous thinking holding you back. Write down your excuses and see whether they really hold up.
  • Make promises. Write down what you’d like to accomplish this year. Make it a stretch, Gerber says, but doable. Then, each week, make promises about what you’re going to do to get there, whether it’s an hour of networking on LinkedIn, exercising for 30 minutes five times a week, avoiding sugary desserts or making time for intimacy with your mate.
  • Set consequences. What are the consequences for not following the promises you made for that day or week? If you’re not hitting the gym or going outside to play with your kids, it’s time to take away something you enjoy to make an impression. That might be a night without Netflix, no wine or chocolate after dinner, or having to give away some of that hard-earned cash in your wallet. Don’t get down on yourself when you miss a promise and must pay up. Consequences are there to get your attention and keep you on track. Just keep stepping.
  • Plan your days. Schedule your days so that they include time for small steps that will move you toward your goals, as well as a little flexibility for when life throws you little curveballs. Gerber sits down each morning and visualizes how she wants each day to unfold, and she also makes out her schedule for the next day right before bed.
  • Have someone hold you accountable. Find someone to report to on your progress and consequences. It could be a life coach like Gerber, a supportive friend or spouse, or even an online community.

24 Hour Fitness Fit:Perks members can get a 30-minute consultation to learn more about HG life coaching options AND receive $75 off their subscription to Inner.U, HG’s new digital coaching course. Visit Fit:Perks to take advantage of this special offer.

Photo credit: Mark Kuroda, kurodastudios.com
Hair and make-up: Adriana Duque, adriana-duque.com