Stop me if this sounds crazy, but there’s a little voice in my head and he’s telling me what to do. He’s not my conscience, before you ask. He’s not my moral compass, and no, he’s definitely not the devil. His name is Adam Clark, he lives in my phone, and he is incessantly, insistently perky.
‘I want you to tell me,’ says Adam, in measured tones, ‘three things that you really value and appreciate about yourself.’
I stare at the phone. The speaker button is illuminated, and Adam’s disembodied voice has been floating around the room for the last 25 minutes, showering me with positive thoughts and affirmations. It’s a strange feeling – sort of like I’ve been granted an audience with God. Or Shirley Temple. I bite my lip.
‘Well,’ I say, after a considerable pause, ‘the other day, I found a vein on my bicep. That was pretty cool.’
This is not, of course, the type of thing my little voice is looking for. Adam, who has been a life coach for six years, wants to dig deeper. His role as a coach is ‘to challenge people and hold them to account so they can take steps to change their life for the better.’ As approaches go, it sounds a potent cocktail: two-parts therapist to one-part drill sergeant, with a liberal dash of motivational speaker and a frosted rim of genuinely nice bloke.
I first approached Adam’s service Gay Life Coach seeking balance. So far the main focus of my mission has been on the physical – the long hours in the gym, the soldering of the fridge door – but I’m looking for perfection inside as well as out. Could a life coach, I wondered, help identify which other areas of my life might need a little extra work?
For the first half hour of our telephone consultation, Adam gently teases out all the things I like about my life, as well as some of the things I’d like to change. On the positive side, I speak about my friends, my job, this column. Then, when we turn our attention to the negative, I find myself returning time and again to the same kind of issue. Work meetings. Approaching men in bars. Could it be that I have a problem with confidence?
‘Confidence is really at the heart of a lot of what I do’ says Adam, who estimates he has worked with more than 500 gay men through Gay Life Coach. ‘Even people who seem externally quite confident may well have issues going on inside their heads that other people may not be aware of.’ This, he tells me, can manifest in anxiety, depression, phobias, even compulsive behaviour.
So if a lack of confidence is the problem, what’s the solution? Well, the life coaching approach is disarmingly simple. One by one, we work through the list of negative beliefs I hold about myself and turn them on their heads, creating a series of positive affirmations that I’m supposed to live by for the next seven days. ‘I worry too much about what other people think of me’, for example, becomes ‘I’m worth getting to know’. ‘I sometimes find work meetings challenging’ morphs into ‘I have valuable things to contribute’.
At first it feels unnatural to be focusing so much attention on myself (Adam agrees life coaching is seen in the UK as ‘slightly self-indulgent’), and stranger still when he makes me read my affirmations out loud, down the phone (‘I’ve lots of things to be confident about,’ I stutter, to an empty room. ‘I’m here for a reason.’). But, as we continue to talk, I begin first to relax, then to actually enjoy the process.
Over the next week, I am supposed to find a way to weave my affirmations into my daily routine. Some people, Adam tells me, write them on post-its and stick them to their mirrors. Others hide theirs in cereal boxes, so they can recite them over breakfast (‘What?’ I ask. ‘Like snap, crackle, and ‘I’m FABULOUS’?). The idea is, by regularly repeating these positive statements about ourselves, we can re-program our brains until we believe them. ‘No matter what has happened in the past,’ says Adam, ‘people can choose to behave and think in different ways.’
To prove the point, we agree on two challenges that will put my new affirmations to the test. One is an important meeting. The other is my friend Michael’s birthday party, which I know will be crawling with A-Gays. After each challenge, I am to report back to Adam and let him know how I got on.
‘Well, it all sounds a bit dubious to me,’ says Helen, my best friend, later in the pub. Having been the little voice in my head for the past 20 years, I know there’s no way she’s going to give up the mantle without a fight. ‘You don’t need a life coach; you just need to strap on a pair. You know what I find helps? Gin.’
‘I believe in what I have to contribute,’ I affirm, rather more smugly than is necessary. The strange thing is, for once, I do.
Adam Clark and his partner Tony Dines run Gay Life Coach, a coaching service aimed specifically at gay men. For more information, visit http://www.gaylifecoach.co.uk/