Young sproutsCoaches and debt counsellors know that questions have power, so their “mental toolkits” are full of questions. The idea is that if the right questions are asked, then the client (that’s you) has, or will find, the knowledge and resources to deal with the situation. As I myself am a coach, I believe this approach is more effective than the client being told what to do.

However, coaches also know that in difficult situations their clients sometimes do need to be advised what to do next; stress makes decision-making hard, if not impossible, and a debt crisis can be a massive cause of stress. Thus the experienced coach or debt counsellor can give advice, or at least suggest some options. But in the long term he or she will prefer that you make the decisions and find the solutions yourself, with prompting by the right questions.

The classic coaching process is described by the acronym GROW. It can be summarised as follows:

  • Goal: exactly what do you want to achieve?
  • Reality: exactly what is your current situation?
  • Options: how could you get to where you want to be? (there may be several different options)
  • Way forward: What will you do? When? What’s the next step? This forms your plan of action.


The first step is to define exactly what you want to achieve.


After defining your goal(s), next comes current reality: a detailed analysis of your financial situation at this moment, listing all your liabilities, i.e. debts; your bank balance; also your current income and expenditure; and finally your assets.

Two things to say about doing the reality check at this point. Firstly, some people have said to me, “shouldn’t I do the reality check first?” The answer is no; it is usually better to set a goal first, then look at where you are now, then decide how to bridge the gap. If you look at reality first, you might be so depressed that you never set a goal.

Secondly, you may be pleasantly surprised, not by the figures themselves, but because writing down the “reality” figures in detail – and all the work of going through bank and credit card statements that you’ll need to do first – reduces the stress of the situation, compared with that vague “sword of Damocles” feeling of threat that has maybe existed for months, during which time you knew you were in a tight spot but didn’t know exactly how tight. You’ve probably heard of Taoist philosopher Lao-Tzu’s famous saying, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”; it is also sometimes said that the greatest stress in life is caused by inaction owing to unmade decisions. When you have decided your goal(s) and analysed your reality, you have made the first decision and have started on the path to action.


Defining your goals and reality will show you the size of the gap to be bridged. This is the time to brainstorm (alone or with a friend or adviser) to find the options for bridging the gap. Chapter 6 suggests a way of conducting this exercise. The purpose of brainstorming is to develop the maximum number of ideas on the chosen topic, with a totally open mind, i.e. a stream of consciousness before your inner critic kicks in and starts saying “that won’t work.” Then, and only then, do you begin to evaluate the various options and start to formulate your plan.

Way forward (what, when, etc.)

“The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley,” as the Scottish poet Burns tells us. “Gang aft agley”, of course, means they often go wrong. Setting a goal, analysing current reality and then developing some options to bridge the gap are necessary but not sufficient. Obviously, without action those goals will remain just pipe-dreams. So the next step is to make a practical plan, which is no more nor less than a list of actions, prioritised and with deadlines.

Questions are powerful; and perhaps the most powerful of all are the “W-questions”. What will you do? When? Who can help you? Etc, etc.

But for the time being, forget the “why” question; that’s more to do with the reasons you got into debt. That’s the past; you are dealing with the present and the future.

So you need to ask yourself all those questions and then act on the answers.


This article is an extract from my book “Back to the Black.” A new edition will be published shortly.


For more info on the book see LINK

For more info on the GROW model, see “Coaching for Performance” by John Whitmore.

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