Creative Homework: 3 Writing Exercises to Support Your Client’s Growth - International Coaching Federation
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Creative Homework: 3 Writing Exercises to Support Your Client’s Growth

Posted by Marilyn Orr | February 12, 2018 | Comments (5)

Much of the powerful growth for our clients happens between sessions. Strategic “homework” can be an incredible tool to solidify insights gained during coaching and to support further development of ideas and habits. Most of us know the power of journaling, but for many clients, this is hard or ineffective without more specific instruction or ideas.

What are some effective homework assignments that can support your client’s growth? Beyond just encouraging journaling, what specifically can you have your client write? This article will offer specific writing ideas and journaling activities. Not only will these homework suggestions help your clients, they will also be helpful to you as coaches!

One of the most common traps we land in as humans is to process emotions with our logic brain. Although there are aspects to this that can be helpful, it also short-circuits the healing process. Our focus is present and forward as coaches, but it is also our job to help our clients understand and remove barriers.

When we have emotion to process about a relationship—past or present—we jump to explain why something happened, justify actions, and consider the behavior in greater context of the other person’s reality.

The problem with this is that in order to make sense logically out of what happened, we end up minimizing the impact of that event on ourselves. For example, “My dad didn’t know how to show affection because he did not receive it as a child.” Even though this is true, it takes me away from the emotion that I need to process and be free from. “My Dad didn’t know how to express affection and that was very painful for me.” This statement gets me closer to truth.

Writing exercises free us to be more gut-wrenchingly honest about emotion. This act frees us to see the faulty thinking that got lodged during painful experiences.

Writing Activity #1 – Letter with a Twist

The idea of writing a letter to someone is not new, and many of us have recommended the writing of a letter that never gets sent.

There is huge value in having our clients write a letter to someone with the clear parameter being that they must refrain from explaining, justifying, “cleaning up” or trying to protect the other person. This is best done by knowing that this letter will never be sent.

As many clients have found the writing process powerful, many have also found the reading of that letter to me or to a loved one just as profoundly freeing.

A great twist to help with separating out logic from emotional reality is to have the client write either to or from themselves at a different age. Example prompts include writing:

  • To future me, three years from now when I have achieved a goal
  • To 10-year-old me who began believing that I was not smart
  • As 17-year-old me to present me about how I see my life

For some people, choosing another name, perhaps their middle name, when writing to themselves, adds even more psychological freedom.

Writing Activity #2 – Lists

Lists are powerful. They are used in many important and diverse ways. As homework, they can help our predominantly “thinking” clients move towards “feeling” with greater ease. Clients that rely a lot on their logic to navigate life still need to feel but likely have mastered shutting that down prematurely. Lists are creative ways to make our brains feel like they are on the thinking side while focusing on emotional impact. Some sample ideas include listing:

  • The ways that my dad’s lack of affection impacted how I think about myself
  • The negative self-talk statements I use
  • Things I would like my boss to say or do for me
  • The best parts of my week three years from now when I have accomplished a specific goal

Writing Activity #3 – Short Story

Regular blogging has been part of my life for years now. As much as others may benefit from my blogs, truly, they are first and foremost for me. The very act of writing brings clarity, insight, freedom and pleasure.

Again, that little bit of separation from our own narrative can help us gain new perspective. For example, many of us find it easier to offer compassion to others. Self-compassion is tough to learn and practice for many people. Having your client write a short story about themselves as if it is a story about someone else can draw out insight, compassion, patience and excitement, among others.

marilyn orr headshot

Marilyn Orr

Marilyn Orr is an Executive and Leadership Coach with Capacity Building Coaching. Marilyn provides coaching for executives and business leaders, mentor coaching for coaches, and leadership development support in the form of coaching skills training and soft-skills development. She has held presidential positions for both the ICF Atlantic Chapter and the ICF Austin Chapter.

The views and opinions expressed in guest posts featured on this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of the International Coach Federation (ICF). The publication of a guest post on the ICF Blog does not equate to an ICF endorsement or guarantee of the products or services provided by the author.

Comments (5)

  1. Historian says:

    Web designer: I know super-thin fonts are in style right now, but consider that many coaches are over 40 and this stuff is harder for us to read. It’s lighter than it needs to be, and harder to focus on. If you want us to read it, please change it. (I was a web designer for a number of years. Cool design isn’t serving you or your readers if your audience doesn’t want to — or can’t — struggle through it. Don’t imagine that we’ll adjust our settings for your website.)

    • Lisa Cunningham says:


      Thank you for your feedback. In the coming months, a randomly selected representative sample of ICF Members will be surveyed regarding their experiences with the website. We look forward to using these results to help us make any informed choices or changes in the future.

      Best regards,

      ICF Social Media Specialist

  2. says:

    Really nice! Thanks for sharing Marilyn

  3. Ruth-Ann says:

    I like these assignments; for the non-writers, making lists is a nice compromise. My question – Given that the client is the main driver of the action plan, what are some ways in which a coach present homework in a way that does sound like it’s being assigned to them? I’ve heard phrasing such as “May I suggest…?” or “I’d to request…” Any other ideas? Thanks!

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