I help smart sceptics who like to question things use neuroscience, coaching & philosophy to create a  better life and maybe even a better planet.

Archaeology + Life Coaching = ???

"It isn’t the events themselves that disturb people, but only their judgements about them"
- Epictetus

If you know me or you’ve read my about me page, you will know that I have a passion for understanding human behaviour and have studied its traces in the past (as an archaeologist) and its impacts in the present (through what is commonly known as ‘life coaching’). Combining these two interests with a third love – writing – seems like a perfect storm to me. So here we are – the archaeology & coaching blog (ummm… first thing to change – find a better title – suggestions anyone?).

The point is not to dig up a bunch of dead life coaches (eeew) – or to coach a bunch of archaeologists… although quite a few of them could definitely do with some coaching, believe me. Rather, I want to see how the history of human behaviour as I have come to understand it through archaeology can shed light on coaching concepts, and maybe even what coaching can tell us about archaeology.

Does it seem like a large topic? Fuck yeah! But we know how to tackle large topics, right? All together coaches – TURTLE STEPS! (i.e. the steps you take when even baby steps seem too big). Are you with me? Let’s go!

According to Wikipedia the first use of the term ‘coach’ in the context of instruction/training was around 1830 at Oxford University where it was used as “slang for a tutor who ‘carried’ a student through an exam.” Its first recorded use relating to sports coaching came in 1861. So the first use of the term was relating to taking someone through a process from where they are to where they want to be (passing an exam). If you search ‘history of life coaching’ you’ll be directed towards executive/business coaching in the 1980s. There are also links to the ‘human potential movement’ of the 1960s and 1970s, business management, sports psychology, and other personal development trends.

But the ideas in life coaching have their roots much further in the past.

The idea that drew me to coaching – the idea that has changed up so much of my life since finding practical ways to put it into practice is…

It isn’t the circumstances of our lives that cause our suffering, but rather our thoughts about them.

As you can see from the quote from Epictetus, it is an idea that goes back at least as far as ancient Greece and the Stoic philosophers (it also appears in many other traditions and philosophies but they will have to wait for another blog post). Stoicism is also a very on trend as a ‘self-help’ strategy at the moment which only reinforces my point that all of this has been around for a long time.

The Stoics were named after the Stoa Poikile (translation = painted porch). The ‘porch’ was a kind of open market in Athens where the original Stoics used to meet and teach philosophy.

The American School of Classical Studies has an insanely amazing archive online of photos plans and reports about their excavations. Two of the images are shown above. A search for Stoa Poikile reveals 386 images – more than enough for my productivity to take a serious dive – you have been warned! If you’re still game, click here. 

Apart from the fact that I love learning about the past any old way and don’t think it needs a reason – why does any of this matter?

It matters to me because the ideas I like to explore in coaching aren’t just ‘new age’ fads but are built on an ancient tradition of self-enquiry.

Epictetus wasn’t (necessarily) trying to make a million, lose 20 kilos or any of the other things that people are often told coaching can ‘fix’ for them… but as a slave who rose to be an admired philosopher still written about today, you could argue that he was an example of the type of transformation coaches often talk about.

I think sometimes it’s easy to fall in the trap of categorising things into boxes. Philosophy and ancient Greece seem important and serious, they belong in a box with ‘high’ art, ‘literature,’ opera. On the other hand, life coaching has been portrayed as lightweight and associated with everything from crystals to toxic positivity.

Whether we call it growth or self-discovery or philosophical enquiry, I believe it is innate in humans to want to explore and change as we move through life. Change is inevitable anyway… as I am sure we all realise by now.

To be honest, I don’t care if you are inspired by Oprah or Plato – questioning how you want to live your life is something that can benefit you, your friends and family, and the wider world. And having a method and people who can guide you can make the whole process more fruitful, as I’m sure Epictetus and his mates in the Stoa Poikile knew well.

I have found that coaching can provide a space to really examine what you would like your own life to look like… your very own space – a (metaphorical) painted porch to meet yourself where you are and explore where you would like to be.

If you have any comments or questions I’d love to hear from you – please contact me, or sign up for my newsletter below.