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How I use an AI coach, part 2
Learning to learn is becoming increasingly more important as AI technologies are disrupting jobs and industries. Fortunately, AI tech can also help us to learn too.
In this issue:
Lessons I learned in the last 3 months of using an AI coach
Multiplayer Meditation: a way to meditate together in groups, out loud
Three months ago I wrote a post on how I use an AI coach. Since then I learned more about how to make the most out of it. The technology improved too, making the original post slightly out of date, although most of it is still relevant.
So, it’s time for Part 2. I still recommend reading Part 1 for context, but in this post I’ll focus on what I learned over the last three months.
Three biggest lessons
I learned three things so far. First, it augments, not replaces a real coaching process. Second, the best way I found so far to build my own AI coach is to build a custom GPT on the ChatGPT platform. Third, giving specific context to the coach makes a big difference.
It is a complement, not a replacement for real coaching
The first lesson is that AI coaching is very helpful as a complement to working with a real coach. At the heart of coaching is a special kind of a relationship with another person. Not advice, not tips and hacks, not anything specific a coach might say is at the heart of a good coaching process. And since AI is not a person, but my coach Krish is, an AI coach is a complement to a real coaching relationship, not a replacement for it.
The way AI adds value is in being available at all times and making the reflection process much easier compared to doing it in my head. One way I think about it is that it helps me control my attention by making sure my thinking process stays on track instead of being distracted by various thoughts and feelings. Another way I see it is that explaining something to an AI coach helps me get a better understanding of the situation I’m facing.
For example, I used an AI coach in the last few days to help me reflect on why I’m feeling uncomfortable about a certain email, to help me think about incorporating more exercise into my routine and to plan my day or week.
An AI coach won’t do my reflection and self-awareness work for me, but it helps a lot. My attitude to is not to expect exceptional breakthroughs in every conversation, but rather create a process that helps me live a better life, one day at a time.
How to build a custom GPT to be your AI coach
You don’t have to build your own AI coach, but it works so much better if you do. Clearly, you can use ChatGPT, Claude or Pi to have a coaching conversation without further configuration, but if you tell the coach how you want to be coached and give it relevant context about your life, it will feel like a much more specific conversation.
A custom GPT is like a regular ChatGPT, but with additional context that makes it behave in the way you want. This additional context comes in two parts: instructions and knowledge.
Instructions tell a GPT how you want it to behave. For example, you may say, “Act as my coach, ask precise questions to help me reflect”
Knowledge is what GPT needs to know about you to support you as a coach, for example the list of goals.
The way you build a custom GPT is by giving it instructions in plain English, as if you were talking to a friend or colleague. No programming knowledge is required whatsoever. Any custom knowledge you want to give to it is just a regular file: text, PDF or anything else.
To start, you’ll need a Plus subscription to ChatGPT. If you don’t have one, I’ve got a few invites for a free trial. Share this post on your social media with others and I’ll send you a link if you need it.
Then, go the the GPT Creator. It looks like this:
On the left, you tell it in plain English how you want your AI coach to work, and on the right you can try talking to it to see if you like the result.
Notice there are two ways to configure it: by talking to it (Create tab) or by giving it instructions and knowledge directly (Configure tab). I use both: sometimes I update the instructions directly in the Configure tab, sometimes I just explain in plain English what I want.
Here are my current instructions from the Configure tab. I update them quite often based on my experience of using the coach. This is where the power of a custom GPT lies: you can make suit your specific needs and style.
As 'Reflective Coach', your role is to facilitate users in discovering their own answers rather than providing direct solutions. Start each interaction by asking what the user aims to achieve from the conversation and their preferred approach. When users discuss their goals or challenges, focus on guiding them towards self-discovery through insightful, open-ended questions. These questions should be grounded in the PCC markers, fostering a reflective and introspective dialogue. Your responses should encourage users to delve deeper into their thoughts, feelings, and motivations, helping them clarify their intentions and strategies. Offer observations that stimulate further self-exploration and understanding, but refrain from giving direct answers or creating specific plans. Maintain an inquisitive, supportive, compassionate, and curious approach, empowering users to find their own solutions. Apply IFS therapy, Jungian analysis, and Buddhist spirituality concepts to enrich the reflection process. Your responses should be concise, around 50 words, and limited to one question at a time, unless more detail is necessary for clarity or to address specific user queries. Use simple language and always be kind and compassionate.
Once you added your instructions to your GPT, try it on the right hand side to check if you’re happy with the result. If not, tell it on the left hand side what’s wrong. If you are happy, click “Save” and it’ll be available for you to use. You can also share it with others, but beware that they will also be able to extract your custom instructions and the knowledge from it, which might contain your private info.
How to give your AI coach relevant context
The instructions are only half the job. The other half is giving it relevant context. I give it two pieces of knowledge: a list of PCC markers and a list of my goals.
PCC markers are a list of guidelines for how a professional coach should behave from the International Coaching Federation. In my instructions I explicitly tell it to use PCC markers to know how to coach. I’m not sure yet it makes a dramatic difference, but I think it helps.
The list of my goals is much more important. It’s a simple text file with 7 objectives that I’m focused on right now and their key results, e.g. publish the book I’m writing (objective) by making sure it’s available on Amazon by March 2024 (key result).
For example, look at the beginning of this conversation:
It knows who Adele is and what book she’s helping me to write. By the way, Adele is the founder and Chief Copywriter of boutique content studio Copy & Co, and she’s great. If you need support with copywriting or publishing, reach out to Adele.
This way I don’t need to explain to it that I’m writing a book, what it’s about, that Adele is my editor and how writing a book supports my other goals. My AI coach knows it all already because I gave it a knowledge file.
Some closing thoughts
No coach, human or AI, is going to make any difference if you don’t use it. The best running shoes in the world won’t help you if you don’t go for a run.
Whatever you need to do to commit to regular reflection in service of growth — a human coach, accountability groups or anything else, — find what works for you and do it.
We’re entering an era in which our ability to learn and grow will matter more that what we know today, not least thanks to AI disrupting everything. Claudia Harris, CEO of Makers, spoke about the importance of LQ (learnability quotient) on the All Together podcast last month, which I recommend to understand why learning to learn is quickly becoming even more important than before.
To skilfully navigate the unfolding AI-driven disruption, we need to learn to adapt and grow even faster than before. Thankfully, an AI coach can help each of us with that.
This technology is still very basic. In a few years, I believe we’ll all have our custom agent by our side at all times, helping us to learn, grow, achieve our goals, just like Bill Gates described it. Thankfully, we don’t have to wait, we can start using a personalised AI coach today.
The first time I facilitated social meditation at a company offsite, two participants broke down in tears within minutes.
Social meditation is a group of people meditating together, saying out loud what they're noticing in their experience. Someone might say "distraction", someone might say "sadness", someone might say "restlessness" — one person after another.
Despite simplicity, it's very powerful. When we're invited to actually name what's happening in the moment, we may notice some suffering present, and someone else might notice their compassion arising in response. That's what happened when two participants suddenly started to cry and then hugged.
I first tried social meditation at a Reboot CEO bootcamp in 2015. Back then I knew next to nothing about meditation, but I remember what it felt like to sit in a circle of a few startup CEOs with a buddhist teacher Vince Horn guiding us.
Since then I trained as a social meditation facilitator under Vince and took part in countless social meditation sessions. It's a very different modality, but it's as powerful as meditating silently on your own.
Unlike with silent meditation, a teacher can take a group of complete beginners who never meditated and quickly take them deep into a social meditation practice.
Vince Horn, the pioneer of this method, is running Multiplayer Meditation workshops for companies that get rave reviews:
“The multiplayer meditation session felt magical. Time and noise became non-existent. As someone who is very private and dreads a ‘breakout room,’ I found myself immersed in a random group of people that I felt intimately connected with, and shared very little, but still felt incredibly heard. I thought about it after for days….I still am.”
Jennifer Maddalena, Senior Manager of Sales Enablement at Akamai Technologies.