Although coaching is mostly rooted in the present and future when helping a client work toward achieving their goals, that does not mean that we cannot also learn from past experience. However, the use of past experience should be engaged intentionally as a tool and is not meant to be diagnostic.
Powerful questions focused on the past might include:
- What worked for you in the past when solving this kind of problem?
- What has your past experience taught you when you were in a similar situation?
- How are you different now than you were five years ago?
- What lessons have you learned over time in this area of your life?
These questions tie the past to the present in a generative way that can help your client to reflect on and then apply specific things that they have learned from the past to impact their future actions. They may also help your client to identify patterns in their actions over time.
In a longer-term coaching relationship when you have developed a relationship with a client over time, it can also be helpful to refer to earlier parts of your coaching relationship to highlight the changes or evolution that a client has gone through over time. This kind of reference point works well when affirming the work a client has completed during your coaching engagement, or when you are asking a client to summarize their accomplishments over a period of time.
As a coach, consistently reflecting on your own practices through a coaching journal or continued professional development is also a way of learning from your past experience to influence your future actions.