Intrinsic Coaching: What Is It and How to Apply It?

intrinsic coachingIn coaching, there is something called the coach’s stand.

Coaches start working with clients with the notion that the client “has all that she needs and all that she has she needs.”

Intrinsic coaching utilizes this stance from a values perspective and for igniting change within the client from their “intrinsic” thinking experience.

Let’s dive a little deeper into this specific area of coaching and from where it evolved.

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The Philosophy of Values and Axiological Psychology

Dr. Robert S Hartman was an American philosopher whose work in Axiology is the foundation of intrinsic coaching. Axiology is the study of the nature of values and valuation. His work is world-renowned and is utilized in many areas. Dr. Hartman was even nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973 for his work.

In his work, Dr. Hartman suggested three separate ways of thinking about values.

  1. Systemic thinking is the way of thinking that values how things “should” be. For instance, “I should lose weight.”
  2. Extrinsic thinking is the way of thinking that values compartmentalizing issues and utilizing labels. For instance, “My doctor says diet is a great way to lose weight, and it will be good for my health.”
  3. Intrinsic thinking is the way of thinking that values uniqueness and individuality. For instance, “Losing weight will allow me to have the energy to play with my children and improve my health so that they have me around in the future.”

Dr. Hartman’s work was later explored by psychologists. A fascinating book entitled The New Science of Axiological Psychology by Leon Pomeroy (2005) explores the merging of Hartman’s philosophy and empirical study in psychology.

Measuring intangibles has been a philosophical conundrum since the time of Aristotle. Great movement has been made in the subject of value measurement and utilization in intrinsic coaching has been incredibly helpful for clients.

Intrinsic coaching has aided advances in health coaching, wellness coaching, leadership development, and many other areas of personal growth. Wedding philosophical theory with psychological research has advanced human potential. Finding intrinsic cues for behavior change is a powerful process for development.

Intrinsic Coaching and Self-Determination Theory

Every human is different. When coaching comes from an approach that is asset focused, each individual can find personal motivation toward goal achievement.

When a doctor encourages someone to lose weight, that person may not feel motivated because this is extrinsic motivation. Though the client may benefit from the “should” suggestions, finding an internal drive to drop those “lbs” is more likely to produce effective motivation.

When a client thinks intrinsically about the unique benefits of weight loss, they are more likely to produce personal ideas for committing to that goal. For instance, a Mom wanting to lose weight to produce more energy to play with her children is intrinsic motivation. Let’s face it; most people won’t do “what’s good for them” unless it is internally motivated.

We know from self-determination theory (Deci & Ryan, 2008) that autonomous motivation increases the likelihood of goal achievement. When people are motivated by integrating goals into the sense of self, the higher the probability of continued action toward desired outcomes. The “because I said so” approach doesn’t work.

Coaches have a specific set of skills to serve their clients in spotlighting this very type of motivation. Transformational questioning allows the coached to actively explore parts of themselves that may not have been revealed under ordinary circumstances. Two prefrontal cortexes are better than one.

Through active listening and intense curiosity, coaches can support their clients in finding underlying obstacles and their subsequent solutions.

Like positive psychology coaching, an intrinsic coach will ask questions that broaden a client’s thinking by focusing on the positive or “what’s working” approach. By opening up, a person has the possibility of exploring their options and determining their personal motivation toward setting and achieving self-determined goals.

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These detailed, science-based exercises will help you or your clients create actionable goals and master techniques for lasting behavior change.

Intrinsic Coaching Questions

Coaching is not the same as mentoring. Mentoring is a long term, relationship-based approach for supporting someone in their development. A coach is a short-term, solution-focused approach to a specific task or achievement of a self-determined goal.

An intrinsic coach does not have all of the answers for their client. Instead, a coach explores, in collaboration with their client, the inherent values that a client holds. Finding the foundational values of a client illuminates their ability to self-determine their goals and their personal path to achieving them.

In coaching, open-ended questions are more revealing than leading questions. A coach’s job is to hold space for a client to explore their own internal experience. The process is powerful and can be extremely therapeutic, though is certainly not therapy.

Through active listening, a coach can help a client shine a light on areas of growth that might not have been revealed through introspection alone. Coaches ask questions starting with “what” and “how,” which helps a client reflect and explore. An intrinsic coach also utilizes a positive approach to these questions to reveal what is already working and how to build from that asset base.

Here are a few examples of questions an intrinsic coach might utilize in a session with the weight loss scenario from above.

What about losing weight is important to you?” or even better, “What is important to you?

How would changing your weight change your life?” or even better, “How would you change your life?

What have you done so far to improve things?

What is your ideal future?

What does weight mean to you?

How can you word your goal specifically?

Depending on how the client answers, follow up questions will continue to help that client broaden. Each client is different, as is each coaching session. A coach knows that their client is the expert in their life experience.

From this stand, a coach simply holds up a mirror for their client to allow them to see themselves fully and what they’d like to move forward in their own way and in their own time.

Assessing Values

With open-ended questions, a coach can help a client deeply understand their core values and how to proceed with them at the center of goal achievement. Tools in coaching help clients find those values through deep reflection. Use this Values Assessment as a process to find those values.

Values can also be revealed by answering the following questions, either with a coach or individually.

  1. Picture yourself in a peak moment. Describe the details of that moment. What was present?
  2. Reflect on what values (what was important to you) were present in that peak moment.
  3. Choose the values from that peak moment that rise up as important to you in daily life.
  4. Clearly define what the chosen values mean to you personally.
  5. Name your top 5 values with labels that resonate with you.
  6. Check-in with these core values when making decisions. See if your choices align with those values in your personal and professional life.

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Values and Purpose

Values are not morals or ethics. They are what is important to us. Values will vary from person to person. Knowing what is important to you and intentionally focusing on those values makes decision making a much easier process.

Our values inform our thoughts and our words. Our words create our worlds and our behaviors. Knowing our core values and living in them allows us to show up in this world authentically. Brene Brown calls this “true belonging,” and that space with where our life’s purpose can be mined.

Great leaders who lead from a place of values show up with more energy and are more grounded. Values are like a home’s foundation. Without a well-formed and grounded foundation, things become a bit unsteady. Knowing our values and remaining rooted in them with all of our decisions allows for a life more fulfilled.

Knowing and living our values also allows us to better connect with other people. Humans are hard-wired for connection. Rooting ourselves in our values enable us to show up as our authentic selves, allowing more profound and more meaningful connection with others.

Finding our sense of purpose begins with fully engaging with our values. They are present in every aspect of our lives, not just at work. How we spend our time and in what way it serves other people is a fantastic way to begin exploring purpose.

When our values are well explored, our daily lives begin to reveal what is really important to us. Accepting no alternative to those values is where purpose bubbles up. Choice becomes quite powerful in every decision we make when values are aligned, and purpose is revealed.

Living with our values helps us when we’re communicating with others. Assertive communicating requires that values are spoken before requests are made. Excellent leaders are those who not only work concerning their own personal values but pay attention to the values of others (see best values questionnaires).

Knowing what is important to a person is a powerful way to tap into intrinsic motivation and attach that to purpose in profession and life’s adventures.

A Take-Home Message

Coaching is a powerful way to help people better understand themselves. Intrinsic coaching is a specific way to approach the process from an asset base. So many people are unaware of the mind chatter that holds them back from achieving a more fulfilled and purposeful life.

Through values exploration and strength-based questioning, powerful transformations can occur. The merging of axiology and psychology is a great area of scientific exploration. Advances in health care, leadership, and wellness practices are being pioneered through this important work. It is an exciting area to watch as more and more research is developed.

Thanks for reading.

We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our three Goal Achievement Exercises for free.


  • Brown, B. (2017). Braving the wilderness. Random House.
  • Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2008). Self-determination theory: A macrotheory of human motivation, development, and health. Canadian Psychology/Psychologie Canadienne49(3), 182-185.
  • Pomeroy, L. (2005). The new science of axiological psychology. Rodopi B. V.


What our readers think

  1. Susan Carson

    Thank you for this. This is the first time I really have seen in writing what and who I am as a coach. I knew being a coach helping people become the best they could be was for me to do. I even created my tagline as “we find your success in your DNA”. I struggled with what all the marketers would tell me to do: OK, Susan you are a scientist you help left brained people learn how to ‘communicate’ or in other terms, speak English to each other! But I knew that that was the real truth. And then I found this article and this concept – and knew that is what I am. I inspire people I help motivate people to become the human vacuum cleaner cleaning off their true selves. Thank you again.


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