Just now, on the loo, I took the opportunity to ask myself. "What can I do, RIGHT NOW, to take better care of myself?" The possibilities were somewhat limited by my environment, so I decided on a loving thought about my husband. Far from cracking up, I am, in fact, taking charge of my life. In asking myself this question I am carrying out the "Task" given to me today by my new "Life Coach".
Taking care of yourself and maximising your potential are the basic tenets of "Life Coaching", the American-flavoured enterprise on which I embarked with deep scepticism. According to Quantum 5, the "personal development firm" unenviably charged with sorting out my life, the question in five years time won't be "Do you have a coach?" but "Who is your coach?"
Mine, Dee, tackled me with brutal efficiency. Looking forward to unburdening myself on a sympathetic stranger, I found myself whisked instead through a pragmatic 45-minute phone call during which she forced me - gently but firmly - to narrow down the sprawling mass of anxieties that constitutes my life. The result: five "Goals", some "Next Steps", a "Daily Focus" and a lifetime of interesting visits to the loo.
Three of my goals are work-related, another is to spend more "quality time" with my husband, and the last is to exercise three times a week. Fortunately Dee helped me to narrow each down to a manageable "Next Step". Consequently, at some point next week I have to - among other things - get on my exercise bike for 10 minutes and drink a glass of wine with my husband when our baby has gone to bed. Hardly outrageous demands, but then that's the point of Life Coaching.
"Keep it simple," is Dee's mantra as she steers me from the "big picture" ("I'm so unfit', "I don't earn enough"; "I never see my husband") to small, practical ways of getting started on organising my life. I also, somewhat optimistically, agreed to spend up to an hour every day on other "Daily Focus" tasks. These can range from dead-heading a dahlia to reminding myself what a marvellous person I really am. Sadly, I've already forgotten what most of them are and if I get a baby-and-work-free minute I suspect I'm more likely to collapse blankly onto the sofa than focus on developing myself.
As my salvation session neared its close, Dee asked me, "What's your philosophy of life?" I gave a rather spurious answer which somehow became the statement: "I can do anything I want." I am supposed now to write this sentence on a post-card and stick it on my fridge. Of course, I'd rather die than do anything so embarrassing.
But mine is exactly the kind of uptight British response that Quantum 5's founder Paul Vincent wants to change. An opera singer turned entrepreneur, Vincent believes that we could all benefit from American-style personal development if only we weren't so ashamed of it.
Quantum 5 tries to make it all more palatable and - crucially - more affordable. A minimum of £99 plus VAT for some phone calls and emails still sounds pricey to me, but I'm told it's much cheaper than the usual coaching sessions paid for by business fat-cats.
All in all, I found that I could take from the session what was most useful for me if I screened out the "because I'm worth it" moments. When I put the phone down, I felt cleansed. There had been no empathy, no listening ear - only ruthless corporate efficiency, a clear sense of the things in my life that need changing, and an undaunting means of starting out.
Next week, Dee, is going to email me some words of encouragement, and then there'll be a follow up call after which I will be transformed into an organised, focussed person. I remain sceptical, but then again I can do anything I want - can't I?
For more information, phone Quantum 5 on 0870 3330032 or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org