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This week on Coaching Chronicles we got a chance to talk to Utkarsh Narang, Founder of IgnitedNeurons, a certified ACC-ICF Coach and Life Skill Facilitator.

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About the Interviewee: Utkarsh Narang

Utkarsh Narang is a Life Skill Facilitator and Executive Coach. Utkarsh began his professional career as a physiotherapist and had a successful private practise. But, in search of answers to life’s bigger quests, he took a logical leap and joined a global leadership training institute where he started by recording and editing videos for Ivy-league professors, went on to oversee operations and sales for them. After a 15-year career in India and the United States in the healthcare and education sectors, in the middle of the pandemic, he founded IgnitedNeurons to inspire and ignite each individual’s unique spark. He is a Certified Happiness Coach, NLP Practitioner, and ACC-ICF-certified Coach. IgnitedNeurons’ goal is to accompany you on your quest to discover who you are and who you can become.

Tell us about your career journey till now? What did you do and where are you currently?

Sure. So every time I speak about my professional journey, wherever I am, in the moment, I think there were some dots that connected that led to this journey. Because I started 15 years ago as a physiotherapist. hat was my first role. I have a Masters in Orthopedic Physiotherapy and started off my own clinical practice back in 2006. I spent about 7-8 years doing physiotherapy, growing my practice to about three clinics, and then was thinking of further expansion. That is when I realized that maybe what I want from life is something different. So I started reflecting on these questions very early in life: Who am I really? What is the purpose of my life? What are the values that I want to live by?

And that kind of reflection back in 2012-13, led me to meet a professor from Columbia Business School, who had their own leadership training institute in the US. They had just opened an office here in India. And so I reached out to them saying that,  “Guys hire me, I’ll be a great asset. I want to have a larger impact on the planet. So my purpose will be well aligned with my role at your institute.”

And they said, “What do we do with you because you’re a physiotherapist.” And I said, “I’m a growth mindset person, I love learning. I will do whatever needs to be done to thrive in this situation.” And that’s when I started picking up filming and editing. And that was my first role. I started filming and editing my way through LinkedIn and YouTube videos. And over the next four years between 2013 to 2017, traveled across the world, multiple times to the US to Hong Kong, to film with Ivy League professors. And all this while they were speaking to the camera, giving all the wisdom that they had of leadership, of mastering emotions, of difficult conversations, of influencing, of driving innovation. While they were speaking to the camera to their executives, for me, I was the one receiving the wisdom and the knowledge. I was learning all this from them.

Throughout the four years, I would think people pay 1000s of dollars to get this wisdom from these professors. And here I am getting paid for it. That was just a phenomenal journey for me. And then when I wanted to kind of grow further and grow more, I asked the organization to give me a leadership role. And they said, Okay, why don’t you go ahead and get some coaching. And I was like, coaching, how’s that going to even help me. I’m perfect. I’ve done so many brilliant things in my life. I don’t need a coach. But they persisted. And I gave in. And that’s what I was introduced to coaching back in 2017. And the executive coach who they provided within the organization to me, the six months with her just transformed my views about coaching, about my own potential and about what I could achieve on this planet. And that’s when I decided that when I grow up, I’ll be a coach myself. I stayed at Mentora for another four years, headed their operations for India, grew into that role, carried their client development for Asia Pacific and Europe, till about when the pandemic happened.

And that’s when I started questioning again, what is the purpose of my life. And that is when 2020 is when I started exploring that I think I should go and start my own coaching practice. And I’d been speaking to your Team xMonks, and I met Gaurav during the first Coaching Conclave that you guys did. And to me, it was like, let me go back to Gaurav one more time and see how I can learn to be a coach. That’s when I decided to enroll into the program. So that’s when my journey started with coaching. In 2019, I did a small program around Happiness Coaching, which was just for my own interest. But when last July 2020, I did the program The Art and Science of Coaching module one and two, I think that just transformed my views about what it means to be a coach and what it means to be holding space for people. And that was the journey of my life. So I decided to quit and I started my own company called IgnitedNeurons. And I’m trying to build a coaching practice of my own from December 2020 now.

It was a very interesting turn of events from being a physiotherapist to a person who was into filming and video. Was it always an exploration thing for you?

I’ve always been driven by my values. And to me I’m living by those words. When I was in high school, I would go with my friends to buy T-shirts. And we used to have those shirts, which would have messages printed on them, and they’ll buy everything that they can. But I bought this t-shirt, which had (Mai Kaun Hoon) Who Am I written eight or nine times on the front of that T-shirt. And I’ve always been intrigued by that, what is this human life? And what’s the larger purpose and so I keep making these shifts to pursue my values to  get joy from them. And so that’s what drives me.

Your approach is very philosophical from the very beginning. That’s amazing. So how has your coaching journey after you have made your own organization IgnitedNeurons? How is the journey there as you’re starting your own coaching industry?

Absolutely. Yes. So I have thoroughly enjoyed holding the space for my coachees. I think coaching comes with a meaning. Coaching is not mentorship where you tell people what to do. Coaching is not like psychotherapy, where you dwell in the past with them. Coaching to me is a very forward-looking, very futuristic conversation that you have with the person where you’re hoping that you don’t have to advise them, you don’t have to tell them the solution. But you create the conditions, you listen to them attentively. You make them do certain visualizations, or exercises that they have learned through the program, and you let them come up with their own solutions. Because then they own that solution, then they want to take full accountability, and go out into the world and perform with full force. So over the last one year, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my coaching experiences, I again, have gone into this with full force. So I’ve already accumulated around 300+ hours. And within a year, I’m already at ACC level right now. And hopefully, with the guidance that I’m getting from my coaches, I will continue to be better on this path and help as many individuals as I can, and hopefully reach PCC by early next year is what I’m aiming at.

In your view, do you think it is helpful to get certified?

I truly believe that one should at least have coaching certifications done. Because of the process of how to coach I think that only comes when you learn from an expert out there. For example, when I did my ACC certification, I had 10 hours of mentorship from a PCC coach. And she was so helpful. I learned so much through that experience. I think certifications and mentorship and these are very real things. The first thing that one can do if they want to ever be a coach in the next three months, six months or five years is to get a coach yourself and experience what kind of magic a coach can create for you and the holding of space that they can do for you. So that would be great. And I truly believe that xMonks are doing pioneering work in the field of coaching and one should definitely explore certification courses with Gaurav, because he is amazing at what he does.

You certainly are an energetic and positive individual.How do you think coaching is different from toxic psychology? How does coaching balance the act of taking a rest? Or is coaching also on the lines of only keeping moving forward?

I love that question. For me, I think an overdose of anything, and everything can lead to toxicity. And it’s no different for positivity. So one has to be very careful for oneself and for others, how much positivity that you share with them. And what I mean by that is that if someone’s going through a difficult time, and if you keep telling them to go positive. Think more positive thoughts, be more positive. That is of no use for that person, because that person is right now in a difficult state of mind, and that’s when positivity becomes toxic.

The second thing when you were saying that I’m energetic, I think the metaphor that I live my life by is like an ocean. If you say go to go and you gaze into the ocean, then you will see that deep at the far end, the ocean is super calm, there’s nothing moving there. But right in front of you, in your view where you’re standing on the edge,the waves come and go, come and go. So it’s a more dynamic space. So in my life, what I feel I portray is that on the outside, I’m as dynamic as the ocean can be. And so you’ll see 100,000 ideas popping up in different conversations, 50 things on my calendar, but on the inside, I am as calm as that deep ocean is. And that’s what keeps me sane. That’s what keeps me moving between these conditions of being where I can just be at peace with who I am and with where I am, and still be doing a lot because that’s who I want to be as well. So that’s how the balance strikes between being dynamic on the outside, but very static on the inside

That’s a beautiful parallel you drew here. You mentioned that when you got into coaching, a lot of your mindset expansion happened with you. So what were the challenges that you had in yourself as your own indie as an individual that you overcame by being coached yourself?

Yeah, I think I would definitely say yes, because no day goes without its fair share of challenges. And when I like to reach out to clients to build business, or see some of my coaches are not moving, moving in a direction where they want to, and I see that there is discomfort, or when there are say, when I keep sharing certain content on LinkedIn, and that doesn’t go well. And I’m not seeing any likes and comments then you start to self doubt. And I think that’s where coaching has really helped me that I end up dissecting that self doubt, and coming out of it easily. The other thing that’s really helped me is what, what we were taught through the xMonks teaching, which was around the five Ericksonian principles, and I don’t remember all five right now. But one or two of them were like that people are okay. People make choices. And then there were others that I totally resonate with. And so that that helps me stay in a space where I don’t judge myself, I don’t become self critical. And instead, I try and think, in a zoomed out non emotional space to see what is the solution that I can create, rather than stay in the past? Like I helped my coaches, similarly, I’d help myself on that.

So it seems your goals have been dynamics like you went from you, it was only about exploring yourself the question that who am I? So where do you see yourself, as a coach or as an individual in coming years? 

That’s a tough question to answer. And I really don’t have a single answer to it. But I’m pretty sure that I live this mission in life that I have to touch a billion lives positively. And that’s my core objective of my existence. And so I will be on that path, whether it’s through coaching, whether it’s through the YouTube channel I build, whether it’s through whatever be that path, but I will be living my values, and then hoping to fulfill my vision of influencing and impacting lives positively.

I’m just a normal human being who’s just not ready to give up on the beauty that life has to offer.

And see, ultimately, you have to evaluate yourself on certain scales. It is not about how others are responding or reacting to you. It is all about how you are responding to them. And so that’s what I truly believe in, that if you continue to express yourself thoughtfully and authentically, then the right things will happen with you. And if someone doesn’t understand that, then it’s not the time to understand that specific conversation or thought and have unconditional respect for them and keep moving forward.

Apart from your  professional sphere, has coaching also made any change in your personal sphere?

Yeah, I don’t know if I’ve heard that from anyone. I think it’s overall like when Gaurav said in one of those programs that ‘a coach’s journey is a very human journey.’ And so it’s all the things that I’ve experienced over the last 36 years now that have accumulated to me being where I am today. And so I’ve always tried to, to stay respectful and stay thoughtful about people around me. I think with coaching the techniques that I’ve learned around listening around being more empathetic in a way and around not advising but holding the space. I think they’ve come in handy in my conversations with my wife and my children. And so yeah, I think I’m even a better father, a better brother, a better son and a better husband after my coaching experiences.

Okay. So, now that you know, let’s talk about your coaching style. When you go into a coaching session, what is the mindset you have? How do you tell yourself that, okay, I’m going into a coaching session, and mine has to be free from all the other thoughts that I am having previous? How do you compartmentalize?

I think a practice that has really helped me compartmentalize is just focusing on my breath. Because every time I meditate, and when I speak to audiences, I tell them that one needs to be very inspired, that we are doing this simple act of breathing, taking in oxygen and giving out carbon dioxide. And that’s what keeps us alive. And that’s what keeps our neurons ignited in a way. And so for me, it’s like, as soon as I take those few deep breaths, I’m back into the zone, where I’m talking to another person who comes with their own set of challenges. All I need to do is to be human to them, be listening to them, be respectful to them and then let them try. There was a time when I used to think that I cannot do back to back coaching sessions. And it will be very, in a way tiring on my own mental and emotional space. I think as I practice more and more of coaching, that’s become something that I don’t believe in now. And I feel if you have the right energy, if you have the right presence, if you can just be present to that other person, then you can do even back to back coaching sessions without being drained. And that’s how I feel about it right now.

How do you go from one session to the next, knowing that they are two different people, two different psyches, two different sets of problems or solutions to talk about?

My tools stay the same, right. My tools say that I need to just listen to them, pay full attention to them, give them all the respect that I have, and not judge them in any way or judge their problems. For example, if there’s a person who’s talking about his finances, or there’s a girl who’s talking about being, you know, addicted to technology, then I don’t have to judge them for where they are in their journey. And with that ability to create a non judgmental space, I think that helps me a lot in going from one to the other. And to me, I think, again, come back to the coaching that I had through xMonks is that when you move from one from the other, you don’t have to be really focused on the problem, you have to be focused on the person, because then the person comes up with the solution to the problem.

Once you start to focus on the problem, I think that’s when coaching becomes hard work. That’s when you’re now being attached to the result instead of being just present to the coachee.

Do you have a memorable experience while you were coaching that you would like to share with us?

Yeah, I think there have been many instances like that, because I’ve been fortunate to be coaching a wide range of audiences from Asia Pacific to Europe to the US. One example comes from a person who was in a large advertising and marketing organization. And they were coming in with their own challenges around how innovative their behavior is right now, how they feel about their confidence levels. And it was interesting that we were kind of able to help them find ways to, to speak to the right stakeholders to create action plans and to build accountability partners, which led them to improve on their communication and improve on their managerial capabilities, and they were very happy about that. So that would come to mind.

I think one more thing is like, sometimes people connect the dots so deeply in a coaching session that even me as a coach, and they as an individual in the room are surprised that, “Oh, where did this solution come from?”. And I think that’s the power of coaching, where the space gives you such an important aspect of your being that you’re able to disconnect from the current problems in a way and just find the solutions to whatever you’re going through. So I will not share any specific examples. But these two stories come to mind.

So you started in December 2020. That was when the pandemic was, we were living in pandemic, and we were doing everything online. Life is railing on an offline track back. How do you feel in both scenarios?

Yeah, I’ve just done online coaching, and I was speaking to a fellow coach a few days back there. So I came into this world when it was all online. And so for me, if the coach is in a different timezone in a different location, some of my coaches are in the US. So I coach them like 10 to 11 at night, my time, which is morning time, their time. And to me, it’s just so flexible, and so easy that I can design a life around my coaching practice, and I can design a life around my profession. But if this were to now go back to like completely in person, I don’t know how to do that, because I’ll have to innovate, learn that. Because for now, typing on the laptop has been my way of taking notes and connecting body language through the camera that I have on my laptop, that’s been my source till now. And now if that goes offline, and we have to meet people in a room, I’ll have to learn that skill, because I’ve never coached out of my 300- 350 hours, I have not even a single hour that’s in person. So it’s going to be interesting.

But do you think there will be a visible difference if you go offline?

I think so. I mean, I’m hopeful that it will be even better. And why I say that is because then you’ll be able to see the body language of the person, then you’ll be able to say how they are carrying themselves into that room that you’re a part of, and then you will be able to also, like, share energies between two people is what I really believe and so that all will become possible in a physical space, I think, because I’ve not done that ever. So there’s like a slight discomfort that I do definitely have around that.

Have you observed a range in age of the clients that come to you? 

I mean, in the last one year, I’ve tried to focus only on a specific group of coachees. So that’s what I’ve seen, which is in the age group of 30 to 45 years, because I feel those who are above 45-50 are not the right target audience to me, because they have their own understanding, their own beliefs. And I don’t want to be a young person coming in and challenging it a lot. So that’s what I feel about that group. And I really feel that 30 to 45 is what I resonate the most with, because those are the new parents, young managers just turn directors and manage their teams. And that’s something that I resonate with very deeply. And so that’s the key focus that I’ve had, I’ve not had the opportunity of coaching people younger than the younger than 30. So yeah, again, won’t be able to comment on that.

How does it make a difference when you already know a person and then they are coming to get coached by you?

Yeah, I mean, it’s like a switch on switch off buttons. To us where my friend, I recently started a coaching kind of with a very close friend. And we have planned for five coaching sessions. And I made it clear to them that now you’re not a friend anymore. So don’t expect any guidance from me. And they were also very clear where they know that everything that we speak about we’ll be private, will be kept confidential. And so there’s that trust that is being built and maybe even getting strengthened. It initially is a little hard because your biases can tend to kind of kick in and your beliefs about that person tend to kick in. But if you are truly a coach at your code, then you go back and just hold the space for them.

Thank you. Do you write?

I keep moving between writing and producing videos. I prefer video as a method of communication. But I do like to write on and off. Yeah.

You mentioned a lot of time that you get coached yourself even till date. Why should coaches get coaches, like therapists get therapists for themselves?

I would definitely recommend that I think the way my coaches are able to help me find solutions to move the needle for my own work, my own business, my own shortcomings, I think it’s very empowering. So I go back to my coach, at least I think, minimum once a month, maybe sometimes even twice a month we speak. And then I have a group of peer coaches as well, who are very supportive again, most of them women, a couple of other men. But yeah, they’ve been very helpful and very kind where they hold the space for me and I return the favor by doing the same thing. And we both like to learn together as a group. So definitely every coach should have a coach. And yeah, hopefully there’ll be a day when every person can get a coach as well.

Do you live by a certain quote?

Yes, there’s one quote by Maya Angelou that says that –

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said. People will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

And that’s what I wish, to touch a billion lives positively.

What is your message to people who aspire to be coaches?

Absolutely. I’d love to share that. I think the first thing that I really want to nudge everyone towards is that there is a lot of inner work that you need to do on yourself before you come on to the world and start to coach. I think there are people who do this without certificates and there are people who do it with certificates. I might respect all of them. But I really feel that if you’re done a lot of inner work and then you understand who you really want to be and what you really want to achieve, then that’s a great place to start coaching because now you’ve worked on yourself.