Interview: Pete Cohen

The TV life coach says most people are deeply dissatisfied with life — but there are ways to ‘unlearn’ unhappiness

By Alex Kasriel, February 12, 2009

According to Pete Cohen, relationships do not work and most people are dissatisfied and unhappy. On the face of it, it is a surprisingly bleak view coming from one of Britain’s most famous life coaches. Through the power of positive thinking, he has helped hundreds of television viewers lose weight and improve their self-image on his “Inchloss Island” slot on GMTV.

But actually, it seems entirely appropriate that someone doing his job should regard life as fraught with problems severe enough for people to require specialist help to deal with them.

“Most people feel there’s something wrong with them,” he says.

“The majority of people just don’t feel good about who they are. I don’t know that many people who are genuinely happy, apart from young children.”

Cohen, who at 38 is single and lives in West Sussex, has an even more negative view of so-called wedded bliss. “If marriage was a business, I wouldn’t invest in it. I don’t think it works,” he says.

The self-confessed “nice Jewish boy from Hampstead Garden Suburb” has worked with people with deep-rooted fears, anorexics, and obsessive compulsive disorder sufferers. Over a 20-year career his clients have included high-achieving businessmen and sporting figures such as the Olympic gold-medal winning athlete Sally Gunnell, snooker champion Ronnie O’Sullivan and round-the-world yachtswoman Ellen MacArthur.

The answer as to why people are so beset with troubles, Cohen believes, lies in the fears formed in childhood. “It is because of what they have been subjected to in their lives. School, for a lot of people, wasn’t particularly positive. Parents did what they thought was best for them. Or religion has screwed them up.”

He cites as proof his own experience as a child growing up with dyslexia and attention deficit disorder. He failed to settle at St Anthony’s prep school in North London, where his mother, Judith, was the secretary, because he was not sufficiently academic. Moved to another high-achieving school, he ended up leaving at 16 with just one GCSE. “I hated school. I didn’t think I was good enough,” he says. “I struggled. A lot of people struggle even though they don’t need to. They work, they get anxious. As I got older I realised that some people are happier and more confident for different reasons. It really boils down to choice.”

The life coach — who has a degree in sports science — is convinced that, rather than being victims of circumstances, people can feel better about themselves if they train their brains to think a certain way.

“You can feel what you want to feel,” he insists. “Our brain thinks getting worried, anxious or upset is what it is supposed to do. We can unlearn that, but it means taking stock a little.”

Feeling confident is a habit, he says.“People who are happy in their own skin have usually practised being this way… The secret is that they know that it’s OK to get things wrong. Ironically, by accepting their limitations and imperfections, they build up their self-esteem.

He says that Jews have an advantage when it comes to dealing with life’s difficulties, with the community fostering a sense of belonging which most people lack. “Jews are extremely driven in lots of different ways. There’s definitely something about it. There’s an energy,” he says.

He insists he is not threatened by critics who are cynical about what life coaches have to offer. “Life coaching is much more about goal setting and forward thinking than other types of counselling,” he says. “People who go to life coaches want something more practical, something they can get on with. But just because you have got a qualification, it doesn’t mean you’re going to be any good at anything. At my school, the most qualified physics teacher couldn’t teach. Some life coaches have got brilliant qualifications but that doesn’t really amount to much because they can’t teach what you learn from working with people.”

Pete Cohen’s self-help book, Sort Your Life Out, is published by Rodale at £7.99

Last updated: 2:59pm, August 28 2014