Dig Deep to Do You, Better, With Lauren Handel Zander


Lauren Handel Zander is co-founder of Handel Group, an executive life-coaching education company, but her unofficial title could be treasure hunter. Handel Group teaches students, corporate employees and individuals how to be better at being human, or human-ing. “The moment you realize ‘to human’ is a verb, everything changes,” Zander says.

Zander saw a need for a kind of coaching that was not available 20 years ago and still is not widespread. “Basically, no one is teaching real life, and no one knows how to deal with their alcoholic mother or how to manage money or lovers or any area of life.”

Will the real-life coach stand up?

The methodology that Zander developed at MIT and Stanford Graduate School of Business is a practical approach to taking “something as ethereal as your vision for your life” and making it reality. Today, The Handel Method® is taught in business schools around the world, to nonprofits, to corporations and to individuals—by coaches who have lived the method themselves.

“We teach personal integrity: You have to clean up every last lie you’ve ever told that you can remember you told with anyone who’s still in your life,” Zander explains. In the process, participants learn to know themselves deeply so that they know how to maneuver themselves toward what they want—instead of getting in their own way.

Only after they have resolved their past, pinpointed their vision and worked toward it can coaches work with clients. “Not only do they understand the method and teach you the process, they’ve done it themselves,” Zander says. “And they will tell you all their funny, hairy, frightening stories.”

Name your dream


Even people who appear to have it all—who have made something from nothing—are no more likely to be able to name their dreams out loud or to be happy, Zander says.

“People ask me if I’ve met anybody who is really in love with themselves on the inside, and I have to say that I haven’t,” she adds. “That’s because we lie. We want to keep other people happy. We don’t fight for our truth, so we don’t fight.”

The dynamics of the voice inside our heads evolve to avoid what we fear (losing people) instead of organizing to get our dreams, so we end up lying to ourselves as well as to others. But years of complexity can be undone, Zander says, in eight hours and two sets of homework.

For Zander, living your dream means having a vision for fulfillment in 12 areas of life, including family, money, career, love life, friendships, community, creativity, travel and more. The Handel Method addresses life balance as a product of personal integrity—the ability to keep a promise to yourself.

“Not just to others, not just your boss,” Zander says. “Understand that every word counts and [that] the balance of your life, the design of your life is utterly connected to how you manage your time and what matters most to you. You’re one promise away, one good promise away, from your life never being the same again.”

Getting real with reality


Unhappiness or dissatisfaction is a dead giveaway, Zander says, for the need for personal integrity. That’s when your vision for your life and your actions align, and you’re making and keeping the “right” promises in your life to keep that vision alive and well, she explains.

Personal integrity also requires an accountability buddy (like a coach or a friend) and a consequence that comes with breaking your promise—not a punishment but something you’ll miss if you don’t get it (screen time) or something that you dislike just enough (paying the “swear” jar) to avoid.

We inherit personality traits from our parents and our inner voices evolve with our upbringing, Zander says. “Even if you didn’t know your father, your ‘parents’ include the culture in which you’ve grown up,” she adds.

Zander says the traits fall into three categories: the Chicken, which acts out of fear; the Brat, our moody, snarky, lazy, hateful side; and the Weather Reporter, making sweeping (usually negative) generalizations about ourselves as unable to change.

The Handel Method encourages a sense of humor with self-awareness. Zander encourages us to come up with pet names for our traits, and she’s given her husband liberty to call hers out by name. (She happens to have chosen Marsha, her mother’s name, to stand for Zander’s response to anything resembling vanity.) “The minute he says, ‘Is Marsha in the house?’ I’m like, ‘Yes. Thank you for calling me out on that.’”

Self-examination isn’t objective, however, and Zander’s method accounts for what she calls “hauntings.” Coaches help clients discover how we hold our memories and help us to see and hold them differently. This includes family memories and behaviors, and it’s an aspect of epigenetics that Zander finds important.

So many clients had relationship problems, Zander says, that she had to find the science behind hauntings. Epigenetics is the science of environmental influence, and it’s more commonly described as a factor in genetic expression, but it also plays a larger role in our development. “You don’t just have your dad’s blue eyes,” Zander says. “You have your dad’s wandering blue eyes.”

All the better to understand our personality traits and the haunting memories of the mistakes we think we’re making on our own. Zander says this is not an excuse to use later, “but the more you understand your parents’ nature, the more you will be understanding all the issues to come.”

The greatest treasure hunt


Besides digging deep into the promises we make to ourselves (and break), our traits and our hauntings, it’s important to hear the language we use to talk to ourselves about ourselves. “The way The Handel Method goes after ‘human-ing’ better is by owning our dark side first,” she explains. “The more I can own what’s dark about me, the more I can have a choice to do something different.”

Zander continues, “As you do some of the work and you’ve started to dream, you start to care way more about what you say to yourself on the inside and what you’re doing on the outside.”

The potential emerges for naming ourselves something positive or something more. Zander says we begin to see that we can create ourselves with “I am” statements—”I am an entrepreneur” or “I am the funniest, greatest, most loving mother that ever lived for my children.”

These statements, in turn, help reinforce promises to ourselves and the design of our day, as an entrepreneur or a great mom. A designed day, Zander clarifies, is not a to-do list. “I design my day based on what I want to make happen with those to-dos,” she says. “A designed day is who I’m going to be while I’m doing the work of my day.”

At the end of every day, The Handel Method tallies up progress toward that bigger picture. “I rate my day on a scale of 1 to 10,” Zander says. “If I’m under an 8, I follow my advice, own where I was off base—like, I was a jerk to my husband—and what I need to do to clean up or fix it. And I do that every day, seven days a week.”

The process rewires us to get what we want in life. Coaches help get it started, and Zander adds that a coach is someone who’s more committed to your dreams than you are, who is going to “make you deal with figuring out what matters most to you.” Your coach brokers the deal between you and yourself, helping you negotiate contracts you’ll keep with yourself to get your dreams—as well as holding you accountable and ensuring you face your consequences.

“This is not therapy; you’re not talking about it and then seeing how you can feel different from thinking about things differently,” Zander points out. “You’re going to think differently, but you’re also going to act differently, and you’re going to be pushed to do all that now.”

That means a fixed number of sessions and homework, including conversations you’ve never had with your friend or your partner or your boss. “We’re going to get you to clean up all the messes in your life that you think you can’t clean up, all the things that are haunting you in your life that you think keep you stuck,” Zander says.

Human better

Zander practices what she preaches—not only in terms of daily life but in terms of her dreams. Handel Group has just launched Inner.U, an online coaching course designed to extend the method beyond the face-to-face environment. It’s the second pass at her dream.

“I built it once, noted all the things I wasn’t happy with and built it again—right,” she says.

Inner.U uses real stories to coach users. The platform’s Promise Tracker lets users record and refer back to their work, and it offers a community of accountability buddies with whom to practice—something that one-on-one coaching environments don’t have.

Zander’s vision is one for the world. “I want everyone to know the Handel Method,” she says. “I want my language to be the basics to build from, for the good of humanity. So that what’s possible for humans is based on personal integrity, where everybody wants to be true to themselves, knows how to not lie, why they lie, what to promise and how to keep that promise.”


Inner.U is the 12-session online course from Lauren Zander and Handel Group that gives you the tools to hack into your own life, hone your dreams, and have every last thing you want in the areas that matter most to you: CAREER, MONEY, LOVE, TIME, FAMILY and HEALTH.

A lifetime subscription includes the following:

Handel Group is offering 24Life readers a special offer to do this life thing better from wherever, whenever. Visit bit.ly/24LIFEMAG for $75 off your lifetime subscription.

Video credit: Mark Kuroda, kurodastudios.com
Photo credit: Mark Kuroda, kurodastudios.com; fizkes, Getty Images; laflor, Getty Images; RyanJLane, Getty Images