It may seem a little counter-intuitive, but people seeking self-improvement often turn to others for help. This begs the question, I suppose, whether it is truly “self-improvement” if one is assisted in the endeavor. But on the other hand, if the end result is improvement of the self, I suppose it doesn’t matter how many people contribute to the effort.

But I digress. The fact is that a lot of people seek self-improvement by turning to life coaches. In its ideal form, life coaches work in a one-on-one fashion with their clients to identify their obstacles and challenges and then come up with a course of action to overcome these challenges. It is a worthy objective, and anyone who has been involved in an activity can point to coaches – whether official or unofficial – who helped them improve their performance and gain confidence. So why not take that concept and apply it to the more all-encompassing endeavor we call life?

But as in most cases, not everyone who calls themselves a “coach” is really up to the task. And again, most of us probably can point to personal experiences that bear this out. While most of my coaches were great people who had a positive influence on me, there were a few who just weren’t that great. As kids, of course, we had no say so over who coached us. We got whoever volunteered for the task.

But as adults seeking life coaches, we have a little more leverage. And so that leads to the question, how do you separate the good from the bad; or worse, how do you recognize the fakes? This piece that I recently discovered offers some tips.

Among some of the warning signs that you’re not getting what you bargained for?

Watch out for programs built around a charismatic person. You are looking to improve your life, not emulating someone else. Beware if the coach or staff seem to get defensive in response to questions about the method. And be aware of vague promises of success based on the experience of others who have previously gone through the program. You should also watch out for anyone who uses too much “jargon.” If the coach struggles to define the program and the outcomes in plain English, that may be a red flag.

It is human nature to aspire to better ourselves, and the New Year presents for many an opportunity to do just that. But it’s important not to let that worth desire lead us to bad choices.