A Coaching Power Tool Created by Amy Scott
(Life Coach, UNITED STATES)
Have you ever seen someone doing something that sounds really interesting, inspiring, unique, or adventurous and heard yourself say (out loud or to yourself), “I wish I could do that”? Or perhaps you’re the one doing something that others find appealing, and they say to you, “I wish I could do that.” In a coaching relationship, you might find yourself saying to your coach, “I just wish I could __________.”
In most cases, a statement like this trails off wistfully, as we imagine some alternate reality in which such a thing would actually be possible (while we stay firmly planted in our current reality, where it isn’t possible).
Let’s look at an example. Josie reconnects with an old friend on Facebook and learns that he’s now living in Paris. “Wow, Paris… I wish I could move to Paris,” Josie thinks.
Seeing that someone she knows lives abroad gives Josie a glimmer of something she might want, someday. And voicing a desire around it—I wish I could move to Paris—might just be the spark that does lead her to move abroad someday.
But simply wishing for something won’t make it happen, and even the use of the word wish suggests that it won’t ever happen; it seems to confirm a belief Josie has that it isn’t possible for her to move to Paris. Unlike phrases such as “I want to” or “I’m going to,” which suggest a greater sense of empowerment and possibility, “I wish” says that there’s something (or many things) standing in her way and that such a thing is impossible.
When you’re in that place of wishful thinking, it’s nearly impossible to take action. You might even (unconsciously or consciously) see yourself as a victim of circumstances beyond your control that make it impossible to have what you wish for.
It’s important to note that there may be times when you express a wish about something that you don’t actually want to do; you just imagine it would be nice (maybe you wish you wanted to do it?). So an important first step is recognizing whether the thing you wish for is something you do really want.
If it is something you really want, you’re unlikely to be able to make it happen as long as you stay in that place of wishful thinking, so a shift in perspective is needed.
When you see that you can have or do the thing you want, you become open to the possibilities. At first, you might slip back into the “I wish” mindset and come up with all of the reasons why you can’t really have or do that thing. But once the “I can” seed has been planted, you’ll also naturally start to look for solutions and seek out evidence that you can have or do what you wish for (even if you don’t know how it will happen right now). Understanding that you can keeps you on track and moving forward, taking steps to make your wishes come true.
Shifting from I Wish to I Can
When Josie thinks, “I wish I could live in Paris,” her mind immediately goes to all the reasons it isn’t possible: she has no money, she’s never traveled alone, she loves her current home, she doesn’t speak French, she has no idea what she would do for work… But at the same time, it does sound really appealing. In a message to her friend, Josie tells him, “I wish I could live in Paris, that sounds like an amazing experience.”
He writes back: “You can!”
Those two simple words reframe the entire situation for Josie. Suddenly, she’s asking herself, “Wait, I can? How?” It’s natural that the “I wish” thoughts might continue to come up, responding to her exploration with “No, I couldn’t possibly, and here’s why…”
But once Josie has opened herself up to the possibilities and starting to seek ways that she could actually move to Paris, things start to shift. She’s identifying what it would take to make it happen, which gets the wheels turning, making it more likely that she will actually move abroad one day.
The next time you hear yourself thinking or saying, “I wish I could __________,” ask yourself, Is this something I really want? To help you figure out if it’s something you want, you might look at whether this thing is in alignment with your values and your vision for your life, or try a visualization exercise, imagining yourself doing or having that thing to see how it looks and feels.
If you determine that it is something you really want, you might naturally find yourself coming up with all kinds of reasons that thing you want isn’t possible for you.
As soon as you catch yourself, interrupt the litany of reasons why not and tell yourself, “I can ______________!” (If you’ve shared your wish out loud, someone else might do this part for you without you even asking them to, like Josie’s friend did for her.)
Notice what shifts with the phrase “I can”. Do possibilities open up that you hadn’t noticed before? Are you able to fine-tune what you really want, and start to look for a way to get it?
As coaches, when we hear a client say “I wish I could __________,” it’s an opportunity for us to dig deeper and help the client uncover what she really wants, identify limiting beliefs that might be preventing her from getting it, and shift her perspective on what is possible.
The most direct way to respond when a client makes an “I wish” statement is to simply say, “You can!”
As the client begins to open to another perspective, a number of things may happen. First, she might recognize that she doesn’t actually want that exact thing, and may be able to identify a more true desire behind what she said she wished for.
If the client has particularly ingrained beliefs around a specific idea, hearing “You can” might lead her to come back with all of the reasons she can’t, in which case her coach can help her explore what those reasons are and whether they’re really true (and again, perhaps uncover a more true desire than the one expressed in the “I wish” statement).
If the “You can” statement helps the client see that what she wishes for is something she really wants, and that it is possible to do or have it, the coach can support her in creating structures and an action plan to help her achieve it.
If the client isn’t sure she does really want to have or do something, the coach might suggest a visualization exercise, or encourage the client to look at whether the thing in question is in line with her goals and values.
If Josie begins to work with a coach at the point where her friend’s “You can” comment has got her looking at the possibilities, the coach can help her explore why she wants this, and what it would look like for her (maybe she’ll discover that it’s not really Paris she’s dreaming of, but Singapore).
Once she knows what she really wants, Josie can start to look at all the different ways she might be able to move to Singapore, when it could happen, and how she wants to move forward. Instead of staying in that place of inaction and wishful thinking (and focused on the wrong dream—Paris instead of Singapore), she’s taking matters into her own hands and making it happen.
- Can you remember a time when you said, “I wish I could __________”? Did you ever take action on that thing, or does it remain just a wish?
- What happens when you don’t believe you can have what you wish for?
- What would change if you told yourself (or someone told you) you can have what you wish for?
- As a coach, what do you do when you hear a client say, “I wish I could __________”?
- What are some ways you can help a client explore what’s behind an “I wish” statement?
- Have you ever told a client “You can”? What impact did it have on the client’s perspective?