A Coaching Power Tool Created by Ashley Robertson
(Executive Coach, UNITED STATES)
Regardless of one’s role, income level, or demographic in society, every person has ambitions and goals. Some may aspire for a promotion while others aspire to have children, go on vacations, or perhaps save a certain amount of money. What allows some to reach their goals while others do not?
We all have different opinions on the effectiveness of goal setting. According to Brian Tracy, “the habit of acting every day on one or more of your major goals is life-transforming.” Goals setting has the ability to shift a mindset of “I can” to that of “I will”. Goal setting allows for a seemingly impossible task to attack strategically and deconstructed in a way that makes it able to be accomplished.
The purpose of this power tool is to assist clients with the mental shift from “ I can “ to one of “I will. A simple shift in the verbiage used and a full understanding of the fundamental difference between the two can be the simple shift needed to push a client into a more successful frame of mind and out of the cycle of lack of achievement they may be circling in.
When one uses the phrase “I Can”, while it may seem motivating and feel like the necessary commitment to push to the next level, it is not an indication of action in any way.
“I can” is a reference to the ability to do something. However, one may or may not choose to perform. There is no buy-in or commitment to do something simply by saying “I can” do that. Though there may be a certain ability and even a level of ambition or minimal commitment based on who is using the phrase, there is certainly no guarantee.
“I will” is a definite commitment to act on a specific task. It actively speaks to the future and not just a passive descriptor of one’s ability to complete a task. Look at the examples of the same goals but with phrases of I can vs I will below:
How is it that just a single word being changed in a commitment creates such a sense of buy-in, strength, and almost a concrete certainty that it will happen? There are such self-confidence and assurance in “I will”. Willing something takes it out of the dream realm of potential and into concrete existence. We know we are naturally motivated by the phrases on the right while those on the left seem to be everyday phrases that may or may not drive us to change and seek out our new and improved selves. Even though most people have those natural feelings, we are still more likely to use “I can” than “I will”. Let’s dig deeper into the why behind that.
Fear of Commitment.
There’s a difference between interest and commitment. When you’re interested in doing something, you do it only when circumstances permit. When you’re committed to something, you accept no excuses, only results”- Art Turock
Many people are naturally inclined to fear commitment. By saying “I can” vs “ I will”, one toe can be put in the water without having to jump headfirst into a task, whether it be a critical work goal or a personal goal. We may not be completely sure we can complete the task, which could cause embarrassment or further the negative feelings we are already feeling, so even when we want to give the “I will”, “I can” may feel safe and easy. The downside to this is safe and easy maybe the things that hold us back from our best versions of self.
When we are feeling insecure, it can be extremely difficult to naturally wake up with boosted confidence. Whether you are coming off of a recent failure or have people in your life who potentially bring negative emotions into your personal life, these are all things that can impact your long term mental state. Knowing what your best learnings strategies are (lists, vision boards, letters, talking out loud), compile a list of things that you’ve done lately that have gone well, and were potentially easier than you thought they were. Remember what you’re feelings were before completing them vs after and remind yourself that you do have the ability to commit to things. Once you can ruminate in those feelings for a period of time, focusing strictly on the positive feelings and experiences, make a list of a few things that you haven’t yet accomplished but have wanted to accomplish. Remember, this isn’t the time to switch gears and go back into your old way of thought. Keep the positive momentum going and begin thinking through how you could commit to these tasks and conquer them. Come up with some strong “I will” statements and commit to yourself that you will push these tasks forward because they mean something to you. Let that self-commitment motivate you and be completely mindful of how you change and grow during the process of fulfilling them.
Fear of Ability
“Failure is not the opposite of success; it’s part of success”
Being bold enough says you WILL accomplish something inherently increases risk. What if you don’t accomplish the task? What if you let someone down or don’t meet perceived expectations? How will you recover? Before you know it, you’re focused solely on how you won’t succeed at what you just said you will do. The mind will naturally take you down a path of reminding you of every time you said you would do something but were unable to do so.
Though it may be difficult, revisit your past failures in detail, not just in the single fact that you failed. What did you learn? How did you grow? How did the failure get you to where you are today and contribute to your success? If you really take the time to deep dive into your perceived failure, you’ll no doubt realize that there were significant positives that came from those experiences, as there inevitably always are. Therein lies the shift when coaching clients and why this power tool is so useful as clients may begin to get down on themselves, question their abilities, and lower their own self-esteem without ever once being given that feedback from someone else.
Loss of Ambition
“Intelligence without ambition is like a bird without wings”
We all know people through school and life that are some of the smartest people we know and yet somehow, they are unable to muster the ambition and perseverance to aspire to anything with that knowledge. Perhaps the goals in their mind are too daunting and tools were never learned to break down the complexity of them. In essence, a settling has occurred where they may feel they can never accomplish and choose to not try.
Though it may feel overwhelming, take the time to write down your goals. Really look at them and read them and pretend as if you’ve achieved them. How do you feel now? Do you feel as empowered and accomplished as you thought you would? Do you have visions of someone else being happy that you may be trying to impress through your lofty, daunting, impossible goals? If you can see yourself completing these goals and feel nothing or perhaps you just feel average, it’s critical to re-assess your goals and the possible underlying issues. Think about the things that bring you true joy as those things will naturally motivate you and drive you to find a way where you previously did not see one. Once you see what those things are, create goals while you have the passion and drive present in you. Ensure you use “I will” phrases. Use your own style, whether it be a vision board, a list, a letter to yourself with your commitments to push yourself forward, and keep these things in a place where you can see them daily. Let this be your starting point and don’t be fearful of revisiting this list and making tweaks and changes as you grown and begin accomplishing them and developing more of that “I will” mentality.
Stephanie is a younger emerging leader in the Human Resources field in the largest hotel company in the state of Nevada. Stephanie was a highly motivated individual who had worked for several years in Employee Relations and was looking to transition to a role in HR Management. Though incredibly ambitious in several areas of her work, she didn’t understand why she was repeatedly passed over for promotion opportunities. After a year of not being promoted, Stephanie sought out an executive coach. While she was incredibly motivated and had several internal beliefs about her ability to do the work, the external perception of her leadership was that she was emotionally immature and incapable of doing the work at the level of a Manager or Director that she was seeking. She would often socialize with line employees whom she had been investigating and had dated several peers that she worked with as well as had been accused of gossiping about cases that she had investigated. Through coaching, I was able to help Stephanie become a more self-aware leader and she began to understand how, although she hadn’t felt she was crossing lines and believes that several incidents were misunderstood, the perception was that she was not acting in a way that was becoming of a trusted senior leader. She had believed that her academic achievements were stand-alone reasons for her to be promoted and was letting those overshadow her daily performance in her role. Through coaching, Stephanie was able to create an action plan with specific tasks she would carry out and remind herself to help her shift her behaviors and thus, shift how her leaders viewed her. She enrolled in several available classes at work that she had previously overlooked because she felt overqualified. These classes discussed topics like emotional intelligence, executive presence, and emerging leadership. These helped her to further self-reflect through 360 degrees anonymous feedback from her peers on how they viewed her as a leader. In all, Stephanie was able to push her self back into a reality of who she really was as a leader and take herself out of the “I can” mentality based on what she thought she could do and into the “I will” realm of goal setting, self-awareness, self-reflection and most importantly, self-correction. She was recently promoted to an HR Manager role and was also selected to be part of an elite group of emerging leaders within a company of 60,000 employees.
When coaching a client who may be stuck in a negative mind frame and feeling like they cant accomplish anything, it’s critical to look for the real root causes of this belief, whether it be a past failure, a perception of laziness, or a total misalignment to goals, among other possibilities. Several tools can be helpful to draw them back to the present, and more importantly, future possibilities.
This is a proven and popular technique outlined in this paper. Have the client imagine that they are already in this goal of achieving state. What does it feel like? What is different in their life? How have they improved and in what ways? Take those feelings back into the present and help them keep the momentum and drive forward.
Exploring Underlying Beliefs
To really help get from “I can” to “ I will”, work on helping the client understand what is causing the detrimental use of “ I can”. Is it fear of failure, fear of success, fear-based experience?
Once this is uncovered, it can be addressed, and the client can begin to acknowledge and overcome it.
The value of a coach can’t be understated as we work to help clients grow into whatever they are seeking to grow into while addressing what is deep below the surface, far beyond the superficial things that lie just at the surface. A valuable coach can help clients see this as well as show the true value and benefits of shifting from the “I can” to the “I will” mental state.
McCracken, M. 2020. The Real Reason Setting Goals is so Critical to Success.https://www.inc.com/mareo-mccracken/the-real-reason-setting-goals-is-so-critical-to-success.html