A Coaching Power Tool Created by Frederick Cooley
(Executive Coach, USA)
It’s kind of fun to do the impossible. Walt Disney
Wouldn’t it be great if we were all brought up to believe we could do almost anything? In many cases, maybe one could say that preschool children do have that approach to life. Many children around the globe believe in a variety of things such as fairy tales, heroes with supernatural powers, having special friendships with their stuffed animals, and the list goes on. At some point, as children we began to change our perspective on what we thought was real and what we could and couldn’t do.
One could debate the potential influences that change our thinking from “anything is possible to that’s impossible!” Some examples of such influences are parental upbringing, socialization via schooling, access to media, etc. We begin to adjust our thinking to what might be considered “normal” relative to our environment and the expectations of others around us as well as our own expectations.
Although there is some debate on what’s been termed the “Pygmalion effect”, there is evidence that suggests people will perform better based on the expectations set forth by their leader (or teacher, in the case of students). So obviously, what we “think” about what we can do is a very important parameter.
History is filled with examples of individuals who challenged so-called “normal” thinking and accomplished what was seemingly impossible by the masses. Let’s take a look at a few of these.
- Mahatma Gandhi played a pivotal role in working towards India’s independence via nonviolence which many considered an impossible feat.
- Roger Bannister from England was the first individual to run a mile in under 4 minutes in 1954 which previously was considered impossible.
- The first manned mission to land on the moon occurred in 1969 via the United States’ Apollo 11. This had been considered impossible for centuries.
Volumes could be written on this topic relative to seemingly impossible feats being overcome and accomplished. What is it then that is the determining factor between something being possible or not?
William Shakespeare pointed out that “For there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so”. So just maybe it’s our thinking, our perspective that determines what outcomes are possible in our lives.
I’m reminded of the book that I had as a child that is considered quite universal entitled The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper. The premise of the book is quite simple, as one would expect, about a small train engine that keeps affirming “I think I can, I think I can” as he proceeds to successfully climb a mountain which other train engines were unable to. The takeaway lesson is quite clear in that what one sets his or her mind on, they can accomplish with the appropriate effort. Although a good message for children, it’s certainly one applicable to adults as well.
So how do we change our thinking and perspective and help our clients do the same so we can not only accomplish what was seemingly impossible, but identify the plethora of possibilities that may lie before us?
The first step is to challenge the thinking about whether something is impossible or not via powerful questions. Byron Katie might very well have some of the better questions to begin this challenge as noted in her book, Loving What Is: “Is it true?” and “Can you absolutely know that it’s true?” Obviously, those individuals who have accomplished great things in their lives did not always accept that what they were focusing on was considered truly impossible, otherwise they may not have ultimately succeeded.
We may need to explore what underlying beliefs are holding us or our clients back. Some examples of these stymieing beliefs might be:
- I’ve been overweight my entire life and I’ve always been told there’s nothing I can do about it.
- I don’t have a MBA and have always been told I needed to have that degree in order to be promoted.
- I’m not tall enough to be attractive to the right mate.
- I’m not smart enough to accomplish that task.
Experiencing the “Impossible”
Another option to consider is providing the space for your client to think of one small thing that they’ve never done before that they could do in the very near future. This process could very well prove beneficial in moving them forward to new possibilities. You might consider asking them:
- What’s something you could do within the next twenty four hours that you’ve never done before?
- What’s the possible outcome of accomplishing this activity?
- What might you feel like after accomplishing this task?
A visualization exercise can also provide an excellent opportunity for your client to “dream” what their ideal world would look like in extensive detail. You might ask them:
- What would your situation look like if there were no barriers whatsoever to accomplishing the designated task or being whatever you’d like to be?
- How many options can you envision as possibilities given that there are no limitations?
- What’s the first step you see yourself taking towards the world you are visualizing?
Getting Accustomed To Being Uncomfortable
There’s a good possibility that our clients and ourselves won’t necessarily be comfortable when we leave our comfort zones and enter the zone of accomplishing the seemingly impossible. Developing familiarity with what it’s like to feel “uncomfortable” can broaden our perspective and may help to neutralize our resistance to doing things we’ve not even considered before. You might ask your client (or yourself):
- What’s one thing you could do rather immediately that you’re not accustomed to doing? (E.g. wearing your watch on your other wrist, eating something different for a meal, holding your phone in your opposite hand, etc.)
- How did that feel? What might you have learned from this experience?
Life is filled with possibilities and providing an environment where we and our clients can more clearly see and experience them can only add to our fulfillment. I’d like to conclude with the following quote that nicely alludes to what’s possible:
Embrace fully your capacity to create, to think in unlimited ways, and to pursue everything that you have been wanting. Be flexible, open and willing to let the new come to you. This can be the most joyous, prosperous, and creative time of your life. Sanaya Roman and Duane Packer
 Mitchell, Terence R.; Daniels, Denise (2003). “Motivation”. In Walter C. Borman, Daniel R. Ilgen, Richard J. Klimoski. Handbook of Psychology (volume 12). John Wiley & Sons, Inc. p. 229. ISBN 0-471-38408-9.
 Piper, Watty. The Little Engine That Could. New York: Grosset and Dunlap, 1978. Print.
 Katie, Byron, and Stephen Mitchell. Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life. New York: Harmony, 2002. Print