A Coaching Power Tool By James Levin, Business Coach, UNITED STATES
The Fine Line Between Want vs. Willing
The average new year’s resolution lasts only 36 days.
Everyone wants to change something about their life. People will tell you, “I want to change my job” or “I want to eat healthier this year” all the time. But how often are those same people actually willing to make this change?
There are a variety of reasons why people fail to make a lasting change. Among them is a lack of willingness. Achieving a result requires a change of behavior and even though someone may have a strong desire for their goal, they are not always willing to change their behavior.
People want the outcome without putting in the effort.
What Is the Difference Between Want vs. Willing
What Is Want
Every client who comes through your door wants to make a change.
Many will want to be healthier, some will want to earn more money or gain more respect for the work they are doing. Still, others will want to make a more dramatic change. Maybe change their career or start a new business and work for themselves.
Want comes from both intrinsic factors (learning new things, gaining new knowledge, feeling happy with your body) and extrinsic factors (a higher salary, more recognition from colleagues). Either way, to achieve something you want, you need to take a new action or change your behavior in some way.
What we want is often interrupted by life’s many challenges. Clients will tell you they want to make a change but don’t have the time to do so. They will say there is no money or their other obligations are preventing them from making that change. There are always obstacles to making a change in our lives.
Want is not necessarily a negative place to be. But it is only the first step in making change. Someone who wants to do something but never moves past that will not achieve the change they wish to make.
What Is Willing
What you have to do and the way you have to do it is incredibly simple. Whether you are willing to do it, that’s another matter. – Peter F. Drucker
How nice would it be if we could have everything we want without doing any work? It might be nice to be the pampered housecat who only needs to walk toward her bowl to receive food, lie down to claim a spot as her own, or make a little noise when she wants attention.
Unfortunately, most of us carry a plethora of responsibilities on our shoulders. We have obligations to our family, we work for someone else or we work in a role where many others rely on us. These responsibilities create excuses.
Willingness does not mean removing the obstacles in front of you. It means chasing after what you want despite the obstacles in your path.
When someone finds the willingness to make a change. They will not deviate from their goal no matter how long it takes or what obstacles they encounter along the way. Willingness is essential for a person to reach their personal and professional goals.
Take for example the child who wants to grow up to be an actor. To become successful in any field, much less a competitive one such as acting, requires hard work and lots of rejection. For every child who fulfills their dream of becoming a big star, there are thousands who never make it. Interests change as we develop and sometimes life really does get in the way, but for those who are willing to stay with it, it will happen.
Samuel L. Jackson got his first major movie role when he was 46 years old. Just one of the countless examples where the willingness to stay with something eventually led to success.
In my experience as a language coach, dozens of prospects come to me each month and say “I want to improve my English skills” in varying forms of grammatical correctness. In these discovery calls, everyone wanted to improve a specific skill whether it was speaking, listening, ready, writing, or something else. More often than not, their goals are broad and non-specific. They use words like “better” or “more comfortably” and have trouble defining what exactly that means.
My job was to determine which ones were actually willing to put in the work and make the change before choosing whether or not to take them on.
There are some good indicators to determine the ones who “want” versus the ones who are “willing” to put in the work and improve their abilities.
People who are willing have usually tried different strategies before coming to me. They already have habits and perhaps they’ve taken some classes in the past. In addition, they have a clear and strong motivation. When asked what improving this skill (English) will mean for their lives, they can list concrete benefits or even mention a goal they are aiming to achieve in the next few months. A strong goal, for most but not all, is often a sign of strong will.
That isn’t to say someone who hasn’t tried in the past is not willing to make a change. Some people do not know where to begin and are seeking guidance. Others may have the time they didn’t have before this point in their lives and are ready to add new habits.
At the beginning of the pandemic, when everyone was initially working from home and saving between 30 minutes to 3 hours of commute time every day, I saw an influx of new clients ready to take advantage of that time. Many of them maintained the habits we built together years later. They showed they were willing to put in the work.
In coaching, the coach will not be the one to give the answers on how to achieve the change the client is looking to make. The coach’s job is to help the client identify not only what they want but what they are willing to do to achieve it.
The first step is to define the goal.
Going back to my past experience, many clients start with “I want to speak English better.” I counter by challenging them to define what “better” means to them. A non-specific can never be fulfilled to the level the client wants and will not help to create sustainable habits. Just ask anyone who makes a new year’s resolution to go to the gym “more” or have a “healthier” diet.
It is important for the client to understand why this goal or change is important to them as well. Defining out loud the impact that making the change will have on their life is a crucial step toward a willingness to achieve that goal.
I want to learn Spanish vs. I want to learn Spanish because it will enable me to communicate with my daughter-in-law and grandchildren.
I want to lose weight vs. I want to lose weight so I have more energy to do the things I love like hiking and swimming.
I want to work less vs. I want to work less in order to reduce my anxiety and spend more time with my partner.
I want to drink less alcohol vs. I want to drink less alcohol so I won’t feel sick on Saturday and Sunday mornings and can use that time to improve myself.
Having a clear understanding of what is driving the desire for change will help both coach and client going forward. The job of the coach is to give the client space to explore the possible outcomes and implications of the change they are going to make.
- What will it mean for you if you do [new behavior]?
- What would your life look like if you were able to adopt this new habit?
- How would things be different if you started [new habit]
Moving From Want to Willing
Once the client knows what change they would like to make and what that change will mean for their lives, the client must shift their perspective to one of willingness to make the change.
When there is a lack of willingness, the client will find excuses not to do the work and follow the plan they have created for themselves. The client may complain that it is “too hard” to do the thing they said that they wanted. Often, clients will point to a lack of time or experience.
At this point, the client can be invited to go back to the “want” and determine if this change truly is one that they want to make. If the client continues to find excuses not to take action, it’s possible she did not really want to make a change, to begin with.
The other option is they haven’t found the correct motivation. In this case, the client can also go back to the motivation they defined and determine if that is the correct motivation to move them into willingness.
- What does it tell you about yourself that you are having trouble finding time to make this change?
- What is costing you not to adopt this new habit?
- What might be getting in the way of you doing the things you said you wanted to?
Chances are, the client has attempted to make this change in their life before you meet them. The client will tell you all the reasons it hasn’t worked for them before. Most stem back to not having a clearly defined desire and motivation.
You will hear about a lack of time or the fact that the client gave up after not seeing progress. You will hear about obstacles and all kinds of things that get in the way.
The truth is, someone who is in a place of willingness will make it happen no matter what obstacles are in front of them.
Most of us have met at some point in our lives the single mother of three working 40 hours a week and still finding time to learn a new skill. Or the lawyer working 70 hours a week who somehow finds time to become a semi-professional tennis player.
When the client is in a place of willingness, the obstacles will be surpassed.
Want vs. Willing: The Beginning of Goals and the Beginning of Change
It’s not a bad thing to “want.” Want is the beginning of goals and the beginning of change. But want without willingness is a formula for stagnation. Only by moving to a place of “willing” can change occur. As coaches, empowering our clients to get to a place of “willing” is essential for them to move forward in the changes they wish to make in themselves.