When I was in my early twenties, I was feeling confused about my career path, I had suffered a bad romantic breakup, and I was, in general, feeling lost. While Ben and Jerry were my usual go-to life coaches (big on quick, feel-good approaches, limited in their long-range impact planning), I decided to try an out-of-the-box, out of this world tactic: I went to see a psychic.
While I don’t remember much about our meeting other than me politely requesting before I even sat down, “Don’t tell me how and when I’m going to die, please,” I did hang on to the following predictions he made for me:
You will be married one day. (Phew, so glad to hear that!)
You will work in politics someday (Hmmm…interesting. Never considered it, but I could see that.)
You will have twins. (Impossible! There are no twins in my family.)
What I recall the most is that I discounted all of his predictions because I was so convinced that the final one – having twins – was so ridiculous.
Guess what? Jacob and Sophie Riegel – both age 11. That’s what.
When it comes to imagining what’s possible in the future, most of us are limited by current beliefs and our past perspectives – which is what makes Question 5 from my list of the Eight Questions You Need to Meet Your Goals, “What’s possible?” such a tricky and critical one to ask.
Before we get into what’s possible, let’s start with what’s practical – a quick review:
The Eight Questions are:
- What do you want?
- Why is that important to you?
- What’s working?
- What isn’t working?
- What’s possible?
- What do you need to move forward?
- What will you do next?
- By when?
In Part 1, the two examples we were working with included a relationship with a boss where we wanted “to feel more comfortable asking her for flexibility so that I can have a good balance between work life and home life” and a personal fitness goal in which we decided, “I want to find an exercise I can stick because I need more energy.”
Previously, we covered questions 1-4. Today, we pick up with question 5, which moves us from assessing our current assets and roadblocks to considering the potential for a tomorrow that looks different than the past or the present.
The most common answer I hear is “anything is possible!” which brings a healthy amount of the hope and optimism that I’m looking for as a coach. What it doesn’t yield is anything specific or tangible, so I typically press my clients to name something that is plausible, promising, feasible, viable, or conceivable. We don’t have to know how would get there yet. That’s not one of the considerations for imagining what’s possible – and in fact, trying to imagine how to get from A to C will limit our imaginations at this point.
Going back to our workplace example, here are two helpful answers to “what’s possible?”:
- “My boss could offer me a flexible work schedule without me even asking.”
- “My boss could ask me what I need to feel calmer and happier at work”
They are both conceivable, even if they’re not likely to happen.
As for the exercise example, here are two useful responses as well:
- “I could discover that I love exercise, but I just never knew it.”
- “I could find an exercise that I don’t have to do every day.”
Imaginable, and yet, still a reach.
Question 6: “What do you need to move forward?”
Now our question takes a dramatic shift from the possible to the practical. This is where we need to think about what will illuminate our paths from where we are to where we want to go (which, if you recall, we articulated way back in Question 1: “What do you want?”). Sometimes, what we need to move us ahead is emotional support around our challenge. Other times, we need buy-in from someone else, especially if what we want moving forward impacts the work and lives of others. We might need to schedule a conversation with someone else if, up until now, the only voices weighing in on the matter have been the voices in our heads. We might need more information about our quest, additional resources of time, money, people or energy, or even a specific product or service. We may need to screw our courage to the sticking place to move forward.
What else do you need to move forward? Your belief that you actually do know the answer to this question.
For our work example, we might decide, “I need to research other flexibility arrangements in the office” to move forward. Or “I need to talk to my husband/wife/partner about what their flexibility might be if I can’t get what I need.” Or “I need to sit down with my boss and lay my case out on the table.” For the exercise example, we might answer, “I need to find an activity I enjoy that’s physical without requiring me to join a gym.”
The possibilities are endless – and so are the options for what you need to move forward. Pick just one.
Question 7: “What will you do next?”
In his best-selling book, “Getting Things Done,” author David Allen contends that every plan requires a Next Action. In other words, we need to ask ourselves, “what is the very next thing that needs to get done?” and do that one thing before moving on.
Simple, specific and executable, such as:
“I will schedule a twenty-minute meeting with my boss for this Friday.”
“I will survey my three non-gym-attending friends about what they do to stay fit.”
Which brings us to Question 8: “By when?”
This is the ultimate accountability question, aka the question that is met with groans and averted glances. The answer to this question doesn’t require creativity or vision – it requires a calendar and a commitment.
Answers should be short and sweet, like:
“By end of day on Tuesday.”
And then, of course, you need to do it!
In this season of the Four Questions, I hope that these Eight Questions help you pave the path from struggle to success. As Albert Einstein once said, “The important thing is not to stop questioning… Curiosity has its own reason for existing. Never lose a holy curiosity.”