Consider this statement: “I want to lose weight.” You probably hear this all the time from your friends, your colleagues, and maybe even yourself. And we all know that most of these stories end with limited actual results. Why is there no further movement beyond expressing a vague goal?
Language is Important
Which of the following set of statements from a 200-pound person creates energy and motivation for you?
|Description of the Current Problem||Declaration of Intent|
|I really need to lose 25 pounds||I will:|
|I feel fat||Weigh 175 pounds|
|I have no energy||Feel strong and vital and energetic|
|I’ve lost my edge||Be able to play soccer with my kids|
|I’m embarrassed about my appearance||Look in the mirror and like what I see|
|None of my nice clothes fit anymore||Fit into my favorite jeans again|
As you read the first column, what happens? Do you feel exhilarated and called to action? Or do you feel depressed and head to the refrigerator for a soothing bowl of ice cream? These feelings of despair and resignation are the natural result of wallowing in the problem. Statements like “Our accounting system is all screwed up,” “We just can’t seem to make any money around here,” and “Our problem is that we just don’t have the right equipment” all produce similar feelings. Exhausted helplessness.
As you read the second column, is your experience different? Do you find yourself leaning forward, thinking more creatively, and filling up with a bit of energy and possibility? These feeling are the natural result of visioning a desired end state. The same energy is created by a question such as “What would it take for us to close our books in 6 days and have useful and accurate accounting data from which to run the business?” Or “If we just decided that we had to make $1 million profit, what changes would we have to make in this business?”
Because focusing on the existing problem is a past-based conversation about how I got here. It invites my mind to assume that tomorrow will be the same as yesterday. It presents the problem as bigger than me (kind of “just the way it is”) and leaves me as a helpless spectator of what’s so. Conversely, the end-state conversation is a future-based possibility. Nothing is set in stone. All that exists are my choices, about everything. This open field stirs our creativity, increases our energy, and calls us into action.
I also inserted a subliminal (and critical) distinction in the language. In the first column, I used “I really need to.” You could easily substitute “I want to,” “I ought to,” “I should” or any other combination of meaningless words that really mean “I am paying tribute to that which I have no intention of acting on.” When we say “I commit to” or “I will” or any other set of words that indicate choice, the mind perks up and pays attention in a whole new way.
Clarity is Necessary and Insufficient
It should be evident that wallowing in today’s problems is not empowering. A clear and compelling end state will have a much greater likelihood of generating powerful action. But a clear vision alone will not win the day. In fact, a clear vision alone, with no action behind it is called a dream. So courage, collaboration, and cadence will all need to follow in order to lose weight, create valuable accounting information, or make a million bucks.
Improving the Odds
But clarity is always the first step. And the more compelling, energetic, and committed we can articulate that future possibility, the greater likelihood we will be among the few whose story ends with tangible results and not just empty rhetoric.