There’s a gap between ‘wanting’ and ‘doing’ for most of our big ambitions. Before you start trying to close it, ask yourself these two questions. They might save you some time.
If you can’t say yes to both, the undertaking you’re considering may not be for you, according to coach Peter Bregman. In an article for the Harvard Business Review, Bregman shared an anecdote about talking to his 10-year-old son after a track meet where he placed “middle of the pack”. His son was disappointed by his time, so Bregman gave him this thought exercise:
“I have two questions for you,” I said. “One: Do you want to do better?”
If the answer is “no,” then to attempt to coach would be a fool’s errand (a mistake I have made in the past).
“Yeah” he said.
“Here’s my second question: Are you willing to feel the discomfort of putting in more effort and trying new things that will feel weird and different and won’t work right away?”
Bregman says that if you can’t answer yes to both questions, you can’t make the change. You have to both want to excel at whatever the goal is — running faster, getting a new job, making friends — and be willing to do things differently than you have, while experiencing the discomfort that implies. Ultimately, his son wasn’t sure, and decided to wait until the following season to decide, which is a pretty mature response for a ten-year-old. But for the rest of us, it’s a great way to decide if we’re ready to grow.
Learning something new means working muscles you’ve let atrophy, physically, intellectually, and emotionally. That could potentially lead to frustration or embarrassment as you figure it out. Taking risks can be frightening, especially if you’re used to succeeding at your current level or position. Bregman is saying to confront what it means to do something new first and ask yourself if you’re really willing to do it. Saying yes is no guarantee you will succeed, of course, but in the tough moments you can remember that you believed it was worth it. Then push through.