This week, I want to share one of my “red flag” language frames, which I’ve heard from three different clients these past couple of weeks. I have a number of these, all of which are indicative of a behavior pattern that needs to be highlighted and explored. Here’s the language pattern:

I would <make this change happen> if only <something else happened, or someone did something>

And, of course, it doesn’t always present so neatly, but I’ve grown pretty good at spotting its components.

As a coach, my clients are generally starting from:

“this is happening, can you help me get through it successfully”

It’s this actionable aspect that appeals to me so much – and I love to help my clients chunk the change down to manageable steps. I have very little appetite for communal wallowing in misery

[I’m a coach, not a therapist]

it doesn’t serve me, and it definitely doesn’t serve my client.

Every so often, I meet resistance to the realities of that change. So I have to push – quite often going extreme, in order to capitulate back to at least a step forward. It’s quite fun to explore just what could be possible.

Let me give you an example. One of my clients is looking to develop new coaching business. He has domain expertise in helping people navigate job loss and unemployment and speaks very highly of what he could do for them. So, being me, I suggested he get down to the unemployment centre and hand out some cards, because EVERYONE there is a potential client, even if only 1-in-10 follow-up with him

[that would be a pretty good marketing return, by the way]

It took a little while to emerge but pretty soon:

“That’s not going to work, they can’t afford to work with me”

and I knew what I was hearing.

“I would approach my target customers, if only I didn’t have to sell to them”

and we were able to begin picking that apart:

  1. Are they really target customers if they can’t afford you? Do you have the right business plan?
  2. Is it true that no-one on unemployment can afford a niche coach?
  3. If what you offer needs a hard-sell, does it really meet their needs?
  4. How might you reframe selling so that you are compelled to do it?
  5. Why wouldn’t you try it for a week and see what happens?

Needless to say, we had a LONG conversation.

The point of this red flag is to recognize that the “if only…” clause is the point where we disempower ourselves – in essence we are saying that it requires perfect conditions for us to move forward. This is a comfort blanket; an absurd, illogical comfort blanket. At any level of emotional honesty and review of our lives to date, we have to admit that change happens within, despite and because of context, but seldom if ever, in frictionless context. And positive, uplifting change often requires us to force context to shift.

All resistances are driven by emotions that haven’t found a means of expression. Spotting “I would… if only…” provides me the hooks to help clients build an actionable plan:

  • “I would develop as a project manager if only my manager would let me” => Why are you scared of your manager? What would it take for your manager to become an ally?
  • “I would go back to school if only I had the funds” => Why do you feel a need to go back to school? How are you going to build the funds, by when, to study what?
  • “I would help out at the homeless shelter if only I had the time” => When does the shelter most need you, and for how long? What will you stop doing to be free at those times?
  • “I would travel more if only I didn’t have this job” => Would you have to quit, or can you take extended leave? Why travel? What do you want to get from it? Where would you go? What would you do?
  • “I would enjoy life more if only I wasn’t tied down with the kids” => How old are they? What have you stopped doing because of parenting? How could you start doing more of it? Where do you find joy with the kids?
  • “I would grow my business if only it was easy to find customers” => Why do your customers want to use your business? Where are they? How are they feeling? What do you offer that they would grab hold of like a drowning man?

For myself, I first became conscious of “I would… if only…” about 20 years ago during my own career transition, and it helped me unpick a very, very stressful “no-win” I’d engineered in my work-life balance. This experience was so powerful that I immediately placed it in the core of my coaching practice.

So, what’s your “I would… if only…”?

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