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Moving from “If” to “How”

May 2, 2018

It was 2:00 am, pitch black but for the twinkling headlamps of my fellow climbers on Mt. Rainier. Crampons on my boots, ice axe in my hand, inexorably tethered to a climbing team of four. I’m scrambling up the aptly named, Disappointment Cleaver, despair creeping into my consciousness. This is where I learned the meaning of “how” commitment.

Though I’d trained hard and felt great on the climb the day before, I was laboring mightily in the higher altitude. (Guide, RMI owner and mountaineer, Peter Whittaker, told me later I wasn’t breathing properly. Ugh!) While we charged past other rope teams, I felt as if I was barely hanging on, I’d never been so completely spent. (What made me think this was a good way to celebrate my 50th birthday?!)

No Matter What

Then, I recalled what the famous mountaineer and our guide, Ed Viesturs had told me the night before our initial ascent. I’d asked him how many times he’d turned back from a peak due to circumstances within his control. His answer: Never. He had never given up on a summit because he was too tired or too hungry or too cold or too scared. Never in 30 years of climbing the world’s highest peaks. Ed’s formidable fortitude inspired me to dig deeper than I could have imagined possible on that ridge, and so I kept placing one boot after the other. I would get up that mountain, no matter what.

“No matter what” thinking generates a powerful mindset shift from “if” to “how.” Nothing about the circumstances change, and instead, we change. When our mindset shifts from “if” to “how,” the possibility of impossibility, the option for failure, is eliminated from consideration. And instead we search for the way we can. 


The “if” mindset is like testing a hypothesis. Hypothesis: I can summit Mt. Rainier. True or false. (It is as if either outcome has an equal likelihood.) Because an “if” mindset allows for a “false” outcome. With a “how” mindset, every way considered assumes success.

The difference between “if” and “how” is a matter of commitment. 

In our over-scheduled, always-accessible, multi-optional lives, we experience “if” commitment all the time. We experience an “if I can,” “if it’s convenient,” “I’ll try,” kind of commitment to goals, people, communities, work, volunteerism and ourselves. I’ll go to that board meeting, “if I can.” I’ll help my friends move, “if they are really organized.” I’ll stop by that get together, “if I have time.” “I’ll try” to hit my fitness goal – no harm in trying. 

These are hedging strategies. With “if” commitments, we keep our options open, we avoid actually failing, we don’t disappoint, we don’t get hurt. The “if” commitment is comfortable, convenient.

And while “if” commitments feel easier, what we don’t realize in the moment is how exhausting they can be over time. We are constantly re-trading our decisions. Should I or shouldn’t I? Who will be upset with me if I don’t? How much effort is enough? Is this good enough? An “if” commitment is a partial, “toe in the water” kind of commitment, and leaves some of the most resourceful parts of ourselves behind.

Now How?

A “how” commitment is energy-efficient. A single decision is made once. Like an on/off switch. All the energy is put into the effort of moving forward on the goal, the relationship, the event, the organization. We are “all in.”

How do we make “how” commitments without becoming over-committed? One possibility: Transform “if” commitments either into a defined “how” commitment or no commitment at all. A defined “how” commitment would involve deciding specifically what we definitely will do, then anything more is gravy. How many times per week will we work out, no matter what? How many nights will we be home for dinner at a specific time, no matter what? How many times per month will we call/visit family, no matter what?

Creating defined “how” commitments or eliminating commitments altogether can be difficult in the beginning because it requires intention, clarity and courageous conversation with the parties involved. Instead of constantly kicking that can down the road and wearing down ourself and our relationships with our “iffy” commitments, we can be following through on our “how” commitments with an efficiency and clarity that dramatically reduces mental, emotional and physical drag and enhances the quality of our life and relationships. We can feel lighter and more aligned with what’s truly important to us.

BTW, I summited Mt. Rainier around 6:30 am that morning, minus a few teammates who started the trek. It was by far the hardest thing I have ever done. And it was life-changing for me because it proved the power of “how.”

What does commitment mean to you? How do you treat commitment with your clients? How do you respond when they don’t follow through on commitments? How do you hold yourself to your own commitments?

Join the conversation.

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P.S. Our 2018 training calendar is now set. Check out the entire course catalog or click on the link below for our two new Team Training courses launching soon.

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Posted in: Attitude|Emotional Intelligence

How Do You Shift from a Feeling of ‘Have To’ to ‘Get To’?

March 22, 2018

I was toast!

It was a Thursday night, a couple of months ago. I was frantically preparing to facilitate a full-day workshop on Friday for a coaching client and his team – and I felt ill-prepared. On top of that, I was to facilitate a full-day retreat for the CEO roundtable I facilitate on Saturday… at my home!

And I wasn’t ready. Ugh! And I was tight as a drum.

I explored the experience with my coach afterward. She asked “What had you choose that response?” It was fortunate that it was a video coaching call, because I kinda wanted to slap her. 😉

I responded, “Well, I suppose I did choose that response, and it certainly wasn’t an intentional choice.”

What became clear after our exploration was that my tightness and rigidity was being driven by the story I was telling myself. It was a story of “have tos.”

The Tyranny of the “Have To”

I was telling myself … “I HAVE to get this work done. I have to do it well.

“I have to figure out how I’ll help my client achieve the somewhat fuzzy outcomes he’s wanting. I have to be professional and buttoned up and prepared. I have to clean the house for the retreat. I have to get the dining room set up, make it festive, make food, get drinks, snacks, fidgets, paper, pens. I have to figure out something creative to do and it has to be good!”

Have to.. have to… have to…. That is what I was telling myself.

All of these “have tos” had me feeling angry, resentful, stressed, inept, anxious and regretful.  My “have tos” had triggered a full spectrum of distressing emotions. And I felt rigid and optionless.

Then something shifted.

I wish I could say it was something I did. Some training that kicked in. Some mindful intention. But that would be false.

I don’t know what happened, but all of a sudden, there was a sliver of light, an increase in space, some breathing room, that wasn’t there before.  

I was beginning the shift from “have to” to “get to.” This is my reverse engineering of what I think happened.

Observing the Experience

Something inside me said “This isn’t working. This feels too hard. I’m stressed, resentful, and bound up. And it shouldn’t be this way.”

Observing myself and naming my feelings and my experience created some space. Many of you will know this process as “Name it to tame it.” Neuroscientists have proven that when we observe and name our feelings, our brains calm down.

Dropping the Resistance

Once my brain had calmed down, I was able to recognize that all of my many “have tos” were a sign of resistance. “Have to” is fundamentally different from “going to,” “want to” or “get to.”   

Within my “have to” was an implied obligation – a sense of choicelessness. A resistance to embracing and accepting what was.

My “have to” was my story’s way of saying, “No, this isn’t right. It shouldn’t be happening.” And yet it was.

When I dropped my resistance and accepted my situation, and what was in front of me, I relaxed. When I relaxed, I could see more possibility.

Looking For a New Perspective

Once I relaxed, I was able to ask myself, “What’s another way of looking at this?” I was reminded of something my 87-year-old dad told me just before he passed.

My dad was an entrepreneur and he went to work regularly up until a couple of weeks before he died. He explained his insistence on going to work this way, “When you get to be my age, you need a way to feel relevant.”

His words struck me. And stuck with me.

At the time, my dad was nearly blind, practically deaf without hearing aids and required no small amount of care from others. And his motivation, what kept him wanting to get out of bed in the morning, was his drive to be relevant, to matter, to make a difference.

And perhaps his fear of losing relevance.

And here I was. I had people wanting from me something I wanted to do and loved to do. And they were willing to pay me to do it. I realized what a gift I’d been given.What a rare and sweet opportunity I have to be relevant!

This realization shifted everything.  

I felt so fortunate. So grateful. That new perspective lifted my spirits and buoyed my creativity.  

Creating More Choices

All of my choiceless “have tos” had me bought in to the belief that I was locked in to a rigid set of obligations. That things had to be a certain way for them to be right.

When I changed my perspective, I could see that I had many more choices available to me.

I could nix the Powerpoint. Or I could make the presentation super simple. I could bring an easel and markers and wing it. I could buy the food instead of making food for the retreat.

I could let go of needing to perform and simply be present for my clients and for my roundtable members.I had so many options that made me feel lighter and more at choice. By the time I’d gone through these steps, I was changed. I had a new story.

I’d moved from “have to” to “get to.”   

The Energy of “Get To”

Once I was able to notice myself, shift my perspective and see more choice, I was super energized and relaxed.

My new story was, “I get to be with my client and his team tomorrow. I get to help them clarify their mission and vision and values. I get to help them make their work lives more meaningful. And I get to spend Saturday with people I enjoy and respect, can learn from and can teach. I’m so lucky.”

As you know if you read this blog much, I tend to be suspicious of platitudes like, “Look on the bright side” or “Happiness is a choice you make” or “Keep an attitude of gratitude.” All of those clichés just make me feel like I’m getting it wrong.

What I’m learning is that moving from “have to” to “get to” isn’t a platitude or a cliché. It’s a practice. Like yoga is a practice.The more I work the process, the more muscle I build around it. And I have lots of muscles to build.

What about you? How do you get from “have to” to “get to” when you are distressed? How might your working this process help you? How might you use this process to help you coach your clients from “have to” to “get to”?

Join the conversation.

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Posted in: Attitude