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Goals and motivation ‘Will I?’ vs ‘I will’

September 1, 2010

As coaches we help clients to clearly articulate their goals.  The well established GROW model starts with Goal and ends with Will.  A recent article in Scientific American Mind  by Wray Herbert reports on Ibrahim Senay’s  fascinating research into ‘willingness’ (see full article).  Senay found people in the open mind-set condition asking ‘Will I…..?’  were more goal directed, motivated and open to new possibilities, compared with those in the  ‘I will….’ condition.   Moreover those in the ‘Will I?’ condition were more intrinsically motivated (e.g. I want to) than those in the ‘I will’ condition who were more introjected (e.g. doing through self imposed guilt) in their motivation. 

From a coaching perspective I like the idea of the more open mind set of ‘Will I……?’ for both the potential increase in intrinsic motivation and also the power it might bring to exploring options, as Senay hypothesizes that  ‘it is because questions by their nature speak to possibility and freedom of choice’.

I tested this out on myself a few days ago – when given the opportunity to be a last minute participant in a swim across the Solent (between England and the Isle of Wight) with 8 days notice – and 2 days to decide and no time to train!   This would be the furthest I have swam non-stop for over 20 years, though in summer  I sea swim regularly for up to 15 – 20 mins.   When saying to myself ‘I will do it’ –  I noticed some nerves and anxiety holding me back from saying ‘yes’  – all those little ‘what ifs’ and also ‘this is a great opportunity, I really ought to do it’ (the introjected motivation).  However when I asked myself ‘Will I swim the Solent next weekend?’  I found myself wanting to say ‘yes’ and immediately moving into possibilities and solutions, for example, doing a test swim (50 minutes non-stop), contacting the organiser to find out about the logistics, risk assessment, safety cover, etc.   However was this because I’d already raised my awareness of the ‘what ifs’ before asking myself  ‘Will I?’ ?  I’m now interested to know how I would have responded if I’d asked myself ‘Will I?’ first and whether then asking ‘I will’, I would be more at ease saying ‘yes’.

So whilst Senay’s research suggests ‘Will I?’ to be more powerful in terms of goal direction and motivation it may be the order is key – starting with ‘Will I?’ to tap into the motivation and options and ending with ‘I will……..’  for commitment.    I will be testing this out and following this line of research with great interest, and welcome your thoughts and experiences.

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