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"How Do I Do It?" vs. "Can I Do It?"

Jan 30, 2022

“(A) process orientation (versus outcome orientation) . . . asks ‘How do I do it?’ instead of ‘Can I do it?’ and this directs attention toward defining the steps that are necessary on the way. This orientation can be characterized in terms of the guiding principle that there are no failures, only ineffective solutions.”

                                                                                   - Ellen Langer, Mindfulness


Think of the last time you faced a major challenge in your life. 


You may be at that place right now as you read this. 


How many times are we caught up in the mind game of whether we can successfully tackle a challenging situation? 


Our minds can go in all types of crazy directions that cause us to delay our actions, bring us upset and ultimately cause us to miss opportunities because we doubt our ability to succeed. 


This is most often rooted in us just focusing on the outcome of the situation and not the process we can move through to transcend it.  With this, we fixate only on the results and our fear and apprehension causes us to ask ourselves the question “Can I do it?”. 


“Can I do it?”, is a very natural question to ask, particularly when we face a challenge we have not yet experienced in our lives, or where “failure” was experienced in the past in a similar situation. 


However, when you ask yourself the question, “Can I do it?”, how does it feel?   If you are like me, this question has a 50/50 chance of bringing up feelings of self-doubt, confusion and dis-empowerment.  Being in these feelings are not the greatest environment for creating solutions to our challenges.


Conversely, consider facing a challenge and asking yourself the question, “How do I do it?”  Notice what feelings come up now.  It is likely, this question brings forth feeling of curiosity, excitement and the exhilaration felt when receiving a creative burst in your imagination. 


Asking yourself, “How do I do it?” enables the part of your brain to kick in that creates solutions versus that part of us that needs to work through our lack of self-esteem and self-worth.


Said another way..........


We discover we are most empowered as we shift our minds from outcome orientation to process orientation 

In process orientation, we just have to focus on the first step, and then the next, and then the next.  In doing so, we can break down any challenge into small, digestible bits, rather than the massive undertaking that oftentimes paralyzes us from taking action due to the overwhelm and fear that purely focusing on the outcome can bring.


So how do we do this?  Well, one way that I have found to bring process orientation into my life and the lives of my students and coaching clients is a method we teach in martial arts called the Black Belt Cycle of Success


Although first developed to light the way for students to stay on point while on their road to achieving their Black Belts, this 6-step process has great application to any challenge you wish to overcome or intention you wish to realize.

  1. Know what you want – Creating a clear intention for what you want is the first step. Many times, we don’t even get to this beginning step as we are still suck in the “Can I do it?” Disregard dis-empowering questions in this step and just allow yourself to get clear on what you want to occur.
  2. Have a plan – In this phase, you ask yourself, “How can I do it?”. The mind is extremely powerful and will lead you to answers if you are just curious and persistent enough.  Release the judgement of questioning if this is the perfect plan.  Go with what initially comes to you and make adjustments along the way, if necessary.
  3. Have a success coach – There can be nothing more valuable than to receive the coaching of someone who has gone before you that you trust and respect. All great athletes have coaches, why should we be any different?  Find someone who has been down the path before you.  Share your plan and ask for feedback, additional guidance and ideas.  
  4. Take consistent action – Once your plan has been created, shared and adjusted with your “success coach”, then it is time to take action. In some cases, this might mean major steps, but in my experience, it usually means taking small and consistent steps (hourly, daily or weekly), instead.  These small and consistent steps compound over time and help you to establish positive habits that can serve you not only in your current challenge, but throughout the rest of your life.
  5. Review your progress – Create regular intervals to review your progress (once again done hourly, daily or monthly) and change, expand or adjust your process. I have heard it said that an airplane is flying from one destination to the next is “off course” 99% of the time due to wind, air pressure and the like.  This requires pilots to constantly be adjusting along the way to their destination.  Be flexible, too, as you move through your process.
  6. Renew your goals – In this last stage, when milestones are attained along your path, set your sights on new stages to reach on your process towards realizing your intention or overcoming your obstacle.


I have heard it said that the quality of our lives is in direct proportion to the quality of questions that we ask ourselves.  This week, I challenge all of us to ask ourselves the quality question of “How can I do it?” when confronted with the challenges or difficulties life brings our way. 


Remember, when fear or doubt begin to creep in and hesitation arises that causes you to question whether you are up for the task, the answer of “how to do it” is already inside of you and only a quality question away.


Chris Natzke

Black Belt Leadership Speaking & Coaching


PS: If you are looking to bring greater levels of inspiration and breakthrough results to your team, go to www.ChrisNatzke.com to find out more about my Mind of a Champion keynote speaking and team building programs.


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