• Roberto Giannicola

Achieving goals: Why it’s easier for Giuseppe

Read time: 5 min

Giuseppe, my 11-year-old cousin, made me realize how simple and enjoyable life can be when no filters are clouding our perceptions.

This past summer, while sitting outside a gelateria near my home town in Puglia, Italy, my relatives were asking me about my work as a coach. Giuseppe, was sitting nearby listening to our conversation. Intrigued, with a curious look on his face, he asked: “Ma Roberto, cosa fa un coach?” (But Roberto, what does a coach do?)

I tried the standard answer: “We help people reach their goals and overcome obstacles by asking provocative questions, so they can find their own solutions to achieve their objectives.” By the look on his face, my answer didn’t seem satisfying. So, I offered to show him how it worked by coaching him on the spot. The next day, I realized how that ten-minute coaching session was full of insights.

I asked: “How about you tell me what you would like to achieve in the near future?”

He thought about it for a moment and said: “I would like to learn how to play tennis.”

“Ok, so what will it take for you to reach that goal?”

“Well, I first need a tennis racket and tennis balls.”

“Very good. How can you get that?” I asked.

“I need to go to the store to buy them.”

“And how will you purchase them?”

“I have some savings I can use.” (I could tell he was proud of that.)

“Perfect! So what else do you need?”

He looked up thinking. “I think I should probably take some tennis lessons.”

“Great. And where will you do that?”

“There is a tennis court not far from here where I can inquire about it.”

“And how will you pay for the lessons?”

“Hmmm, that’s more difficult.” He said. Then looked up at his dad, seeking approval. “Maybe I can ask my dad for help or get money out of my savings?”

“Ok, and where is the tennis court?”

“It’s a few miles away. I could ask my mom to drive me there.” She smiled and seemed to agree.

“Great, so when will you start doing all this?”

“I think the tennis lessons will start in September. I can prepare during the summer.”

“Excellent! So that’s it. I just coached you to achieve your goal. We’ll add some accountability and you’re on your way.”

And he looked at me with a stunned face, nodding and said. “Hmm, ok. I see how this works.”

We then continued savoring our gelatos, enjoying the evening breeze. The next day, I woke up thinking about how that coaching interaction was easy and straightforward. Understandably, Giuseppe grew up in a very loving and caring family, and not every teenager has that chance. But, what I really appreciated was the ease in which he moved from one step to another with autonomy and free of personal hindrances, self-doubts or limitations. It made me think about how as we grow old, we are exposed to so many social experiences that affect our perceptions and beliefs.

The same exercise with an adult could have unearthed hindrances such as: “What if I don’t play well?” – “What are people going to think of me?” – “Who am I to think I can play tennis?” – “I’m too old, slow, fat, thin, lazy, insecure, stiff, etc.” These are a series of inhibiting doubts and fears I call gremlins, that can carry consequences and delay, or stop our progress.

In the past year while talking to clients and debriefing attitudinal assessments, I’ve noticed that most of us will likely react in one of the three following ways when a “gremlin” shows up or when under stress. They either retreat, fight or cope:

  1. Retreat: This primary reaction mode is dominated by thoughts of being a victim. We feel a lack of control over the outcomes in our life and are affected by events, beliefs and perceptions that hold us back from success. We have low inspiration and easily throw in the towel. This limits us from seeing opportunities, or even believe they are possible. It is draining and can impart a mental, emotional and physical toll on us and the people around us.

  2. Fight: This reaction carries a lot of anger, resentment and defiance. In this mode we fight back, hold judgement and might even blame others for the situation. We focus on everything that is wrong and can feel unappreciated. Operating by force or coercion, we can be bossy, condescending and tend to micro-manage, rather than lead. This can work in the short term, but over time, we alienate others and cause them to be dissatisfied and unproductive.

  3. Cope: The key words here are rationalization and toleration. People reacting this way will motivate themselves by finding ways to forgive, compromise and explain away resentment or stress to encourage cooperation and productivity. They might often respond with words like “I’m fine” or “It’s ok” in order to maintain harmony and keep the status quo. However, by doing this, they do not honor their personal values and needs. Consequently, they most likely live a mediocre and unfulfilled life or career.

There is nothing wrong with having such responses, especially under stress. I’ve often reacted in these modes as well. But as you can imagine, these can have a negative impact on your life and career if you fail to recognize them early on. Therefore, it’s important that you not only become aware of these reactions as soon as possible but also learn the steps that can help you move forward, so it won’t affect you and the people around you.

Here is what you can do:

Check in with yourself. Take time during your day to evaluate your emotional state. Ask yourself: Do I feel sorry for myself? Am I sensing anger? Am I tolerating something that goes against my values?

Put a label on it. Once you determine what and how you feel, call it out. I’ve used some of these for my own reactions: “The poor little victim is showing up” or “Mister furious is starting to growl” or “Dulling down my values again.” Once you put a playful spin on it, you’ll lighten up the mood and gain clarity on what you need to do.

Creating awareness around these reactions will begin your journey to achieving higher emotional intelligence, removing obstacles to success and building empathy, so you can also better understand what others are experiencing.

I just checked back with Giuseppe’s mother a few days ago and found out that he is now taking tennis lessons. Of course, it’s easier for him since he is only 11 years old, but it doesn’t mean that we can’t reach our goals with the same level of ease and simplicity.

As for me, I’m grateful for that short interaction this past summer. It reminded me of how much more fun life can be without insecurities veiling our endeavors. It also encourages me to be more self-aware and pay attention to my emotions, self-doubts and limiting beliefs so I can clear the way to my objectives.

I think that’s worth a try. The rewards are immense.

How about you? How different would your life be if you could be like Giuseppe?

Roberto Giannicola - Coach & Facilitator - www.giannicola.com