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I’m really enjoying reading a recently published book by psychoanalyst Adam Phillips called, “Missing Out: In praise of the unlived life.” He says that we spend a lot of our energy on awareness of what is not in our life and wanting something else. This is essential to the human condition because “we can survive only if our appetites more or less work for us”. Recognition and wanting without getting results in frustration at not having the imagined “unlived life.”

It’s a scenario equally relevant to a coaching agenda. When we feel frustration it’s a powerful signal that something is not right. It’s possible to dull this feeling with chocolate, alcohol or other distractions, but there may be more pleasure to be had by using the impetus of feelings of frustration to explore what alternatives – until now unlived – are possible.

Ideas for alternatives may come from your own imagination of how things could be different, or they could come from external sources: magazines, books and films, other people’s experiences. Phillips uses examples from literature, including Shakespeare, Larkin and Camus. But inspiration could equally well come from tennis champions, Jamie Oliver or Cheryl Cole, if that’s your bag. Modern life gives us an unprecedented array of alternatives; there is a German name for this: Qual der Wahl – torture of choice. Imagining alternatives and what they would mean to your life is a creative act and daring to dream is an important step in thinking about change. Thinking about these things involves a mixture of head and heart, thinking and feeling, and conscious and unconscious “knowing”. A good coach can help you explore the alternatives and find out what you really wish for.

However, existential thinkers like Yalom differentiate between wishes and will.  A wish might be a cherished dream, but does not need to have functional possibility. When a wish becomes will it becomes more tangible, more real. This step involves some hard thinking about the consequences of change. What will it mean to me and to others? What might it cost me and is it worth it? In saying yes to one thing, can I bear to say no to the others? What are my chances of success? Do I recognise my own power to make change happen? When a wish becomes will you have made a choice and a commitment and you can engage in the detailed planning to make it happen.