Underpromising: Is that Settling?

A few years ago, I took a course with the Wisdom of the Whole Academy to be a Life Coach. I remember in the early part of the program, they were explaining some of the basic tenets of coaching. When it came to the client setting goals, the guidance was to ‘underpromise,’ to pick the one goal they were most interested in reaching and then  commit to one small action step to take in the week following the session.

When they first explained it, I thought I must not be hearing them correctly. My expectation was that a client would commit to a significant step. This didn’t sit well with me. I thought it sounded like ‘settling,’ doing a mediocre job when weren’t we supposed to be reaching and challenging ourselves?

I learned that the rationale was if it was a small step, not too difficult, the client would achieve success and would be encouraged to continue with another small step until they obtained the goal. Choosing too big of a step often produced failure and discouragement.

Each of us had to partner with a fellow student and practice coaching one another. Over the weeks of my sessions, there was a theme in what my coach summarized and reflected from what I’d said: I often used the word overwhelmed. It seemed to occur when I was talking about my frustration with having multiple goals and not knowing where to start. I had an “Ah Ha!” that there were too many goals and that had been a theme throughout my life with my driven nature. No wonder I had a hard time with the concept of underpromising.

The summer after I finished the course and was certified as a Nurse Coach, I took my solo journey to an artist residency at Artcroft in central Kentucky. In return for the free residency, I’d provide the sweat equity of helping with the farm animals, garden, and provide a community service– like speaking and leading a writing workshop. In between those jobs, my project was to rewrite my memoir. But when I arrived, things were completely different.


Instead of sharing the house with fellow artists, I would be there the two weeks by myself. The cows had been sold and there was no longer a garden. The library and Chamber of Commerce had no requests for workshops in mid-July, so other than meeting the staff as an ambassador for Artcroft, there were no expectations of me. “Just write,” the Artcroft director told me.

While I was disappointed at first, in the quiet farmhouse with only an upstairs window unit air conditioner, my feelings changed over the two weeks. The sparsely furnished house on a lone road on a hillside of Kentucky, became the perfect time and place to write with great focus. I could not put a load of clothes in the washer, or turn on the television, or even use wi-fi, because there were none of those.

I spent the early morning hours, sitting at the table writing with the door open to the cool air, a rabbit nibbling by the side yard. The quiet was occasionally broken by the sound of a car coming up the road or a cow mooing in the distance. I’d take a break and walk the hilly road that crossed the property and enjoy the lane lined with Queen Anne’s lace and lavender chickory blooms. I took garden clippers and gloves and cut pieces of the bountiful thistle to make a simple arrangement for my kitchen table.


While I would head out for the latter part of the day to the library to check email or to see a few of the area sites, the majority of my time was spent in that simple farmhouse doing just one thing: writing.

The one thing the director advised me to do. I didn’t have multiple goals, “Just write.” It’s the only time in my life when I’ve ever had two weeks focused on one thing.

Was that like what I’d learned about underpromising and with less we could ultimately achieve more?

I still have to remind myself of being kinder, gentler when it comes to goal setting. And when I find myself overwhelmed again, I remember that little house in Kentucky and the quiet lesson learned over that two weeks.

Less really is More.


How About You?

Do you have a goal that would benefit from taking a smaller first step, of underpromising so that you will have success?

Is there an area of your life where less could be more?


10 thoughts on “Underpromising: Is that Settling?

  1. Interesting article!! I probably know the root cause of “so many goals”. Growing up on the farm there were always so many things to do that it could sometimes be difficult to choose the priorities. To have survived during the Great Depression on the farm and with our grand mother becoming a widow in 1931 with five children at home, it was a tough time for survival and even the youngest had to do a fair share of work each day. Aunt Eula who was 6 when our grandfather died, said about 20 years ago that the only thing she remembered about their father was that he was always tired. He was 61 when he died with TB. Just thought I would share. Harriet

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey Harriet,
      Thanks for reading and commenting. I do think that impacted us– that Mama and Daddy had such long to-do lists. Hopefully, because we’re not living in the Great Depression, we can live our lives without that same level of intensity.
      Best to you!


  2. Great piece. It was all too familiar to me. Setting goals and focusing on the little things seem to provide small successes. Sometimes the Math does not work and you seem to not reach the end. Your post is a prime example of how to make it work.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I always felt it was true when teaching kids that it’s best to give them something where they could find success easily. Then, after one small step is made, build on it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey Erika,
      Yes, I’m sure you could see the difference in your students– the ones who felt success versus the ones who felt like failures. Good that you practiced that as a teacher.
      Thanks for sharing,


  4. Connie, I loved this post and am glad you had the opportunity for uninterrupted peace and quiet, so you could write. Yes, I agree that sometimes it’s the simple things that keep us going forward. I really needed to read your post today. I’m trying to start a novel, and all I do is look at the blank screen. I think I’ll apply the saying “Just write” to that. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey Beth,
      I’m happy that this post was helpful for you! Every person who writes has to find the method that suits them. I usually start in longhand– because it’s closest to my heart. For me, it seems that when I sit at the computer and write, it has to look more ‘official’ and feels more like a final draft. I’ll write on napkins, paper bags, whatever is available and just get it down fast.
      Best to you as you “Just Write.’ You CAN do it!


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