mwotw willing and able

Willing & Able

“It sounds simple, but a habit can only occur if you are capable of doing it. If you want to dunk a basketball but can’t jump high enough to reach the hoop, well, you’re out of luck.” —James Clear, Atomic Habits

I’m writing to you today from the Department of The Deep and Obvious, where I seem to have landed this week.

The mind-blowing and ridiculously simple insight that transported me here: I can only count on someone to do something if they’re both willing AND able to do it. 

(In case it’s not obvious, “someone” very much includes myself.)

Willingness is about desire.

Ability is about capacity.

It takes both desire and capacity to create a result. 

If either one is lacking, then a promise, agreement, or commitment is unreliable.


Let’s unpack this a little more. 

I made myself a little chart to sort it through. 

The Reliability Matrix has four quadrants. Able/Not Willing is "obligated." Able/Willing is "trustworthy." Unable/willing is "overpromising." Unable/Not Willing is "fraudulent"
Pro tip from a former magazine editor: Never underestimate the power of a matrix to help clarify your thinking!

👉 If I’m WILLING and ABLE to do something, then when I say I’ll do it, I’m trustworthy.

👉 If I’m WILLING and UNABLE to do that thing, then I’m overpromising if I tell you I’ll do it.

👉 If I’m ABLE but UNWILLING to do that thing, then if I tell you I’ll do it, I’m feeling obligated and will certainly end up resentful, and I probably won’t actually do it.

👉 If I’m UNABLE and UNWILLING and I say yes, then I’m just downright fraudulent: lying all around. 


I suspect most of us would almost never end up in the Fraudulent category when dealing with others, especially in our businesses. 

We might occasionally Overpromise.

Perhaps more often, we might say yes to things we don’t really want to do and end up resentful and Obligated.

Ideally, we’re staying in the joyful, winning zone of the Trustworthy.

But what about in personal relationships? 

Or with ourselves?

I can certainly think of times I’ve been fraudulent with myself.

Like when I was 16 and swore to myself I’d stop seeing a guy who wasn’t treating me well.

Turns out, I was neither really willing, nor in fact able, to stop my compulsive behavior around that issue with the tools and resources I had at the time.  


The bottom line: If you want to stay in the happy, trustworthy zone with your commitments, make sure everyone involved is both willing and able to do what they say. 

Capably yours,


PS – People buy things online when they read words that make them want to buy that thing. Are you both willing and able to write those words yourself? I’m quite trustworthy to help you attract your ideal buyers on your website, your LinkedIn profile, and/or your emails. Schedule a discovery call today so you can relax knowing your magic words are in good hands.

This post was originally sent as an email to the Magic Words of the Week newsletter list. Every week, I share reflections on a word, quote, or phrase I think will help you thrive in your life’s work.

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