Unearthing the real reason you’re getting in your own way

Unearthing the real reason you're getting in your own way

Can you relate to how hard it is to break some habits?

Are you frustrated at your inability to make a change even though you’re either deeply committed to it or have no doubt you will be better off having made that change?

If so, you’re not alone if you find yourself undermining your efforts to change, you can’t stop yourself and don’t know why.

Multiple research studies have confirmed the positive connection between self-awareness and leadership effectiveness. However, it’s hard to overcome the problem with changing if you’re not consciously aware of why you’re undermining your own success.

For example, I know why having strong boundaries, eating healthy food, and exercising regularly are essential. However, despite doing much work on myself over the years, I tend to fall into similar patterns of self-defeating behaviour regardless of whether I’m employed or self-employed.

When there are multiple competing work deadlines and people at home have specific preferences, it’s easy to fall into the trap of prioritising everyone and everything else, leaving no time or headspace for healthy living that’s right for you personally.

Embarking on yet another journey to form healthier habits while juggling a heavy workload has led me to reflect on previous lessons learned that could help me stick to new, healthier habits.

It’s been a reminder about the hidden reasons why some layers of the onion skin are harder to shed than others.

Unearthing the real reason you're getting in your own way

About five years ago, I discovered Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey’s work about hidden competing commitments that can make us immune to change.

Reading and listening to their book Immunity to Change led me to unearth hidden commitments related to my upbringing that had impacted my leadership effectiveness.

Given the power of that discovery, I’m revisiting the evidence about what could hold me back, and because of its incredible value, I thought I’d share it with you.

When commitments remain hidden, it’s like having one foot on the accelerator while the other is firmly pressing the brake.

Unfortunately, there’s no quick and easy fix for removing your foot from the brake—but it can be done. It takes curiosity, time, and self-compassion to unearth your hidden commitments.

Kegan and Lahey say, ‘It requires people to admit to painful, even embarrassing, feelings that they would not ordinarily disclose to others or even to themselves.’ Their Harvard Business Review article The Real Reason People Won’t Change is compelling should you not have time to read the book.

Their research has identified a series of questions to unearth the active commitments we have to ourselves that prevent us from taking action to achieve the change we desire. The process and questions are detailed in the article but paraphrased below:

  1. Start with asking, ‘What is the change I would like to see?’ Kegan and Lahey believe this will surface a complaint about something, for example ‘People don’t tell me what I need to know’.
  2. What commitments does the complaint you surfaced imply about yourself? For example, ‘I’m committed to keeping lines of communication open with my team’.
  3. What are you doing or not doing that is stopping you from fully realising that commitment? For example, ‘I shoot the messenger when I get news I don’t like’.
  4. If you imagine doing the opposite of what you do now, what worries you, makes you uncomfortable, or makes you vaguely fearful? For example, ‘I’m afraid I’ll discover something I’m unable to fix.’ This question is crucial. It’s akin to the classic coaching question, ‘What’s at risk for you here?
Unearthing the real reason you're getting in your own way

5. Next, turn that passive fear or worry into an active statement describing what you are committed to preventing. For example, ‘I am committed to avoiding problems I cannot fix’.

6. Then, reframe the statement into the big assumption it is. For example, ‘I assume that if I discover problems I can’t fix, people will think I’m not good at my job’.

7. Now examine this deep-held big assumption with curiosity and kindness. We hold onto these big assumptions because they protect our sense of self and our place in the world. Consider:

a. Where did it come from?

b. Why does it have such power over you?

c. When do you tend to cling to it?

d. How has it stopped you from behaving in the desired way before?

e. What evidence or personal experiences can you find that disproves the assumption in your specific context? For example, ‘When I asked for help on that project, I received positive feedback about how I took Bob’s suggested fix, reworked it with the team and came up with a better solution.’

F. Keep testing the assumption and evaluate what you find to build a body of evidence that disproves the assumption and makes it easier for you to change.

One of my big discoveries is that my now-adult family will eat the healthy food I prepare that I need to eat or make their own meal and still love me.

How could a big assumption be holding you back from making progress with a personal change?

I’d love to hear if discovering an immunity to change makes a positive difference for you.

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