Take a Pass on New Year’s Resolutions

Most of us do not need another New Years resolution.  We have enough unfinished business and unfulfilled commitments to ourselves.   Instead, choose an existing resolution that remains stuck, despite your good intentions.  I propose you dust off that resolution for the new year and take it on with a fresh perspective.  Unravel the hidden assumptions that (perhaps at a subconscious level) block your progress.  Rather than let a change-resistant assumption have you in its tight grip, hold that assumption in your grip, examine it, and decide how much and when it actually holds credence.

Specifically, try on the 4-step framework that leadership and adult learning experts Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey have refined over 20 years.  This article is adapted from the highly regarded books of these two Harvard-based co-authors – How the Way We Talk Can Change the Way We Work (2001) and Immunity to Change  (2009).  In its simplest form, their insightful model for overcoming what they call “immunity to change” boils down to these steps:

Step 1:  Define your visible, stated commitment  (that remains unfulfilled)

Step 2: Identify what specifically you are doing and/or not doing (the visible behaviors) that prevent your commitment from being fully realized

Step 3: Uncover and articulate the hidden “Competing Commitment” that fuels that undesired behavior

Step 4:  Lastly, shine light on the Big (anxiety-inducing) Assumption that lies behind your Competing Commitment, that gives it strength and keeps you from seeing and creating choices for yourself.  Reframe that Big Assumption from a universal, all-or-nothing, scary, restrictive truth to something that is just a personal assumption that may be true, to varying degrees in different situations.

When you can dissect your big frightening assumption and the competing commitment that you sustain to protect yourself, then you will understand how and why you get in your own way, and how to begin to get out of your way.  Here is an example:

One of my executive clients (let’s call her Anne) had declared several times that she wanted to slow down and be a more patient listener and a more collaborative problem-solver [that was her stated commitment].  Yet Anne’s hard-charging style, which involved quickly jumping to her own solutions [the behavior that preserved the status quo] was keeping her from her goal.  In our conversations, she ultimately acknowledged that she was also committed to sustaining her reputation as the brilliant hero with the best ideas [her competing commitment].   Peeling the onion further revealed why the urge to sustain that second commitment was so strong:  Anne feared that if she hung back, with a more collaborative style and supported the ideas of others, then people might start thinking she was an intellectual light-weight, without much to contribute.  By naming this fear-based big assumption, and putting it into perspective, she now sees that her concern is exaggerated; her intelligence and contribution are already well-established among colleagues.  Anne is now resisting the draw of her competing commitment (to be the brilliant hero) and practicing, with increasing success, being true to her goal of being more reasonably paced and collaborative.

Another client applied this competing commitment framework for a very different problem.  He always struggled with giving direct constructive performance feedback to his team and opted for a nicer, indirect approach.  His competing commitment was to always be well-liked.  He assumed that  it was his professional responsibility as a manager to keep his staff in good moods all of the time; otherwise he would lose staff loyalty and would be criticized by HR.  Once he realized that this assumption was unrealistic, he was able to practice being more direct.  In his words, “As long as I generally looks out for the overall well-being (not minute by minute happiness) of my staff, I am being a good, supportive manager.”

So, in honor of the new year, choose an existing resolution and unravel how and why your hidden belief system sustains the status quo and keeps your goal out of reach.  If you cannot identify your competing commitment on your own, give me a call, and I can help you think out loud to pinpoint it.

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