Have you given up on a goal that’s important to you? I have a confession. It is early in the year and I’m already slipping on some of my new year goals. According to research, only 70% of new year resolutions survive the first two weeks of the year. Why? Because we don’t follow through on the actions we’ve committed to. I found myself slipping into the same “bad” habits after the initial enthusiasm wore off. So, I found a simple exercise that led to some pretty extraordinary insights about how I was getting in my own way. Here it is.
The exercise is from a book called “Immunity to Change” by Harvard professor Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey. The exercise works because it exposes beliefs we have that undermine our goals. Our ability to meet our goals, especially the ones that stretch us outside of our comfort zones, requires shifts in our beliefs. The problem is that most of these beliefs are unconscious, until we take the 15 minutes to do the four question exercise below. Try it with me now. Take out a piece of paper and answer the following:
What is the goal you’re committed to? In my case, one of the goals I have set for myself is to double my speaking business in 2014 (yes that would be a stretch goal).
What are you “doing” and “not doing” instead? These are actions and non-actions that thwart your goals. In my case, most of the list was what I was “not doing”: I have procrastinated creating short videos on my speaking topics to promote them. I don’t actively “market” my speaking topics within my network or clients. I don’t even spend time improving my speaking skills.
What may you also be committed to? As I examined my list of non-actions, I realized that there were some “hidden” goals that I am committed to that keep me from taking action. For example, I don’t actively “market” my speaking business because I don’t want it to look like I’m hungry for new business. Underlying that is a commitment I may have to “looking good and successful”. Yuck! Not a pleasant realization. I don’t work to improve my speaking skills because I may also be committed to not seeing my own imperfections. This third question often exposes commitments we have that we don’t want to see in ourselves. Take a deep breath, commit to being kind to yourself despite what you see, and be honest!
What assumptions are you making that keep you from your goals? When we stop to examine our competing commitments there is rich material underneath. It comes from assumptions we have made. For example, the assumption I have made is “asking for business means you’re not being successful” or “wanting to improve yourself means you’re not good enough”. What are the assumptions you discovered for yourself?
Here’s the crucial next step. What if you did an experiment and created a brand new assumption that would actually help you meet your goals? In my case I am reframing “Asking for business means that you want to serve others in meeting their goals” or “Improving yourself means you can deliver an even better experience for your audience and have more fun”.
The next step is to create a list of actions and experiments from these new assumptions and start to take action. Pat yourself on the back for having the courage to examine your own unconscious beliefs, so you can get out of your own way.
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A version of this post first appeared on my Forbes.com blog.