New Year’s Resolutions: A Hard Look at
Competing Commitments

One of my favorite books over the Holidays was Immunity to Change: How to Overcome It and Unlock the Potential in Yourself and Your Organization, by Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey. Last week I mentioned it in regards to New Year’s Resolutions. The authors make a very clear case for a hard look at our competing commitments if we’re attempting to make changes.

It doesn’t matter if your goal is to lose 5 or 50 pounds, quit smoking or drinking, or become a better listener…New Year’s resolutions and other goals are hard to keep beyond the first month.

Why is that? Because the brain is tricky, and no matter how sincerely we want to break a habit, we have an immunity to change.

This immunity means that we are drawn back into doing what we’re used to doing no matter how strong our intentions. And yet, some people do succeed. We all know ex-smokers, ex-drinkers, and former fatties.

You can’t fix an adaptive problem with a technical solution. A diet is a technical solution to being overweight: eat less and exercise more. But the problem is greater than that. Unless you change your mindset (an adaptive solution), you won’t sustain new habits.

Einstein said that how you formulate a problem is just as critical has how you solve it. One of the biggest mistakes goal-setters make is applying a technical solution to an adaptive problem (according to Ron Heifetz, leadership professor). It doesn’t matter how much you change what you do, if you don’t shift the way you think, you’ll revert to doing things the way you always have.

To better understand this, I made up a grid based on the one Kegan and Lahey recommend people fill out, in order to formulate adaptive solutions to making a big change:

This grid can be applied to any goal, to anything worth changing. I think the key is to recognize that there are some very good reasons for not always following through on what’s needed to change, and, until we admit that, we’re bound to fail. But once we own up to our competing commitments, we can say, “Well, yeah, I may think that’s true but it may not be entirely true. I owe it to myself to try make the changes now, and go against my previous thinking.”

What do you think? Have you tried unsuccessfully to change? Maybe your competing commitments got the best of you, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Think of the times you’ve succeeded. Why then? Why not now? I’d love the hear from you.

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