What's Holding You Back?
Illustration: Jo Empson/Ikon Images/Getty Images
You know what you want to achieve, give up, improve, triumph over, resolve. Harvard University's Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey walked us through the exercise they use to help people identify their roadblocks—and blast through them.
1. Choose the Right Goal
(a) Kegan and Lahey say that our goals are often disguised as chronic complaints—basically, your biggest gripes contain information about what you most want. Start by thinking about what's bothered you this past year (you're really stressed at work; you feel uncomfortable in your clothes).
(b) Now think about how you might turn that general dissatisfaction into a specific goal, as in "I want to delegate more at the office" or "I want to lose weight to have more energy and to look better."
2. Acknowledge Your Part of the Problem
Think of what you do that works against this goal. Ask yourself: What am I doing (or not doing) to undermine my progress? Be as honest and precise as possible—and avoid self-flagellation.
3. Discover Your Competing Commitments
(a) Ask yourself: What fears come up when I think of doing the opposite of what I noted for question 2? For instance, someone whose goal is to lose weight and who knows her obstacle is that she blows off portion sizes might realize that what she's most worried about is turning into a calorie-counting control freak.
(b) Consider how your current behavior reflects what you fear most from happening. Kegan and Lahey say that competing commitments are often rooted in secret anxieties—in this case, "I don't want to become totally neurotic." Can you explain how you've used competing commitments to manage your life or emotions?
4. Identify Your Underlying Assumptions
(a) Start by looking at your secret fears. These are driven by assumptions you've made (e.g., anyone who monitors portions must be controlling). To unearth your hidden beliefs, answer the following questions: What have you convinced yourself will happen if you overcome your bad habit? Is this true?
(b) Identifying the thoughts that sustain our immunity to change is important, but insight alone will not result in lasting change. Most of us operate as if our assumptions are facts. Think of ways that you can test whether your beliefs are true, starting with smaller experiments ("I will delegate one task") and moving on to more significant examples ("I will take a week off and not check in with the office").