UNLOCK YOUR FULL POTENTIAL by Robert Kegan, PhD

Along with the inspirational quotes, the beautiful images, and my own personal and business blogs, at Behind the Scenes / Virtual COO you will find the writings and videos of various thought leaders.

UNLOCK YOUR FULL POTENTIAL by Robert Kegan, PhD

If you have ever made a resolution to change, you know how difficult it can be to successfully make that change. Our natural tendency is to keep doing things the way that we have always done them, even after we learn that there’s a better way. This inability to adjust can have devastating consequences — for example, many people with major heart problems do not alter their diet and lifestyle, even when their doctors tell them that they must change or die.

When our attempts to change fail, we too often assume that we’re just too old, too stubborn, too undisciplined or too lazy to change. In truth, our attempts to change usually fail because we are succeeding so brilliantly at a different, conflicting goal. Often this is a goal that we don’t even realize we are pursuing.

Example #1: A manager consistently fails at his goal of delegating responsibilities to his staff, even though he knows his department cannot function smoothly if he cannot share his responsibilities. When he was young, his blue-collar father instilled in him a belief that people who do things themselves are better than those who hand off responsibilities to others. Now grown, the manager unwittingly continues to pursue this goal of being a “real man” by doing everything himself at the expense of his goal to delegate.

Example #2:
A woman regularly loses 20 pounds and then quickly regains them. She is aware that she is discouraged each time she puts the weight back on. What she is not aware of is the way she also is managing — each time she regains the weight — to extricate herself from her angry and overwhelming feelings at being treated as a sex object whenever she is thinner. Overeating allows her to achieve her hidden goal at the expense of her outward goal to be fit and healthy.

Example #3: A married man knows that he must stop lecturing his wife about minor financial missteps for the good of their relationship, but he finds himself doing so again and again. These lectures are a way for him to pursue his hidden goal of feeling as though he is in control of his financial life — but they come at the expense of his goal of a happy relationship with his wife.

Seven steps to achieving change…

IDENTIFY CONFLICTING GOALS

Before we can achieve goals that have proved elusive for us, we must identify the hidden, conflicting goals that stand in the way…

1. List the things you do — and the things you don’t do — that inhibit your progress toward your stated goal.
Example:
Your goal is to spend more time with your family. Your list might include, “I work late many days, even when the office isn’t very busy”… or, “I accept every request for my time, even tasks that I don’t enjoy or that really aren’t my responsibility.” Be honest with yourself — list as many inhibiting behaviors as possible.

2. For each inhibiting behavior that you listed in step #1, ask yourself, “What fear or fears are raised in my mind when I imagine myself doing exactly the opposite?”
Example:
If your goal-blocking behavior is working late, you might write, “When I picture myself walking out of the office at 5:00 pm, I worry that my boss and coworkers will consider me lazy.” Or, “I worry that tasks will be mishandled if I’m not in the office.” Or, “I worry that people who report to me will goof off if I’m not around.”

3. Rewrite the fears you listed in step #2 in a way that expresses your commitment to your hidden conflicting goals. These are the hidden goals that prevent you from achieving your stated goal.
Example:
If you wrote in step #2 that you were worried about being seen as lazy for leaving work early, you might now write, “I am committed to being seen as hardworking.”

If you wrote that you feared that tasks would be mishandled in your absence, you might now write, “I am committed to not trusting anyone else with responsibilities.”

OVERCOMING A CONFLICTING GOAL

Once you have identified a conflicting goal and recognized that it stands in your way, you might find that you simply can leave this goal behind — but don’t count on it. Our hidden, conflicting goals often are deeply rooted in our “core beliefs,” the ideas and philosophies that shape our sense of who we are. Our minds will strongly resist any attempt at change that challenges these beliefs. It is more practical to move forward in small, incremental steps that give your mind time to adjust to your intended changes. To do this…

4. Go back to the fears you described in step #2, and list the assumptions that are built into them. The idea is to explore the worst things that can happen if you no longer pursue your no-longer-hidden conflicting goals — and to consider whether these results actually are likely. In many cases, they aren’t — they just are irrational fears. Even very intelligent people can hold on to very significant erroneous ideas when those ideas are related to their core beliefs.
Example: If your fear is that you will be considered lazy if you occasionally leave work at 5:00, you are assuming that leaving at 5:00 even occasionally is automatically equated with laziness… that arriving early counts for nothing… that effort level during the day counts for nothing… and that staying late on other days counts for nothing. Are these assumptions true? Do your colleagues and bosses really think this way or just you? Don’t other hardworking employees occasionally leave at 5:00?

5. Imagine what would happen if you pursued your stated goal and things did not go perfectly.
What would the negative consequences actually be? Would there be positive, liberating consequences as well?
Example: Would your job or performance bonus really be at risk if you left at 5:00 a few times a week… or just your reputation as the employee who puts in the longest hours? Would spending more time with your family be worth losing this reputation? Would it be liberating to shed the title of the “guy who always works late”?

6. Discuss your desire to alter your behavior with those who will be affected by your changes. These prechange chats reduce the odds that those around you will misinterpret your altered behavior… increase the odds that they will offer support… and make it more difficult to chicken out, because others now know your stated goal.
Example: Ask your boss if he/she would have any objection to your leaving at 5:00 on slow days to spend time with your family. Explain that your commitment to the company is as great as ever and that leaving at 5:00 when there is not a lot to do will make it easier for you to stay later when there is work that needs to be done.

7. Adjust your behavior in small ways that challenge the importance of your conflicting goal without forsaking it entirely. If the results of this experiment are positive, adjust your behavior a little more.
Example: Head home at 5:00, but bring your laptop and cell phone and instruct colleagues to call or e-mail you if they need you for any reason. If they do fine without you, head home at 5:00 on the next slow day without the instructions to call. If that works, try leaving the cell phone and laptop at home and joining your family on an outing after work.

If making a small change doesn’t seem to work, ask yourself if you may have “rigged” the experiment to fail. This is a common, unwitting practice. One manager we worked with discovered that he had done a poor job briefing his employees before he left so that they would fail and “prove” his indispensability.

– Robert Kegan, PhD

If you’re interested in a complimentary 30-minute business strategy session with Robert Finkelstein, for more information, please refer to Behind the Scenes Consulting. If you have questions, please email Robert at Consulting@RobertFinkelstein.com. Your comments are welcomed below. Thank you.

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