Successful Goals: How to Override Excuses

In my previous posts here and here, I explained why so many people fail to keep New Year’s Resolutions. In spite of sincere desires to change, after a few weeks, many goal-setters go back to their old habits.

Unhealthy habits like overeating, working all of the time, neglect reading a good book and being a couch potato are not 100% bad. They make us feel good temporarily. Because the body and mind are pleasure-seeking vehicles, it’s hard to ignore our hard-wired excuse systems—but not impossible. Awareness heralds change.

Let’s take a typical goal of some of my coaching clients.  This is a composite of several people who want to become better listeners over the coming year. Like for most goals, there are some pretty solid competing commitments that interfere with becoming a better listener.

Here is how a commitment grid would look for that goal:

 

 

 

Visible Commitment: Improvement goal –

“One Big Thing”

 

What’s the One Big Thing that if you could change it, would make your work more satisfying?

 

 

 

Doing/

Not doing instead

 

 

What are my behaviors that work against the attainment of this goal?

 

 

Hidden competing commitments

 

If you imagine doing the opposite of the undermining behavior, do you detect in yourself any discomfort, worry, or vague fear? What worrisome outcome are you committed to preventing?

 

Big Assumptions

 

 

What big assumptions do you have that contribute to a need to self-protect? (What fear or worry leads you to Column 2 behaviors?)

 

 

I am committed to the value or the importance of…

 

 

What am I’m doing or not doing that prevents my commitment from being fully realized?

 

I may also be committed to…

 

I assume that if…

Better listening

 

I am committed to becoming a better listener (especially staying in the present, staying focused, being more patient)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I allow my attention to wander, I start looking at my BlackBerry.

 

If I’m trying to listen to a client, I start thinking of an impressive response instead of listening.

 

If it’s my daughter, I start thinking about what she should do differently and stop listening.

 

If it’s my wife, I think, “This isn’t urgent,” or “I’ve already heard this,” and I stop listening.

Worry Box: I worry I will Look stupid

Be humiliated

Be helpless

Not have control

Make a mistake

Allow someone else to make a big mistake (especially someone I’m responsible for)

 

 

I am committed to not looking stupid, not feeling helpless, not losing control, not making a big mistake, not allowing someone else to make a mistake.

 

I am committed to withdrawing with minimal engagement when conversations get too personal or threatening.

 

I assume that if my teenagers see me as stupid they will stop listening to me.

 

I assume there is nothing positive when my kids dismiss what I have to say; such an interaction is worse than none at all.

 

I assume my wife expects me to help her solve all problems she shares with me.

 

I assume there is no way I can be a good listener unless I can help someone.

 

I assume things are going to get worse unless I can solve their problem.

 

Begin the new year by creating a chart like the one above. Fill in the columns so they reflect your current goal. Courageously admit what worries you. Question the assumptions you make, which have been there to protect you in some way. You can run an “assumption test”: Try doing something you fear just to see what happens.

If you continue to ignore unhealthy habits, they’ll have consequences in your personal and professional life. Make a resolution to break competing commitments so you can succeed in achieving your goals. If you truly want to succeed, try coaching.

To learn more, I recommend you pick up a copy of Immunity to Change, by Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey (Harvard Business Press, 2009).

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