hidden competing commitment

the real reason people won’t change*
* title of an HBR article dealing with the topic

Quite often, we want to change or improve certain issues, may it in our professional or private life, as a person, a team or family, or an organisation. And though we know exactly what to do and have laid out our plans accordingly, we might procrastinate, fail, sometimes even outright sabotage ourselves from accomplishing our cleverly set and highly valued goals. And there might be a deeper reason to it.

This deeper reason could be a so-called
“Hidden Competing Commitment”.
Hidden, because it’s not obvious to us why we fail.
Competing, because it stands in stark contrast to what we actually want to achieve now.
Commitment, because it helps us to achieve something that is strongly connected to our basic beliefs.
Only that these beliefs might not be appropriate anymore for the situation that we have to deal with.

Hidden competing commitments therefore are not something bad. They are a certain kind of auto-pilot that keeps us on a course set a long time ago, to prevent us from doing something we considered harmful in the past, but for reasons that we have forgotten. A programme running in our un-conscious. Or, as a group of people or an organisation, an element deeply entrenched in our culture.

Based on the work of Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey as laid out in their book “Immunity to Change” there is a process to surface your hidden competing commitments, to question the underlying assumptions, and to take steps for developing coping mechanisms that are more appropriate to what you want to achieve. All by recognising that a hidden competing commitment is something good, but needs to be replaced by something better.

For sure, this is not a one-time exercise. Any new issues might trigger different hidden competing commitments. But the more you get used to the process, the more easily you will detect and replace them.