Humans are strange animals. We congratulate ourselves on our many and varied achievements and unparalleled intellect. Yet we are quite possibly the only animals that don’t do the things we know we need to do to be happier and more fulfilled. We self-sabotage consciously and unconsciously. Self-deception is a very powerful force in our lives. Other animals don’t have the same burden. They have much simpler brain hardware that is instinctive – see food, get food. Seek shelter, get shelter. There is no other unconscious, counterproductive programs getting in their way.
So why do humans struggle so much to do the things we know we need to do (and often could do) – but don’t? I see it all the time in my mentoring and coaching work. People with genuine ambition or pain points – highly motivated to change but struggling to effect the change they know they must.
Why are gyms busy in the first few weeks of January but empty by February? Why can we be so genuinely motivated to change in an area of our life, yet don’t take the necessary steps? Or, we take the necessary steps for a while but don’t get traction-we don’t keep at it. It’s like we’re driving a car with one foot on the accelerator and one foot on the brake at the same time.
There’s something else at play…
Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey are Harvard psychologists who have done some fascinating – I would say compelling – work over decades trying to understand this riddle of human behaviour.
They have coined a term – ‘Immunity to Change’. They have studied why we don’t do what we know we should do, even when we’re highly motivated. For many conscious goals that we want to reach, we have a hidden, unconscious drive or motivation that is counteracting or sabotaging our conscious desire to change. These hidden motives or ‘unconscious competing commitments’ are usually behaviours or unconscious paradigms that we have established at a very young age to protect ourselves. They may have served us when we were young, but they are hindering us now.
If you are struggling making the positive changes in your life or work that you really want to make, I urge you to look at the 2 links below, featuring Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey. They describe the concept in more depth and show us a diagnostic tool we can use to help bring these unconscious / hidden commitments to light-so that we can then tackle them head on.
When we identify these ‘unconscious competing commitments’ and bring them out on the table, we can see how deluded or redundant they are. We can then genuinely progress and start accomplishing those things we want to accomplish, but have previously not been able to.