Competing Commitments: An Immunity to Change
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It doesn’t matter whether your goal is to lose 5 or 50 pounds, quit smoking or stop drinking. New Year’s resolutions and other goals are hard to keep beyond the first month.

Why? Because the brain is tricky! No matter how sincerely we want to break a habit, we have an inherent immunity to change. This means we’re physiologically “lured” into doing what we’ve always done, no matter how strong our intentions. And yet, some people do succeed. We all know ex-smokers, ex-drinkers and former fatties.

You cannot fix an adaptive problem with a technical solution. A diet, for example, is a technical solution to being overweight: To lose weight, eat less and exercise more. But the problem is much more complex. Unless you change your mindset (an adaptive solution), you won’t sustain new habits.

Einstein said that how you formulate a problem is just as critical as how you solve it. One of the biggest mistakes goal-setters make is applying a technical solution to an adaptive problem. It doesn’t matter how much you change what you do. If you don’t shift the way you think, you’ll revert to doing things as you’ve always done them.

Why would any intelligent human being say he’s committed to doing one thing and then do the opposite? For that matter, why do we set goals and let them slide? Why is it so hard to “walk our talk”? After all, no one feels good after a relapse. We don’t set out to fail.

The answer lies in a concept called competing commitments. Once we understand and accept that we often have conflicting desires, it’s easier to find workarounds that help us meet our goals.

Take the following example: Many people set New Year’s resolutions to lose weight and go to the gym. They may do fine for the first month. At week 5, they revert to last year’s status quo. As much as they want to lose weight and get fit, they also want to have fun, go out, spend time with family and friends, and enjoy life.

Voilà! Competing commitments in action! It’s human nature to achieve equilibrium and balance through practiced habits and routines. When we try to change these routines, we’re unprepared to face the powerful magnet of our previous habits.

Yet, when we’re aware of this force’s strength, we can inoculate ourselves. We can push back. By acknowledging our competing commitments, we can make a more balanced decision about maintaining new goals and changing old habits and routines.

Most of us think it’s just a matter of willpower, but we truly underestimate the powerful force that pulls us back to old habits. The mind has ironclad excuse systems that run in the background, which are designed to reduce anxiety and protect us from worry. Unfortunately, these excuses are often based on false assumptions that can set us up to fail.

Consider the following examples:

My Goal #1
I am committed to the value or importance of. . .
Losing weight
How I Sabotage

What am I doing (or not doing) that prevents me from achieving this goal?
Competing Commitments

I may also be committed to:
False Assumptions
I assume that. . .
I eat more than I need for my size; I snack; I eat the wrong foods, fats and sugar; I eat for pleasure, not to nourish my body I don’t want others to see me as a dieter; I want to forget my problems and enjoy food/life; I use food to ward off unpleasant feelings. . . . if I diet, people will think I’m rigid and not fun; I’m afraid to feel alone and empty; food is my sole source of pleasure; I’m not a slim person, so why bother?
My Goal #2
I am committed to the value or importance of. . .
Quitting smoking
How I Sabotage

What am I doing (or not doing) that prevents me from achieving this goal?
Competing Commitments

I may also be committed to:
False Assumptions
I assume that. . .
I smoke to satisfy my addiction. I must keep nicotine in my system to manage my anxiety and nerves. . . . if I don’t smoke, I will explode with anger, lose my cool, be nervous, or lose my reputation as a “tough” person.

Habits like overeating; smoking, excessive drinking and being a couch potato are not 100% bad. They make us feel good, at least 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.

Begin the New Year by creating a chart like the one above. Fill in the columns so they reflect your current goals. 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 bad 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.

Few of us make significant changes without the support of others. Think carefully about who might be able to help you. How can they help you best? What will you ask them to do? Building a strong support team around you makes new habits much easier to master.

I have a few spots available for February coaching. Call me right now.

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Moty Koppes is a certified master coach providing you with personal development, life coaching, relationship coaching, communication skills, personal power, life balance, career coaching, productivity enhancement, executive coaching and stress reduction in Newport Beach, Orange County, Southern California.