There can be two wolves at battle within you when it comes to actually making changes and moving forward in your life – and one of them can be hidden deep within you, out of plain sight where you could otherwise recognize and work with it more skillfully.
Let me explain.
Let’s say you decide to move forward in your life – to make a change, initiate something new or make your life better in some important way.
Then you are hit by resistance.
Doubts flood your mind, your inner critic starts yapping away, you feel blocked, conflicted and struggle ensues. Perhaps you self sabotage or maybe you just don’t take any action at all despite the fact that you really want the change.
Nope – I haven’t gotten to the hidden wolf that’s working against you yet. Stay with me.
Perhaps the problem genuinely seems to be in the circumstances surrounding you: you lack the resources you need, the risks are too high, other people start interfering and make it hard for you to move forward and get even some small semblance of momentum.
Maybe you want a great relationship, but you just can’t find the right partner. Or, you want a better job, but there aren’t any good ones. You want to be at a healthy weight but you just can’t shake the extra pounds around your midsection.
Circumstances appear to be out of your control. Opportunities seem to be limited, or non-existent.
You really want your life to be different and better in some specific way – you can envision a better life with more of what you want and less of what you don’t want.
It just doesn’t seem to be accessible to you because making real, substantial change and sustainable progress doesn’t happen even when you try your best.
Let me introduce you to your hidden “bad” wolf:
“Resistance to change does not reflect opposition, nor is it merely a result of inertia. Instead, even as [you] hold a sincere commitment to change, [you] are unwittingly applying productive energy toward a hidden competing commitment. The resulting dynamic equilibrium stalls the effort in what looks like resistance but is, in fact, a kind of personal immunity to change.”
That’s what this article from The Harvard Business Review calls your two battling wolves.
Consciously, there’s something you want and have committed yourself to. Subconsciously there’s something else you want and have also committed yourself to.
The hidden wolf is lurking there, just under the surface of your consciousness, keeping you locked in inertia.
The key to unlocking this inertia starts in bringing this subconscious commitment up into your consciousness so you can examine it and decide where (or if) it belongs in your life.
Here are a couple of examples from the HBR article.
Jane’s stated, conscious commitment has to do with turning around her department at work. She wants to do that. She’s committed to doing that. However, Jane lets things slide too often and is not proactive enough in getting people to follow through with their tasks. As it turns out, Jane is also subconsciously committed to not setting full sail until she has a clear map of how she gets the department from here to there. She assumes that if she takes her group out into deep waters and discovers she is unable to get them to the other side she will be seen as an incompetent leader who is undeserving of trust or responsibility.
Next, take Mary, for example. Mary’s conscious commitment is to distribute leadership by enabling people to make decisions. Despite that, she doesn’t delegate enough and she doesn’t pass the information she has on to people she distributes leadership to. Her subconscious, competing commitment is to having things go her way and being in control and ensuing the work is done to her standard. She assumes that other people will waste her time and theirs if she doesn’t step in. She thinks deep down that others aren’t as smart as she is.
Now, back to you.
Maybe you want to make more money but you were taught early on that money is the root of all evil. Your subconscious commitment to being a good person (as it has been defined for you) is keeping you locked in your current financial situation.
Maybe you’d like to assert yourself in some way and draw clear, firm and healthy boundaries. But you also have a subconscious commitment to not creating separation with those around you and being nice and accommodating and helpful has been your modus operandi pretty much your whole life.
How do you know if competing commitments are at work in your life?
Pay close attention. Would you like more in some area of your life but it feels out of reach? Do you self sabotage? Are you engaged in some form of perpetual procrastination?
Mary O’Malley says that any thought that tightens you is not the truth. It’s from the conditioned self. When you consider your life through this lens, does tightness show up inside you? Do you feel like there’s an invisible block that exists between where you are and where you want to be?
These competing commitments can be barriers to realizing our fullness.
They aren’t the only barrier, but they certainly can be one of them.
How do you go about relaxing your barriers and questioning/dissolving your limiting competing commitments and beliefs?
I’ll teach you.
The key to unlocking this inertia is to start bringing this subconscious commitment up into your consciousness so you can examine it and decide where (or if) it belongs in your life.
So, how do you do that?
By picking an area of your life and engaging in the following exercise of inquiry and exploration.
For some people and for some areas of life, doing this as a solo exercise works great. For others, working through these questions with a coach – someone who exists outside your own head and who has the skills to help guide you through mental blocks or biases – can be the key to unlocking your subconscious, accessing and identifying your competing commitments.
Ok, here are some areas of life you might consider:
My body • My health • My work • My financial situation • My sexuality • My circumstances • Handicaps, injuries, illnesses • My family • My relationships • Life • Death • The past • The future
To start, pick one and ask yourself these questions (which are based on the ones found in this HBR article), filling in the blank with the area of your life.
You might allocate some time to do this – to sit with these questions and see what comes up for you. Journaling can be really helpful here, too.
Let’s use work as the area of life and someone named Elisabeth (not a real person) as an example.
1. What would I like to be different about the work I’m engaged in? (so that I could be more effective or so that it would be more satisfying?)
In other words:
What precisely do I want in this area of my life? What do I want more of? Less of?
Elisabeth would like to devote more time to the work she does. Right now, she only devotes 5 hours a day to work. She knows if she worked 8 hours a day, she could be more successful.
2. This dissatisfaction with the way things are or wanting things to be different in this way implies something about you. What commitment does it imply?
In other words:
Why do I want that? What is the purpose behind my vision for this area of my life?
Elisabeth is committed to making her business a success. She is a high achiever.
3. What am I doing that goes against that commitment? What am I doing, or not doing, that is keeping my commitment from being more fully realized? (The answer to this question reveals your undermining behavior)
In other words:
What exactly do I need to do to achieve my answer to question #1? Am I actively and consistently doing those things now? If not, what am I doing instead that is preventing me from my desired outcome?
Elisabeth tends to take long breaks during her work day. She ends up meeting or talking with friends for longer than she planned.
4. If I imagine doing the opposite of the undermining behavior, do I detect in myself any discomfort, worry, or vague fear?
In other words:
What do you think would happen if you did not do the behavior(s) you identified in question 3? If you did the opposite of the undermining behavior, what would worry you about this?
Elisabeth worries that if she doesn’t actively work at staying connected with the people in her life, they will lose touch and she will become isolated.
5. What does this worry imply that you’re also committed to?
In other words:
By engaging in this undermining behavior, what worrisome outcome are you committed to preventing? The resulting answer is the competing commitment, which lies at the very heart of a person’s immunity to change.
Elisabeth is committed to connecting with others and being a good, dependable friend.
Bingo. There’s your competing commitment.
So, now what? Where do you go with it from here? How does this help you move forward?
Well, we’re not quite done yet.
Here’s how the HBR article puts it:
“Competing commitments should not be seen as weaknesses. They represent some version of self-protection, a perfectly natural and reasonable human impulse. The question is, if competing commitments are a form of self-protection, what are people protecting themselves from? The answers usually lie in what we call their big assumptions—deeply rooted beliefs about themselves and the world around them. These assumptions put an order to the world and at the same time suggest ways in which the world can go out of order. Competing commitments arise from these assumptions, driving behaviors unwittingly designed to keep the picture intact.
People rarely realize they hold big assumptions because, quite simply, they accept them as reality. Often formed long ago and seldom, if ever, critically examined, big assumptions are woven into the very fabric of people’s existence.
Only by bringing big assumptions to light can people finally challenge their assumptions and recognize why they are engaging in seemingly contradictory behavior.”
So, the next step is to identify your big assumption(s) and it’s a critical next step.
If you think metaphorically, up until this point, we’ve cut the weed off at the ground level. But if you stop there, the weed just grows back. You’ve got to pull it up by the roots and it’s the same way with beliefs. They’ll keep reappearing if you don’t go down underground into your subconscious mind and pull them up for examination.
And I will teach you how to do that.
It’s important to know that these blocks, barriers and sources of resistance are natural and automatic. Everyone faces them. They’re part of how the mind works to try and keep us safe and not something to get down on yourself about.
If, deep down, we are holding on to some sort of unresolved fear or pain – if we think there’s some sort of danger, it’s only natural that our minds would conspire to protect us, to keep us safe.
The key to moving forward rather than staying stuck is to identify, investigate and re-define competing commitments and underlying assumptions or beliefs.
So, let’s find out about Elisabeth’s underlying assumption.
To do this, we invert her answer to question five and make it into the beginning of a sentence that is an assumption. So it would read:
I assume that if I was not dependable and useful, available when my friends need me or want to connect with me, they will find other friends and I will be left alone.
As it turns out, most of the time, her friends call needing to vent or process or seek advice from her because of something going on in their lives. This, combined with her desire to be a dependable shoulder to lean on, leaves her feeling like she has to hustle for her worthiness in these friendships.
Ah ha. The weed has now been dug up by the roots.
But it would be a mistake to stop here. Continuing with the metaphor, what will we plant in its place?
A process of questioning your underlying assumption and then trying some different, more skillful approaches will help you form new more accurate and helpful beliefs.
That’s work that we can do together as part of The One You Feed Personal Transformation Program.
Click here to learn more.
If you’re interested in going deeper into this work together, you can book a free 30 minute coaching call to see if the program might be a fit for you.
Whether or not you’re interested in taking that step, I’ll close this post by offering some questions you can continue to ponder, to sit with, and explore within yourself surrounding whatever underlying assumption(s) or belief(s) you have uncovered through this process of self inquiry.
The following questions come from the work of Lion Goodman:
- What has been the advantage of having this belief? How has it served me in my life? What did I get or gain by having this belief? What did I avoid by having this belief?
- What would be different in my life if I held a different belief?
- Would I be willing to try on a different belief? Who would I be without this belief?
- What belief could I replace it with that would be more positive, beneficial, and empowering in my life?
I hope this post has been helpful for you in some way.
Wishing you well.