image better tug of warHave you ever been frustrated because you can’t seem to accomplish what you want at work or at home? Have you ever struggled to get motivated and fought with yourself about it? If you’ve ever questioned what might be behind this nightmare, maybe I can shed some light. Maybe, just maybe, it’s something called a “competing commitment”.


I remember having these feelings at a company I worked at many years ago. I was always a hard worker and took my responsibilities seriously. My passion was creating new projects, designing new programs and seeing them thru to fruition. The boss recognized this and had come up with the perfect program for me to create. It would utilize my talents and would take energy and hard work to make it happen. Yes, this project was tailor made for me. You see, I was a mover and a doer— I loved creating huge programs and seeing them come alive.


However, something was wrong. Everyday, I came into my work and accomplished all my responsibilities. And then I would spy that folder on my desk. With all my energy, I would will myself to open the folder and try push myself to work. But I just couldn’t.


No matter how hard I tried, I wouldn’t get anything accomplished. After a few minutes of staring through the folder, I would quietly close it and put it back in the stack on my desk. I would then stare at the folder on my desk, puzzled by my own behavior. I was stressed and disappointed in my actions. This would happen time and time again.


Today, I have a better understanding of my strange behavior. I was applying energy toward a hidden competing commitment. Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey define this as a subconscious hidden goal that conflicts with a person’s stated commitments. In my case, this competing commitment was blocking my path to being productive. If I dug a little deeper to understand my puzzling behavior, I would discover what finishing that project would truly mean to me. The key to better understanding my competing commitment? I needed to look at my values and belief system.


There, I would find that I was competing with an important value of mine. I didn’t BELIEVE in the work that I was doing. I didn’t BELIEVE that my work was valued or appreciated by my supervisor. I didn’t BELIEVE that my work made a difference. Therefore, I couldn’t move forward.


You see, it was very important to me to be true to my life values. I valued doing work with purpose for people that appreciated my efforts. Finishing this project was competing with this deep need.


Sometimes people are not productive at work and have no clue as to what’s standing in their way. All the productivity tips from every expert ever are not going to help this person. The answer to the question does not always lie on the surface. Sometimes you have to dig a little deeper to figure things out.


Next time you see this type of workplace behavior that seems inexplicable, consider the competing commitment. You just might find your answer.

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