I might one day change my mind about this but for several years now my opinion is that if you’re only going to read one thing about the nature of our resistance to change (whether it be at work, at home, in relationships or in finances), Bob Kegan’s thinking on this is the easiest to understand and makes the most sense.
“Resistance to change does not reflect opposition, nor is it merely a result of inertia. Instead, even as they hold a sincere commitment to change, many people are unwittingly applying productive energy toward a hidden competing commitment.”
This is what Bob calls our personal immunity to change — something matters more to us than what we say we are committed to doing and that something is a prior and deeper commitment that we continue to honour even if we don’t notice that’s what we’re doing.
Bob (and actually I must credit his colleague Lisa Lahey as well) set out a series of questions to help uncover competing commitments.
Pick something you want to change but haven’t. Mine: I want to manage my money better. Note what you are doing or not doing that gets in the way of this. I am still not opening my mail, following up with the tax authorities, gathering my paperwork or detailing what steps I need to take to start managing my finances. I mean to do all of these things and note them down on my to do list everyday but then become too busy with work and other things.
Ask yourself: Why might I be doing these things? What do these actions achieve for me? Maybe I am more committed to not stressing myself out over things I don’t feel I can control (money). I know I am more committed to other activities because I find them rewarding (writing) or because I would be letting other people down if I didn’t do them (work).
These are some of my competing commitments that get in the way of managing my money better. Now the question is what are the big assumptions I am making in behaving this way? I am assuming my financial reality will be bad news. I already know without needing to look at it in detail that I probably overspend and that the only way to better manage my finances is either make big changes in my life like where I live (and I LOVE where I live) or more routine changes that would feel like real deprivation (how often I socialise, being able to go on holiday, buying as many books as I want). Life is too hard to live without these things/what’s the point in working hard if I can’t even afford these sorts of luxuries (I’m not talking a wardrobe of shockingly expensive shoes or handbags or anything like that.)
Actually I could go on and on — it seems my financial habits are underpinned by a host of Big Assumptions. Not only about the fact that I won’t be able to “handle” my financial reality or that being responsible means a life of penny pinching but also other assumptions lurk in there – like that I’m not worth a higher salary or to be paid for some of my writing or that they aren’t ways that the money I do have might make money for me — I’ve always felt that money must be earned and it must be the result of hard work.
While Bob & Lisa put forth a simple explanation for why we routinely sabotage things we say we’re committed to doing, they don’t pretend that the solution to reconciling competing commitments is quick or easy. They ask us to chip away at the big assumptions carefully before making any dramatic changes. Tomorrow we’ll take a look at how to be your own money biographer – how to trace where some of your big assumptions might come from.
In the interim, I highly recommend setting aside the Sunday paper for a few minutes to read Bob and Lisa’s 8 page article available at this link.