Competing Commitments are Keeping You from Breaking Bad Habits

While taking a moment to self-reflect, you realize there are changes you’d like to see in yourself. You may notice that you are not performing at your highest potential, as there is something standing in the way of your productivity. Maybe it’s an old habit that you just can’t seem to shake. Getting rid of bad habits isn’t always so simple, but we have a step by step process for you.

First, we must get to the root cause of your bad habit. Typically this sort of behavior is because of your instinct of self-protection. Although it may not be intentional, you are most likely standing up for a side that is hindering you from motivating change. We call this a competing commitment, when you psychologically are striving towards an opposing agenda.

To help identify your competing commitment, you can use a framework of questions provided in HBR’s, “The Real Reason People Won’t Change,” by Robert Kegan and Lisa Lakow Lahey.

First, ask yourself:

“What would I like to change in my life so I can be more effective and more satisfied?”

To provide you with an example, we’ll carry out the next steps with the idea that you want to live a more stress-free life. 

Next, ask yourself:

“What commitment does my previous complaint imply?”

Wanting to live a more stress-free work life may imply that you are committed to mental and physical health.

Then, ask yourself:

“What am I not doing to fully realize these commitments?”

You may be overcommitting yourself, and actively letting high pressure affect you.


“Imagine doing the opposite of this undermining behavior and ask yourself if you feel any fear or discomfort”

Maybe you discover that you’re afraid that if you under-commit yourself, you won’t feel fulfilled, or people who recognize your potential may think you’re wasting valuable time. Or you may be worried that you wouldn’t stay motivated without stress.

Finally, ask yourself:

“By engaging in this undermining behavior, what are the worrisome outcomes that I am committed to preventing?”

By putting these realizations together, you may realize that you are committed to not focusing your passions, and not exploring other effective motivation tactics.

And there it is, you just revealed your competing commitment. Now, you can solidify this finding into a statement of the big assumptions you have chosen to live by.

For example:

You assume that if you under-commit yourself, you won’t feel fulfilled and people might think you’re wasting time and not living up to your potential.

You assume that if you were easier on yourself, or chose to sidestep high pressure, you would not stay motivated.

By spelling out these big assumptions, you now have the opportunity to consciously and safely experiment acting in the opposite way. You may find evidence against them, and therefore, it may be time to reevaluate your big assumptions.

Using Kotter’s 8 Step Framework, you can develop a foolproof plan to execute this experiment, and ensure change.

1. Establish a sense of urgency

Continuing with the example of living stress-free, the statistics that show stressed people have an increased probability of a shorter lifespan validates this urgency!

2. Form a powerful guiding coalition

Let your friends and family in, so they can help hold you accountable for executing your experiment.

3. Establish a vision

Set a realistic vision to redirect your bad habits by reevaluating your competing commitments.

4. Communicate the vision

This ties in to step #2. Communicate your vision to people in your daily life. Be sure to lead by example and follow through with your plan!

5. Empower taking action

Here you can experiment by acting against your big assumptions. You may prove them wrong!

6. Incorporate short-term wins

Be sure to track your progress along the way.

7./8. Consolidate improvements and institutionalize new approaches

Encourage your built-up momentum by constantly checking in, as well as consciously searching for additional roadblocks/big assumptions that you can work to reevaluate!

By going through the exercises of intrinsic exploration, evaluating competing commitments and forming a plan based on Kotter’s 8 Step model, you can motivate strong, effective, and practical change. These exercises can be applied to any type of change you would like to promote (hint: like becoming more productive).

Ilze Vizulis

About Ilze Vizulis

Ilze is a student at the University of Michigan. She is interested in business and organizational psychology, and continues to build on her own expereinces in the entrepreneurial sphere.

One thought on “Competing Commitments are Keeping You from Breaking Bad Habits

  1. Maxmiliano Franco Braga

    I can´t find my data anymore! Where are my hours? You´ve updated the UI, ok. But where is my historical data?


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