You work hard to achieve your goals, but no matter what how hard you work or how focused you are, you just can’t seem to cross the finish line.

You made a commitment to your success. You listen to podcasts, read books, and have attended a seminar or two. You’re super smart and know all the commonsense moves that will get you there. In short, you know what to do. So why are you struggling?

What’s Holding You Back?

On the surface you understand what it takes to succeed. If you’re stuck, something deeper could be at play: You may have a Competing Commitment.

My first experience with competing commitments was in my master’s program at JFK University. I took a class called The Challenge of Change that explored barriers to change and techniques to move beyond those barriers to achieve success. A competing commitment is an underlying fear or undesirable outcome that can accompany any change (even a positive one). When you harbor a competing commitment, your mind invokes what’s called your ’emotional immune system’, which like your physical immune system, fights off unwanted invaders. In this case, change is the illness and your competing commitment is the cure.

Here’s the kicker: Even positive change can come with a downside. You may unconsciously believe there are trade-offs you are not willing to accept if you reach your goals. It works like this: You have a stated goal, and you believe you are striving full speed toward that goal, but you undermine the outcome in subtle ways that you are usually unaware of.

The good news is that there’s a process to discover your competing commitments and it has helped many people go on to reach their goals. If you’re ready to meet the challenge of change head-on, here are the four concepts you need to know:

  1. Your Stated Commitment: What you have told the world you want to accomplish
  2. What you are doing or not doing that is keeping you from achieving your stated
    commitment: It can be an act or failure to act that holds
    you back
  3. Your Competing Commitment: The underlying conflict driving your actions in step
  4. Your Big Assumptions:
    What you assume will happen if you reach your goal. This is what feeds
    your competing commitment.

For Example:

Discover Your Competing Commitments:

Take these steps to shed light on what’s holding you back:

    1. Recognize your competing commitment: Use the chart above as a model to uncover the ideas
      that are holding you back. This works best if you set aside a quiet time
      when you won’t be distracted. Break it down into steps:
      • Stated Goal:
        What goals are you and others aware of? What are you consciously working
        on right now?
      • Your actions:
        What specific behaviors and actions (or non-actions) are you taking that
        undermine your efforts to reach the goal?
      • Your competing commitment: Take your time to think this through. What do you
        visualize happening (good and bad) once the goal is achieved? Will you
        be required to do more work? Do you worry you won’t have the skills to
        maintain your success? What impacts do you fear in personal and peer
        relationships? What else comes up for you when you visualize your life
        after achieving your goal? If it feels true on a gut level, write it
      • Your Big Assumptions: Shed light on your underlying assumptions. Begin
        each big assumption with “I assume…”
    2. Be kind to yourself:
      We all have competing commitments on some level. You are not damaged
      goods – and you are not a failure for having underlying conflict. The
      fact that you want to face your competing commitments shows you are
      determined to succeed, even if the process isn’t easy.
    3. Learn to live with your competing commitments: Competing commitments don’t magically disappear once
      acknowledged. Many big assumptions are rooted in years of life experience
      and may even stem from childhood. The key is becoming aware of your
      competing commitments. This allows you to recognize behaviors that
      undermine your success and allows an opportunity to pivot into a new
      behavior or way of seeing your goals.
    4. Talk it out: If
      your Big Assumptions involve friends, family members, or work peers, it
      can be helpful to discuss these with them. In many cases, you’ll discover
      others have no idea how you feel. They can help debunk assumptions, or
      brainstorm ways to deal with your concerns as you move toward your goal.
      Sharing your concerns can alleviate a great deal of stress. Another
      alternative is to work with a coach who can help you stay on track and
      add a layer of accountability.
    5. Create your action plan: Write your goal. Then break down steps you need to
      take to move toward the goal. Next to your steps, write your competing
      commitment, then write a “change mantra” beneath your competing
      commitment. Use your action plan to keep focused on your goals.

Your action plan may look something like this:

Wrapping it up:

If you feel like you’re stuck on the road to success, examine your thoughts and actions. If they aren’t in alignment, you may be dealing with an underlying competing commitment that is subconsciously holding you back. Try the steps above to get unstuck and back on the path toward your goals. The journey requires conscious hard work, but the reward is worth the effort.