If you are one of the countless numbers of people who have had difficulty achieving your stated goals, you are not alone. Don’t take it personally; it’s not your fault. Goal setting is absolutely valuable. Declaring to ourselves the ways we want to change our behavior, attitudes, beliefs, and even our thoughts is helpful. Then declaring these intentions that we have in order to bring about changes in our life, to others adds strength to our commitment to those goals. While there is no arguing that setting them and declaring them before witnesses is beneficial, there is an important and often overlooked component of the process of achieving success.

For most of us, that ability to reach our goals is more limited than we think it is. Our frustration is not because of any intrinsic deficiencies that we possess, but because we may be locked into unconscious patterns to which we have a stronger allegiance than we realize. If we fail to address the piece of the iceberg that is underneath the surface of our awareness, we miss the opportunity to identify the part of us that is resisting change.

If we can implement our goals, that’s great. The operative word here is “if". So often we can’t implement because there is another commitment hidden from view that needs to be addressed. You may have experienced the frustration of knowing what you think you need to do, being told what you need to do, wanting to do what you think you should do, and yet felt unable to do what you think you should do. This may leave you feeling How this frustrated, angry, doubting whether you’re really committed, inadequate, guilty, and ashamed. Consider these examples:

  • Phil knows that he needs to do it to let go of his anger and forgive his ex-wife in order to move on, but he can’t seem to do it.
  • Joe says, “All I need to do is to stop manipulating”. But the immediate short-term pleasures that he chooses to feel powerful and in charge in the moment are too tempting to give up.
  • Freida knows that she needs to become more honest. All of the self-help books that she’s read have told her so. Yet she keeps falling into the old habit of withholding, pretending, and denying her true feelings. She fears that she will be punished if she tells the truth. Consequently, she struggles with feelings of guilt, self-recrimination, shame, and self-punishing.
  • Jordan says he wants to have a committed romantic partnership, but his job keeps him busy from early in the morning until late in the evening, usually without time to even take a lunch break.
  • Stella desperately wants to get out of debt. Her spoken intent is to save enough money to buy her own home but she is constantly overspending. and making purchases that aren’t essential but that she “can’t resist” making.

[Since it is not an option to force ourselves to reach our goals due to the other factors that are present and have a large impact, we need to search for alternatives. Consider the following to see if they will serve you.]

Here are a few guidelines that these people and perhaps you might consider in regard to identifying and neutralizing competing commitments when they prevent you from getting unstuck:

  1. When you recognize the presence of a competing commitment you’re already ahead of the game. Once you’ve connected the dots and seen that something seems to be sabotaging your efforts to bring about your desired outcome you can begin the process of uncovering the commitment that is in competition with your conscious intention. The process of conducting this investigation isn’t an inquisition; it’s an inquiry. Bringing an attitude of interest and curiosity versus blame, faultfinding or punishment is a more effective approach, rather than becoming angry at yourself for failing to fulfill your own expectations and carry out promises that you’ve made to yourself.
  2. See competing commitments not as personal flaws, shortcomings, or failings, but as a normal part of life that everyone gets to deal with. It is in our nature to resist change, and it’s in the nature of things that things change. Therefore there is an inherent conflict that is inevitably set up when we move towards any kind of change in our lives, even if it seems to be for the better. Consider the single person who wants a long-term relationship but never finds a “suitable” partner. He may be unaware that he is viewing things and people from a faultfinding perspective in order to avoid the possibility of losing freedom or to protect himself from an unwanted consequence such as betrayal or loss.
  3. It isn’t necessary to get rid of or eliminate competing commitments in order to come to terms with them. Competing commitments don’t necessarily disappear once we identify them, but as they come into our conscious awareness, they often lose their grip on us, allowing us to see new possibilities beyond the dualistic thinking of “either this or that.” Things often seem to be one way or another: “Either I am free or I get married. Either I eat what I want and get fat, or I deny myself and feel miserable. Either I’m a slave to a job or I live in poverty. Simply recognizing, acknowledging, and accepting the presence of unconscious counter-intentions can begin to liberate us from the feeling of being stuck in an impossible dilemma and open our eyes to new, previously unrecognized possibilities.
  4. Distinguish and focus upon the experience that you wish to have, rather than the means to get there. Coming to terms with competing commitments has to do with going beyond the particular form or object to which we’re attached, and recognizing the experience it represents that we’re really craving. For example, I want a new car and the experience I desire from that car is more pleasure, excitement, and stimulation in my life. I want to get married and I see marriage as means through which I can experience security, love, relief from the dating scene, and my mother’s approval, finally!
  5. Think creatively. Although we sometimes may have to choose between options A and B, more often than not, if we look carefully, we may discover an option C or D that addresses an underlying need or desire. To do so requires us to search and discover the deeper desire that underlies the object that we seek to possess or the form that we are attached to it taking.
  6. Notice the prices you pay for being run by your competing commitment. When we bring up to conscious mind the toll that being run by our unfulfilled desire is taking, we have a chance to address that commitment in a way that will satisfy its need without necessarily having to abandon the hope of our conscious intention.
  7. Cultivate the voice of the sweetheart to replace the voice of the inner critic. Self-punishing thoughts create inner anguish and intensify the desire for relief. Doing so reinforces the tendency to justify patterns of avoidance or self-indulgence that we reward ourselves with when we feel deprived of pleasurable activities and experiences. Positive, forgiving, and loving self-talk neutralizes negative self-judgments that reinforce the desire for self-indulgent behavior.
  8. Be willing to trust that with conscious awareness, thinking outside of the “either/or box, and effort, over time, both commitments can be fulfilled. Your success will only come by gently, respectfully, persistently moving through the areas that are also important to you and that may be in the way of your conscious commitment. Be patient with the process and allow yourself to continue to be the steady plodder, taking into consideration the other concerns that deserve attention.

Bringing your competing commitments out of the shadow and into conscious awareness is the biggest part of the process and sometimes is itself enough to interrupt the denial that prevents us from seeing what else matters to us. As we open our mind to explore the depths of our inner feelings, our heart opens as well, as it does, we become more open to seeing new possibilities that can free us from the limitation of dualistic, either/or thinking. Like the bumper sticker says, “Don’t believe everything you think!”.

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Linda and Charlie Bloom are excited to announce the release of their third book, Happily Ever After...and 39 Other Myths about Love: Breaking Through to the Relationship of Your Dreams.

“Love experts Linda and Charlie shine a bright light, busting the most common myths about relationships. Using real-life examples, they skillfully, provide effective strategies and tools to create and grow a deeply loving and fulfilling long-term connection.” —Arielle Ford, author of Turn You Mate into Your Soulmate

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