Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Don't box me in...

I'm sure I've mentioned before that we have a saying in our family: "You can't put Walkers in a box."

This morning I've been reading Kegan and Lahey's book, How the Way We Talk Can Change the Way We Work, and in doing the exercises they offer I am learning how certain assumptions we carry over from our childhoods can box us in and keep us from achieving our deepest desires; i.e., we box OURSELVES in, and build our own multi-layered traps.

Not that that's any surprise, of course, but the authors offer an intriguing way of looking how that works and helping you begin to dismantle your boxes. 

They start by inviting you to name something you're very committed to: let's say, for example... meditation.  So then you're asked to describe whatever it is -- the self-defeating behavior -- you're doing that gets in the way of that objective -- shall we say, over-scheduling your day so there's no TIME for meditation?

Now let's take a look at what Kegan and Lahey call "The Competing Commitment."  What deeper commitment or belief do you hold that drives you to over-schedule your day?  Could it be something like "I don't want to look lazy" or "I need to be out there, visibly contributing to society" or "I need my work/environment/children to be as perfect as possible?"

Kegan and Lahey like to point out that, in view of that competing commitment, your self-defeating behavior makes perfect sense.  The problem is that this competing commitment -- the one that underlies your self-defeating behavior -- is based on what they refer to as "A Big Assumption."  You can get at that assumption by quickly answering this question: what would happen if you DIDN'T adhere to that commitment?  And answers -- in this example -- might include "If I look lazy they might fire me" or "If I'm not constantly contributing this society might shun me" or "If anything in my life is imperfect I'll be despised and rejected."

At some level we get that this big assumption is false.  But it's usually true that something way back in our personal history has made it (here comes that word again) a deutero-truth: something we believe to be absolutely and unquestionably true at a very deep and incontrovertible level.

Tomorrow I'll share more about how these deutero-truths can derail us, and what we can do to reduce their hold over us.  But for now -- since I have to go -- I just invite you to play with this exercise.  What are you committed to?  What behavior gets in the way of that?  What's your competing commitment?  And whats the Big Assumption that underlies that competing commitment?

If nothing else, the questions make for interesting conversation fodder...


Joyce Wycoff said...

How I love learning along with you without having to do all the work.

Maureen said...

I just finished reading Margaret Wheatley's new and wonderful little book, Perseverance, which I featured yesterday. She touches on many of the things that lock us up tight or lets some of us hold steady and others give up: blame, fear, jealousy, etc. Something she writes that I really liked is that "we're not locked in by our perceptions, that other responses are possible." She also notes, "The very act of analysis is a separation--standing back or outside of the situation in order to grasp it."

Looking forward to reading more about the deutero-truths.