Have You Found What Might Be Holding You Back?

By Lisa Lahey | Apr 29, 2018

In this video, Lisa Lahey, one of Axialent’s advisory board members discusses how to identify what might be holding you back. As the author of the book “Immunity to Change: How to Overcome It and Unlock the Potential in Yourself and Your Organization“, Lisa walks you through the different steps of the Immunity to Change methodology.


Ramit Sethi:Hey it’s Ramit Sethi, from I Will Teach You to Be Rich, Growth Lab and Brain Trust. There’s so many things that we want to do. We genuinely want to do. We want to lose weight, gain muscle, start a business, have better relationships, there’s a million things. But it’s very tough and we don’t just need another checklist of items to do. A lot of times it’s our mental barriers, it’s our invisible scripts, it’s these psychology things that hold us back that sometimes we don’t even have access to.

And so today I am thrilled to be here with Lisa Lahey, we’re going to talk through some of the most common mental barriers that hold us back from change and I think you’re going to be surprised with what we cover.

Lisa Lahey: My name is Lisa Lahey, I’m founder and co-director of Minds at Work. And faculty at Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Ramit Sethi: In one of your books you write, if I wanted it badly enough I would actually do it. And to me that’s one of the most interesting questions of our time. There’s so many things that we genuinely believe we want to do but we can’t seem to make progress on them. And I’m curious if you could talk a little about what you’ve found in your work.

Lisa Lahey: Yeah, sure. One, I would start off by saying sometimes that is all that it takes to change. Really want it, got a lot of interesting willpower and I make it happen. But as we speak about New Year’s Resolutions, we know very often that is not true. And I think one of the downsides of that being our prevalent belief, that if I only wanted it enough, I’d get it, is we feel bad about ourselves. We feel like we’re losers when we can’t.

Ramit Sethi: So every year, it’s almost like we build ourselves up, and we make this short term resolution, I’m going to go to the gym, I’m going to eat better, I’m going to call my family and then inevitably, life takes over.

Lisa Lahey: Life takes over from my perspective, your psychology takes over.

Ramit Sethi: Okay, tell me about that.

Lisa Lahey: Yeah, when we are unable to complete our own aspirations it’s because often there’s something going on inside of us that is working at cross purposes. We’re aware of the goal that we have. We want to lose weight for example, but we’re unaware that there’s a whole set of these unconscious goals that are actually very active in keeping us in a mode where status quo is just what’s going to happen.

Ramit Sethi: Yes, one of the things I loved about your work is you talk about how we are actively resistant to change. And that’s a very interesting provocative concept because if I think about myself as just a normal person why would I want to stay the same? That’s ridiculous, I want to change, I want to get better at my job, etc. But you write that unconsciously we are actually actively resisting change. What’s going on there?

Lisa Lahey: Well, so unconsciously we have fears, sometimes we can make those fears conscious. We can be aware of them, but our whole methodology is saying, “You don’t just have these worries or fears, there’s a part of you that’s actively devoted to making sure the thing you’re worried about doesn’t happen.” And so you’re expending energy to keep yourself from feeling that fear and that’s what keeps you in the stuck place. You’re like, you don’t let yourself feel it.

Ramit Sethi: Yeah, you called it an immunity to change. Which is a great phrase. One of the things you said was, we must pay closer attention to our powerful inclinations not to change. Alright so what are some ways we have these limitations, this immunity to change? What are some examples.

Lisa Lahey: Oh so we have them anytime you look around and you ask yourself what is it that I really want to do and I’m not doing. We likely have an immunity to change. So let me name the ones that are the most common. Right, so there’s the weight loss, health goals in general, they’re big.

Ramit Sethi: They’re like the biggest ones of all.

Lisa Lahey: But there’s a whole set of work issues that are about delegating, that are about using time well, that are about being able to be more courageous in my conversations. That are about being more transparent, you name any interpersonal dynamic, you’re going to find there are often immunities at play.

Ramit Sethi: Okay, let’s dive into each of these because I think these are prevalent everywhere. We’ll come back to the weight one, that’s the elephant in the room. But, let’s talk about delegation. As an entrepreneur, I’ve read all these books and blog posts about how you need to give up control. And I said, yeah, yeah, yeah, I know I need you give up control, but when it came down to it, when the rubber hit the road, I didn’t want to. And I have to admit, it’s been a skill I’ve had to build. And to this day, right now, today, I struggle with it.

I still write things that I shouldn’t be writing. There should be other people on my team writing them. I still am present at meetings that I probably don’t need to be there. So if you said to me Ramit, you need to give up certain things, you need to give up control in these areas, I would say, yeah, yeah, yeah, you’re right, yeah, yeah, yeah, but then, I still struggle with it. So from your work, what’s going on?

Lisa Lahey: Well can I ask you?

Ramit Sethi: Please, I’m an open book.

Lisa Lahey: Okay, alright. So I’m going to walk you through the methodology. And that’s what I would like anybody who’s interested in wanting to really unpack their own kind of stuckness, you start off with a goal. I want to be better at delegating. And you just told me there’re all kinds of things you do that work against that. That’s the second step. But on a self inventory, I write, things I know I should be giving to other people. Now when I ask you, what’s the worry or fear you have if you were to actually turn over your writing to someone. What would you say?

Ramit Sethi: I’m worried that it won’t be good enough. I’m worried that I’ve built a business based on my writing and nobody can write like that. They can’t write like me, they can’t write as well, and if I really did get into that I’ll lose the trust of the people who have been reading my stuff for 11 plus years.

Lisa Lahey: Okay, so there you go, so you are actually are very able to quickly name the things you’re worried about, now what we would say in this methodology is that you don’t just have those worries, but you have a commitment to make sure those things you worry about never happen. So you’re actually as committed to, making sure you’re the person who stays in control. As you are to be the person who delegates. So you’ve got this tug between those two parts of you.

Ramit Sethi: So you’re saying that publicly I’m claiming I really know that I need to delegate more.

Lisa Lahey: And you do, I don’t doubt for a second you have that as a sincere goal.

Ramit Sethi: It’s genuine.

Lisa Lahey: It’s genuine.

Ramit Sethi: I feel it. But you’re also saying there’s a whole other layer where I’m as committed to not giving it up.

Lisa Lahey:  Yeah, and actually you are a little more committed to not giving it up …

Ramit Sethi: Oh yeah?

Lisa Lahey: Because otherwise, you would be delegating more. So right now that part of you that wants to make sure you maintain the quality that meets your standards, that’s the part of you that is “winning”.

Ramit Sethi:  Is it a battle? Is it one side’s winning, is that the way that you conceptualize it?

Lisa Lahey:  Well when you are unconscious of it, yes. But when you become conscious of it, we would say is the next step is an opportunity for you to really get to, what are the big assumptions you have that lead you to keep hold of these column, we call them column three commitments?

Ramit Sethi: So I have big assumptions. I’ll tell you right now, because I’ve thought about this a lot. Not with your methodology, but I love being walked through it. My big assumptions are, there’s nobody who can write like I do. That’s an assumption, okay. My next assumption is that if somebody comes in and writes, because it’s not going to be as good, that people will sort of go away. Again, my assumption.

Lisa Lahey: So who’s the people that will go away?

Ramit Sethi: The people who are reading, my readers.

Lisa Lahey: The readers, you’ll lose your readership.

Ramit Sethi: Exactly, is that true? I don’t know. We’ve put some stuff out that I didn’t write, performed pretty well, so that’s kind of like an interesting data point out there. So those are assumptions, and I’m sure there’s more.

Lisa Lahey: Yeah, so, I could be a little provocative here and say well maybe there is something that is going on that is also about you want to maintain the specialness.

Ramit Sethi: Definitely.

Lisa Lahey: Once you start delegating and let’s see people actually succeed, this could be an “Oh Shit” moment.

Ramit Sethi: Maybe I’m not as important as I thought I was. The world doesn’t. You know the world still revolves, if I’m not doing X, Y, Z. So that really gets into ego, it gets into the sort of really deeply held notions that we don’t talk about on a day to day basis.

Lisa Lahey: Yeah, yeah.

Ramit Sethi: Okay, lets … we’re sorting working in an accelerated format, but if you were working with somebody like me and I came to you and said these things, what would you do next?

Lisa Lahey: And then I’d ask you are you interested on investigating the accuracy of any of these big assumptions.

Ramit Sethi: I notice that the format of the questions you’re asking are very intentional, they’re gradual, they’re foundational, and you’re building on each question. If you were to walk in and then sit down and then say Ramit are you willing to give up control of X, Y, Z, I’d be a little defensive. But the way you sort of approached it, step by step, makes me much more comfortable with it. So if somebody, if you’re working with somebody and they say yeah, I’d be willing to test it, then what do you do?

Lisa Lahey: Then we begin the practice of how do you develop tests of your big assumption. And actually we would start probably mildly by giving you a chance to take a look at when your big assumption is taking you over. Just do some observations, become mindful.

Ramit Sethi: Okay.

Lisa Lahey:  Of when it actually takes you over. So you’ve got a writing piece, oh I just noticed, I did not give that to somebody, or I noticed I did give this to someone and then I thought, this is not very good and just cut it all apart. Okay fine, so those become the context that you’ll start to test your big assumption. The key to testing your big assumption is what is the data that if you discovered it, would let you know your big assumption is not 100% accurate. And that is what you are going to go set yourself up to find out. So in a way, you’re trying to stack the deck to disprove your big assumption, the notion there is, despite stacking the deck, don’t get the dis-confirming, or maybe your big assumption is right. But more often than not we find out our big assumption is not 100% correct.

Ramit Sethi: I like this idea of basically treating yourself like a scientist.

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