How to Inoculate Yourself Against Intention/Goal-Failure

In a previous post, I introduced the idea of competing commitments and how they interfere with accomplishing goals and making the changes we want. Since many of my coaching clients come to me in January with resolutions to work on, it’s important to understand why change is so hard.

Take the following example: Many people set New Year’s resolutions to lose weight and go to the gym. They may do fine for the first month. At week 5, they revert to last year’s status quo. As much as they want to lose weight and get fit, they also want to have fun, go out, spend time with family and friends, and enjoy life.

Voilà! Competing commitments in action! It’s human nature to achieve equilibrium and balance through practiced habits and routines. When we try to change these routines, we’re unprepared to face the powerful magnet of our previous habits.

Yet, when we’re aware of this force’s strength, we can inoculate ourselves. We can push back. By acknowledging our competing commitments, we can make a more balanced decision about maintaining new goals and changing old habits and routines.

Most of us think it’s just a matter of willpower, but we truly underestimate the powerful force that pulls us back to old habits. The mind has ironclad excuse systems that run in the background, which are designed to reduce anxiety and protect us from worry. Unfortunately, these excuses are often based on false assumptions that can set us up to fail.

Consider the following examples:

My Goal

I am committed to the value or importance of…

How I Sabotage

What am I doing (or not doing) that prevents me from achieving this goal?

Competing Commitments


I may also be committed to:

False Assumptions


I assume that…

  1. Losing weight




I eat more than I need for my size; I snack; I eat the wrong foods, fats and sugar; I eat for pleasure, not to nourish my body. I don’t want others to see me as a dieter; I want to forget my problems and enjoy food/life; I use food to ward off unpleasant feelings.




…if I diet, people will think I’m rigid and not fun; I’m afraid to feel alone and empty; food is my sole source of pleasure; I’m not a slim person, so why bother?

  1. Have more fun



There is so much work to do and no one else can do it


I feel so good when I take time to enjoy myself and have fun


There is not time to have fun.…if I don’t work all of the time I won’t get my work done.


What would your columns look like if you were to fill out this grid with your goal and competing commitments? I’d love for you to try this, and let me know your thoughts. Leave a comment.

Competing Obligations:Do You Have an Immunity to Change?

It doesn’t matter whether your goal is to lose 5 or 50 pounds, become a better leader, read more, have more fun. New Year’s resolutions and other goals are hard to keep beyond the first month.

Many of the people I work with coaching come to me in January with goals and resolutions to work on. Some succeed, some limp along.  Let’s face it, change is hard.


Because the brain is tricky. No matter how sincerely we want to break a habit, we have an inherent immunity to change. I’ve been reading an excellent book that explains this, by Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey (Immunity to Change, Harvard Business School Press 2009)

This means we’re physiologically “lured” into doing what we’ve always done, no matter how strong our intentions. And yet, some people do succeed. We all know have heard or seen the success stories.

You cannot fix an adaptive problem with a technical solution. A diet, for example, is a technical solution to being overweight: To lose weight, eat less and exercise more. But the problem is more complex. Unless you change your mindset (an adaptive solution), you won’t sustain new habits.

Einstein said that how you formulate a problem is just as critical as how you solve it. According to Ron Heifetz, author and leadership expert, one of the biggest mistakes executives make is applying a technical solution to an adaptive problem. It doesn’t matter how much you change what you do. If you don’t shift the way you think, you’ll revert to doing things as you’ve always done them.

Why would any intelligent human being say he’s committed to doing one thing and then do the opposite? For that matter, why do we set goals and let them slide? Why is it so hard to “walk our talk”? After all, no one feels good after a relapse. We don’t set out to fail.

The answer lies in a concept called competing commitments. Once we understand and accept that we often have conflicting desires, it’s easier to find workarounds that help us meet our goals.

So when you set out to achieve change, write down your goal. Then next to it, write down all the things you do (or don’t do) that go against accomplishing this goal. Some of these make perfect sense. There are many good reasons we don’t follow through with what we say we want.

These are our competing commitments. And until you take a hard look at these, you’re more likely to go back to doing what you’ve always done.

Expectations: What You Can Change

There were two ways to be happy: Improve your reality, or lower your expectations.Jodi Picoult, Nineteen Minutes

To manage happiness/expectations successfully, you must understand what’s in—and out—of your control. Some of my clients are successful people. But because of this, they often think things are under their control more than they actually are. Most people don’t understand how much happens that is random.

For example, if you’re looking for a job, you may assume it’s impossible to find a position right now and that there’s nothing you can do to improve your situation. You may have unreasonable expectations at two extremes: that you’ll be hired right away or that you’ll never work again.

One choice is to focus on what you can control. Research the job market thoroughly. Make contacts, and apply for positions for which you qualify. Then, expect something in the middle: You’ll find a job at some point.

We need to differentiate between having low expectations for uncontrollable factors (like the weather) and those we can control (our personal standards), according to Carol Dweck, a professor of psychology at Stanford University and author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.

“Having low expectations for yourself is a recipe for feeling good about yourself at any particular moment, but not getting anywhere,” she writes. “A good teacher sets really high expectations, but lets a student think he can reach them. That’s most motivating for students.”

A master can tell you what he expects of you. A teacher, though, awakens your own expectations. ― Academy Award-winning actress Patricia Neal

Acknowledge Progress

The same principle applies at work. Managers are most effective when people are appropriately challenged. They must set goals that are difficult, but not out of reach.

It is important to acknowledge small victories and signs of progress, according to Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer, authors of The Progress Principle. You will then become motivated to give maximum effort. Managers can work with their teams to set and manage expectations.

Unmanaged expectations can provoke disturbing emotions: anxiety, depression, confusion and stress. We often ignore their destructive potential and may not realize we’ve set ourselves up for failure where we could have had choices.

When your expectations are realized, you’re undoubtedly happier. When they’re not, you’re bound to be unhappy. Carefully identify and assess your expectations. If they’re unrealistic, adjust them so you can enjoy greater personal and professional satisfaction. A wonderful gift may not be wrapped as you expect. ― Jonathan Lockwood Huie

What do you think about expectations and how they affect you? I’d love to hear from you.

When to Let Go of Expectations

I’ve been thinking about how important it is to manage our expectations because they have a profound effect on our energy and drive. In the work I do, so many times I see people who set themselves up to fail with unrealistic expectations of themselves, others, or events.

Sometimes I’ve heard people say they’ve given up on goal setting so they won’t be disappointed. Having no expectations is an unrealistic and pessimistic approach, not to mention impossibly difficult to achieve. It creates a void a life without hope. Along with avoiding disappointment, you also avoid the experience of joy and pleasure.

Things are. People are. You are. What you expect of them—and yourself—makes all the difference in your personal level of happiness. You can’t change people, things or events. You can, however, adjust your expectations.

The secret self knows the anguish of our attachments and assures us that letting go of what we think we must have to be happy is the same as letting go of our unhappiness.Guy Finley, Letting Go: A Little Bit at a Time

What Happens in the Brain

I don’t think people realize how easily emotions get triggered in the brain which causes faulty thinking.

There is a physiological response to disappointment when life fails to meet our expectations. When something positive happens, the neurotransmitter dopamine is released into the brain and makes us feel good.

With unmet expectations, our brain becomes more than slightly unhappy. It actually sends out a message of danger or threat. As dopamine levels fall, we experience real pain.

If we expect to get x and succeed, there’s a slight rise in dopamine. If we expect to get x and get 2x, there’s a greater rise. But if we expect to get x and get 0.9x, then we experience a much greater drop.

Hope for the best, but expect the worst” would seem to protect us from this physiological phenomenon, but it doesn’t. The real solution is to be adaptive and rapidly flexible.

How do you adjust when your expectations fail to be met?

Expectations vs. Happiness

We’re wired to expect the world to be brighter and more meaningful and more obviously interesting than it actually is. And when we realize that it isn’t, we start looking around for the real world.Lev Grossman, The Magicians


A recent New York Times article points out that the way we manage our expectations heavily influences our ability to experience happiness in life and work. Several examples of medical interventions demonstrate how patient expectations and sense of hope can affect health outcomes.

In the work I do coaching and helping people, I hear about disappointments all the time. Rarely do people come into coaching with realistic expectations. They either set the bar too high or not high enough.

We consciously and un consciously set expectations all the time: for ourselves, coworkers, family members, items we buy and even the movies we see. Our internal mindset/perception relentlessly measures performance against our assumptions and expectations.

Expectations can have a profound effect on our energy and drive. There are two variables in the equation: what we expect from others and what we expect from ourselves. How we view our experiences is critical to the way we pursue our dreams, goals and achieve success.

Happiness cannot be achieved without expectations, but our beliefs must be based on a reality within our. Your daily happiness level can ultimately be measured by the number of expectations you meet.

Unrealistic expectations create an expectation gap, according to James P. Leahy, author of Bridging the Expectation Gap: The Key to Happiness. This gap leads to unhappiness and feelings of failure.

If you expect nothing from anybody, you’re never disappointed. Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar


If you’ve fallen into an expectation gap, maybe it’s time for an expectation adjustment. I’d love to hear from you, leave a comment.

Gratitude in Business (part 5)

Ways to genuinely integrate gratitude into your work environment:

Write it down

It is powerful and impactful to put something in writing. Keeping a gratitude journal is an effective way to maximize the impact. You don’t need a unicorn-adorned notebook for journaling. Sticky notes, scrap paper or napkins work just as well. The effectiveness is found in the action of writing it down.


End each day by listing three things you’re grateful for: great colleagues, healthy kids, an ace of an assistant, the sun is out – anything that you noticed that warmed your heart.


Find a Touch Stone/Symbol

What embodies gratitude for you? It might be a rock from your recent vacation, beads on a necklace your child made you or a simple token on a key chain. The idea is to have something tangible, a touch stone that you can see and touch when you need to be reminded to be grateful.


Gratitude is a worldview, a way of being regardless of good or bad times. In fact, incorporating the strategies above are often the most powerfully beneficial when times are the toughest.


Good times or bad, one thing is certain: gratitude isn’t just good for business. Once people make a habit of giving thanks they tend to agree, showing gratitude just feels good.

Author’s content used under license, © Claire Communications

Gratitude in Business (part 4)

Practice Random Acts of Kindness

Doing something nice for someone, “just because” is a great way to cultivate good will, and it encourages others to “pass it on” via business opportunities or referrals.

Share the Wealth

Tithing is making a comeback. What is a tithe? It use to be when a person voluntarily puts aside 10% of earnings to be paid to one’s place of worship. Although its roots are found in religion, tithing is becoming popular in the business world. It’s easy to be grateful for one’s own good fortune, but it can feel even better to share with others – a warm “thank you” via cold hard cash.

Author’s content used under license, © Claire Communications

Gratitude in Business (part 3)

Ways to genuinely integrate gratitude into your work environment:


Who doesn’t like gift? Whether it’s a t-shirt, mug, sticker or gift certificate to a client’s favorite restaurant, a gift raises the level of gratitude. It also acts as a marketing strategy if it bears your logo or contact info.


Pick up the Phone

An out-of-the-blue phone call to say “thanks” can make someone’s day as well as making a big impression. When was the last time someone called you to just say thanks. It sets you apart as a thoughtful person to do business with. The key is having no agenda other than to say thanks. If it results in business chalk it up as a bonus (and natural) by-product of gratitude.

Author’s content used under license, © Claire Communications

Gratitude in Business (part 2)

Ways to genuinely integrate gratitude into your work environment:

Communicate Gratitude

Send “thank you” notes. They let people know you notice and acknowledge them, plus they’re a potent way to strengthen relationships that result in referrals. A hand-written has a big impact. An Email works, but think about the impression you want to leave.


Not convinced?


A writer once had a favorable review of her first book in a trade magazine. She was grateful and wrote the reviewer to say thanks. The reviewer wrote back saying that in 11 years of writing reviews, she’d received only three “thank yous.” Months later, the reviewer called the writer with an exciting assignment – all thanks to a thank-you note!

Author’s content used under license, © Claire Communications

Gratitude in Business

Research has shown that gratitude and giving thanks is good for us. People who show gratitude in their daily lives tend to live longer vital lives, report fewer health problems and display higher levels of energy, enthusiasm and productivity.


How do we extend gratitude into our business if gratitude is so good for our personal lives, can expressing appreciation in our work environments impact our effectiveness too?




The expression of gratitude as a business strategy is powerful. So powerful, in fact, it can help increase the inward flow of income and opportunities and elevate happiness and fulfilment in life in general.


While many employers and business owners recognize and are thankful for the support of clients and staff, a lot of them tend to let that gratitude go unexpressed. They get caught up in the business or say a quick thank or good job in passing.  That’s a mistake.


Tommorow, a  few ways to genuinely integrate gratitude into your work environment.

Author’s  content used under license, © Claire Communications