The brilliant Alice Inoue of Happiness U wrote a smart post about why people don’t reach their goals. I loved it, wanted to share it, and felt called to add one more piece to the discussion in case it’s helpful. Be sure to read it, then come back and continue to read my post.
Alice talks about the conscious and unconscious, and how, in goal achievement, the unconscious always wins. Another name for the unconscious—the thing you keep taking action on even when you say you want something else—is a “primary” commitment, meaning that, in reality, it matters more to you than anything else you say you want.
When our primary commitments are congruent with what we want, every goal around them becomes easy to achieve. That’s a fundamental truth—whether the commitment is good for us or not. What I said there is a bit of a riddle, in that every primary commitment is already congruent with exactly what you want—or at least what you’ve believed, to date, that you want. If it weren’t, you’d have found your way to a different primary commitment. So in reality, every goal you easily attain is attained easily because it is congruent with a primary commitment.
For example, if you have a primary commitment to physical fitness, you will always and quite naturally find the time to move your body. But if you have a primary commitment to not looking fat in work-out clothes, or seeming uncoordinated in a class, or to having anyone see you sweat, you will always find reasons to not move your body. You see? It’s easy to achieve anything that’s tied to a primary commitment. In fact, as I write this, I’m finding it difficult to imagine that any of our primary commitments aren’t realized.
Unfortunately, when we have a primary commitment to something that’s not good for us, it’s super difficult to shift that, even if we recognize that to continue doing it is to cause ourselves discomfort, pain, or more extensive harm. Because primary commitments are deep-rooted inside us, you can say you want to see something different happen in your life, but that still isn’t likely to happen if you have a primary commitment that’s different.
You can say, for instance, that you very much want a practice full of ideal clients, but if your primary commitment is to believing it’s bad juju to turn away business, you’ll find it impossible to have that sort of practice because you’ll feel compelled to work with anyone who wants to work with you.
Is it that the goal isn’t then worthy of tackling because it’s incongruent with what’s really wanted (your primary commitment)? Of course not. But to shift from needing extrinsic (external) motivation to have even the most remote chance of seeing a real shift to having intrinsic (internal) motivation and making the thing happen on your own with far greater ease and joy, the primary commitment needs to change.
So while you explore the goals you’ve maybe tried to reach for years but haven’t realized, do yourself a huge favor and stop—before giving up, or before beating yourself up about it (again)—and take the time to explore what’s in your way.
It could be that you’re “shoulding” on yourself, your primary commitment is really a-ok, and what you need is to accept that truth and what it means for your life. It could also be that you need to go even deeper into exploring yourself and your motivations, and possibly get professional help shifting any primary commitments that no longer serve you.
Either way, I believe that you can have, be, or do whatever you want. I hope you believe that, too, and will have the moxie to take the appropriate actions to accept yourself and your truth, or to make the changes that will allow all that you want to happen. Know that I’m in your corner on this. :)