One day a few weeks ago, my trainer and I finished a session of boxing, and he invited me to sushi. He’s quite savvy, and recognizes the intersection of leadership, psychology, and physical wellness—and he wanted to more formalize the consulting piece of our work together. (I have been providing some informal consulting to his wellness business.)
That discussion complete, he had another request. You see, while I have lost 80 lbs in the last year, and though I have reached certain goals, a few remain elusive. He started by saying something like, “I know you have resisted the idea of a workout plan in the park across the street, but I am confident that the space will allow us to do additional work that will escalate our progress.”
I took a deep breath and sat back in my chair.
“I just don’t want to,” I admitted.
And then he hit me beneath my psychological belt by referencing a work I had earlier suggested to him (for his OTHER clients, NOT for ME) that helps people and organizations to see their “hidden commitments,” those things that are holding them back from achieving what they otherwise really seem to long to do. The book and larger body of work are called “Immunity to Change” by Bob Kegan, Lisa Lahey and Bob Goodman. (Here I go again with my shameless name-dropping, but I studied under Kegan at Harvard, Lahey was at my graduation party hosted by Bob Goodman, a member of our board.)
“You’ve mentioned that you’re uncomfortable with the idea of people seeing you while you work out, and it’s time to face that,” he said. (Though I think he said it more softly than I depict here. But the message was clear.)
When he said it out loud, it sounded perfectly silly (and it is). I reluctantly agreed to ONE park workout after which we would revisit the idea. He seemed satisfied with that, and we finished our sushi, and made plans for the park.
And do you know what happened? I worked my butt off out there while many other people enjoyed the park in various ways, and not a single soul even seemed to notice us! No one laughed, or pointed, or gawked, or stared.
While I was relieved at first, I soon started to get annoyed. “Heellloooo, look at me!” I was thinking. “Look at how hard I am working. Aren’t you impressed?”
Wow! Another hidden commitment emerges!
I don’t suppose it’s a secret that the way that we assume the world sees us—and the way we WANT the world to see us—and our desires to be noticed and praised can be deeply rooted in ways that profoundly impact our decisions to the point of our detriment; hindering our purpose, limiting our effectiveness, and meaning that we don’t succeed in being the difference we wish to make, embody and realize.
Kegan, Lahey and Goodman say that these are our “hidden commitments.” While on the one hand I had demonstrated a commitment to wellness and weight loss, my hidden commitment to pride was preventing me from complete success in this work.
(Now, to be fair to myself, I spent nine years in rural Africa—and still spend half my time there—where my every move is watched. People do stare at me when I am home, and they do comment. Last time I was home, I was boxing with a sparring partner there, and people did stop and stare. My friend referred to them as “spectators.” = ) But that’s a different issue and social construction. And I know that.)
All of that said, yesterday I caught my trainer trying desperately not to laugh at me as I struggled with…wait for it…a jump rope. I’ll admit that it must have been pretty funny to see someone failing to navigate something as (SEEMINGLY) simple as a jump rope. (Which, by the way, leads to a future blog about the idea that a lack of coordination is often simply a lack of concentration.)
In the end, his laughter was contagious, and I almost mastered that blessed rope.
And I’m glad I did.