My client, Laura¹, was late for her own wedding. Not traditionally late. Really late. The minister almost called it off. And she’s been late for almost everything for decades since.  Lateness has been her life-long pattern.

She wants it to stop yet feels powerless.

We jumped in by exploring the costs of her lateness habit. For her, there were no serious outward consequences. She is such a hard worker that her boss doesn’t care. But she cares. She feels out of integrity leading others to be on time when she is always late. And she berates herself every day. That is a serious cost.

I started to understand why this issue was a big one.

We explored the pay-off for being late. A pay-off for being late? Sure. Turns out, her older sibling excelled at everything and got a lot of attention. My client did the opposite and became “bad”. When asked if she could have compassion for the girl who cleverly figured out how to get noticed (and loved) by being bad, she teared up. She could have compassion for that girl, she said, and also for the woman who has kept this pattern going ever since, however subtly.

A decade ago, I would have excitedly helped Laura set a goal for being on time and figured out superficial strategies to support her goal.

And it would have worked for a few days at best. Now I know better.

Life-long patterns come from deep beliefs and assumptions. We don’t break them with a bulleted list of strategies like getting up earlier to be on time.

Harvard faculty Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey pioneered a process called The Immunity to Change X-ray to uncover the big assumptions that drive our behaviours.

Let’s look at Laura’s x-ray to find her immunity to change²:

Her goal: Be at work 5 minutes early every day.

  1. What she’s doing instead: Distracting herself with silly things in the morning before work. Berating herself daily for the “stupidity”.
  2. What she’s worried about: Worried that if she keeps being late she will lose credibility not being able to keep the job she loves not being able to share her special gift becoming a just a cog in the wheel…
  3. Her hidden competing commitments: Committed to holding back (her gifts) and not being too successful / playing small.
  4. Her assumptions: She believes that the way to get attention is to act out (even if very subtly). She believes that if she succeeds that others will get hurt or left behind.

Now let’s read it from the bottom up:

She believes that if she is very successful others will get hurt or left behind. She commits (unconsciously) to always holding back a little and playing small so she doesn’t hurt anyone. She worries that if she keeps being late she might lose what she already has (but keeps being late so she doesn’t become more successful). She distracts herself with trivial things to run late day after day and berates herself every time. And she never achieves her goal to be to work at least 5 minutes early.

I received this lovely note from her yesterday morning.

I’m really in the space of owning how I’ve been living small and holding back and it’s not negative. It’s being in a different perspective and it feels quite good.  With very little extra effort, I was three minutes early today.  I didn’t feel like holding myself back and there was no internal drama.  Of course, it is only day one but I truly feel different. 

I am willing to wager that if Laura truly unleashed her gifts, no one would give a damn what time she showed up. And she wouldn’t either.

When she’s ready, of course.   



¹ Name changed.
² Failure to meet our goals may be the result of an emotional immune system that helps protect us from the fall out that can come from change, namely disappointment and shame.

1 Comment

  1. Louise Campbell on January 11, 2018 at 11:06 am

    Lisa: This message is so powerful! Thanks! And congratulations to your clever client!

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