Is Your 'How' Getting in the Way of Your Goals?


We all have our way of doing things. We have a comfortable and consistent way we think. We have a set of beliefs that we live by, some well known to us, others hidden in our subconscious. For the sake of simplicity I’ll refer to these collectively as our ‘How.’

We develop these habits, our ‘how’ out of necessity. It makes life easier. We don’t have to think about every little thing we need or want to do. We just do it without thinking. This results in an attachment to our ‘how.’

We become attached to our ‘how’ without even realizing it or that this attachment begins to dictate our responses to life’s situations. When our ‘how’ becomes challenged, say how the garage is organized, we will defend, argue and fight that our way is the right way. That is attachment. Blind, subconscious attachment unleashing an automatic response in defense of our ‘how.’

Our ‘how’ also comes with a set of expectations built in, they are a package deal. What does this mean?

Well, think of the dishwasher as a simple example. Do you have an expectation on ‘how’ the dishwasher is loaded? You probably do. But you don’t realize it until the dishwasher isn’t loaded right, e.g. your ‘how’ was not achieved.

How many ‘how’s’ do you have in your life? Most likely a BUNCH…because we all do. Things as simple as the dishwasher, the laundry or yard work come with a built in expectation on ‘how’ they should get done. This applies to our work life as well.

Expectations on how a meeting is scheduled and run, how to behave in a meeting, how, where and when to give feedback, the formatting of a report or the right way to initiate cross departmental integration live mostly in our sub-conscious, but dictate how we react in these situations.

We have ‘how’s’ associated with almost every facet of life including:

-Defining financial success.

-The type of car we should drive or the size of our TV.

-Defining our religion, our politics or nationality.

-Our looks, our intelligence or personality.

-Raising children and taking care of aging parents.

-Being a good neighbor or engaged community member.

You name it, we likely have a ‘how’ linked to it. All of these aspects of life shape who we are, how we behave and how we expect others to behave.

They also hold us back from achieving our goals. And waste time and energy.

How do they do this you ask?

Before we get there, let’s return to the concept above that these ‘how’s’ live in our subconscious.

You’ve heard that children are like a sponge and that we learn almost everything we know before the age of six?

This is largely true. Humans are built to absorb information, beliefs, language and experiences directly into the sub conscious mind. This facilitates the vast amount of information that a child needs to take in to survive. It also produces subconscious expectations and associated ‘how’s.’

If a child actually had to learn a language the way we do as an adult (actually think about it) while at the same time learning how to walk, eat and dress by himself, the likelihood of that child actually learning all of those things before the age of 10 is slim!

This automatic programming becomes our autopilot mode, our cruise control, our routine way of being. It does not involve thinking.

This is ok most of the time, except when your ‘how’ gets in the way of something you want to achieve.

For example, let’s say your normal way of processing data/information is to talk out loud, judging the data/information with a lot what if’s, maybe’s or should’s. It is just something you do to help process what you are taking in, not what you actually think or believe about the information.

What if you do this in meetings with your superiors? Or the manager of a department you want to move into? How might they perceive your autopilot information processing?

You might be seen as a naysayer, or indecisive, or too chatty or unable to make a decision or clueless or trying to hog the spotlight, or any host of other potentially career limiting labels.

But you aren’t any of those things, you are just on autopilot, processing information in the way that you do. In this case, it may sabotage your career.

How do you begin to recognize when you are on autopilot?

Start paying attention to your ‘should’s.’ Most of the time your autopilot expectations will result in you saying or thinking “I should…” or ‘They should…” or “He shouldn’t…” or some other variation.

This is your trigger to stop and ask yourself ‘Does it really matter?’ If it doesn’t matter how the dishwasher is loaded, let it go and accept how it is loaded. If it does matter how a report is drafted, then clarify what you do expect and communicate it to those that need to know.

Try following this model every time you Should:


Doing this exercise on a consistent basis will change your day to day life. Benefits of expanding your ‘how’ include:

Feeling lighter. You will no longer carry the burden that to have it done right you have to do it yourself.

Less frustration. If your ‘how’ becomes expansive you have many options that don’t cause angst.

Easy going. You’ll be seen as easy to get along with and someone others want to work with.

Clearer communications. When the ‘how’ does matter you’ll be able to articulate why and what specifically is expected.

Focus on the big picture. You’ll stop wasting time and energy on things that don’t really matter, freeing your energy and focus to look at the big picture.

Expanding your ‘how’ makes it easier to achieve your goals simply by getting out of your own way. Give it a try.