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  • Kit Allowitz

Fighting with your brother over the car…... and its connection to The Bermuda Triangle of Follow Thr

Victor Hugo produced many memorable works. He is thought to also coined the phrase, “Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come.”

I’d like to share an idea with you…...

The idea: We can fundamentally get better results in life if we follow through on our commitments after the emotion of making those commitments has passed.

Getting ‘follow through’ achieved in all areas of our lives can be tricky.

While most of us find that we can be proficient at follow through in certain areas in my life, we can also find that we stink with a big ‘S’ in other areas.

I am no exception. I fit nicely into this conundrum where I am capable at follow through in some areas, but lackluster in others.

Let me share a lackluster example from long ago. I need to take you back 30 years to just one of the many times where I have not followed this ‘following through on commitments after the emotion(s) of having made the commitment had passed’ idea.

The year was 1989.

I was at that time a 17-year old punk teenager.

It was a late evening, and I was inside my car quietly ripping out the Pioneer stereo system, including the deck, speakers, amp and speaker wire from the 1971 Toyota Corolla liftback that my brother and I shared.

The car was a dang ugly thing. It was always breaking down, often whenever you stopped the vehicle, like at a stoplight. This fact was particularly irritating. The car would stall, and I would have to jump out of the car, push it with all my might into the intersection and then jump back in and pop the clutch to get the beast going again.

The more efficient I became at the push-and-then-pop the clutch start process, the less I had to endure prolonged honking, screaming and cussing by other drivers in their cars. I am forever empathic (at least I have one area in my life that I am) of other drivers who stall at intersections.

My ‘not following through on commitments I had made prior’ came the night before I left for college. I had previously agreed to leave the stereo system, complete with tweeters and an easy to navigate speaker fader system in the car for my brother. Sharing the car had always (always with a capital A) been a point of constant contention between my brother and me.

What I had agreed to …...My commitment: To leave the stereo system in the car as I left town wherein my brother stood to inherit 100% rein over our clunker mobile and the sweet daddy sounding music system.

What actually happened: I stripped out of the car every last ounce of evidence that there used to be a really solid stereo system.

Complicating the situation, the contention ‘pimple’ over the shared car had come to a head a week earlier. On that day (for which I am mortified and embarrassed even now writing about it), I had beat my brother to the car with keys in hand and refused to share. I jumped in the car and locked him out. He jumped belly down on the hood. My brother secured his precarious position by grabbing both windshield wipers and locking his feet, as best he could, under the front of the hood. He took the moments before I could get the car started to beat vigorously on the windshield with one of his fists.

I got the car started and jammed the stick shift into reverse, peeling out while doing a 180 in our gravel driveway. I saw my brother flaying and flying in the air, yet managing to keep one hand securely holding to the windshield wiper. This took a lot of coordination and strength on his part as I swung the car in full half circle! My brother and I were making such a loud racket and awkward scene that my mother came flying out the front door to find her boys in a full out car-sharing war. She screamed at us both as I continued spinning in circles in the drive-way. It got real dicey as my Mom barely averted getting kicked in the head by my brothers flying legs.

The story ends badly with both my brother and I losing privileges to the car and being assigned some horrible jobs to pay penitence for our imprudent behavior.

That alarming incident set the stage for me choosing to violate my commitment a week later and tear the stereo system out of our car.

My actions created a real rift between my brother and I for months and months thereafter. Can you blame my brother for being very anger, unset and hurt by my actions?

Moral of that story: Had I kept my commitment, I could have avoided a lot of pain and anguish as well as a memory that isn’t enjoyable to relive …...even to this day. I acted with spite and selfishness which is an ugly memory on my ‘memory wall’.

Now back to, “Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come.”

We as humans are in the business of making commitments. We make commitments all the time.

We make commitments to ourselves.

We make commitments to friends.

We make commitments to our family.

We make commitments to our kids.

We make commitments to our significant other(s).

We make commitments to our bosses.

We make commitments to our colleagues.

We make commitments to our community.

We make commitments to our employer.

We make commitments to our employees.

We are in the commitment-making business.

Is this statement true or false for you: Making and keeping commitments is the engine that allows for things to get done?

If this statement is true, then taking commitment making seriously, in terms of thinking about the types of commitments we want to make before we make them is mission critical.

The problem: Because of the easy nature of making commitments, (keeping them is the hard part) we can easily find ourselves making commitments we later do not want to keep OR can’t keep OR should not keep OR should have been wiser before we committed.

To commit is to give your word. Being is your word is big business. It means something. It means everything. Therefore, we ought to be wise in choosing the commitments we make. And since we are human and will…I repeat will make mistakes and struggle to keep all our commitments (this is called not being your word) we equally must be OK with failing at times. We also must be OK realizing there are then consequences for ourselves and others when we do not follow through (Not following through is called Pulling the Chicken Switch).

In the moment of failure, the wisest thing we can do is take responsibility for not keeping our commitments. This may simply require an acknowledgment to ourselves. Other times, it may require we take responsibility and own the lack of commitment we had to others, whoever those others are that we were not our word and didn’t keep our commitment to.

As I was noodling on writing this article, I ran across a statement on LinkedIn that seems to support this notion of acting wisely in moments of choice.

A statement: Brene Brown had an interesting quote recently on LinkedIn. Brene Brown’s TED talk titled ‘The power of Vulnerability’ is the 4th most viewed talk on with some 36,000,000 views. (In case you’re curious like I was, the most viewed TED talk is Ken Robinson’s 2006 talk on ‘Do Schools Kill Creativity?’, which has some 53,000,000 views).

Brene’s statement on LinkedIn struck an accord. See how it lands for you: “I dare leaders”, (oh and by the way - we are all leaders) “to practice their values, not just profess them. I dare you to have courage, not slogans on posters. Speak up, listen and be brave.”

Who does not like a dare?

I love dares and yet this dare from Brene is intriguing, hard, tough and riveting…all at the same time.

At least for me it is.

Here is why: I call this conundrum the ‘Bermuda Triangle of Follow Through’.

Bermuda because it’s easy to get lost in the moment and not act wisely.

Triangle because there are 3 parts (corners) to follow through happening.

The Three corners of the Triangle

Values is corner 1. We all have values and frankly I would like to suggest we share similar values as humans.

Situation is corner 2. The situation, call it stimuli, depending on how it comes at us, can challenge and tug for or against our values.

Integrity is corner 3. Integrity is doing what you say. Doing what we say when the stimuli confronts our values can make acting wisely a challenge.

For example, I value (corner 1) open dialogue yet when confronted with a situation that attacks my ego, (corner 2) my integrity (corner 3) is challenged because I want to shut down and not have open dialogue.

Thus, the Bermuda Triangle of Follow Through.

The challenge we can have is, following through on commitments, after the emotions of making those commitments has passed.

Thirty years ago, even with being a punk teenager I valued getting along with my brother, the situation erupted where we both wanted the car, my ego not wanting to be left at home and looking weak somehow allowed me to compromise my integrity and act in complete teen-ager moron-ness!

I wonder somedays if I have come very far intellectually since those teen-ager moron-ness days 30 years ago. I wonder am I living my values or am I just professing them?

Are you living your values and not just professing them?

Furthermore …. Are you (and Me too) taking responsibility for our actions and desired outcomes?

When I think of the word ‘Responsibility’, I am always reminded of the words from the late Stephen R. Covey. He breaks the word responsibility down. Stephen explains, “When you break the word responsibility down you get ‘Response-able’. Someone who is ‘response- able’ is in control of their response, is proactive and chooses to put a space between the stimuluses of life they get, and the response they choose. They act based on values and integrity.”

Stephen R. Covey asks the question as to why more of us don’t take on, do, be ‘response-able’? He states that perhaps part of the answer lies in the notion that “it’s much easier to say, ‘I am not responsible because if I say I am responsible, I may have to go back later and admit to being irresponsible.”

When you really think about it, when we make commitments we are taking on responsibility. We are stating that we will follow through on that commitment after the emotion of making that commitment has passed.

That can be the hard part…... following through on commitments after the emotion of making that commitment has passed.

At 17, I had promised to share the car with my brother. Did not follow through.

At 17, I had promised myself to treat my brother as a person. Did not follow through.

At 17, I had promised to myself and to my brother to leave the stereo system and not yank it out the night before I left for college.

Did not follow through on that.

Bermuda Triangle of Follow Through - there I went.

Victor Hugo and his Bermuda Triangle of Follow Through: Victor Hugo was an interesting person. I’ve written about him before in prior articles. As a reminder Victor, is responsible for such master pieces as, “Les Misérables,” and “The Man Who Laughs.”

There’s a story out there about Victor, which has most likely been embellished a bit over the years, yet still offers an interesting lesson.

Victor, inflicted with procrastination, had put off writing his next book to the point that his publisher threatened serious implications if he did not get going. He was stuck, frozen in the trap that can happen when we put off the ‘shoulds’ in our lives for dopamine infused ‘wants’.

Victor valued writing, and yet allowed distracting situations to seriously challenge his integrity and therefore allowed procrastination to win.

He needed a fix. He found his answer by getting naked and throwing out all his clothes. What, you ask??

Yes, naked.

The lack of clothing forced him to stay in his house and with no TV or iPhone to distract him (HA!), Victor went to work and created a masterpiece. You have heard of it likely …... “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.”

The time for Victor’s idea had come. This produced a powerful overlay of desire, commitment and action.

There is always a way out of the conundrum of follow through. It is called …...following through.

Easy to say and at times …...hard to do.

I have been wrestling with a couple sticky points I have in my life with commitment and then lack of follow through. Ever wanted to walk away or avoid conflict when it pops up with certain people in your life?

If you have, you and I have a similar challenge.

It’s an area I mightily struggle with at times and one where the space between knowing what I should do and what I want to do often go awry and I ‘Chicken Switch it’ and do not face the dilemma in a constructive way.

What is the answer to my issue?

On the far side of craziness, it is called - just follow through on your commitment, face the conflict head-on rather than skirt and retreat.

I know this.

Will I do it?

I often quote Stephen R. Covey’s words, “To know and not to do is really not to know.”

The Point: Act on what you know. Watch out for the ‘Bermuda Triangle of Follow Through.’ Follow through on commitments after the emotion(s) of making those commitments has passed.

The final Point: We ALL have the intellectual rigor to put a space between what happens to us and how we respond. Use that space to create the world and outcomes you want!

Did you know: I publish a daily short 1.5 minute Nugget related to Not Pulling the Chicken Switch. You should check it out!

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