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The Missing Piece That Can Hold You Back

Everyone does EVERYTHING for a reason. Although we may like to think we’re altruistic beings, in actuality we get a “something” from everything we do, a “payoff” if you like. This payoff outweighs what we really want; otherwise we’d simply get into action. The payoff may not be conscious, but it’s always there. This really makes sense when you think about it.

If you want to create a result and you’re being held back in some way, a revealing question to ask is, “What’s the payoff I’m getting from staying where I am NOW?” Understanding the answer can set you free.
Let’s take a look at some scenarios to give you an idea of what I’m talking about, then we’ll turn to your situation. In each of these mini-stories, ask yourself, “What’s the payoff for each person’s behaviour?” I’ve provided some answers below.

1. John wanted more responsibility and said he was looking for a promotion. He was recognized as an expert in his specialty position. Despite this, he consistently avoided taking the initiative necessary to be considered for the next level. He always found it easier to keep doing the day-to-day work he was paid to do.

2. Ella was fed up with the way Eric, her boss, behaved. She felt Eric’s requests were consistently unreasonable. She was beginning to undermine his authority by talking negatively about him amongst her peers. She spent considerable time complaining about the situation, and started to slack off in spite of his high demands and aggressive deadlines.

3. Craig was the nicest supervisor. His team loved him and he loved his team. He’d do anything for them. However, people were taking advantage of Craig’s easy-going nature. The team’s performance was slipping and it was starting to affect other departments. Instead of addressing the issue, Craig worked overtime doing the team’s work to make up for the shortfall.

Answers: Potential Payoffs


i) Being right/not wrong – experts don’t make mistakes. Stepping out of his area of expertise would increase his chances of making an error (or not being right).

ii) Admiration; respect; appreciation – being recognized as an expert has some advantages. Losing expert status could threaten these.

i) Not being dominated — Ella refuses to bend to Eric’s requests. Undermining his intentions gives her a sense of power and control.

ii) Invalidating another – by discussing him negatively with her peers, she makes Eric look bad, herself better. She likely gets some sympathy out of the deal, too.


i) Self-validation – Craig has set this situation up in order to be needed by his team. This may also lead to payoffs of appreciation and connection.

ii) Avoiding conflict – by not dealing with the issue, he avoids not only the conflict but also any potential “damage” to the way he’s seen in the relationship.

Now that you’ve got some idea of what I mean by a payoff, let’s take a look at your situation.

Coaching Fieldwork:

First, let’s quickly review what we’ve done in this series so far:

Part 1: I introduced the notion that we make up “stories” about events that aren’t necessarily the truth. You also identified an area where you’re not getting the results you want.

Part 2: You examined more closely the “story” you made up about the area of concern you identified. You looked at the costs and began questioning whether the belief was really the truth.

Part 3: You created a more constructive, opposing belief that would serve you. I challenged you to prove it was less true than your original belief. For most, this new belief was just as valid and adopting it was the shift you needed.

Part 4: For those still holding onto the original belief, I introduced what Viktor Frankl describes as the final human freedom – the ability to choose our response in spite of any circumstance.

This leads us to where we are now, the key piece that’s stopping you from moving forward: your payoff (the real reason your situation continues to exist). Identifying this can often be uncomfortable and difficult to own up to, yet once it’s named, it quickly swings open the door to more appealing options from which to choose.

Have you heard the saying “people buy with emotion and justify with logic?” It’s true. This pertains to more than just purchasing decisions; it influences any action we take. Action (or inaction) is always, always initiated by emotion. We may justify it with logic afterwards, but ultimately it’s an emotional need we’re getting met.

The key to identifying the stopping point is to look for this emotional payoff. If you don’t, it’s easy to get caught up in the “logical justifications” and not get down to the real payoff that’s driving your behaviour.

Here’s what I mean by “logical justifications” of a payoff: In the example above, John always had a good reason why he wasn’t stepping up to the plate:

“It’s just not the right timing.”
“I really do need more experience.”
“There are too many pressing things that need my attention here right now.”

All these are potentially believable, yet in reality John didn’t step up to the bigger role because he didn’t want to risk screwing up. He liked his reputation the way it was, thank you. He wanted to preserve the admiration and approval people had of him because of his competence.

Trying the bigger role and failing could tarnish this. In fact, the craving for feelings of “admiration” or “respect” (from not being wrong) was driving him harder than was his desire for the bigger role – thus, the inaction.

Once John consciously saw this, he completely changed his approach.

Take a moment now and honestly ask yourself these simple questions. They offer different ways of getting to the same result: your payoffs.

1. “How do I FEEL when I do the action or think the thought that’s stopping me?” (John’s was “day-to-day” work. Ella’s was gossiping or slacking off.) In other words, what’s the short-term payoff from that behaviour? Examples of feelings could include: powerful, competent, admired, needed, respected, appreciated, etc.

2. “What do I get out of maintaining my position on this situation?”

3. “What image do I preserve by not getting into action?”

You may be thinking, “What’s wrong with having a payoff? I like being appreciated, respected, or right.” There’s actually nothing wrong with a payoff; it’s a natural by-product of being human. The question to ask is this: Does the behaviour that’s feeding the short-term payoff actually create the results you want, long-term?

Now that you’ve consciously identified your payoff, you face a choice: Which do you want? The short-term payoffs of staying where you are, or the long-term results you’re really looking for?
Remember, personal growth is rarely comfortable.

Jamie Broughton