Life’s obstacles could be perceived as excuse for our failure or the reason behind our success. Part of human nature is a desire to make progress, or positive change. We all want to improve some area of our life. Perhaps we want to improve our finances, relationships, health, or education. We may want to control our emotions, develop self-discipline, or grow more tolerant. But why is progress so slow?
Part of the reason lies in asking the above question. That is, rather than ask what’s holding us back, we shrug our shoulders and sigh, “Well, I guess that’s what is meant to be.” However, what happens to us is not the result of what is meant to be, but the result of the actions we take or fail to take. So, if we find ourselves in less than satisfactory circumstances, let’s start by considering the major obstacles to our success.
And once we have identified them, let’s ask ourselves how we can overcome those hurdles. Finally, after arriving at a solution, let’s act on it.
Thus, a simple 3 Step Plan can launch us on our way:
Identify what is holding us back.
Figure out what steps we need to take to overcome the obstacles.
Take action! Implement our plan.
Major Obstacles that Slow Our Progress
- Living by default instead of by design.
That is, rather than plan our actions, we usually just automatically react to whatever happens to us at the moment. And when we act automatically, we just continue doing what we have always been doing, which is the definition of NOT making progress. The solution is to stay alert, vigilant, and think before we act. Before acting, ask yourself if what you are about to do will improve your life, keep it the same, or make it worse.
- Making excuses instead of making plans.
Success is not a matter of luck that happens to us. Rather, it is created by us because of the actions we take. When we accept responsibility for our actions, we empower ourselves, but when we deny our shortcomings and rationalize our poor behaviour, we condemn ourselves to mediocrity or failure. For as Shirley Chisholm wrote, “You don’t make progress by standing on the sidelines, whimpering and complaining. You make progress by implementing ideas.”
- We listen to our Inner Child instead of our Inner Adult.
We constantly hear two voices within us. One suggests how we can improve our lives. This is the voice of our True Self, Inner Adult, or Inner Wisdom. Unfortunately, the inspiring words of our Inner Adult are often drowned out by our Inner Child, which is the stored memory of our childhood. Our Inner Child is a “fraidy cat” or scaredy-cat. It is afraid to try anything new or to step out of its comfort zone. When you act without thinking, you usually turn over control of your life to your Inner Child. To succeed in life, we need to listen to our Inner Adult and act courageously.
- Fear of being wrong.
As children, we were afraid of making mistakes, being criticized, denied affection, appearing stupid, breaking the rules, or being punished. For when we were ‘wrong,’ we were made fun of, humiliated, or scolded. Unless we remain vigilant, these childhood fears will carry over and direct our present action. Remind yourself that you are no longer a child and resolve to act courageously.
- Fear of our own inner power.
We all know we have vast inner power. We know this by observing the great deeds of others. For we share the same human nature. If others are capable of greatness, so are we. But we are afraid to use our power. Marianne Williamson explains:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that frightens us most. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and famous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that people won’t feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in all of us. And when we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
Why are we so afraid?
Here are some reasons:
- If we acknowledge our power we have to accept responsibility and can no longer make excuses or blame others for our failure.
- We may be afraid of working hard and prefer to loaf.
- We may be afraid people will expect too much from us or take advantage of us.
- Friends may become jealous of our success and abandon us.
- Lack of self-reliance.
In childhood we learned that we could not take care of ourselves. We relied on mom and dad to provide us with food, shelter, and safety. They told us what we had to do, when we had to go to school or see the doctor, when to go to bed, when to go out and play, and when to study. As a child we came to believe we could not look after ourselves and we had to rely on others. If we do not remain careful, remnants of those early beliefs will remain, and as adults we will continue to search for help outside of ourselves instead of relying on our inner resources.
- Chasing after what we want rather than what we need.
For example, satisfying our craving for sweets instead of our need for nutritious food is self-defeating and will sabotage our plans for good health.
- Making poor choices.
For instance, students partying instead of studying, young working men purchasing expensive sports cars instead of saving for the future, and families spending more than they earn and going heavily into debt. Wrong choices weaken our stance and make us ill-equipped to handle future emergencies.
- Allowing our past to rule our present.
Tom’s parents divorced when he was just three years old and his single mom had to work two jobs just to survive. Tom received very little guidance from his mother because she was away working most of the time. Today, Tom is confused and not very successful. “I can’t help it,” he says, “I never received proper guidance, so I’m all screwed up and don’t know how to succeed.”
Tom is allowing his past to rule his present. It’s true that we cannot change our past, but we can change how we perceive it. Instead of focusing on the lack of guidance he received from his mother, for example, Tom could have focussed on his mother’s self-reliance. Even though Tom’s father wasn’t paying child support, his mother worked hard enough to raise him. He could learn a lot from his mother’s devotion, dedication, and perseverance. Instead of interpreting his past as depressing and discouraging, he could have found it inspirational by learning from his mother that we can survive even in very tough situations. Besides, Tom is no longer a child. What’s to stop him now from going to the library or bookstore to get the guidance he didn’t receive in his youth? If he were to do so, he would be receiving guidance from the top experts, giving him the edge over most of his peers.
- The wrong mindset.
It is surprising that many people continue to believe that their suffering is caused by external events, failing to realize that it is their attitude that is the cause of their problems. More than 1,800 years ago Epictetus taught, “Men are disturbed not by things but by the views which they take of them.” Similarly, around the same time, Marcus Aurelius taught, “If you are pained by external things, it is not they that disturb you, but your own judgment of them. And it is in your power to wipe out that judgment now.” Instead of bemoaning your present problems, why not rejoice which you can do simply by adopting the attitude, or mindset, that no matter what happens to me, I’m going to benefit from it one way or another.
- Postponing future success for immediate gratification.
It’s silly to deny ourselves the exhilaration, satisfaction, and pride of lasting success for temporary pleasure. But our brains are programed to favour pleasure over the ‘pain’ of making an effort to succeed. That’s why procrastination is rampant. But procrastination is the postponement of life. That doesn’t make sense does it? Despite our programing, we can override it by making conscious decisions to make the effort to succeed. After all, the rewards of success far outweigh the ‘rewards’ of partying, TV, playing games, and other diversions.
- Not willing to pay the price.
We don’t seem to mind paying for the tickets of sports events, concerts, and the theatre, so why do we resist paying the price for success? We cannot succeed unless we first recognize that anything worthwhile has a price. So before you begin any endeavour, cheerfully promise yourself that you are willing to pay the price for success. If you’re not willing to put in the time and effort, you’re just wasting time dreaming about success or making half-hearted attempts.
- Avoiding problems.
Problems aren’t the problem, but avoiding them is. Why don’t we already have the degree of success we want? Because there are problems, obstacles, and hurdles blocking the way. Isn’t it obvious we have to solve the problems before we can succeed?
- Lack of resilience.
The path to success is not smooth. There are bumps in the road. We are bound to stumble, trip, and, perhaps, fall. Successful men and women are resilient. They know how to get up after each fall and how to maintain a positive attitude, regardless of the difficulty. If you could use more help in developing resiliency, I heartily recommend this book: The Resilience Factor, 7 Keys to Finding Your Inner Strength and Overcoming Life’s Hurdles by Karen Reivich.
- Trying to overcome our weaknesses instead of building on our strengths.
Working on improving yourself is great, but the biggest payoffs flow from our strengths, so keep building on them.
- Giving up too early.
To repeatedly do what doesn’t work is foolish, but it is equally foolish to give up too early. Setbacks are not for sitting back and doing nothing, but for learning. Setbacks are normal, to be expected, and part of life. That’s how we learn what works and what doesn’t, what to do and what to avoid. Remember, temporary setbacks are not permanent failures.
- Talking instead of listening.
We don’t learn anything by telling people what we know; rather, we learn by listening to what they have to say. So, stop talking and start listening. Before you speak WAIT; that is, ask yourself, “Why Am I Talking?” (W.A.I.T.)
- Feeling helpless.
If and when you’re feeling helpless, help someone. It will get your mind off your problems, make you realize others are worst off, and make you feel powerful. Remember, it’s impossible to help others without helping yourself.
- Mistaking useless action for progress.
Doubtlessly, you understand the importance of progress, for it is what narrows the gap between where we are and where we want to be. But we mustn’t mistake aimless action for progress, for as Alfred A. Montapert wrote, “Do not confuse motion and progress. A rocking horse keeps moving but does not make any progress.”
Another reason for the importance of progress is that we are either progressing or regressing. There is no standing still in life. Charles Caleb Colton explains: “He that is good, will infallibly become better, and he that is bad, will as certainly become worse; for vice, virtue and time are three things that never stand still.”
- Believing you are a failure.
You are not a failure, but a person experiencing a failure, setback, obstacle, hurdle, or roadblock. Setbacks are temporary and pave the way for comebacks.
- Not understanding the nature of life.
Here is what Henry Ford has to say about the subject: “Life is a series of experiences, each one of which makes us bigger, even though sometimes it is hard to realize this. For the world was built to develop character, and we must learn that the setbacks and grieves which we endure help us in our marching onward.” (Henry Ford)
Life is full of challenges, obstacles, detours, road blocks, ups and downs, and everybody has setbacks in their life, and everybody falls short of whatever goals they might set for themselves. That’s part of living and coming to terms with who you are as a person.