6 Strategies for Overcoming Obstacles That Hold You Back from Success

Stephen King famously threw his first novel in the bin after being rejected for the 30th time, and it was only because his wife got it out of the trash that he persevered and went on to be one of the most successful authors internationally with over 50 books! Clearly, overcoming obstacles came naturally to King.

Mary Anning was one of only 2 children to survive of her 15 siblings when sheltering under tress in a rainstorm—lightening killed all but Mary. Her parents’ little house by the sea was flooded, she couldn’t afford to go to school to learn to read and write, and yet she became one of the most renowned fossil finders of her era, influencing the science of paleontology at a time when women weren’t even allowed to go to university.

A client described the huge obstacle they faced: “Mandie, I feel like I’m looking at a huge wall and no matter what I do I can never get over it.” In less than two hours, we reduced that wall to rubble and that person is now achieving the things they didn’t think were possible. In this article we will explore how you also can start overcoming obstacles you face to get what you want in life.

Whatever you want to be or achieve, you’re going to need to find the obstacles in your way and get rid of them.

If you don’t, you are at risk of:

  • Constant frustration that success always feels elusive or gets delivered to someone else (less deserving than you).
  • Guilt that you should have achieved more, but you just don’t have the skills, intelligence, confidence or ability–that’s not your fault, right?
  • Sadness and overwhelming thoughts that say you can’t do it, which means you stop trying and fail.
  • Repetitive conversations that run in your head over and over again as you wish you could tell people what you really think and want to achieve.
  • Anger as everyone is more important than you and getting what you want out of life.
  • Stress that impacts your physical, emotional, and mental health as you never get where you want to go.

These are just a few ways that not dealing with the obstacles in your life can have a long-lasting, detrimental effect.

Let’s give you 6 highly successful strategies to overcome your obstacles in life and get the success you want (and deserve!).

1. Listen Very Carefully

We rarely listen carefully to other people, and we are even worse at listening to ourselves. Clients will often tell me how they are horrible at something, but rarely are they hearing what they know about themselves. They are choosing to only concentrate on the critical repetitive thought rather than everything else they know about themselves.

Before you start believing the good stuff, you’ve got to really understand what you tell yourself. And rarely do obstacles come with a neon sign saying “Obstacle here!” So how can you fix something that hides under another name or thought?

Here are some common thoughts that people believe that tell us obstacles exist in their life:

  • It’s just the way it is.
  • I’m not clever enough.
  • I can’t speak up to get what I want; it’s just not the done thing.
  • I’m not good enough to achieve what I want.
  • I don’t have enough hours to do it all.
  • I don’t know where to start, so I end up doing nothing.
  • I would never know what to say.
  • I’m not the kind of person that could achieve that.

Take a minute to think about the thoughts that are free falling through your mind that are less than positive.

How do they make you feel?

What does it cause you to believe is true?

(In my experience, what we hear and believe is often the root cause of stopping you from achieving more and overcome adversity and obstacles that life throws at you.)

What results do you feel are associated with these thoughts?

(These will fit nicely into the acronym F.E.A.R – F – feeling, E – Emotion, A – Actions, and R – Results.) If you follow the flow of your feelings, emotions, actions, and results, you can see the true damage your thoughts are having and how they impact on the obstacles in your life.

Remember, your ability to make good decisions, your health, your productivity, creativity and even your ability to make money can be impacted by negative thoughts. The Navy Seals ensure the first thing they do in a crisis is…breathe. Not action. Breathe, because it puts you in a calm state. A calm mindset is essential for overcoming adversity.

2. Decide If It’s a Perceived or Real Obstacle

Some obstacles take time, perseverance, new skills, determination, and discipline to overcome, and others can be removed in one hour! I’ve seen many clients in tears who felt the obstacles were too big to overcome, only to leave at the end of our session with a completely different attitude, mindset, and belief about the obstacle that was insurmountable an hour ago. How is this possible?

When something feels big, we believe what it tells us.

  • If we think we don’t deserve that pay raise, the world will reassure us we are right.
  • If we think it’s wrong to speak up, then we will get reinforcement that this is true.
  • If we feel under-skilled, we won’t need to work hard to find the proof we are right.

Our minds like to prove us right. When we are proved wrong, it’s challenging in our head and can cause pain, anguish, and worry as we try to understand what this challenging thought means for the human we are:

  • How will it impact our actions and results?
  • Our conversations?
  • Our relationships?
  • Our careers?
  • Our ability to make money and live the life we want?

Changing a perception can be easier than we think.

Ask yourself, “What proof do I have this is true?”

This will help you start to see that some obstacles are actually a lot smaller when you challenge them.

3. Change Your Perceptions

If you want to change your perception of an obstacle, start with you.

What Do You Believe to Be True About Yourself?

Are you talented? Clever? Kind? Successful? Hard-working? Dedicated? Caring? What words would you use to describe yourself? Write them down right now.

Analyze and Review the List

Tick any words that are positive, and cross out any words that are negative. What are you left with? A page of positive reinforcement or a page of battering the human you are?

Another Viewpoint

Now ask friends, colleagues, family, and even social media friends – how would you describe me?

Compare Your List With the Words Given

Does it match up?

At this stage if you lack confidence, you will be able to justify your hard-held view that you’re right and “people were just being nice.” Trust me, they weren’t; you really are a good person that people like.

The disparity between what is known about you and what you believe to be true is one of the first tools to fight your obstacles. If you want to fight the things that hold you back, build your confidence.

A good level of confidence will help you overcome any obstacle, real or perceived.

4. Create New Beliefs

Whether you call them mantras, beliefs, mindsets, or attitudes, you need to ensure you have a powerful saying in your head that honors your new perceptions of who you are and what you are capable of before you decide to act.

If you want to overcome an obstacle and fight the difficulties in your life, and you only believe bad things about yourself, how likely are you to succeed?

It doesn’t have to be complicated. For one client, they had escaped an abusive relationship with no home, no money, and no future (in their eyes). They now have a business, a new relationship, a beautiful home, and a future. When they faced obstacles in life, they would tell themselves what they’d overcome. How powerful is that!

5. Plan Clear Goals

It’s not enough to think, know, and believe you are a great person. If you don’t have a plan, you will struggle to start overcoming obstacles. Likewise, when it comes to the obstacles that stop you, clear goals will always be your friend in destroying them.

Obstacles that struggle to survive around goals include:

  • Not enough time.
  • No support.
  • Too many responsibilities.
  • Not knowing where to start.
  • Not asking for what you want.
  • Being down trodden by other people.

These are just a few. So, if you want to override obstacles, look at the quality of your goals.

Are They Clearly Defined to You and Others?

It’s surprising how many times a client is frustrated that they aren’t getting what they want, and yet when I ask them who they’ve told, it turns out they’ve told no one! People aren’t mind readers; you do need to communicate to get what you want.

Do You Have a Plan of Action That Is Easy to Follow?

Break it down, and if it still feels too big, any action that feels harder to achieve gives your brain evidence that the original perception was right and that it can’t be done. If any action to your goal still feels too big, break that down into smaller actions.

Ensure Goals Have Tangible Steps

Your goal may be: “I will have moved to my dream home by January 2022.” That goal will include emotional goals aimed at securing your mindset, i.e., “I believe in my ability to get my dream home because I have all this proof of how I achieved what I set out to achieve.”

Measure Your Results

We don’t notice ourselves falling into a rut. At the start it can be just as hard to see the signs that you are escaping it, too. Keeping notes on how you feel, what you’ve achieved, what you are working on will help you keep fighting to overcome any obstacle, because you can and will do this.

6. Face Big Obstacles With Determination

There are some obstacles that are genuine. They rock up in your life and feel like they are taking everything you know, love and enjoy. Death, divorce, life-threatening illness, major accidents, and redundancy are just a few of the things we face when it feels like the world has come to an end.

However, even on these occasions, it’s amazing how some overcome these obstacles with finesse, discovering whole new levels of determination, carving out new careers, radically changing their lives for the better, and empowering and motivating others.

What Would You Do?

When you’re too close to an obstacle, it does look like a huge wall that blocks out the sun. In all the years of coaching clients with this strategy, I’ve never heard the same answer. The question is:

“If it feels like a huge wall, how would you like to get past it if you could using magic, super heroes, or anything else to instantly destroy it?”

I’ve heard people say they’d tunnel under it. They’d go along the wall until they came to the end. They’d climb over it, get Thor’s hammer and destroy it, or take it down brick-by-brick. But it’s never the same answer.

These crazy, impossible solutions to the wall give us clues on the best way to get over obstacles.

The person that wanted to tunnel under it realized they didn’t like to look head-on at obstacles. If they did, they felt it was too big, and they would procrastinate, fearing they’d fail.

For the person that wants to climb over it, they realized that, no matter what happened, they could overcome things that happened in their lives. They realized the sooner they started, the sooner they could get what they wanted.

The client who went along the wall appreciated that for them, they always found a way around the wall. Can you see how this client has assumed there is an end to the wall? Their perception (rightly or wrongly) meant they knew they could find a way around it. (And it would use a lot less energy strolling along a wall than trying to destroy it or tunnel under it!)

And what about the person that wanted to take it down brick-by-brick? This showed us they like a methodical way of achieving things. There had to be a plan. A process. Dates in diaries to ensure success, otherwise they would feel overwhelmed.

Concentrate on What You Can Control

A big problem with obstacles in life is that they create negative emotions and results. It’s hard to not feel upset, disappointed, pained, sad, and many other negative emotions, because the obstacle really has screwed up something in your life.

However, these are all things you can’t control. And when you try to gain control of things that can’t be controlled, you just get more frustrated, angry, and depressed, and you often give up.

Concentrate on what you can control:

  • If your body stops working and needs 18 hours of rest a day, you can control what podcast you listen to so you learn new things and stay motivated.
  • If you lose your job, you can control what you do with that extra time, re-educating, up-skilling and growing your network instead of staying in bed and watching Netflix.
  • If the person you wanted to spend the rest of your life with leaves, you can concentrate your thoughts towards all the people in life that love you instead of the one that doesn’t.

It’s not easy, and it takes practice, but concentrate on what you have, not what you don’t. One study discovered that students in their first term who were asked to practice gratitude experienced less stress and depression, felt more socially connected, and the research suggested they were able to be more resilient in a time of great change.

So count your blessings.

Make Sacrifices

To overcome adversity and life’s obstacles, you will need to make sacrifices. To write a new book, I had to decide to not watch TV with the family but return to the laptop.

When someone tells me there’s not enough time to start a new business, we easily find plenty of time in their life that could be used for the new venture. Challenge yourself on what is essential and what is not.

There are more than a few young teens around the world who dislike my name because a parent has told me a big obstacle to their success is that their teens do nothing around the house. A few “on strike” days from the parents, and suddenly the parent has more time since they aren’t the only one that can empty the dishwasher or do the laundry.

Final Thoughts

If you want something enough, you will find the impetus to make those sacrifices, challenge what you believe, and overcome any obstacle.

Everyone faces obstacles, and sitting back and complaining about how unfair it is won’t change anything. Stepping up and deciding to do things differently is the first step to having the tools to always overcome obstacles, no matter what life throws at you. It’s now time to put this into action.

More Tips on Overcoming Obstacles

Motivation is one of the main reasons we do things — take an action, go to work (and sometimes overwork ourselves), create goals, exercise our willpower. There are two main, universally agreed upon types of motivation — intrinsic motivation (also known as internal motivation) and extrinsic motivation (external motivation).

The intrinsic kind is, by inference, when you do something because it’s internally fulfilling, interesting or enjoyable — without an expectation of a reward or recognition from others. Extrinsic motivation is driven by exactly the opposite — externalities, such as the promise of more money, a good grade, positive feedback, or a promotion.

And of course, we all know about the big debate about money. It’s surely an external driver, but is it possible that it can sometimes make us enjoy what we do more? A meta-analysis that reviewed 120 years of research found a weak link between job satisfaction and money.

And what’s more — there is some evidence to suggest that more money can actually have an adverse effect on your intrinsic motivation.

Regardless of its type, motivation is still important to get you moving, to improve, excel, and put that extra effort when you feel like you don’t have a single drop of energy left to keep going.

So, let’s see some of the best things you can do to keep the fire going, even when you’d rather just indulge in pleasant idleness.

Why Intrinsic Motivation Tops Extrinsic Motivation

“To be motivated means to be moved to do something.”

Generally speaking, we all need motivation.

An avalanche of research, though, shows that when it comes to finding the lasting drive to “do something,” internal incentives are much more powerful than extrinsic rewards.

Why? It’s simple.

There is a great difference when you engage in something because “I want to,” as opposed to “I must.” Just think about the most obvious example there is: work.

If you go to work every day, dragging your feet and dreading the day ahead of you, how much enjoyment will you get from your job? What about productivity and results? Quality of work?

Yep, that’s right, you definitely won’t be topping the Employee of the Month list anytime soon.

The thing with external motivation is that it doesn’t last. It’s susceptible to something psychologists call Hedonic Adaptation. It’s a fancy way of saying that external rewards are not a sustainable source of happiness and satisfaction.

When you put in 100-hour weeks in order to get promoted, and you finally are, how long does your “high” last? The walking-on-a-cloud feelings wear off quickly, research tells us, making you want more. Therefore, you are stuck on a never-ending “hedonic treadmill,” i.e. you can progressively only become motivated by bigger and shinier things, just to find out that they don’t bring you the satisfaction you hoped for, when you finally get them.

Or, as the journalist and author Oliver Burkeman wonderfully puts it:

“Write every day” won’t work unless you want to write. And no exercise regime will last long if you don’t at least slightly enjoy what you’re doing.

If you want to find out more about the different types of motivation, take a look at this article: 9 Types of Motivation That Make It Possible to Reach Your Dreams

Benefits of Intrinsic Motivation

If you are still unconvinced that doing things solely for kudos and brownie points is not going to keep you going forever, nor make you like what you do, here is some additional proof:

Studies tell us that intrinsic motivation is a generally stronger predictor of job performance over the long run than extrinsic motivation.

One reason is that when we are internally driven to do something, we do it simply for the enjoyment of the activity. So, we keep going, day in and out, because we feel inspired, driven, happy, and satisfied with ourselves.

Another reason has to do with the fact that increasing intrinsic motivation is intertwined with things such as higher purpose, contributing to a cause, or doing things for the sake of something bigger than ourselves or our own benefit. A famous study done by the organizational psychologist Adam Grant is case in point.

By showing university fundraisers how the money donated by alumni can help financially struggling students to graduate from college, their productivity increased by 400% a week! The callers also showed an average increase of 142% in time spent on the phone and 171% increase in money raised.

Internal motivation has been found to be very helpful when it comes to academia, too. Research confirms that the use of external motivators, such as praise, undermine students’ internal motivation, and, in the long-run, it results in “slower acquisition of skills and more errors in the learning process.”

In contrast, when children are internally driven, they are more involved in the task at hand, enjoy it more, and intentionally seek out challenges.

Therefore, all the research seems to allude to one major revelation: intrinsic motivation is a must-have if you want to save yourself the drudgery we all sometimes feel when contemplating the things we should do or must do.

6 Ways to Enhance Your Intrinsic Motivation

So, how does one get more of the good stuff — that is, how do you become internally motivated?

There are many things you can do to become more driven. Here are the ones that top the list.

1. Self-Efficacy

The theory of self-efficacy was developed by the American-Canadian psychologist Albert Bandura in 1982. Efficacy is our own belief in whether we can achieve the goals we set for ourselves. In other words, it’s whether we think we “got what it takes” to be successful at what we do.

Find intrinsic motivation with self-efficacy.

It’s not hard to see the link of self-efficacy to higher self-esteem, better performance, and, of course, enhanced motivation. People with high self-efficacy are more likely to put extra effort in what they do, to self-set more challenging goals, and be more driven to improve their skills.

Therefore, the belief that we can accomplish something serves as a self-fulfilling prophecy — it motivates us to try harder to prove to ourselves that we can do it.

You can learn more about self-efficacy in this article: What Is Self Efficacy and How to Improve Yours

2. Link Your Actions to a Greater Purpose

Finding your “why” in life is incredibly important. This means that you need to be clear with yourself on why you do what you do and what drives you. What is intrinsically rewarding for you? 

And no matter how mundane a task may be, it can always be linked to something bigger and better. Psychologists call this “reframing your narrative.”

Remember the famous story of John F. Kennedy visiting NASA in 1961? As it goes, he met a janitor there and asked him what he did at NASA. The answer was:

“I’m helping to put a man on the Moon.”

Inspirational, isn’t it?

Re-phrasing how your actions can help others and leave a mark in the universe can be a powerful driver and a meaning-creator.

3. Volunteer

Volunteering is a great way to give back to the world. It can also help boost your internal motivation by making you feel important in supporting the less fortunate, learning new skills, feeling good about yourself, or linking to some of your inner values, such as kindness and humanitarianism.

When you remove any external reward expectations and do something for the pure joy and fulfilment of improving others’ lives, then you are truly intrinsically motivated.

4. Don’t Wait Until You “Feel Like It” to Do Something

A great piece in the Harvard Business Review points out that when we say things as “I can’t make myself go to the gym” or “I can’t get up early,” what we actually mean is that we don’t feel like it. There is nothing that psychically prevents us from doing those things, apart from our laziness.

But here’s the thing: You don’t have to “feel like it” in order to take action.

Sometimes, it so happens that you may not want to do something in the beginning, but once you start, you get into the flow and find your intrinsic motivation.

For instance, you don’t feel like going to the gym after a long day at work. Rather than debating in your head for hours “for and against” it, just go. Tell yourself that you will think about it later. Once in the gym, surrounded by similar souls, you suddenly won’t fee that tired or uninspired.

Another way to overcome procrastination is to create routines and follow them. Once the habit sets in, suddenly getting up at 6 am for work or writing for an hour every day won’t be so dreadful.

5. Self-Determination, or the CAR Model (As I Call It)

The Self-Determination theory was created by two professors of psychology from the University of Rochester in the mid-80s—Richard Ryan and Edward Deci. The theory is one of the most popular ones in the field of motivation. It focuses on the different drivers behind our behavior—i.e. the intrinsic and extrinsic motivators.

There are three main needs, the theory further states, that can help us meet our need for growth. These are also the things which Profs. Deci and Ryan believed to be the main ways to enhance our intrinsic motivation—Competence, Autonomy, and Relatedness (CAR).

If our jobs allow us to learn and grow, and if we have enough autonomy to do things our way and be creative, then we will be more driven to give our best, and our performance will soar. In addition, as humans are social beings, we also need to feel connected to others and respected.

All of these sources of intrinsic motivation, separately and in combination, can become powerful instigators to keep us thriving, even when we feel uninspired and unmotivated .

6. Tap Into a Deeper Reason

Some interesting research done in 2016 sought answers to how high-performing employees remain driven when their company can’t or won’t engage in ways to motivate them—intrinsically or extrinsically.

The study tracked workers in a Mexican factory, where they did exactly the same tasks every day, with virtually zero chances for learning new skills, developing professionally, or being promoted. Everyone was paid the same, regardless of performance. So there was no extrinsic motivation at all, other than keeping one’s job.

A third kind of motivation was then discovered, which scientists called “family motivation.” Workers who agreed more with statements such as “I care about supporting my family” or “It is important for me to do good for my family” were more energized and performed better, although they didn’t have any additional external or internal incentive to do so.

The great thing about this kind of driver is that it’s independent of the company one works for or the situation. It taps into something even deeper—if you don’t want to do something for your own sake, then do it for the people you care for.

And this is a powerful motive, as many can probably attest to this.

Final Thoughts

Frederick Herzberg, the American psychologist who developed what’s perhaps still today the most famous theory of motivation, in his renowned article from 1968 (which sold a modest 1.2 million reprints and it the most requested article from Harvard Business Review One More Time, How Do You Motivate Employees? wrote:

“If I kick my dog, he will move. And when I want him to move again, what must I do? I must kick him again. Similarly, I can charge a person’s battery, and then recharge it, and recharge it again. But it is only when one has a generator of one’s own that we can talk about motivation. One then needs no outside stimulation. One wants to do it.”

Herzberg further explains that the so-called “hygiene factors” (salary, job security, benefits, vacation time, work conditions) don’t lead to fulfillment, nor motivation. What does, though, are the “motivators”—challenging work, opportunities for growth, achievement, greater responsibility, recognition, the work itself.

Herzberg realized it long ago…intrinsic motivation tips the scales when it comes to finding long-term happiness and satisfaction in everything we do, and to improving our overall well-being.

In the end, the next time when you need to give yourself a bit of a kick to get something done, remember to link it to a goal bigger than yourself, and preferably one that has non-material benefit.

And no, don’t say that you tried but it’s just impossible to find internal motivation. Remember the janitor at NASA?

Because once you find your internal generator, you will be truly unstoppable.

More Tips to Boost Motivation

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