Updated: Jul 29
AdChances are high if you're reading this article that you're an ambitious, goal-oriented person. Setting goals is the easy part, isn't it? Carrying them out is where the real work begins.
Most human brains hate high risk / high reward situations. Instead, we tell elaborate stories about why we don't actually want to achieve their goal, which persuades us not to take action. Eventually, this incongruence between thoughts, emotions, and actions creates suffering. That's because it resists our natural drive towards self-actualization; it contradicts the laws of the universe.
In this article, we identify and address common barriers to help you invest your energy more efficiently, maximize your creative output, and achieve your definition of success. We finish out with a journal prompt to help you execute on your mission.
There are potentially infinite excuses we can make, such as "it's too hard" or "it's not good enough" or "I'm not ready." Check in with yourself and see if one of these 8 key factors is holding you back in life:
1. I should be further along.
Are you overbooking yourself? Don't create busywork. The arrow of time is unavoidable, but this can create a sense of urgency and motivation to accomplish as much as possible in our lifetime. Time is in our control through our attention and values. The way to manage your time is to choose carefully what you focus on and what you do with your time. Remember to pace yourself so you don't burn out—trust it will happen.
2. I keep procrastinating.
Feeling uninspired? Maybe it's time to take a break. Procrastination can serve important purposes, and it is something to be hacked rather than beaten. Downtime can repair DNA and result in more efficient work and fluid creativity than forcing yourself to do a task despite internal turmoil.
Reframe lack of self-discipline as lack of desire. You simply don't feel called to do something in a given moment.
Taking breaks can lead to fresh eyes and more ideas. Make sure your basic needs are met. In the meantime, something major could be incubating, waiting to surface.
The cycle repeats until you address it. Accept your shifting motivation, drive, and priorities. Recognizes the mismatch and follow your fire. Pursue your purpose, even the smallest moments, because that builds up to major results.
3. I'm just not motivated.
If you're lacking motivation, ask yourself what's missing. What's your vision and mission? Why are you doing what you're doing? Seeing the big picture is sometimes all that's needed to dive back in because clarifies where and how to invest your energy and gives you direction. It reconnects you to what truly leaves you fulfilled and energized.
Other times, it's less straightforward. Maybe you're delaying gratification, holding out for some bigger return. What are your biggest goals, wishes, and dreams? How do you define success and fulfillment? If you know the answer to these questions, you will be less likely to give up in the face of setbacks and more likely to stay on track.
Figure out why you lose momentum and don't finish projects. Reframe failures into lessons. Passions tend to naturally involve perseverance because the process provides way more fulfillment than the results, and that fuels excellence. It's a win-win.
If you're bored, do something novel. If you're trying to write, reading a book is a great way to learn more about your topic. When you feel creatively stifled, witness some art. You may just get new ideas and be inspired.
4. I've lost control over my life.
Job loss. Heartbreak. Financial troubles. Illness. Legal battles. Crises like these are a universal part of the modern human experience.
If life seems to have flown off the rails, it's easy to feel miserable, helpless, lost, or stuck. Give yourself a constructive outlet to feel the way you're feeling. Even if it's hard to see right now, your life has taken this course for a reason, and soon your struggles will strengthen you and guide you where you need to be.
As Ryan Holiday says, "the obstacle is the way." Eckhart Tolle argues in his book The Power of Now that we still have ultimate control over this present moment and the power to free ourselves from the mental suffering the time-bound mind imposes.
Dissociating from anger, grief, shame, or guilt can help stop the energy-sapping cycle of rumination and depression. Instead, focusing on health, love, personal growth, and abundance can help you recover more quickly and smoothly. Don't underestimate the power of belief. Despite the context of our lives, we still have power over where to direct our attention—ultimately, we have the ability to breathe through pain, which in turn can shift our life course for the better.
5. I tried it, but didn't work.
So you busted your ass on a project and didn't get the results you wanted. Before you throw in the towel, consider this: attachment to a particular way of operating could be holding you back. What's not working? How can your process be improved?
Allow new ideas to flow freely; build on existing progress. Keep your creation and revision phases separate so as to avoid self-censorship. Be present. Keep iterating and refining your process.
My self-doubt won't shut up.
"I'm my own worst critic." "I should have made a different decision." Sound familiar? Self-criticism can present a major impediment to achievement. That's because beliefs create our emotional states, which create our behaviors and results. Eventually, other people start to treat you like you treat yourself.
To have a healthy self-esteem looks like being able to say no, accept your strengths and limitations, and express your needs. To avoid being sabotaged by your self-esteem, you need to instill belief in yourself, your abilities, and what you're capable of.
The most powerful ways to do this are to build healthy habits that support your body and mind. That can look like meditating, practicing gratitude, affirmations, journaling on your strengths, listing your accomplishments, making an "I did it" capsule filled with all your awards and recognitions, celebrating your wins, and reading self-development books. Taking even small steps towards achieving your goals will also boost your self-esteem.
Affirmations can look like, "I am safe. I am capable. I let go of what I cannot control. I embrace change. I can detach from negative situations from my past. I deserve love, health, abundance, and joy."
I feel stressed and overwhelmed.
So you get to work and you quickly realize you've underestimated the effort required. Analysis paralysis starts kicking in, and minutes go by where you're just staring at your seemingly endless to-do list. Tasks are accumulating faster than they can get done.
Beating overwhelm requires prioritization. Do tasks that are important and not urgent first. Break down major tasks into smaller ones. Gamify challenges by reframing them as quests or mini-games that fall within your larger life strategy. Finally, life is stressful, so make sure to allot a certain amount of time each day to an effective stress-reduction strategy for you, whether that's dancing, getting a massage, sitting in nature, or meditating to the sound of birds chirping next to a babbling brook.
I don't have the energy.
Free up cognitive load by writing down tasks and planning your next day the night before or the morning before getting to work. This will help you invest your energy efficiently.
Getting sufficient sleep is another huge factor in how our day goes. What is the last thing you do before going to sleep? Give yourself a hard cutoff for shutting off screens; most research has shown turning them off at least 1 hour before bed is essential. Try bathing, journaling, or reading a book during that time.
Diet, exercise, and habitual or addictive patterns of behavior are other critical components to consider if the days roll by with minimal progress on your goals.
Future Self Journal Prompt
Write your old story
We often take for granted the story that runs in the background of our minds. Our old story is what we tell ourselves to explain how and why things aren't manifesting for us. It keeps us from investing energy in who and what matters most to us and keeps us drifting from our life purpose. It's like a brick wall and can often involve deep-rooted, ego-driven conditioning that takes conscious effort to dismantle and reprogram. The purpose of this exercise is to list the reasons you haven't made the change up until now and to ultimately clear blockages.
Get out a pen and paper and fill in this prompt: "I want to ___________, but ___________."
Here is an example for business: "I want to start a business, but I don't have enough energy. I'm afraid that employers won't understand and it will negatively impact my career and ability to earn income. I'm afraid of looking bad in my social network and with friends and family. I want to help people, but nobody really cares about getting my help. Everytime I promote a post, it's met with crickets. Succeeding in business is extremely hard and 98% of businesses fail."
Here's an example for exercise: "I want to get into the best shape of my life, but my body just isn't what it used to be. I want to start working out, but I'm way too tired to hit the gym. Everyone's so buff at the gym; they're gonna stare at me because I'm so out of shape; it's going to be so awkward."
See how easy it is to come up with muck and rubbish excuses? Anytime you set a goal, this stuff is playing in the back of your mind without even thinking about it. Now it's time to move towards what you really want.
Your new story shifts your perspective, inspires you to new possibilities, and realigns your energy. It involves statements about the real truth, identifies what about the old story is faulty and why the story is not really true, and provides an alternative perspective on the problem. It also delineates short- and long-term consequences if you continue on this path and don't change. Finally, it links to your ultimate mission and articulates why this work is so important to you, and it ends with an inspiring action to take.
"The truth is, ___________."
Continuing the business example: "The truth is, building a business is hard. I tend to work on activities in my business that aren't actually moving me forward instead of going full steam on the 20% that gives me 80% of my results. I just feel a bit overwhelmed because there are a lot of moving parts and sometimes I'm at a loss for where to begin monetizing my creative abilities. I know this is what I really want to do, though, so I'll find a way."
Continuing the exercise example: "The truth is, being out of shape is a cause, not a consequence of my aging. The reason I have cellulite is because my body is storing my muscle as fat because I haven't been to the gym in awhile. If I return to a healthy workout regimen, I can buffer myself against some of those age-related changes that I don't want, heal my body, and find myself with more energy."
"If I continue on this path and don't change, ___________."
Business: "I may settle for an unsatisfying career and not actualize my vision for my business. This will leave me majorly dissatisfied with my life and unfulfilled intellectually, which could lead to a lot of self-destructive patterns."
Exercise: "If I continue to be sedentary, I could develop illness that stops me from achieving my mission. I definitely don't want that."
"This mission is important to me because ___________."
Business: "There's a better way to deliver healthcare, and it's my job to bring it to the market."
Exercise: "Because I need a strong body and mind to achieve my business vision and vision for my life and love."
"From now on, I will ___________."
Business: "Work unrelentingly on the most important 3 tasks that will get me the greatest results. I'll write them down, break them down into smaller sub-tasks with deadlines, and do everything I can to stick to them."
Exercise: "Find a gym near me that I like, join it, decide on a good time to visit in my daily schedule, and start using its resources at least 3 days a week."