How can I identify the obstacles that are preventing me from achieving my goals?

Jason Brien.

Goal setting is somewhat synonymous with success. What is success though? In today’s society success is usually measured by money, fame or influence. To be successful by today’s standards often means being ‘better’ than the rest. Or having more money than the rest. Or having more followers than the rest. True success though is subjective. What is perceived as successful by one is not necessarily perceived as successful by another. Is Donald Trump or Elon Musk more successful than a mother who raised two children in an impoverished and crime ridden country/neighbourhood and managed to raise those children to be healthy, get an education, not engage in crime and drugs and to gain wholesome employment?

The point is… everyone’s definition of success is different. Maybe success to you is getting a promotion at work. Maybe you see success as overcoming social anxiety, improving your interpersonal relationships or becoming a famous actor or actress. Striving towards success is not a ‘bad’ thing. The desire to be successful (in the way that we personally define success) motivates us to get out of bed each morning. It motivates us to put in the long hours and to learn new skills. It motivates us to stay away from ‘temptations’ and ‘distractions’ which are not good or healthy for us.

Goal setting is a great way of keeping us on track and ensuring that we stay committed to achieving our success. The key to effective goal setting is not just setting SMART goals (S - Specific and clear, M - Measurable and meaningful, A - Achievable and attainable, R - realistic and rewarding and T - Time-based). Goal setting is also about identifying any obstacles which could prevent us from achieving our goals and achieving our successes. Obstacles can be internal or external. Internal obstacles are our mental blocks. The negative thoughts, conditioned beliefs, introjections, perceptions of skills/abilities, self-confidence, etc. External blocks can be attributed to a lack of access to resources, lack of support, fierce competition, social prejudices, stereotypes, biases, market needs, etc, etc.

Let me give a personal example. I would like to create mental health/life coaching videos within the next 12 months. This is my goal/personally defined success. I have identified very few external obstacles. I have the equipment necessary to record videos. I don’t lack external support nor am I exposed to social prejudices/stereotypes/biases. There is a market need for mental health content so that’s not an issue. Competition may be an obstacle. More competition might mean less of an audience but my goal is not achieving an audience it’s about creating mental health/life coaching content. Of course, creating accurate and quality content is important even if only one person views the content.

I do have several internal obstacles though. I am much more comfortable expressing my views and thoughts through writing. I can connect with my authentic self through writing better than I can through talking. I am also very much an introvert so talking excessively is not really my thing. My business calls/sessions help me to gain more confidence with this but to speed things up so that I can reach my main goal (producing videos) within the next 12 months I have a sub goal – To record a 15-minute practice mental health video twice a week. Another internal obstacle is my strong non-conformist/stubborn streak/beliefs. I find less appeal in something if everyone else is doing it. Most everyone these days have YouTube channels and podcasts which lessens my desire to do the same. My sub goal for this internal obstacle is to actively challenge my non-conformist beliefs/attitudes, using cognitive restructuring, for 1 hour each day.

What strategies or techniques do I personally use to help me to identify my obstacles?

Self-reflection: This is my biggest go to. Especially for identifying my internal obstacles. Self-reflection requires an honest appraisal of oneself and one’s attributes. If we hold grandiose beliefs about ourselves, the goals we set are not going to be realistic. Likewise, if we cannot identify, admit and accept our weaknesses, then we have no way to overcome them. I also reflect a lot on past experiences. I explore what did or didn’t work back then and I look to see how I can bring the lessons from my past into my present and my future.

Cognitive restructuring: This is my second biggest go to and for obvious reasons. You can’t try and explore alternative perspectives if you don’t know what your perspective is to begin with. Once I have learnt about any self-limiting beliefs, through self-reflection, I can then set about exploring and challenging them. I also find that cognitive restructuring really helps me to understand other people better too which can help me to identify any possible external obstacles I might encounter.

I ask myself the miracle question: The miracle question helps people to envision how their future will be different when the problem is no longer present. The question goes something along the lines of… “In the middle of the night, when you are fast asleep, a miracle happens and all the problems that brought you here today are solved just like that. But since the miracle happened over night nobody is telling you that the miracle happened. When you wake up the next morning, how are you going to start discovering that the miracle happened? ... What are you going to notice”? This backwards way of thinking can be challenging and rewarding at the same time. Let’s say your goal was to give up alcohol. Using the miracle question, what would be the first sign that you had given up alcohol? You wake up without a hangover. The second thing that you might notice is that you woke up without that feeing or thought that you did something stupid the night before.

I research… a lot: Research is not just reading books or googling stuff online. Research is talking to people. Getting feedback from others. Ask a loved one about your goal and any obstacles they see you encountering. Talk to people who have already achieved what you desire to achieve. Ask them what obstacles they faced. Read or watch inspirational stories about successful people and pay particular attention to the challenges they may have encountered along the way.