Get Out of Your Own Way!

“In the midst of winter, I found there was within me an invincible summer.” – Albert Camus

How many times in your life have you set goals, aspirations, or dreams for yourself only to find yourself falling short time and time again?  Sometimes that initial “steely” resolve is chipped away by one event after another that somehow sabotage your progress.  Is it really the case that external forces of life, entirely outside of our own control, are always responsible for us not reaching our goals or dreams?  Of course not.  We get in our own way.

For many, there is an earnest, deep-seated desire to really do things differently this time or to make the changes necessary to turn it all around. How do these well-intentioned people get in their own way?  How do they sabotage their own progress?  What about the other people who may not have the same burning desire to start doing things differently, but they are being completely honest and realistic with themselves about their chances of meeting their goals.  And yet somehow, these people can get in their own way, too.  There are still more people who deeply desire to bring about meaningful changes in their lives and they are also being completely honest with themselves, yet they manage to get in their own way, too.  What is going on here?

According to a recent article “12 Fail Proof Ways to Strengthen Your Resolve,” author Barrie Davenport discusses the myriad of ways in which well-intentioned human beings set out upon grand adventures in self-improvement, only to come back feeling more deflated and insecure than ever.  Davenport contends that the only real three things standing in the way of the “you” right now and the “you” you’d like to be are:

  • Lack of desire
  • Lack of honesty
  • Lack of information

Strategies to Strengthen Your Resolve

Davenport discussed 12 specific strategies designed to help you get the heck out of your own way and start building a life worth living, adapted here:

(1) Do your research

It’s probably not a terribly bright idea to wake up one morning and decide to make a major positive life change that you know absolutely nothing about.  When we jump in head-first, eyes-closed to a new situation (even a positive/healthy one), we are setting ourselves up for long-term failure in many ways.  Acting effectively requires acting with intention.  Don’t sabotage your own best efforts by jumping into something completely new with no knowledge to back you up.  You need to understand what you are getting into.  When you don’t do your research, you may be left with a thought of, “Oh well, that wasn’t for me anyway!”  The truth may be that you simply were not prepared … you got in your own way.

(2) Make an honest decision

Assuming that you have done your homework and know what you’re getting into, you now have the opportunity to be brutally honest with yourself.  Let’s say you thoroughly researched starting a new yoga routine.  You’ve read about yoga, watched some instructional DVDs, visited a yoga studio, etc.  Being honest with yourself might entail asking yourself, “Am I really willing to do the work involved to make this happen?”  The truth is, for incredible, positive, and lasting change to occur, you have to put in the time and effort.  Ask yourself honestly if you are willing to do this for yourself? If your inner voice is unsure or tells you no, be patient and compassionate towards yourself.  If you punish your own self-honesty, it may become more difficult in the future to access this deep reflective honesty that we all have within ourselves.  Simply listen to that voice.

(3) Reduce overwhelm

When a goal or new habit seems overwhelming, daunting, or exhausting, your desire to work towards this goal may begin to suffer.  A trick to getting around this seemingly immovable anxiety is to break it down into smaller and smaller parts.  Imagine a puzzle that has 2,000 pieces.  If you see all of those pieces piled up in one big heap on your kitchen table, it might understandably feel intimidating or even impossible.  But, when you break it down by similar colors or shapes, piece by piece, you realize that even massive projects are attainable. Like most things worth having … it requires work. Don’t let your fear, anxiety, or sense of being overwhelmed result in you getting in your own way.

(4) Make a public promise

There is a great deal of psychological/scientific evidence that making your personal goals public results in significant strengthening of your resolve to reach those goals.  It is sort of like pledging to run a certain number of miles for a charity race and having all of your friends, family, and neighbors pledge a few dollars for each mile that you run.  They are counting on you.  You made a public promise to meet your goals.  For some people, relying entirely on self-motivation and self-praise is not enough.  If this sounds like you, then enlisting other people into awareness of your own goals may be inspiring.  In this sense, your public promise to others is forcing you to get out of your own way.

(5) Set up regular accountability

Figure out a system that works for you where you are held accountable for your progress towards reaching your goals.  This could be as simple as talking to your partner at home about how you are doing with reaching your goals, to coworkers who share similar goals as you, or sharing your progress with online forums or support groups.  The point is let it be known that you want to be held accountable.  This doesn’t mean that you somehow want to be frowned upon or punished.  It means that setbacks along the road to meaningful goals happen, but what counts is not what the setback actually is, it is how we choose to handle it. If your goal involves losing weight and you woke up one morning, gained three pounds, and decided your “diet” was a total failure, how would you choose to handle these feelings?  Remember: setbacks are opportunities.  You can learn a great deal about yourself and others through how they choose to handle setbacks and failure.  There is a lesson to be learned in every setback, and ideally part of that lesson involves you gaining knowledge about how to prevent similar setbacks in the future.

(6) Expect difficulties

It is inevitable that life brings suffering, pain, and intense difficulties.  Expect them to happen.  That doesn’t mean that you “welcome” them into your experience, but it does mean that you don’t live in such a state of emotional denial that you are “blissfully” unaware of negative possibilities.  Think in advance how you would choose to handle your most feared outcomes.  If the worst were to come true, what would you have within your power to change?

(7) Use positive self-talk

Our minds are not always on our side.  As soon as we feel twinges of uncomfortable emotions, such as fear of not being “good enough” at our job or even envy towards a “friend” for what we imagine them to have that we believe ourselves not to have.  Our minds will often try to sabotage us (i.e., work against our own best interests) by “feeding the flame” with thoughts such as, “I hate that job anyway – it’s way too much pressure.”  Or, “She may look like she has it all, but I bet she’s a bitch.”  Your mind doesn’t make it easy for you to be loving, open, reasonable, and thoughtful.  Take back the reins of your mind and recognize that you can choose what thoughts you will attend to and which thoughts you will let go.

(8) Visualize the outcome

Visualization is a powerful technique that can be harnessed to relieve many types of psychological suffering (and even chronic pain).  In this context, visualize yourself reaching your own personal goal(s).  Try not to think of this as a chance to escape into a daydream from which you will awake and take no real action.  Think of this as a realistic visualization of how you and your life will look, feel, and be different as the result of you reaching your goal(s).  Know that this image is possible.  The key is that it’s up to you if it is going to happen.

(9) Move past failure

Sometimes we have a sense of repeated failures in life when we have tried numerous times to reach certain goals or to act differently in certain ways, to no avail.  When this is the case, it is hard to believe in yourself because deep down there is often a lack of really trusting yourself. You may think to yourself, “Well, I already know what a mess I am… just look how I handled that situation last time!”  As long you choose to stay stuck on past failures and cling onto those narratives as “the way it is” things will never change.  Until you really want to let go of the past, it will linger in front of your eyes forever.  This is no way to move forward in life and reach your fullest potential.  It is a “great” way to get in your own way.

(10) Attempt one thing at a time

There may be a lot of things you’d like to change.  Imagine someone who is overweight, has no friends, has no job, drinks heavily, has no romantic partner, and who is employed in a menial job that they cannot stand.  If this person woke up one morning and decided she had simply had “enough” and wanted to change “everything” this could be very risky indeed.  Slowly build up your resolve and confidence through tackling one goal at a time… and for large goals, break them down into mini-goals.  Remember, it is not about how long it takes you to reach your goals.  What it is about is that each step you are taking is getting you one step closer to the person you know that you can be (and truly are).

(11) Practice resolve in small ways daily

Begin to develop a more generally self-disciplined attitude throughout your daily activities, separate from whatever your specific goals are.  You can begin to strengthen your resolve in a multitude of small ways throughout the day.  Don’t snack/eat when you don’t feel physically hungry, don’t waste time on the Internet just because you are “bored,” and refrain from gossiping about other people in misguided efforts to forge closer relationships.  Each small step that you can take towards figuratively “biting your tongue” or simply pausing before you respond can all work towards building trust in yourself that you are capable of setting limits and keeping them.

(12) Accept full responsibility for your actions

This can be tough.  For many, there is a natural tendency to blame others when things don’t go our way.  Sometimes pain in life is unavoidable and is at the hands of another person.  Much more often, the responsibility for your current lot in life rests squarely (perhaps heavily) on your shoulders.  You are where you are today as the result of millions of tiny (and big) choices that you made.  Each one of those choices has ultimately brought you where you are right now.  Well… look around for a moment.  Are you happy with what you see?  Ask yourself honestly what you have done to create the life you are now living.  If you feel uncomfortable with parts of your life, recognize that real change (especially long-term change) absolutely must come from you.  It must come from a deep place within… a driving force that is unwilling to “give up” on yourself. You have the power to be your best friend or your worst enemy.  Until you are truly sick and tired of being unhappy, things will continue to stay the same.

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Featured image: Walking in a Cloud by judepics / CC BY 2.0

About Laura K. Schenck, Ph.D., LPC

I am a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) with a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Northern Colorado. Some of my academic interests include: Dialectical Behavior Therapy, mindfulness, stress reduction, work/life balance, mood disorders, identity development, supervision & training, and self-care.

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