- Many of us have habits, behaviors, and beliefs that hold us back from being who we want to be.
- The most common ones are avoidance, having negative habits or attracting negative people.
- Once we recognize our obstacles, we have the opportunity to change. We need both action and support.
For all the talk about living your potential, following your dreams, and you doing you, most of us are handicapped. Often, what holds us back is not the content of our lives—lack of money, bad relationships, limited education—but the way we run our lives, our own set of beliefs, behaviors, and habits that, like giant boulders in the middle of a road, block our path towards living the life we truly want to live. Here are a few of the most common ones.
What you avoid
Conflict? Challenges? Change? Or, to bring to an everyday level, talking to your supervisor about your salary, responding to a dating app ping, paying your bills? Often, there is a pattern, your own list of things you avoid. Whatever they are, the underlying driver is fear—of strong emotions and others not liking you, not doing well enough or failing, or dealing with the unexpected.
The problem with avoiding isn’t just that you push the problem away for a while, but the process of avoiding is challenging to break because it works—you do feel better ignoring those bills or staying home rather than going on a coffee date. Over time, your dependence on avoiding makes you feel better, and your world seems safer but increasingly smaller. Moving forward in your life, unfortunately, often doesn’t include feeling better.
What you’re negatively attracted to
In some ways, we can think of avoidance as learned negative attraction, but more commonly, we think of things like addictions—to alcohol, drugs, sex, gambling—that take over, become that monkey on your back, and because they so easily become what you come to build your life around, it’s only a matter of time until there’s little left to build your life around.
What you believe, the story you tell yourself
Beliefs may arise from faith or experience, but regardless of the source, they are about the filter through which you view life. Some people have optimistic beliefs—life is good; I can accomplish what I want; I can trust others to help me. But for too many others, the beliefs are negative: life is a struggle, I can’t succeed, I can’t trust others. They become the foundation of the story we create and tell ourselves, and we instinctively find people to continue playing out the characters in our story.
If your story is negative, filled with trauma—you were abused as a child or were in an abusive relationship as an adult—you may not only find yourself putting up with your critical partner or bullying your boss but automatically playing the old self-talk tapes in your head—that it’s maybe your fault or if you just figure the perfect dance steps, they’ll treat you better. These people block your path by not only trying to stop you from growing but they reconfirm your self-image that says you deserve what you get and can’t achieve what you want.
What you’ve given up hoping for
This is about belief, belief that turns into resignation. Despite your best efforts in the face of all that life has thrown at you, you’ve done; life has beaten you and can’t go any further. You’ve given up on success, finding the right person, or changing yourself. When there is no hope, there’s no desire. It’s not so much that the path is blocked but that you’ve stopped walking. You give up and take what you get.
Moving forward and letting go of old ways
We all have something that holds us back, rooted in struggling to find ways in our past to cope—blaming ourselves for why we were abused, leaning on our addiction to help us heal the pain of trauma, depression, guilt, holding onto our beliefs to help us make sense of a seemingly senseless world. But often, the real obstacle is no longer the obstacle itself but our holding onto something we’ve outgrown. The old ways of coping, we come to realize, no longer fit who we are or want to be. If that’s true for you, now you have the opportunity to tackle them.
The simple starting point is to stop doing what you’re doing and stop believing what you keep saying to yourself. Yes, it's easier said than done, but it really is that simple. If you avoid conflict, challenges, and change, you need to learn to approach them. If you are attracted to negative habits or negative people, you need to stop. If your beliefs keep you locked into a view of the world and others who make you a victim, you need to try out new beliefs. If you’ve given up hope, you need to reignite that fire.
Simple, but the challenge is in getting there. Here, you need support, counseling, and maybe medication to reduce your fear so you can move forward. The key is action: Doing something different, taking baby steps, and having the willpower or support to keep moving forward rather than waiting until you feel better. The key is patience: Don’t expect a quick makeover—your brain doesn’t work that way. You need a few months, at least, to create new patterns and habits to replace the old.
But the biggest key is being committed to one thing, the one thing that will make a difference in your life right now. Commitment creates motivation; motivation creates change.
Are you ready to move forward?
Taibbi, R. (2014). Boot camp therapy: Action-oriented approaches to anxiety, anger & depression. New York: Norton.