When you look at your life, you may be miles away from your goals and dreams – so far you wonder if you’ll ever get there. This gap can be especially frustrating when you feel like you’re working hard to move forward.
Unfortunately, just “working hard” doesn’t assure success. There are a lot of other elements and factors that determine how far you go and how close we come to achieving the life you imagine. This report discusses ten factors that play a part in holding you back from your dreams. If you can surmount them – or even a few of them! – your efforts will be supercharged, moving you past obstacles that formerly held you back.
Don’t try to tackle all ten at once. Read through the report and see which one or two resonate with you the most strongly, and start there.
There’s plenty of time for the rest.
One note: In this report, the words “dreams” and “goals” are used interchangeably. In reality, they are very different things: After all, a dream is a goal without a deadline. But since the principles here are equally applicable to goals AND dreams, I’ve used them as synonyms.
Reason #1: You Don’t Know What You Want
If you don’t design your own life plan, chances are you’ll fall into someone else’s plan. And guess what they have planned for you? Not much…Jim Rohn
Before you can get anywhere, you need to know where you are going. It sounds simple, but when it comes to life goals or dreams, it’s not so clear. We think, “I want my business to be a success,” or “I want to be happy.” But ask 100 different people to define success, or to say what makes them happy, and you’re going to get 100 different answers.
That’s why when it comes to getting what you want, the first step is to decide – specifically – what you want in your life. Not in generalities, but in specifics. For instance:
NOT: “I want to be skinny,” but, “I want to wear a size 10 and have my BMI, blood pressure, and cholesterol in healthy ranges.”
NOT: “I want to be financially secure,” but, “I want to be debt-free and have $100,000 in the bank by the time I’m 50.”
NOT: “I want a new job,” but, “I want a job that allows me to work flexible hours from home, making $20 an hour, using my skills in word processing and business management.”
Specificity is critical in goal-setting for several reasons:
1. If you only have a general idea of what you want, you can only get a general idea of how to achieve it. It’s like driving: If you know you want to drive from Portland to Philadelphia, you have a general idea of how to get there – and you may end up in the Schuykill River or on the wrong side of the tracks. But if you want to see the “Rocky” statue in front of the art museum, you can fine-tune your approach to get yourself exactly to the point you want.
2. Being specific saves time. You will intuitively be able to sort through opportunities that are presented to you and know immediately whether they are in line with your goals or not.
3. Being specific helps your mind create a vivid picture of what you want. Once your mind can picture it, it’s much easier to achieve it.
If you’re having trouble specifying your dreams, here are some questions to ask yourself:
- What does it look like?
- How will you know when you’ve made it?
- When do you want to achieve this goal?
- What does it feel like, taste like, smell like?
- What would a day in your dream life be like, from the time you get up until the time you go to bed?
Write these answers down and revisit them frequently to see if they’re still true, and to remind yourself of what you’re working towards.
Reason #2: You Don’t Have a Plan to Get from Here to There
You can know specifically what you want to achieve, what it looks like, and when you want it – but without a plan, you’re like a vacationer to Paris who forgot to buy his plane ticket. Whoops!
The next natural step after determining WHAT you want is laying out a plan for getting it. Where many people make mistakes is assuming that having a plan is an all-or-nothing proposition: They need to have a carefully scripted path from A to B, and then on to C and D, with no unknowns, and no changes.
Not so! In fact, ask any visionary who’s achieved anything of merit, and they will say that the path they thought they were going to take wasn’t what ended up happening. But they’ll also tell you that knowing the first few steps and committing to them were critical to their success.
Take someone who wants to lose weight. They know what they want to weigh, and they’ve decided to try Weight Watchers combined with walking 30 minutes a day. That’s all they need to get started because it gives them the next steps: To sign up for a meeting, attend the meeting, and begin walking.
What they can’t anticipate, though, is the weather. Or pizza night with the girls. Or the fact that they seem to be having trouble losing weight on the prescribed plan after a few weeks of success and need to shake things up a bit.
Situations change; that’s a given. Rare is the plan that is laid out in excruciating detail on Day One and followed without adjustments. You have to be prepared to make changes along the way, but you also have to know what “the way” is. Without any plan at all, you are a victim of your circumstances, not knowing what’s going to move you closer to your goal and what’s going to take you farther away.
So after you’ve set your end goal in living color, figure out that one next step you have to take. Trust that when you take that step, you’ll see the next one and the next, forward to success. You’ll know when you need to move left or right, but only if you move until the point you see ahead of you. Sometimes it’s only in retrospect that the whole path is clear, like Hansel and Gretel’s breadcrumbs strewn behind them.
Reason #3: You Lack the Resources
Have you ever watched a show like Clean Sweep, Trading Spaces or The Biggest Loser and said to yourself, “Of COURSE they can lose weight/clean out their clutter/redesign their home. They have a team of experts at their beck and call!”
Well, while not everyone – and in fact, very few of us – can have Oprah’s dietitian, Jillian Michaels for a personal coach, and an interior designer to rework our home, we do need to find and use resources to help us achieve our goals. If we find ourselves stymied on the way to success, we just might be experiencing a lack of resources.
Resources fall into several types. Let’s look at each one and discuss ways to get the resources you need to get where you want to go:
Monetary. Usually, when we think we don’t have the resources to complete a goal, we think it’s a monetary issue. It’s true that some goals take cash, but most of the time, we think of money as the solution to all our problems. While it can definitely help smooth the way, there are other methods to getting the resources we need besides purchasing them. For instance:
Bartering. Trade your expertise for someone else’s services. If you’re looking for a personal trainer, swap your Internet marketing skills for her training.
Borrowing. One of the biggest disadvantages to our geographically disconnected world is the inability to borrow from each other. But why not reconnect with your neighbors? Someone may have a car they’re not using and would be glad for you to use it to get to your night class across town. Someone else may have a summer house on the shore and would be happy to let you camp out there for weekends in the winter to work on your book. You won’t know until you ask.
Renting/Timeshare. Pretty much anything you want or need, from a horse to a car to a ski house, can be available for a timeshare or rental. Go online and google your desire and see what comes up.
Time. Time may be even more of an issue than money when it comes to reaching your goals. We often say, “I just don’t have the time!” when we mean, “It’s just not important enough to me right now.” The truth is, we all have the same number of hours in the day. You don’t have any fewer hours than the person who’s out there training for an Ironman, or staying up late to work on her new business idea. If it’s important to you, you’ll find a way.
Support. Our cheering squads are resources, no doubt about it. And while the people closest to us may not understand why we want to build a log cabin in the woods or start a summer camp for disadvantaged ferrets, there are people out there in the greater world who would gladly cheer you on. All you have to do is find them.
There really are no valid excuses when it comes to lack of resources. Put it this way: Whatever you think your excuses are, someone else in a tougher position than you has already found a way to achieve what you want to achieve. You can do the same.
Reason #4: The People Around You Don’t Support You
In the last section, we discussed lack of resources, including lack of support. In my experience, that is the biggest obstacle for people reaching their goals. Isolation, or even downright discouragement, can thwart even the most dedicated individual. To put it bluntly, you need a cheering section.
Few people like change, especially change they don’t ask for or control. Those closest to us in our everyday life have a vested interest in keeping things – including you – the same as they’ve always been. After all, if you lose weight/get out of debt/get a new job/quit drinking/start a new business, what does that say about them?
There will be three groups of people in your life:
1. Those who are avid encouragers. They get up early to go to the gym with you, find magazine articles on starting your own business, and offer to house-sit while you go to a conference. These people are golden!
2. Those who don’t get it and don’t talk about it. They watch from the sidelines, scratching their head, as you start eating green, talk about SEO or autoresponders, and wonder what you’re up to now. They won’t actively discourage you, but the fact they don’t even ask about your latest accomplishments can leave you feeling bereft and slightly depressed.
3. Those who are out to make you fail. That sounds harsh, but it’s true; a certain group of people will not want you to quit smoking, or find a new job. They like things just as they are, and they take it as a rejection of them and their choices if you succeed. Note: Unfortunately, these are often the people who are closest to us.
The solution is to minimize your contact with those who discourage you, and maximize your contact with those who want you to succeed. Avoidance can be tough if you happen to be married to a discourager; this is when you’ll have to make a decision about what’s most important in your life, maintaining the status quo or reaching your dreams.
If you need more supportive people, you can find them! Here are some resources online to track down like-minded individuals:
- Meetup.com. Type in your city and your interest and find other small business owners, organic farmers, or model train aficionados.
- Yahoo! and Google Groups. Search for others who are interested in the same types of things you are.
- Twitter. Search by hashtag (#) for your area of interest.
- Facebook.com. Tons of pages on everything from mothers who run to pet groomers.
One other way to find supportive people: Find a coach! A personal trainer, a business coach, a dietitian… there are tons of experienced professionals who can help get you where you want to be. The benefits of their experience can save you time and money as you pursue your dreams.
There’s no need to go towards your goal alone. Whether you hire a coach or find a virtual buddy to back you up, there are people who would love to see you succeed.
Reason #5: You Don’t Really Want What You Think You Want
Everyone wants 2.4 kids and the white picket fence… right?
Everyone wants a vacation home in the mountains… right?
Everyone wants to look like Jennifer Aniston or Brad Pitt… right?
Everyone wants to run their own business and be their own boss… right?
When it comes to dreams, one size most definitely does NOT fit all. Our dreams and goals are as individual as we are, and adopting someone else’s goals as our own can feel like wearing someone else’s shoes: It looks okay to everyone else, but to us, it feels awful and gives us blisters.
There are thousands, if not millions, of people out there striving for the wrong goals. Wrong not because there’s anything inherently bad about them, but wrong because the goals they’re aiming for are wrong for THEM.
There’s the med school student who loved her accounting and finance classes in college… but set any thought of being an accountant aside because her mom and dad are both doctors.
There’s the successful salesman who would really love to chuck it all and teach English, but he’s making too much money and only a crazy person would throw away a six-figure paycheck.
There are frustrated dentists, bakers, and candlestick makers. There are frustrated sheep farmers, personal trainers, bail bondsmen and police officers. Frustration knows no geographic, socioeconomic, or race or religious boundaries.
The only way to know if the goals you’re aiming for are the right goals is to figure out if they are your heart’s desire. Sometimes it takes some detective work to peel back the layers of societal and family expectations to get at what YOU really want.
There are clues all around you: If you fall asleep dreaming about something, wake up thinking about something, and find yourself perking up whenever you meet someone doing what you’d like to do, you’re on the right track. Meanwhile, if you get a sinking sensation when you pull into the garage of house with the white picket fence, or find yourself calling in sick to that six-figure job “everyone” would kill to have, then you may be in the wrong place… for you.
So what do you do if you find you’ve been chasing after the wrong dream? You readjust. You find ways to move your current life closer to the one you really long for. Maybe that means getting up an hour early to work on your mystery novel. Maybe it means spending your weekends teaching art to inner city kids. Maybe it means volunteering to do taxes at the senior center. Take a small step and see how it feels. Then take another, and another, until you know deep in your heart you’re on the right track. If you are, the momentum will carry you forward.
Reason #6: You Lack the Skills
Someone can know academically how to remove an appendix, but you wouldn’t want someone to take a scalpel to you who had never been trained – no matter how many books they’d read and videos they’d watched. There can be a big gap between knowledge and skill, and that may be what is holding you back.
Once you’ve identified what you need to learn, the next step is to try it. Skill can only be developed in one manner: Through practice. You can’t create a top-notch video… until you create a bunch of not-so-great ones. You can’t cook a gourmet meal… until you create a bunch of so-so ones. You can’t give a standing ovation-worthy keynote speech… until you give a few snoozy ones. You can read, study, learn, and learn some more – but until you actually try and refine your skills, you’re not going to get better.
There are a couple of misconceptions that hold us back from putting our knowledge to work:
1. We think we need to “know it all.” The problem with gaining knowledge in today’s online world is that there’s no end to what we can learn. There’s always another class, blog post, video, article, or guru that we can consume. Solution: Pull the plug. Remind yourself that you cannot have perfect knowledge, and that is okay.
2. We think knowledge is better than practice. In fact, the opposite is often true. Practice, as the old saying goes, makes perfect. There’s no substitute for picking up the golf club and swinging it over and over again – but that practice could very sell substitute for reading another book on hitting the perfect drive.
3. We fear imperfection. We somehow think that “everyone else” is perfect and never falls down, sends out an email with an embarrassing typo in it, or otherwise struggles at first. This is so false; anyone who has mastered something, from making money to making a cake, went through failure first.
Sometimes, the only solution is to get out there and try. Publish the first blog post. Send in the first article. Sing the first song. Refinement comes through practice, and there is no shortcut to mastery. You can read as many books as you want, but true skill will only come with trial and error.
Reason #7: You Lack Stamina
Take a sprinter on a long run with a marathoner and you’ll notice something: The fastest man in the world isn’t so fast once you get past the first 10 miles. The marathoner, who started out at a more moderate pace, slowly overtakes the sprinter who has trained himself for short distances. It’s the classic tale of the tortoise and the hare.
If you tend to start out with a bang on a new idea or project, only to get discouraged when you hit that mental “wall” around mile 13, you may be out of shape. And while you may be banking on becoming the next overnight success, you need to know that:
A. The true overnight successes of today become the one-hit wonders of tomorrow, and
B. Most overnight successes were many years in the making.
Look behind virtually any rags-to-riches story, from Susan Boyd to Zappos, and you’ll see that years went into the preparation for their time in the limelight.
If you see yourself having trouble with your stamina, it’s time to work on building your endurance. Here are some exercises to help you:
1. Track your progress. Often progress is so incremental that you can become discouraged before you hit your goal. Write down the successes – small and large – and review them regularly to remind yourself that you are making progress. You may even want to make a large visual representation of your goal and track your progress towards it, just like schools put up huge thermometers to show how much money they’ve earned towards their pool fund.
2. Pace yourself. The marathoner knows that going out as fast as possible in the first mile is usually a recipe for disaster. Yes, you’re excited about your new venture, but keep some of that excitement in reserve. You may feel like staying up until all hours working on your business plan, and while that’s great, don’t expect to be able to maintain that level of commitment for weeks or months on end.
3. Cross-train. Find other activities to give you a break from your main focus. You just might find that time away from your goal refreshes and energizes you, and keeps you from burning out. Even if it’s just an evening a week, make sure you take mini-vacations.
4. Find a partner. Partners are great whether you’re heading to the gym or working your way through med school. Sometimes an outside commitment is needed to help you stay accountable and stay on track. Having someone who understands the challenges you’re facing can make all the difference between giving up and going on.
While a sprinter can be in great physical shape, most goals require a long-distance mindset. Remind yourself what the tortoise knew: Slow and steady wins the race.
Reason #8: You’re Scared of Failure
Any coach can point to a handful of clients who seemed to have all the talent, resources, and determination in the world, but for some reason, they were never able to reach their goals. They talked the talk, and walked the walk – for a while. But suddenly, they disappear into the sunset, becoming just a distant memory.
In my experience, it’s fear of failure that keeps these people stuck where they are, despite their resources and skill. They somehow figure that they’d rather be where they are, safe and sound, then venture out into the unknown and possibly not succeed that which they’ve set out to accomplish. They come up with every excuse in the book as to why they can’t do such-and-such:
-It’s too cold.
-It’s too hot.
-Everyone knows you don’t start (fill in the blank) in the summer (or winter, or fall, or spring).
-They need to take another class.
-They need to get their office ready.
-They need to wait for their youngest to start kindergarten, their oldest to start college, their husband to die, their wife to get well.
There’s always a reason why now is not the right time – but the real reason is that they’re simply afraid of not being able to make the grade. And then who knows what would happen if they (gasp!) failed?
Ironically, it’s the fear of failure actually causes them to fail! And they’re still alive, stuck in their little shell. So I guess failure wasn’t so bad after all, was it?
When working with people who have a fear of failure, sometimes direct questioning is the best method to get them to recognize their obstacle:
If not now, when?
If not you, who?
If you have this goal on your heart, then it’s there for a reason. You may be the only person who can bring that particular goal to reality in the exact way you dream of. If you don’t do it, no one will!
The truth is, there is never going to be a perfect time to start. And the truth is, you’ll likely have some stumbling blocks along the way. Everyone does. But you have to reach a point where staying where you are and never unwrapping your dream is more painful than any risk of misstep or failure. Then, and only then, will you be prepared to move forward. And I bet you’ll find it wasn’t anywhere near as scary as you thought it would be.
Reason #9: You’re Scared of Success
Susan wanted to go back to school after her twins had left for college to get her law degree. She wasn’t worried about being the oldest one in her class. She wasn’t worried about keeping up with the studies. She wasn’t even worried about taking the LSAT. Here’s what worried her:
“Who will take care of my dogs if I go back to work full-time? They’re used to having me home all day.”
This talented, vibrant woman was willing to put the imaginary wishes of her dogs three or four years from now, before her own desire to become a lawyer. Something else had to be going on!
A little digging showed that the dogs were just a convenient excuse. What she was really worried about was upsetting the carefully crafted balance she and her husband had stuck in their married life. He was the breadwinner; she was the homemaker. If she did something different, she wasn’t sure how he would respond. What if he left her? What if the friendships she’d cemented over PTA bake sales and field trips and Little League games couldn’t weather the change from stay-at-home mom to career woman? What if she lost everything she’d built her life upon?
Susan was afraid of success. Actually, it wasn’t fear of the goal itself, but of the byproducts of achieving her goal. The domino effect of making one change in her life – going back to school – might be more than she could handle.
If you find yourself not doubting your abilities, but feeling anxious about pursuing your goal because you’re not sure what will happen if you do, you may be like Susan. And it is a legitimate concern. Change often begets more change – more than we bargain for. But there are ways to prepare for it.
1. Talk to the people closest to you. Share your fears about the changes in your relationship that might happen as a result of pursuing your goal. You may be surprised to find that they don’t care one whit whether you’re dressed in blue jeans or a three-piece suit; they just want to know they’ll see you at Bunco once a month.
2. Be honest about your concerns. Don’t misplace your anxiety about your marriage onto your dogs – or your kids.
3. Realize that change usually happens in increments. Yes, going back to school will be a radical change, but the subsequent adjustments in relationships will be more gradual. You will have time to talk about them and discuss them.
4. Work with a coach or other expert. Coaches are trained in managing change, and will be able to help you predict some of the other secondary adjustments that may result.
Yes, things will change. But not all change is bad; in fact, you may find that your life in every area ends up better than you had ever hoped it would be. And that the dogs don’t miss you all that much anyway.
Reason #10: You Don’t Think You Can.
When it comes right down to it, there’s only one real barrier that will keep you from achieving anything you set your mind to, and that’s this: Your belief in yourself. If you don’t honestly believe you are capable of achieving your goals, your chances of doing so are very limited. And by the same token, if you honestly believe you CAN achieve your goals, there’s nothing that can stop you.
Many of us grew up with a limited sense of self-esteem and self-confidence. We constantly doubted our ability to do anything, from cross the street by ourselves to get a date. While this could spring from overprotective parents, who just wanted to protect us from the big, bad world, it resulted in lack of confidence that carried over to our adult life.
The only way out is through. The only way to build self-confidence is to do things you are nervous about. That means talking to strangers in line at the grocery store if you’re hoping for a career in direct sales, or posting some of your poetry on your blog if you’re interested in becoming a writer. In the words of Eleanor Roosevelt, “You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”
There is no shortcut to self-esteem or confidence. No one can give it to you, which is where so many of the school programs aimed at enhancing kids’ self-perception go wrong. It must be earned, the old fashioned way, through risk and reward.
The great thing about confidence is that you can start small. If you want to complete the Ironman Triathlon, you don’t have to start at Lake Placid. Instead, you can run around the block and swim a length of the pool. Then you run a mile and swim two lengths, and bike home. You build and build and build, and while you’re building your muscles, you build your confidence. You know you can swim two laps because last week you swam one and a half. You know you can sell $500 in a week because last week you sold $400. You know you can get three customers because you have two right now. And so it goes.
Sometimes you may fail; you only make it one and a half lengths, or you only sell $467 in a week. But by looking at where you’ve come from and how far you’ve gone, you know that the next step is within your reach. And when you feel that in your very soul, you will be unstoppable. There is no obstacle or challenge that will be too large for you to overcome, because you know you can.
After presenting ten different reasons you aren’t where you want to be, it’s my intent not to overwhelm you with information, but to inspire you. Maybe you’ve identified only one reason you’re stuck where you are; maybe you saw yourself in all ten! In any case, I hope that you are prepared to make some changes to move yourself forward.
It doesn’t take huge movements to make progress; in fact, sometimes the biggest results come from the smallest actions, like giving up sugary soda, or making one more cold call at the end of the day. It’s the repetition of those small acts over time that brings about huge results.
I hope that after finishing this report, you have some clear ideas of changes – small and large – that you can undertake right now, today. I wish you only the best.