How to Manage Obstacles that Keep You from Achieving Your Personal Goals

When we think about setting personal goals, they’re usually in two categories.

The first category of personal goals is to “start doing something positive.” These might look like:

  • Lose weight
  • Exercise more
  • Read more non-fiction
  • Get a pet
  • Find more time for friends and family

The second category of personal goals is to “stop doing something negative.” This list might include:

  • Quit eating high-fat foods
  • Stop smoking
  • Reduce alcohol use
  • Decrease stress
  • Waste less time online

You might assume it’s easier to start a new positive behavior than to stop a well-established negative one. But that’s not always the case. Many times it’s just as hard to establish a new healthier routine as it is to get rid of a habit or behavior that’s not in your best interest.

I’ve written several other related posts about the process of setting personal goals, developing a plan, putting your plan into action and managing setbacks. I’d be lying if I told you this process is always an easy one. As we know far too well, we may stumble repeatedly over a long period of time in our attempts to achieve an important personal goal.

So I think it’s useful to step back and review several factors that can get in the way of achieving our personal goals. Once we know that one or more of these factors may be in play, we can look at ways to minimize or remove these obstacles so we can ultimately be more likely to move successfully toward our goal.

Here’s my unofficial top 10 list of things that may get in the way of your progress toward a personal goal. Plus I’ll offer a possible strategy for how you can begin to get past each of these obstacles.

1) A lack of awareness

Sometimes you can’t achieve a personal goal because you haven’t even identified it yet. For example, if you’re ignoring or denying that your 75-pound weight gain is becoming problematic, you certainly aren’t going to be addressing how to reverse it.

Try this: Sometimes your friends or family may be more perceptive than you are. If they are giving you feedback about a concern you’ve not yet realized, take a moment to hear them out and consider they may have a valid point. This can sometimes help you to recognize the issue or begin to accept that the concern is worthy of your attention.

2) Unclear or unspecific goals

Once you’ve gotten past your lack of awareness, next you can begin defining and stating your goal. However, this step can get off track if your goals aren’t clear or aren’t specific enough to be easily monitored or measured. Goals may often be stated initially as “be a better person” or “be happier.” While admirable in spirit, these goals are very general and hard to put into concrete steps that you can readily act on.

Try this: Try to state your goal as specifically as possible and in terms that allow for measurement of your progress. For example, instead of “lose weight,” say “lose 10 pounds over the next 12 weeks.” Or instead of “be a better person,” state “say something loving to my partner once a day.” By being more specific in your goal, you can break it down into more manageable steps you can easily measure as you move forward.

3) Not enough information

Even though you may have your goal defined in specific, measurable terms, don’t be surprised to find you really don’t know a darn thing about how to achieve it. You may want to stop smoking but know very little about effective methods to quit. Or you’re ready to embark on a regular exercise program, but aren’t sure what types of exercises are best.

Try this: Don’t reinvent the wheel. Do a little research to gather information from experts, books or trusted online resources so you can put together a more detailed plan based on proven strategies.

4) Ignoring your values

Another factor that can head you in the wrong direction is if your goal isn’t in sync with your personal values. In other words, why is this goal important to you? And how does it match up with your values, which may include health, family, faith, contributing to others, or personal integrity.

Try this: Take a little time to ask yourself how your personal goal aligns with your values and beliefs. If this connection is obvious and positive, you are more likely to work actively toward this goal. If you struggle to find how your goal supports your values, re-evaluate the goal and see if it needs to be modified or possibly even discarded.

5) Not having a good plan

Despite your best intentions to achieve a personal goal, it’s well known that without a well-developed action plan, your efforts are likely to be like a ship without a rudder and you will quickly find yourself adrift.

Try this: Make sure you have a written action plan, which I’ve described how to develop in an earlier post. Remember to review and update your plan regularly and keep the specific steps manageable and realistic so you can see some steady progress.

6) Lack of commitment

Even with the best laid plans, your efforts to achieve your personal goal can lose momentum if you aren’t fully committed to it. It’s far too easy to quit working your plan and to find you are making little or no progress toward your goal.

Try this: It’s always best to make both a private personal commitment to your goal and to publicly share your commitment to your goal with at least a few trusted friends, family or professional advisors. This brings you support from others plus they can provide  accountability if they notice you’re not following through with the specific steps in your plan.

7) Inadequate support

It’s often the case that you may not maintain regular contact with your support team, which results in a decrease in the support they can provide you. Also, if they aren’t informed about how your efforts are going, they can’t reinforce your progress or help you work through challenges.

Try this: Keep in touch with your support team. Be honest about your progress and any difficulties you’ve encountered while working toward your goal. Invite and respect their honest feedback and be open to their suggestions for how to improve things or to get back on track.

8) Practical barriers

Sometimes the most significant roadblocks you face as you work toward your goal may be practical barriers such as lack of money, lack of time, child care, or difficulty finding or maintaining other resources.

Try this: Talk over the specific barriers with your support team and brainstorm possible solutions. There may be ways to reduce expenses, share child care responsibilities with neighbors, rearrange appointments to fit in exercise time, or other options to reduce or remove these types of barriers.

9) Not focusing on the benefits

Because the barriers and challenges you encounter which seem to thwart your goals and plans can be really difficult, you will sometimes lose sight of the many benefits you can derive when you do achieve your personal goal.

Try this: List the specific anticipated benefits from achieving your goal, such as improved health, better relationships, financial security, reduced stress or greater confidence. Review these benefits regularly and add new ones. Focusing on these positive benefits will give you renewed hope and momentum to keep you moving forward toward your goal.

10) Giving up too quickly

It is normal and expected to face frequent setbacks as you work on your personal goal. These can sometimes leave you feeling like you are back at “square one” and that all of your efforts to change have been fruitless. What’s even more problematic is when you use such setbacks as a convenient excuse to give up altogether on your goal.

Try this: Remind yourself that setbacks are a common part of your efforts to change. Also remember to use the setback as an opportunity for learning and then resume your action plan after making any needed modifications based on what you learned. Don’t forget that your odds for success actually improve after each setback, so keep on trying.

I hope these ideas and tips will prove helpful to help you manage some of the difficulties you may encounter while working toward a personal goal. Keep in mind that change can take a while, but if you’re persistent and continue to make small steps toward your goal, you’ll eventually achieve it.

Here’s a question: Which of these 10 factors have been difficult for you and how have you dealt with them? Please leave a comment. Also, please subscribe to my blog and feel free to follow me on Twitter, “like” my Facebook page, or connect on LinkedIn. Thanks!

  • Goalify

    Very interesting article! I agree, it is very important to define your goal. With a clear goal in front of you, you remain more motivated. You know what you have planned, why you are doing it and what outcome you are expecting.

    When you take on a new goal or habit, it’s a good idea to answer a few questions before you get started. Please check out my article about 5 questions you should ask before setting new goals:

  • Thanks so much for your feedback. I enjoyed reading your article; it’s very practical and helpful.

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