Removing Barriers To Progress

Many times we want or need to do something that would be beneficial but some obstacle prevents moving forward. We may not even be aware of the obstacle’s existence – we just think of the activity, the obstacle flashes across our minds for a micro-second (if even), and we abandon the activity. This process occurs so quickly that we may not even notice that a possibility is there before we reject it.

Most obstacles that keep us from doing what we want or need to do are often just small, correctable issues. Spotting these tiny barriers may not be easy but paying attention to the step-by-step process for doing any task may show the barriers that block progress. In “The Happiness Advantage” Shawn Achor talked about removing a barrier to practicing guitar by simply moving his guitar stand from the bedroom to the living room. {Yes, the rest of us are that lazy too.} Charles Duhigg, author of “The Power of Habit”, talked about overcoming a cookie habit by changing his response to the 3PM doldrums: instead of going for a cookie run, he does a stretch, a walk, and a bit of socializing. Many writers have described the effectiveness of removing an obstacle to exercise by putting gym shoes near the door or couch. {No one is saying any of this is rational – just that it works!}

Most tasks, activities, or projects have a point where progress slows down or halts altogether. In “The Goal”, Elihu Goldratt described how to identify and resolve bottlenecks. Goldratt mostly described manufacturing bottlenecks but the process works just for other types as well. Regardless of the type of blockage, the steps are:

There are many different types of blockages but the common denominator of all is usually a need to break difficulties into much smaller pieces. This helps with nearly every aspect and type of obstacle, including mental or emotional ones. For example, people often live with piles of belongings that cause them to feel distress and berate themselves because they cannot make the decisions essential to put things away. This blockage can be a form of emotional paralysis that makes any decision nearly impossible and makes those who live with this condition unable to act on or even think about clearing up the piles without in-person support.

I believe the root of decision-making paralysis is usually some form of fear (worry, anxiety, perfectionism, or pessimism – all just different faces of fear) and that people in the grip of indecision need to stomp on the fear demon (steps for how at end of article), but this may not be true in all cases. When fear is the root of any difficulty, not confronting it is a form of perpetual running: as long as you do not turn and face the demon, it will always follow you, damaging your quality of life and self-esteem. Turning to do battle will reveal that the fear demon is nothing but shadows – it has no substance at all. Shadows cannot hurt you, so you can only gain by engaging in this battle. Most often, the things we are afraid of turn out to have no reality. Those that do are best fought with full understanding and active engagement.

For the rest of this article, I will assume that you are willing to go on a quest to defeat fear and other demons and will use the example of sorting and putting away belongings that live in a pile {yes, many people are afraid to even begin working on the piles of belongings that cause problems}.

The potential barriers to making progress with any task, including clearing out, are numerous:

Here are the keys to overcoming barriers:

Beating Decision-making Demons
Always remember:

For more on making your demons do their proper work, read Harnessing Your Demons, Harnessing Your Demons, Part 2, and Harnessing Your Demons, Part 3.



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