Obstacles to Goals


“Fairytales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”

I have been writing about goal setting and achieving goals the last couple days because I have had some set backs in my current goals. I need the pep talk. If someone else benefits– woohoo!

I can honestly say that I have failed the majority of things I have set out to do. I know quite a bit about failure– how obstacles can stop you in your tracks, how sometimes you have to reassess your goals, how the expectations of others can get in the way, how you simply are not in control of every possibility and sometimes the world shifts and you have to shift, how easy it is to be distracted, how easy it is to get discouraged, etc. There are always obstacles to goals. Sometimes setting off to achieve a goal is simply an exercise of faith. One has to believe that the endeavor will succeed. But you need more than this to improve the chances of getting to your goal. After years of failing and trying to learn from my mistakes, I have come to the conclusion learning something new, reaching a desired goal, or developing a new habit requires 3 things: persistence, planning/problem solving, and self-control.

Obstacles will arise on any path to any goal.

You may think your writing is the next great sensation, while your writing group evaluates your writing as needing serious work. So you have at least a couple obstacles: 1. developing your writing ability and 2. developing your inner editor to be able to see your work more clearly. Should you simply give up because a handful of peers said your writing is not so good? No, but you may have a lot of work ahead.

You may want to lose 50 pounds, but your first two weeks of dieting and exercising every day result in no pounds lost. At this point should you decide that losing weight just won’t happen? No, but you may have a few obstacles to overcome– like maybe you need to get a better sense of portion control, maybe you have a slow metabolism and losing the weight is going to take a very long time, etc.

You may set a goal to get a job and send out 765 resumes and not get one job interview. There may be many obstacles in your way in this scenario. Perhaps the job market for your field is saturated and you will have to be more persistent, get additional training, be willing to volunteer, be willing to move to a different part of the country, etc. Perhaps, your resume needs a professional career counselor to help you evaluate and re-write it. Perhaps, your age, race or gender are negatively impacting your chances of getting hired and you need to make more personal contacts or get more creative about how to get a job.

You may want to save $100/month. Perhaps after three months  of saving, your car breaks down, requiring a $600 repair. Should you give up the goal of trying to save money?

I can name more obstacles– caring for young children so there is no time to exercise/read/go to the bathroom alone; no money to buy that thing you think you need to help achieve your goal; friends and family around you that are less than supportive and ridicule you; not getting signs of success in a timely fashion; etc.

In my opinion, addressing the obstacles that stand in your way is as important and visualizing your end goal. I think we need both. We need a vision of what we are aiming for and we need to be willing to look at, problem solve and plan for things that will stop us from getting there. I think visualizing the goal without looking at the obstacles can be too easy and has its own weird reward in the act of fantasizing. Looking at just the obstacles in the way can be demoralizing. Imagining the future and considering the obstacles can be a powerful way to create a realistic action plan.

By way of example, I have been trying to get in shape. Our bodies are very dynamic and efficient. Most people’s bodies will acclimatize to the amount of exercise they are doing and the number of calories being eaten. This means that unvarying routines don’t always work to achieve large weight losses or to maintain the weight loss. I was walking 10 miles per day and gaining weight while dieting. I decided my efficient body had acclimatized to my walking (obstacle 1) and I needed to do more strength training. I did not know the first thing about weight training (obstacle 2) so I hired a personal trainer. Money was a problem in hiring a personal trainer (obstacle 3). I chose a higher deductible on my health insurance plan to save money to pay the personal trainer. A housemate of mine lives in the room below me so I cannot use my treadmill in the morning and needed to find other times to work out consistently (obstacle 4). I planned my workouts before or after classes. I am still not losing weight, although I am in better shape, and I suspect my metabolism is adversely affected (obstacle 5). I have had tests done and am seeing a doctor. I may need to suck it up and realize that I will never be able to eat more than 1300 calories a day, will need to exercise a lot to maintain the weight, and losing weight may only be possible by eating 1000-1200 calories per day. I am still sorting this out. This is my planning/problem solving to get to my goal. I am not giving up. I may need to re-evaluate the goal.

Another example, I would like to write, publish a book, and have my book on a library shelf. I have been unemployed and need to get this sorted first. My time at present needs to be directed towards getting skills that an employer needs. This is the main obstacle that needs to be addressed before I can work on my skill as a writer (obstacle), developing a habit of writing daily again (obstacle), and developing a habit of sending material out for submission (obstacle).

One last example, I am in the process of changing careers and am working on learning to program in C++ and Java. I am taking a course through the local community college. Obstacles that I have had over the last several months: 1. I am frequently the only woman in my classes or one of a small number; 2. I have to organize my studies around caring for my children; 3. Going back to school is expensive; and 4. Not all courses are created equally and I still need to learn to code. For the first obstacle, I found a friend who was willing to listen to me vent on occasion via email and I began going to the local Girl Develop It group meetings. For the second obstacle, I plan out my week ahead of time and stick to my schedule so I do not get behind. For the third obstacle, I pulled monies from my retirement funds. This was scary to do but because of the retirement funds, I do not qualify for financial aid and student loans are very expensive. In regards to the last obstacle? I spend a good amount of time researching the material and teaching myself how to code because the coding classes are often taught by instructors who are not teachers but rather are former programmers. One instructor was self taught and then got a degree. He understands how to teach the material. Other instructors are not so good. I take the attitude that learning the code and teaching myself is just one more problem to solve on top of the coding assignments.

I think other people can help brainstorm solutions to obstacles that are in the way of getting to a goal, but ultimately the person who wants to achieve the goal has to determine for themselves what those obstacles are and what the solutions are. Ignoring obstacles or dismissing their importance is a way to set oneself up for failure.

And now I need to go work on learning Java programming.