Overcoming Obstacles to Change

By Leo Babauta

The Sea Change Program is about change … but change isn’t always easy. That’s because there are a set of common obstacles that get in our way, and being able to create lasting change is a matter of learning a set of techniques and skills to overcome those obstacles.

So in this article, we’ll do an overview of what I’ve found to be the most common obstacles, and some solutions I’ve found to be useful.

If you can overcome these obstacles, nothing is standing in your way of lasting, meaningful change!

1. Overwhelmed or intimidated. Often people don’t even start a change because it seems intimidating or overwhelming. The best solution for this is to make the change easier — make it smaller. For example, instead of thinking of doing 20-30 minutes of exercise, just do 5 minutes. Five minutes of any change is not hard or overwhelming.

2. Fear. Many people fear failure, or fear the unknown. The best way to combat fear is by making it less scary, and then having small successes that make you more confident and less afraid. For example, if you think you can’t learn Spanish, try just learning to say hello, goodbye, and thank you. That’s a small change that isn’t scary, and you can succeed at it easily. Then you feel confident enough to learn a few more words, and doing that second step makes you feel less afraid and even more confident, and so on, until you’re no longer afraid of tackling the change. Build success and confidence with small steps that are easy and not scary.

3. Not enough time. We’re busy, so we put off starting a change until later … or start it, but then it gets sidetracked because we get busy. The best solution is actually the same as the solutions for the first two items on this list — make the change smaller. If you just do 5 minutes a day, you’ll have the time. Note that this solution helps overcome three of the top obstacles on this list — which is why small changes are so incredibly important for overcoming obstacles.

4. Other things take priority. You’re excited about a change, but then other projects or events take priority, pushing your change to the backburner. The best solution for this is to learn to make your current change a priority at all times, and a great technique for learning this is to be fully committed in every way. To fully commit, tell the world about it, and keep everyone updated so you’ll feel accountable. Write reminders for yourself everywhere, have a desktop picture that helps keep you focused on the change, and have change partners or a group that’s doing the change with you.

5. Resistance from others. This can be one of the toughest obstacles, because we don’t have complete control over it. We can’t force other people to be supportive. I plan to do a full article and webinar just on this topic, because I think it’s so important and so difficult for many people. However, some suggestions for now: instead of imposing your changes on others, get them involved early in the decision-making process, ask for their help, have them be a part of the change process rather than just an observer — or more likely in their view, someone who is affected by a change he or she hasn’t agreed to. Ask for people’s support, but don’t threaten to change their lives without their consent.

6. No motivation. If you’re not motivated to do a change, you’ll stop when things get difficult. You’ll give up. I recommend that you don’t do changes you’re not excited about, at least at first as you’re learning the skill of change. Two of the best ways to stay motivated: 1) Focus on the enjoyment of the habit, rather than doing it as a chore, and 2) Do it with others, or use public accountability to stay motivated.

7. Can’t stick to it for long. Actually this is usually a symptom of other problems on this list. But if you do have a problem sticking to a change for long, consider what the reasons are — is it lack of motivation, other things taking priority, negative thoughts, fear? What you want to do is address these issues, and then focus on a small change that you can do consistently, every day, for as many consecutive days as possible. Again, use public accountability or a change partner/group to keep your streak going.

8. Negative thoughts (I can’t do it). I’m not good enough. I’m not strong enough, or disciplined enough. It’s not worth it! These thoughts run through the backs of our minds without our being aware of them. So the most important step is to learn to listen for these negative thoughts, and to become aware of them. Next, learn to squash them like bugs, and replace them with positive thoughts. It’s incredibly effective, and can be learned with practice.

9. Guilt from failing. How often have you slipped up, then felt guilty about slipping up, and then allowed that guilt to keep you from trying again? Guilt is a tough one, because it’s one of those insidious feelings that we barely notice but that has such a strong effect on us. In truth, it’s just another of those negative thoughts we just mentioned. You have to learn to be aware of it, then crush it and replace it with a positive thought. Tell yourself that when you slip and fall, it’s just another lesson that will teach you to be better at change. I certainly wouldn’t be as good as I am today if it weren’t for countless failures. So let the guilt go, and learn, and try again.

10. Temptations. You’re trying to eat healthy, but there’s a lush chocolate cupcake right in front of you. Oh, it’s too hard! Well, yes, temptations can be very difficult. There are multiple strategies that work for me. First, create a temptation-free environment. That might mean removing it completely from your home, not going to places where the temptation exists, staying away from it at work, etc. Second, if the temptation happens despite your best efforts to remove it from your life, allow yourself to have some — but just a little. You don’t want to feel like you’re restricting yourself too much, or you’ll have a hard time sticking to your change. Third, learn to think of your change as not a sacrifice, but a good change — start thinking of the temptation in a negative light (those fries will leave me feeling greasy and salty and bloated and fat) and the change in a good light (I really love fruit, and how fresh it tastes and how healthy I feel).

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