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How to Uncover and Beat Success Barriers

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Uncover and Beat Success Barriers

Let’s talk about how to systematically uncover and beat success barriers.

“Success barriers” are a concept from self-development circles that describe acts of self-sabotage or blocks that can stand in our way of getting what we want. They do everything from slow us down (and make us less productive), to halting our progress to our goals and outcomes completely.

When Thanh and I were discussing how to write this article we found the research on success barriers to be fairly thin – lots of people talk about them, few people actually address how to uncover and break them down. We’ve decided to go with the content approach, by looking at specific barriers in different Areas of Life. This lets us give you specific examples, and talk about some of the common things we’ve seen in our own lives and in discussion with AE readers.

Because these are content-based examples, you may not relate to some of these – and that’s OK (and a good thing!). What you will be able to do by the end of this article however, is work out what your specific barriers are, and have a good idea of how to beat it.




Let’s start with health.

There are 2 barriers here that are almost universal:

  1. Not having enough energy to do what you want to do.
  2. Not having the right fuel for what you want to do.

These are related but distinct barriers.

Not having enough energy to do what you want to do.

The way to beat this barrier is to be in the best shape you can. This will give you the raw energy that you need to do and achieve the things you want to. It’ll also regulate sleep, help fight off sickness and put you in better health. On top of that, getting this handled generates incredible amounts of motivation for everything else in your life.

How do we do this? The first thing is to address any medical issues as best you can. The second thing is to find an exercise program that works for you – whether that’s running, resistance training or simply playing a competitive sport on a regular basis.

Not having the right fuel for what you want to do

This is the other half of health. In order to have the right fuel for what you want to do, you need to eat properly and to optimize your eating patterns.

Look, we all love food. And we all particularly love really good and yummy food. But the truth is, we don’t have to be foodies every single day. And healthy food doesn’t have to be bland. Whatever your particular nutritional philosophy is, whether that’s going 100% organic or eating based on macronutrient ratios, you need to write it down and stick with it… most of the time. The point here is to have the right food to fuel your body. And when you combine this with exercise, you’ll have the energy to do what it is you want to do.



Fear, discomfort, worry and stress about finances

Almost everyone has some fear or discomfiture regarding their finances and wealth. When you don’t have money, it’s all about getting more of it. When you have it, it’s about keeping it and managing it. The basic premise of these fears and worries is not having trust in a financial plan that works. And everyone’s financial situation is different, so it would be amiss of me to give specific financial advice.

Instead, let’s chunk up one level and look at how to address this barrier using a higher-level of change. And the simple way to go about that, is to have a plan for how to improve your financial situation and to follow it.

This can be as simple as writing down where you are, where you want to be, and working on at a basic, simple level what you are going to do with the money you have, the money you make and the money you spend. And then following through with that. It’ll give you the sense of security and remove any stress or worry you have that your finances are out of control.

Negativity towards other people’s finances or wealth

This particular barrier is insidious. We see it all the time, and everyone who’s started managing their own money has it in some form or another. It’s human nature to be jealous, envious and a little negative towards others who are doing better than us. But when it starts to cross into blaming others for our financial circumstances, then it becomes a success barrier.

The problem is, when we are negative towards others for any reason – our subconscious stops us from ever attaining or having what they have. This is huge. Think about it – if you see a successful person, and start to resent them for their occupation or the way they do business… you automatically prevent yourself from EVER reaching the level of financial success that they have, because of that resentment. Your subconscious is there in the background preventing you from achieving financial success on that level so that you don’t become like that person and end up despising yourself.

Note: this is not to draw moral or other judgemental boundaries around what other people do for the living, or (lack of) corporate governance or anything, it’s purely practical. If someone has something that you want and you bear negativity towards them for it, your subconscious will prevent you from getting it for yourself.

The way to overcome this barrier is to remove any and all resentment, negativity and hate you have towards others for your financial situation. I’ll give you an easy mental drill that you can use to do this at the end of this article.

p.s. Astute readers will notice that this resentment/negativity applies to all areas of life.



Unresolved issues with carry-on effects

Most people have unresolved issues with their source (i.e., childhood) relationships. And for most people, they never get resolved as they get older.

The interactions we have with people when we were children have far-reaching consequences. As children, our world is governed by the will and force of adults. Anything that they say, dictate or tell us may as well be scripture sent from above. After all – as children, we can’t care, fend or protect ourselves, and we are dependent on adults to do so. Adults have the ability to distinguish severity, intention and the ideas behind words, but children do not. So when an adult says something like “You’re not good at art”, we take it as truth. And lo-and-behold, when we become adult ourselves, we find ourselves “not good at art”.

This barrier is kind of like a self-fulfilling prophecies – only these prophecies came from people with interacted with as children, and we didn’t get much say in their creation.

Beating this barrier involves going back into our source relationships and untangling the events that unfolded. It involves looking at the often-arbitrary limitations we have in our current lives, and tracing them back to something that happened in childhood, and working out and realizing that it doesn’t have to be that way. Ultimately, it is about recognizing that as an adult, you have the freedom and responsibility to act, behave and do as you please, and that whatever a particular teacher, parent or childhood influence said to you decades ago has no bearing in the present.

Inability to say no

Human beings are not the most pleasant of creatures. We’re loud, we’re often assertive – and we often demand unreasonable things of others. If you are unable to say no to other people’s unreasonable demands, it becomes a success barrier, because people will ride roughshod over you in life.

You must know what is acceptable to you in terms of behavior and the way to do that is through understanding and establishing boundaries. You need to know how to say no to the small things, and the big things.

We have an article about this here.



The main success barrier when it comes to our intellect is insufficient skill. Usually we have a particular goal or outcome, and very simply, we don’t have enough skill to get there.

The great thing about this is that the way to beat this barrier is simple – if we don’t have enough skill to do something, we can just go out and learn and get that skill.

In fact, according to Josh Kaufman, it only takes 20 hours to learn how to do something to a sufficient, performable level.



Needing approval

Human beings are ingrained with this pattern of needing to ask for approval before doing something. It’s a pattern that is socially conditioned into us by our parents, our school system and society at large. It’s a great idea for society because it keeps things orderly and functioning. But it’s a terrible idea for us as individuals who want to do awesome things.

Over time, this consistent need for approval to either act or to verify past actions becomes a success barrier. You need to be able to act without asking for approval, and without caring that much for how others perceive what you do.

The way to beat this success barrier is through sheer repetition. Try acting first, then handling any consequences after. (note: don’t break the law)

Over time, you’ll condition yourself to act without the approval of others. And once you have this, you’ll quickly realize that you also don’t care as much about what others think of you, or your actions.

As one of my good friends puts it (and I’m sure he stole this from somewhere), “it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission”.

Lack of self-control

The inability to control one’s emotions is a huge success barrier. If we navigate our lives at the whims of external events and the words of others, then we have a problem.

Tony Robbins says that out emotional state is just as important to performance as our abilities are, so we need to be the sole custodian of that emotional state.

Simply put, this barrier is handled through emotional mastery – not letting the external dictate our emotions. We wrote an article about this recently.



The main success barrier when it comes to discipline is a lack of discipline.

For many reasons, modern day human beings fail miserably when it comes to discipline. Our society has evolved to be one of instant gratification – we want it now, and it should have been delivered yesterday by FedEx.

The more discipline you can cultivate in any of these areas of life, the more you will automagically have in other areas of your life. Think of each areas an opportunity to harness your powers of discipline – it’s right there in front of you, so take it!

A Systematic Drill for Identifying and Clearing Barriers

Drill to Identify and Clear Barriers

As a wrap-up for this getting-too-long article let’s look at a systematic drill for finding and eliminating these success barriers. As I mentioned in the introduction, the barriers we’ve talked about are content-based, so they may not apply to you. I want to leave you with a way to easily pick out barriers in your own life, and a way to deal with them.

Identifying barriers comes down to:

  1. Picking an area of life.
  2. Doing an analysis of that domain. Anything that comes to mind quickly is usually a sign of a success barrier. You can also look at: recurring problems, recurring excuses, recurring annoyances, and anything that has a strong sense of emotion attached.

This simple 2-step process will help you pick out the success barriers in your life.

Clearing barriers can be done in many ways, as you’ve seen above. Here’s a drill for clearing the more wishy-washy barriers, such as any resentment we may have towards people more financially successful than us:

  1. Think of the person, idea or class of people you resent.
  2. Notice the feelings, and the negativity in them.
  3. Replace those feelings with something positive. This can be happiness, admiration, respect, or anything else that puts that person in a good light.
  4. Rinse and repeat until the resentment is gone.

It’s that simple. Doing this again, and again, and again, will clear out any issues to do with resentment and unconscious self-sabotage.

What to Do Next

I hope this article has given you a lot of ideas about success barriers across different areas of your life.

As with everything, start small by picking out 1-2 barriers and working on them first, then expand to others.

For more, see the Asian Efficiency Primer.

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Posted by Maria  | November 11, 2013 at 3:47PM | Reply

Great tips, especially in the areas of intellect and self control

Posted by Thanh Pham  | November 12, 2013 at 1:46PM

Thanks Maria for all the support on here and Twitter :)

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