Usually once a year (if we're lucky and we’re actually on top of our game) we make a list of what we want to accomplish. Sign up for 5k race, plan a trip abroad, start a business. But somewhere along the way, most of these items (if not all of them) get lost or forgotten. We arrive at the following year, unsure how a whole 365 days have flown by and wonder, a little abashedly, how we have yet to make good on all of those promises we made to ourselves.
While we may come up with 173 reasons why we didn’t get to all of those to-do items this year, the real issue isn’t the time, and it’s not work, and it’s not the weather.
The real issue is (drumroll please)… Ourselves.
Yep. Me and you. The truth is, more often than not, we are own worst enemy when it comes to accomplishing our goals.
But we don’t have to be. Here are the top reasons we stand in our own way and the best ways to rid ourselves of those inhibiting mental games we play.
Live big, do you, and let’s check some items off our list this year.
Jobs, relationships, being close to family and friends. All of these “securities” give us structure, the kind that allow us to set up our lives within their safe refined walls and give ourselves the illusion that we are accomplishing what we want to accomplish. But at the end of the day, if your nine-to-five is killing your sanity, or you're constantly putting life goals on the bucket list because of your significant other, or the thought of leaving "home" (whatever and wherever that may be for you) scares the shit out of you, it's time to make a change.
We feel safe in what we know, whether that's the relationship we've been in for five years, our job that pays the bills, or being around the people we can be ourselves with and who know us the best.
But the truth is, structure is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it can help provide guidance and help lead us to where we want to go. The work and people we surround ourselves with on a daily basis are some of the biggest influences in shaping and directing where we’re going. But on the other hand, it also has the ability to limit our idea of opportunity, of what is possible.
Of course, not in every case. But sometimes, we settle down into the “comfortable,” pleasantly drifting along with the tide because it’s easy, and we forget to explore, to venture outside of the known. We forget to question whether where we’re going and what we’re doing is really what we want.
When it comes down to it, our lives are ours, and not anyone else's. Every day is a delicate balance of fluctuations, an oscillation between gives and takes, of pushing and allowing. But when this balance is thrown off and the whole "making other people happy" thing overshadows our own happiness, it's time to get ourselves back onto the forefront.
When you look at the structure in your life, does it serve as a guide and help propel you forward? Or do you feel almost claustrophobic? If it’s more confining than supporting you in building the life you see for yourself, then these so-called forms of “structure” are only inhibiting your growth instead of helping you reach your goals.
We often forget that every once in a while it's okay to be selfish. Now, don't get all cray and break up with bae and buy a one-way ticket to Tahiti just yet. We all need to make a living, we all need a little bit of love, and we all need friends who are just as weird as we are in our lives. So take it in the context of you (Do you, as the saying goes).
But we also can’t forget that every once in a while, it’s good to push ourselves, to meet new people who don’t get our jokes and who can’t finish our sentences, to travel to new places where we don’t speak the language and where we aren’t quite sure what we just ordered. It’s good to get off stable ground every once in a while, and to remind ourselves that even when we don’t have a clue what’s going on, we can usually figure it out. That we don’t need as many stabilizers in our life as we think we do. That we are more self-sufficient than we think.
And it’s when you let go a little, let yourself float a little farther away from that safe harbor, that you realize just how many incredible people who you’ve been missing out on all these years, how many other awesome jobs there are out there, and that you know much less about the world than you thought you did. And that’s a good thing.
Doors will start to open, your thoughts on what you can and can’t do will begin to broaden, and you’ll realize that there are a whole lot more opportunities than you originally thought.
2. Fear of failing.
Few things feel worse than crawling back with your tail between your legs to those naysayers who said you couldn't. The thought of leaving a job, a relationship, home, whatever it may be, for something better is scary as hell because the "I-told-you-sos" swirl around in our heads and paralyze us from stepping forward towards our goals.
But the real magic happens when you throw that out the window and realize that your decisions are yours.
In the end, if things don't work out it will be one grand adventure and quite possibly a pretty funny story to tell down the road.
Failing is about what label you put on it. Is it about how everyone else will see it? Then yes, it’s probably going to feel pretty shitty if/when you do. Or is it about how you take it? In the end, if you believe you can figure it out even if you do fail, laugh at yourself, and learn a thing or two, that's all that really matters.
Failure is not so much a falling from grace as it is a change of direction.
3. Fear of change.
Don’t get me wrong, routines are nice. This is coming from someone who trained for an ironman for eight months while working a 40-hour work week. Routines are what got me through those eight months. Wake up, eat, run, eat, work, eat, swim, eat, bike, eat, bed. Repeat. (And yes, I ate that much.) Without routine, my sanity and training would have crumbled early on in the game.
But the thing is, there is a time and a place for routine. Whether it’s an athletic endeavor or work or relationships, it’s easy to stick to it because we don’t have to think about what comes next. We often become numb to what’s going on around us, and we simply go through the motions. The process is uncomplicated, undemanding, and the thought of steering off into some unknown direction is scary because the second we do, it requires effort on our part. Simplicity is thrown out the window, and usually that’s when complications begin to arise. What if this change is for the worse?
But it’s usually these off-course detours where we learn the most. It’s always when relationships end, jobs change, cross-continental moves happen, that we start to reevaluate, start to question, start to build and change directions and find our way again. Our way. It’s when all those questions and thoughts and ideas that were previously lying dormant start to come to life.
We like to think that we’re pretty intelligent when it comes to ourselves. But at the end of the day, we hardly know our likes and dislikes, what we are and aren’t capable of, and where we think we should be next.
Understanding that change can be pretty damn scary, and having faith in ourselves in spite of it, opens up our range of possibility and gives ourselves the flexibility to grow in any way we like.
I always hear (and am guilty of it too) Man, I wish I could do that in response to traveling or law school or training for marathons. But the thing is, anyone can do these things; people can move abroad, or run marathons, or go to law school, or whatever it may be if they wanted to. They just want something else more. They don’t go to law school because they want to travel (or vise versa). They don’t go abroad because they want to start a family. They don’t train for marathons because they want to live on a boat.
It's all about what you want, what you put at the top of your priority list. I want to travel. Some people want to get through law school. Others want to run marathons. Some want to start families.
The decisions we make more often than not come down to what we want the most. They’re what pull us along in this great, winding road of decision-making. If we're lazy, it's because we want to sleep more. If we're motivated, it's because we want to get shit done.
It's only when excuses are introduced into this equation that things get all messed up. If we’re training for a race, the familiar "I'm too tired" and "I'm too cold" creep into our heads and we think, I want to sleep or I want to stay inside more. And they're these excuses that prevent us from progressing toward our goals.
What we too often forget is what we really want. In the moment, sleeping or sitting inside with a blanket sounds nice. But the feeling of crossing the finish line of a first half marathon could be one of the greatest feelings of accomplishment. Getting a certificate in the mail of a law degree would be pretty badass. And seeing the Eiffel Tower with your very own eyes might make you tear up a bit.
The key is to know when to call bull on our excuses. It’s about deciding what is at the top of our priority list, what we want to accomplish—the big umbrella—that overshadows all of those insignificant reasons of “why not.” If you really want something, you’ll make it happen one way or another. When it comes down to it, what do you want the most and how badly do you want it?
5. Anti Peter Pan Syndrome
We tend to put ourselves into categories, into little molded frames of how we think we should look or behave or what the proper trajectory should be at this point in our lives.
I should get a “real job.” I should settle down. I’m too old/young for that is a classic one. But here’s the thing: there is no age restriction for sailing around the world or climbing Half Dome in Yosemite or writing a book or starting your own company. We limit our opportunities by placing bookends on what we can and cannot do based on our age, our careers, or our relationships. Goals get put on the back-burner because we file them away into these make-believe categories.
But think about how many opportunities would open up if we took off these bookends and allowed ourselves the freedom to think that it’s possible. Let me tell you that in the Ironman World Championships race in Hawaii, there is a category for 80+ year olds. If an 80 year old can do an Ironman—and race the damn thing—I think I can give it a shot.
(Need some inspiration? Watch the video below.)
It’s only when you let go of these restrictions that adventure starts to fall into place. You find that epic runs in the rain are awesome. That sliding down a mountain in the snow until you can’t feel your body because it’s so cold is just about the greatest thing since Slip N’ Slides. And singing to the Spice Girls and dancing until your legs are sore and voice is hoarse the next day is the best form of making a fool of yourself.
The more goals you file away under these “categories,” of what you should be doing based on your age, relationship, or job, the more untouched adventures accumulate, and the easier it is to settle down into the norm, to the temporary satisfaction of “one days.”
So go skinnydipping. Do karaoke. Plan a roadtrip. Build a fort in the living room. Have a snowball fight.
6. Option paralysis.
Sometimes when we try to figure out what we want to do we end up with so many options that we’re left more confused than we were in the first place. (And anyone who knows me knows that I am the guiltiest with this one. Ask me to make a decision and I’ll ask you to get comfortable because it could take a while.)
Well, I want to do A but I can't do that if I want to do B. And that conflicts with plan C… And so on. We’re left with so many options that we freeze up thinking about the choices we have in front of us and the decision we need to make. It's like being in a candy shop when we were seven and having the freedom to choose anything we want but only one thing. What do we dooooo?!
The good news is, we’ve gotten through Step 1: Figuring out our options. Step 2 is the hard part: Deciding.
So what do we do when we have 100 different options in front of us? Start with baby steps. We don't need to digest it all at once. Take a breath and start breaking it apart. Need to keep working at your current job for a bit but want to eventually study in Paris? Take a night and weekend French class while you work and save up some money. Want to earn your degree in Psychology but want to travel? Be a weekend warrior and check out all the local awesome trails and nearby nature on the weekends while you kick ass at school. Want to sail around the world being a pastry chef? Take some sailing lessons while you go to culinary school (and feel free to send me some pastries).
The truth is, we’re not going to accomplish all of our goals in one go. Patience is a virtue, and one that I am far, far away from mastering. Start by writing down what you want to accomplish now and work your way to where you want to go. It's okay if it looks like your thoughts just puked everything out on paper and nothing makes sense; it's a process. Be open to altering what you want—your goals and thoughts will probably change down the road anyways.
And after all, hard-defined plans are overrated. The important part is to start moving, to set the decision-making process in motion, and to not let paralysis come between you and your goals.
Relax, breathe, and start somewhere.