What is Holding You Back?

What is keeping you from reaching your full potential?  Think of four or five things that are really holding you back.  Better yet, write them down on that scrap of paper sitting on your desk. Did you write them down?  Why not?  Go ahead and do it. I’m not going anywhere.

Did you write them down now?  Ok good.  Now, take a look at what you wrote down and divide them into two groups.

  1. Things you can control.
  2. Things you cannot control.

In general I find that people who accomplish very little tend to see all of their obstacles in the second category, while people who achieve things see obstacles in the first category. In other word, successful people understand that they are the biggest thing holding them back from their full potential. They know that accomplishing something is about what they do, not what they hope other people will do.

This may seem like a trivial differentiation, but it is fundamental in shifting to an internal locus of control where you see yourself as in charge and consequently see that what you achieve in life is dependent on the actions you personally take.

I’m not trying to suggest that you will never have any external obstacles. I saying that focusing on things you cannot change is not going to help you move forward.

Lets look at an example.  Bob and Alice are two (unrelated) individuals who have a desire to travel.  In fact, they are both interested in going on a cruise around the world. They both work similar jobs making similar amounts of pay, so the cost of a $30,000 cruise seems very high–not to mention being off work for about 1/3rd of the year.

If you ask Bob what the obstacles are to his goal of this world cruise, he lists:

  • I can’t afford the cost or the time off work.
  • My boss doesn’t pay me what I’m worth.
  • The economy is bad and I lost a lot of money in the stock market.
  • I wasn’t born into a rich family.
  • I can’t risk not having a job after getting back from such a trip.

If you ask Alice, she lists the following:

  • Working for someone else means that they need to make money of my labor so I only get a portion of what my value is worth.
  • My current education and skill set makes it difficult to justify more pay.
  • My expenses are high enough that I can’t save very rapidly.

Do you see the difference? Alice is focusing on things that she can change or influence.  Bob is focused on things that are outside of his control.  What is Bob likely to do to achieve his goal?  Probably nothing–maybe play the lottery once in a awhile.  What is Alice likely to do?  She might start her own side business, get a better education or take steps to lower her expenses.

If you want to get anywhere in life, make sure you concentrate on the problems that you can solve. Things that are outside of your control are just that–outside of your control so there is very little point spending any time dwelling on them.  Focusing on the things within your control puts you in a much better position to act and taking action is what will change your situation.


  1. says

    Very true indeed.

    Perhaps two related questions are ‘what are you afraid of?’ and ‘so how do I deal with it?’

    Sometime’s what holds us back isn’t a practical external thing that we can fix, it’s in the mind, and therefore more difficult to identify. Are you afraid of failure? Success? Being liked? Not being liked? Is there something deeper holding you back?

    If we really can’t influence or control something that still troubles us, we have to develop some sort of coping strategy, otherwise it could gnaw away at us and pull us off track. So..how WILL you deal with it??

    Annabelle B at Yara Consulting

  2. says

    At the end of the day, the only thing/person someone can blame for “holding them back” is themselves. Like in your example, having a job makes it so you don’t get paid fully for your efforts. Only the boss gets that. You are there to make him money, not the other way around. When in a situation like this there is only one of two things you can do. 1. Accept it. or 2. Change it.

    But I’d bet most people (not those who practice self improvement) rather just make excuses that are “true” to them. I used to make excuses about why I wasn’t as productive as I wanted to be. It went from blaming my girlfriend for taking too much of my time to not having the resources for what I wanted to do.

    But the truth is, was, and always be I am the person who stands in my own way. This goes for everyone. Sure, there are things that are obstacles in life but we can choose whether or not to overcome them.

    Thanks for the article. It was a great read.

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