Scott H Young

Overcoming Obstacles


This is the sixth chapter of nine included in my free, full version program, Goals! An Interactive Guide. The other chapters will be added in blog entries for future use.

Goals! An Interactive Guide Chapters:

Chapter One: Why Set Goals?

Chapter Two: Decide Exactly What You Want

Chapter Three: Create an Unstoppable Drive

Chapter Four: Get Organized

Chapter Five: Stay Flexible

Chapter Six: Overcoming Obstacles

Chapter Seven: Review Your Progress

Chapter Eight: Velocity-Based Goal Setting

Chapter Nine: Operate From the Highest Level

Every goal you set is going to have obstacles. If you goals didn’t have obstacles, then you wouldn’t have any trouble achieving them. Without obstacles achieving your goals would just be activities like watching television or picking up your dry-cleaning. Obstacles are what make goals challenging and motivating. Although obstacles can be frustrating, without them any goal could be easily achieved without motivation or effort. Without obstacles or challenges, life would be dull and boring without any excitement, drive or motivation.

The problem occurs when you fail to overcome our challenges and obstacles. Worse even when you give up at the sight of a particular obstacle because you cannot see a path around it. As thrilling and motivating it can be to overcome your challenges to reach a goal it can be equally frustrating and depressing when you can’t find a way to solve them. How can you overcome the obstacles on the way to our goals and achieve that sense of motivation, achievement and excitement that defines what life is really about?

Plan Ahead

In order to successfully navigate around an obstacle you need a map. Your plan is your map. In rough waters, turbulent storms and dense fog it will allow you to stay on course and reach your destination. By planning out how you want to reach your goal, you can successfully identify and find solutions to most of the obstacles you will come across. By identifying the obstacles ahead of time, you can avoid scrambling for a solution in the last minutes before they hit you.

Your plan should logically connect where you are with your goal. If you want to lose thirty pounds, your plan should provide the logical path from your current weight to your goal weight. Your plan might include exercising for an hour every day and eating healthier foods. Your plan should also include the methods you want to use to avoid temptation and to make sure you stick to your diet and exercise routine. A vague map won’t be a good guide when you get into trouble. Similarly, a vague plan is a disaster waiting to happen.

Use Active Planning

When Christopher Columbus thought he had sailed to India, he had actually landed in North America. The maps that he used to chart their journey did not realize that there was a huge landmass and the worlds largest ocean still separating them between Europe and Asia. Columbus’s map was faulty. He didn’t have a lot of experience in trying to reach Asia from Europe going west. If you lack experience with your goal, chances are your map is going to be a little inaccurate as well.

In business planning there seems to be two fairly distinctive camps. Sophomoric business books tend to favor traditional market research and comprehensive business planning and analysis before setting off on your venture. Other entrepreneurs often suggest that business planning is largely a waste of time since you will learn how to run a business best by trying, making mistakes and learning from them. This seems to be an argument between planning versus not planning.

The degree to which your initial plan is accurate is directly proportional to how much experience you have in that area. As a result, experienced entrepreneurs often suggest a careful market research and business analysis method. Because of their extensive experience, they recommend a careful initial plan. Other entrepreneurs often suggest to avoid the initial plan because they recognize that without business experience many of your predictions in your plan will be completely invalid. Regardless of whether your goal is to start your own business, this raises a confusing point. How do you plan in an area where you don’t have a lot of experience?

The answer is to use active planning. Active planning is a skill which you can use regardless of your experience in an area. Most people consider that the stages for goal setting should be to: set the goal, write the plan, act out the plan. Unfortunately, if your plan is not perfect this leaves you susceptible to obstacles and problems, limiting your flexibility and destroying your progress. Active planning takes a different approach. With active planning, your plan isn’t a fixed and stable document. Your plan is going to evolve, shift and change as you gain experience and learn from your mistakes.

To use active planning you need an initial plan. This initial plan should really represent the route that you believe will take you to your goal. After you have your initial plan, whenever experience or mistakes occur to throw you off course, reformat the plan. In other words, your plan should always represent your best mental projection about what it will take for you to get from where you are to your goal. By staying relevant, you can still rely on your plan to help you make decisions.

I’ve tried to run projects with a rigid initial plan and little deviation from it. This is a horrible idea unless you have an incredibly high degree of experience already. Usually after a few weeks the plan is largely useless. At this point you usually revert to the second method, which is to use no plan at all. Without a plan you are adrift without an anchor. Although you may have a goal, without any clear route to it, you inevitably waste a lot of time pursuing options that really don’t bring you any closer.

Don’t listen to anyone that tells you a plan is unimportant. Plans are important. Without a plan the actions you do today have no meaningful connection to your goal. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you that your plan should be done when you start working on your goal. That is the recipe for rendering your plan obsolete before you are even close to completing your goal. Use active planning to ensure you have a map and it always displays the obstacles around you.

Every Problem Has a Solution

If there is one belief that I feel has allowed me to achieve my goals it is the belief that there is always a path, even if I can’t see one. The easiest way to fail in your goals is to let minor obstacles become infinitely large barriers. Even if you can’t see a path around your obstacle, learn to suspend your judgement and have some faith. Be stubborn in your quest to find an alternate route. Belief in an alternate route allows your brain to create one. The creative capacities of the brain are so great that they can see around virtually any obstacle.

Creativity is the ultimate weapon in overcoming obstacles. A creative solution for solving problems often comes simply by a reassessment of the obstacle itself. Once you are able to frame the problem in your mind, the solution often flows effortlessly. Lets say one of your goals is to lose weight, but you constantly find yourself succumbing to temptation and eating junk food. What is the obstacle here? The obstacle could be framed as seeing junk food and wanting to eat it. By reassessing the problem itself, you might be able to determine that if you didn’t buy any junk food you would no longer be tempted by it. You may also determine that by finding healthy foods that you enjoy eating you can avoid eating the junk food.

Brainstorming is an excellent method for finding creative solutions to problems. By writing out the problem and then allowing your thought processes to pour onto the paper, you can gain a lot more clarity about the problem. If you don’t give up and keep squeezing out ideas, eventually your brain will stumble upon a solution. Too many people give up on a problem when they fail to solve it initially. The creative mind has powers that would astonish you if you only gave it enough time and pressure to squeeze the creativity out.

Roger Bannister was the first man to run a sub-four minute mile. Doctors said that running a four minute mile was impossible, that your body could not handle the stress of running that fast. Other runners had come close, but noone had ever hit four minutes. The coaches of these runners would tell them it was impossible. Roger Bannister believed in a solution. He ran a four minute mile. Today high school students have run sub-four minute miles. Belief that a solution exists is the key to finding it. The biggest limiting factor to your own growth and potential is not in external obstacles, but your own imagination.

Strive Right Until the Deadline

In previous chapters I have stressed how critical deadlines are to your success. Successfully setting deadlines ensures that you don’t procrastinate, but also ensures that your goal is still achievable. Unfortunately, if you push up your deadline whenever you encounter an obstacle, it is likely you will never reach it. I have a firm rule that once a deadline is set, I must cross over that deadline to reset it.

Deadlines cease to have meaning if they are too flexible. If you allow yourself to change your deadlines upon minor difficulty or disturbance, the entire purpose of a deadline is lost. A deadline is provided to create an incredible sense of urgency, motivation and the action that comes from it. While a very difficult deadline may be stressful in the short term, overcoming that period of limited stress will ensure that you move to action. As Zig Ziglar says, “When you are hard on yourself, life is infinitely easier on you.”

If you aren’t firm with your own deadlines, then the deadlines of the environment and other people will rule you. Do you ever rush home to ensure you won’t be late to start working on a personal project? You would probably rush to work if you thought you might be late. This shows that you are more worried about failing to meet the timing or deadlines of other people goals than your own. Hold yourself to a higher standard. Life will punish you far more than your employer if you keep showing up late on your own deadlines. Although a deadline may seem unreasonable in the face of a certain obstacle, the standard you set for yourself is crucial. Deciding to loosen a deadline because of a rational excuse will open the doors for more and more pitiful excuses until you reach a point where you reset a deadline because you didn’t feel like working towards it. Time will impose her rule over you regardless of whether it is your deadlines or not. Ensure that your personal goals and priorities aren’t swept aside because you failed to stay firm to your deadlines.

Obstacles can be a source of frustration and pain. Obstacles and difficulties are also the source of excitement, satisfaction and fulfillment. Active planning can allow you to always have a reliable map on the path to your goal. By deciding that every problem has a solution and putting your faith in the immense creative abilities you possess, the solutions will appear. Finally by setting an unbreakable standard to not change your deadlines in the face of obstacles you ensure that you are in control of life and life isn’t controlling you. Helen Keller once said, “Life is a daring adventure, or nothing.” Obstacles are the essence of your daring adventure, so embrace them and their solutions.


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3 Responses to “Overcoming Obstacles”

  1. [...] Virtual Salt – Introduction to Problem Solving Scott H Young – Overcoming obstacles [...]

  2. [...] Chapter Six: Overcoming Obstacles [...]

  3. R.Stephen says:

    Dear Scott,
    It’s amazing reading your articles. Your deep insight is to be appreciated a lot.
    The problem with people is many of them do not have goals at all. The people who set goal also fail to realise that there will be obstacles. People look for easy victory. I used to say ‘You can’t get success easily, if you can get it easily, it may not be the real success’.
    They don’t have the willingness to wait. They are not willing to pay the price but want to have the reward.
    I am a Team leader which comprises of 100 salesmen. I often train them to persevere till they succeed. I also used to advice them ‘Don’t try till you can, but try till you finish’.
    Your article is thought provoking. I wish you all the success in all your endeavours.

Debate is fine, flaming is not. Pretend that this comment form is a discussion taking place in my house. That means I enjoy constructive criticism and polite suggestions. Personal attacks, insults and all-purpose nastiness will be removed especially if it is directed at other readers.

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