There are many obstacles that prevent us from making positive changes. Lack of time. An unsupportive environment. Unsupportive others.
However, according to therapist Krista Driver, LMFT, for many people, the biggest obstacle is themselves.
For example, some of us fear success more than we fear failure, said Driver, author of the book Mani/Pedi: A True-Life Rags-to-Riches Story, which explores the fascinating tale of how Charlie Vo escaped from Vietnam (with her young family) and built a nail salon empire.
Failure might be a more comfortable place because we’ve been here before. So we sabotage ourselves before we can achieve any level of success or positive change, she said.
“In my experience as a clinician, I would say 99 percent of the time, the biggest obstacle for people is their very own way of thinking and of being. We create in our lives what we focus on,” Driver said.
“So, if I’m saying, ‘I’m a loser and I’m never going to have enough money,” my focus is on ‘lack.’ And then I create (subconsciously or consciously) lack in my life, and it becomes a ‘self-fulfilling prophecy.'”
We also stay stuck because we reap certain rewards, known as secondary gains, from the very behavior we’d like to change. Driver shared this example: A person is afraid of seemingly everything, which stops them from doing anything for themselves. They don’t make their own doctor’s appointments. They don’t drive. They don’t take on other responsibilities. And someone else—a spouse, a parent—swoops in and does it for them.
“[T]he attention and assistance the individual receives for being fearful or stuck may become the ‘secondary gain’ and that holds them back from making positive changes in their life. In other words, they are invested in staying ‘negative’ because they gain something from being that way.”
To identify what’s specifically standing in your way, Driver recommended asking yourself these questions: “In what ways am I benefiting from staying stuck?” “What is my secondary gain to being fearful or timid?” “What’s holding me back?” or “Do I know what I really want?” or “What are my fears?”
You might journal your responses to these questions. Either way, be honest with yourself. Because once you understand the obstacle better, you can actually do something about it. That is, if you realize that you fear success, you can explore why that is and how you’ve been sabotaging yourself. If your self-talk is cruel and terrible, you can focus on changing your inner dialogue.
Remember that it’s normal for change to feel uncomfortable and overwhelming. After all, it’s different. It’s unfamiliar.
The key is to ease in. Explore what’s specifically standing in your way, and take one small step forward to overcome it.
Try to view this positive change in a fun, playful way. See it as an adventure, as an exploration. The whole world doesn’t have to rest on this change (how often do you put so much pressure on yourself?), because you’re simply exploring and discovering. One tiny step at a time.