How to Achieve Your Goals
As you have probably already realized, setting goals is the easy part. Taking the necessary action and consistently following through is the part that most people struggle with. This brings up a common issue for most people when it comes to change. We think we need to know more, but knowledge is rarely the problem. We've got enough "know how" already.
The real problem is that most people are unable to consistently adhere to the behaviors that can lead to success. Often times, people end up getting the same results they are used to. Even worse, instead of acknowledging that we fell back into old habits, we become victims and tell ourselves, "I didn't try hard enough," or ,"It wasn't my fault," leading us to repeat the vicious cycle over and over again. We are creatures of habit, so I have been here too.
What you need to consider to tip the scale in your favor has to do with the subconscious mind. Everything you do has to pass through the subconscious mind to make sure that you do not experience cognitive dissonance. Consequently, the subconscious mind is an important player when making decisions. However, if your conscious and subconscious minds are not aligned, your subconscious mind will tend to take the cake. For example, you may have the ambition to transform your life to achieve the goals of your dreams, but your innerself will say "No thanks, I'd rather stay comfortable."
The 6 Obstacles to Success
What is it exactly that is holding you back in your subconscious mind? Turns out, there are six main obstacles to success: fear, excess stress, limiting beliefs, negative mindset, lack of emotional control, and disempowering habits. Here is a brief overview of each.
Obstacle 1: Fear
From an evolutionary perspective, the brain is primarily hardwired to keep you safe and alive. A sensitive structure known as the amygdala is constantly active evaluating every perception as a friend or foe.
This system operates below your conscious awareness, and for many this system signals the alarm every time is perceives a threat, real or imaginary, external or internal. Even if you are to consciously consider that the odds of a threat aren't in the favor of danger, say being attacked by a shark, your brain is likely to jump to conclusions towards the most improbable threats.
Whenever the alarm is signaled, and it is frequently, the subconscious mind will do what it takes to bring you back to the zone of comfort. Whether you perceive a real or imaginary snake, a spectrum of stress neurotransmitters flood your brain and body in an effort to keep you safe.
These real or imaginary perceptions can destroy your optimism and desire to take action or make improvements. For example, you may continue to work a dead-end job rather than search for a job of your dreams. Or you may look the other direction when an captivating person enters your space for fear of being rejected rather than being emotionally available. Or if you do begin to make progress toward achieving your goals, it's likely you will sabotage yourself with chronic, impulsive, automatic triggered fears. Researchers, such as Dr. Srini Pillay, have discovered that there are more than twenty-five types of fears that can throw you off from achieving your goals, if not completely stop you. By learning to recognize these obstacles when they arise, you can learn to turn your fears into fuel.
Obstacle 2: Excess Stress
Anytime you feel worried, anxious, scared, or depleted, a stress response in the form of a cascade of neurochemicals is sent out from your brain to your body, leading to host of debilitating effects. Stress can diminish your ability to learn new skills; disable your motivation; provoke restlessness therefore interfering with sleep; and cloud your brain's executive functioning.
Moreover, stress can inhibit your creativity, leaving you less able to see new opportunities, create novel ideas, and to access your innate brilliance. (This is where meditation comes in - stress less to accomplish more.) But like most things, it's not all or nothing, and there exists a balance. A healthy amount of stress is necessary to keep you aroused, excited, and motivated.
Obstacle 3: Limiting Beliefs
Beliefs are the lenses that you view the world and your experiences through, therefore they filter and color everything you think, say, and do. Beliefs are simply reinforced neural patterns that are based on memories, personal experiences, and old paradigms.
What you believe to be to true in your life determines your self-image and sense of self-worth. If your external reality doesn't match your internal map of your sense of self-worth, a disconnect between your subconscious and conscious mind manifests, also known as cognitive dissonance, which often leads to unconscious self-sabotage to bring you back into alignment.
Limiting beliefs can create habitual patterns, often interfering with your ability to see yourself, your community, and the world in novel, creative and empowering ways. Until you change your limiting beliefs, you will keep repeating the destructive patterns that hold you back.
Obstacle 4: Negative Mindset
We have all experienced negative or pessimistic attitudes. This is a safety mechanism of the brain to be aware of danger before jumping into action. From an evolutionary perspective, being skeptical, indecisive, and negative can be a valuable trait because it can help prevent impetuously indulging in risky behaviors. This safety mechanism reminds you to take extra caution when spending money or talking to the special someone you barely know.
Conversely, if you begin to ruminate on all the possible negative potentialities, fear and anxiety can take control, transforming you from the optimist that is the natural state of healthy brain functioning into an entrenched "Negative Nancy" generating excess stress, further disrupting your brain's executive functioning. Once again, balance is key.
Obstacle 5: Lack of Emotional Control
Emotions are neither good or bad, positive or negative, regardless of whether they feel pleasant or unpleasant - they are merely signals that are triggered at the subconscious level. Nearly all organisms, from single-celled paramecium to Homo sapiens move away from pain and toward pleasure. The key is to be aware of our feelings without judgement and to learn how to manage them better.
Obstacle 6: Disempowering Habits
You are the product of your thoughts, feelings and actions. Humans are creatures of habits, and our autopilot patterns define who we are. By definition habits are tendencies that are easy to repeat and challenging to change.
From an evolutionary perspective, the brain creates habits to conserve energy. It is easier to automatically carry our familiar tasks without thinking about them than it is to reinvent the wheel. But habits can be empowering, such as moving your body five times a week, or reading forty-five minutes each day, or saving 10 percent of paycheck for savings.
On the other hand, disempowering habits - many of which were planted in your childhood - are largely destructive and sabotaging. The wrong habits can stop you from creating new solutions to life's problems. Instead, they can create cognitive bias blinding you from truth.
Aligning Your Two Minds
Your subconscious mind is a powerful and permanent part of you. Therefore, if you want to recruit the power of your subconscious mind to help you reach your goals, it's best to learn to live with it and align it with what you truly want by transforming these potential obstacles into opportunities for growth.
Your fears can become fuel for change instead of holding you back.
Your stress can become a powerful tool for building your resilience and creativity instead of burning you out.
Your beliefs can become powerful stories and anchors that inspire you instead of keeping you stuck in a rut.
Your mindset can become a lens for seeing possibility and opportunity all around you instead of making you miserable and cynical.
Your emotions can become significant signals relaying your subconscious status instead of uncontrollable reactions.
Your habits can become rituals that bring you closer to your goals instead of automatic disempowering cycles.
These six obstacles are concealed both above and below our conscious awareness. Until we learn to increase our mindfulness and observe with evaluating, we may achieve some of our goals, but not our highest potential.
Assaraf, J. (2018). Innercise. Cardiff, CA: Waterside Press.
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