Often when we start on a difficult journey, seeing a roadblock can make us think we are meant to stop, often in frustration and defeat. However, inner obstacles can help us to push passed our insecurities or even disprove them.

Obstacles outside our control can either be removed altogether, or help us to challenge our ingenuity. If you can shift your perspective from seeing an obstacle as a sign to stop, to questioning what it is there to teach you, you can really start moving.

First let’s talk internal obstacles:

Some people call these “blocks” and we all have some. One of mine was I don’t want fit people in the gym to judge me when I use the equipment because I might do it wrong. If you already know the thought you have that stops you, you can address it. With insecurities about the gym, I took more classes and started asking questions to the instructors, utilized the gyms “free first training session” to get a general overview of how to structure a workout, and sometimes made myself try just one new machine during my visit.

Sometimes an internal obstacle is harder to pinpoint. You may feel a swell of anxiety about scheduling a study course for an exam, even though you know you have plenty of time to prepare. When you are unsure about the why, the first step is to push through and do the thing you are anxious about anyway.

This may sound odd coming from a mental health professional, but I say this for the following reasons:

  1. Continuing to procrastinate only serves to deepen your anxiety about it making it harder when you try to work up the nerve to click “register” the next day.
  2. You will learn a lot more about yourself going through the process that makes you anxious, than you could ever learn trying to figure out “why.” Sometimes anxiety does not even have a specific cause, which can make analyzing it counterproductive.
  3. When we push through an internal obstacle or bout of self-doubt, we often see that our anticipation of the event is much worse than the event itself, which is a liberating and anxiety-reducing discovery.
  4. During all of this lovely self-discovery and anxiety reduction, you will be busy accomplishing your goals in the meantime, which serves to boost your confidence and reinforce the advantage of diving in rather than worrying about starting.

If you try to push through and find you are overwhelmed to the point that you cannot move forward, try free association journaling to see if something specific does come to light and helps guide your next steps. Or you may consider scheduling time to speak with a therapist to help.

Let’s talk external obstacles:

The easiest route is to literally remove them. Got a friend who invites you out to happy hour every weekday? Stop texting back. Can’t stop watching the television in your bedroom? Put it in the guest room. Can’t stop snacking on processed carbs? Stop keeping them in the house. Just placed your fifth UberEats order this week? Delete the app.

In a study in 2011, a team of researchers tested the willpower of participants and found that their “willpower” had less to do with their personality type, and more to do with the amount of temptations in their environments. The people who felt they were able to stick to their regimens better, were the ones who removed the obstacles around them. They weren’t necessarily any better at resisting picking up the cookie, they just did not put themselves in situations involving cookies.

One lesson here is that it isn’t you or your willpower that is the problem. Most times it is the environment, and that is comparatively easy to change. Also, it takes the shame out of it. You aren’t bad because you couldn’t resist temptation, most people can’t. You can just adjust your route on the way to work so you don’t drive by that Starbucks every morning, and poof! You are a whiz at willpower.

What if the obstacle is something in between the two; maybe you feel guilty leaving your dog at home while you hit the gym. Try out a few different strategies, like alternating days of gym with a long walk or run with your dog. Or hire a dog walker so you know your pup is taken care of while you get your sweat sesh on. Maybe that course you need to take to further your career, but it’s out of your price range right now. See if the institution providing the course offers any scholarships or ask if your company will reimburse you for professional development. Get creative, and if you see someone with seemingly no obstacles, ask them how they do it. Chances are the answers are more simple than you think, and that type of person is an excellent role model to have around.

Try looking at an obstacle at all angles and you might start to see them as doors to growth, self-discovery, and bridges to a new self. Your obstacle is your opportunity.