Ask Mr. Manners

Obstacles to change

An unfortunate aspect of life is that we often create our own obstacles that may serve some sort of immediate purpose but end up being long-term liabilities. These barriers are driven by our most basic need to feel competent, to be accepted, and to feel in control. If not recognized early, these obstacles have the ability to shift from being beneficial to burdensome and end up preventing us from changing (or even attempting to change).

But that doesn’t have to be the case. I want to talk about four unique obstacles that we can recognize and consciously work toward changing.


All of us bring a combination of good and not-so-good things into adulthood from childhood – what is commonly called your “baggage.” The most frequent types of baggage include low self-esteem, perfectionism, fear, need for control, anger, and need to please. This baggage causes us to think, feel, and behave based on who we were as a child rather than the very different person we have grown into as an adult. This baggage, if not properly recognized, can cause us to react to the world in an unproductive way which can sabotage our efforts to achieve positive life change.


When you experience thoughts, emotions, and behavior that are driven by your baggage with enough frequency, they become habits which dictate how you act and react to the world. These habits are much like athletes who practice bad technique. This poor technique becomes familiar to their “muscle memory” and hinders performance in competition. Similarly, when your baggage becomes ingrained as habits, it produces seemingly reflexive responses even when they are neither healthy or adaptive. The challenge is that, once habits are ingrained, it is difficult to retrain them.


Negative emotions, such as fear, anger, sadness, frustration, and hopelessness, can act as a road block to life change. Many people don’t change out of the fear of failure. These negative emotions become substantial barriers to change by being triggered whenever you feel uncomfortable or unsupported. And the readiest relief is to retreat to the way you have been.


We create an environment that helps us best manage our baggage, habits, and emotions. Over time, we surround ourselves with people who are supportive of the way we are and make us feel comfortable and safe. We are drawn to activities that play to our strengths and help us either mask or mitigate those obstacles. Unfortunately, this environment reinforces who we are and can cause us to continue down a path that interferes with overall happiness.

When we allow these obstacles to control our lives, they have the effect of sabotaging efforts at changing life in a positive way. Even worse, we experience feelings of being stuck, frustrated, and helpless to change. While change is not instant, it is possible. It takes time, but nothing that was worth it comes without some practice. Remember, we decide what the destination will be and what we carry along the way!

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