Barriers to Progress

Jan. 8th, 2018

This time of year everyone seems obsessed with doing more. New Year’s Resolutions, goals, losing weight, earning more money, paying off debt, getting out of the winter blues. And for some people, the simple act of identifying what they want to accomplish is enough. The clarity allows them to move forward, step by step, and achieve goals.

If the above concept sounds completely foreign to the point of near impossibility, then you probably fall more into the category this blog post is about. We are the people who probably have a very clear idea of what we want to do. Even if we don’t, figuring it out is the easy part. The problem for us is we can’t figure out how to make any headway on our goals. No matter how hard we try, something always gets in the way, and sometimes it’s simply our own thoughts.

For a long time when I tried to accomplish something, I had very clear ideas about what that something was. Often it was far too big a goal to tackle all at once or I wasn’t clear on how I was going to accomplish it, but I knew what end result I wanted. When I went about trying to get there, I found either that I completely failed to get anything done, or what I did took so much effort and time that I burnt myself out frustratingly quickly.

Over the years, I began to surrender to the general wisdom I’d constantly heard about mental illness. Put simply, it’s that you must take care of yourself first. Before anyone else, possibly before you do fun things (although fun is a form of self-care, in my opinion), and, I’m realizing now, before you try and make progress on goals.

When living with a mental illness, there are often many barriers between the individual and the work they need to do. This is what I’ve made the theme for my coming year. I want to work as hard as I can at removing the barriers between me and working on my goals, first.

This would, by necessity, look different for every person. For me, I’ve identified the first three layers. Let me emphasize, these are only the ones I’ve found out about. As I progress, I’m certain to discover more.

1. Routines, self-care, and sleep

These are the foundations of my life. Without them, I’ve discovered, I don’t have a hope of getting anything done. I mean anything at all. Not work, and not play. Nothing. I need to ensure they are solid.

2. Distractibility

Hello, chaos, my old friend... So many people struggle to remain on task in today’s world. Be it because they have ADHD or another neurodiverse brain type, severe stress, a physical ailment, or just the amount of information thrown at them during an average day. Having my focus pulled away from what I’ve decided to work on over and over and over again makes it hard to accomplish anything. I need to reduce this as much as I am able.

3. Task management

Once my self-care and distractibility are under control, it will be time for me to turn my attention to how I make work I’ve identified as important to me available to my attention. How do I know what is the next thing to work on? How do I make sure nothing falls through the cracks? These are simple questions with complex and, for ADHD, ever-changing answers.

These are the first three barriers, I’ve identified, to my goal achievement. Examples of other barriers that might exist for someone include emotional problems, lack of boundaries, lack of education, or lack of patience. They might look like the presence of something. Untreated medical problems, excessive physical weight, debt, or criticism (internally or externally generated).

Simply figuring out what our barriers are might be a goal in and of itself, involving family, counselors, therapists, coaches, or mentors. Once identified, we might need those same people to support us in working at bringing the barriers down so they no longer impede our progress.

The bottom line is, if something is interfering with our ability to move forward, that must be our first priority, otherwise any work we put in will be wasted, because the barrier will still be there, and will continue to sabotage us. At the very least, it will slow down our progress and it would be far more efficient to deal with the barrier first.

What barriers are impeding your progress towards goals?