Go Negative: Why You Need to Focus on the Obstacles to Your 2019 Goals

Go Negative: Why You Need to Focus on the Obstacles to Your 2019 Goals


You’ve probably set at least one goal you hope to achieve in 2019. How’s it going so far? If you’re started to lose motivation and progress is waning, instead of taking more action, consider the obstacles in your way.

Wait, isn’t it better to “think positive” and focus on all the ways I can get better this year?

Answer: NO

Bias Towards Action

Once we set a goal, it feels good to start taking steps to achieve it right away. The problem is that when our actions are random and undirected, we don’t necessarily make progress. The 4-step Improvement Kata approach offers an alternative to our typical bias towards action.The main difference is that action is centered around the OBSTACLES to the target. Instead of taking random steps, you define a short-term goal, identify the obstacles to getting there and then experiment to remove them. 

Thus, our actions are specific and targeted. 

Here is an example. My goal is to practice yoga 2 days/week (note this goal is measurable and does not say ‘practice more yoga’).

With a natural bias towards action, in the past, I would have about signed up for a 10-pack of classes at my local studio, scrolled through the Itunes store for a list of yoga apps, and perused Lululemon for some cool yoga pants. These are immediate to-dos that I can cross off my list and that make me feel likeI’m making progress. 

This year, I’m trying something different. 

Obstacles to the Target

I’m thinking about my obstacles to the target. The biggest one is my motivation in the moment. Like the rest of us, I have a brain that seeks pleasure/comfort and wants to avoid pain/discomfort. 

On a Tuesday night at 6pm when it’s 10 degrees outside, the pull of dinner with the fam, HBO (Sharp Objects!), sweatpants, and the couch is pretty strong. My desire to change my clothes, get in the car and drive to the yoga studio is less appealing.

My experiment for this week is to put an appointment on the family calendar as well as announce to the family that I’ll be attending yoga on Thursday night. I predictthat because I put it on the calendar and announced my intention to the family, I’ll actually do it. 

See the difference? My action step/experiment is directly targeted at a specific obstacle. Downloading a yoga app is fun and makes me feel like I’m doing something, but it probably won’t help me since it isn’t addressing a specific obstacle.

By experimenting to remove obstacles and then comparing plan to actual, you learn faster and can achieve goals more quickly. If the calendar and family announcement don’t work (plan DOES NOT EQUAL actual), I will have learned. The obstacle is the same (my next step might be to understand my specific thoughts in the moment), and I’ll think about what else can I try to increase in-the-moment motivation.


Photo by Tim Collins on Unsplash

  • Craig G Stoetzel
    January 25, 2019 at 6:45 am

    Good read!

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