PRODUCTIVITY

4 Tips For Overcoming Obstacles

Overcoming obstacles is hard but wonderfully gratifying. Here's how you can identify and tackle the most challenging and surprising obstructions.
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If achieving goals were easy, everyone would do it quickly and without difficulty. Even if your vision is clear and you can articulate a detailed destiny, there are always obstacles in the path. It's the joy and journey of clearing those obstacles that makes life rich, and helps people feel truly accomplished when they finally reach their pinnacle of success.

While on a three-week trip to Vietnam, I decided to tackle two of my biggest personal challenges. I committed to both of these goals this year in my preferred futuring process from last fall. First, I wanted to get a handle on learning Vietnamese. As strange and ambitious as that sounds, I wanted to communicate with my new mother-in-law. (Plus, I figure it might be fun to finally know what my new family is actually saying about me.)

The second challenge was that I could stand to lose 35 lbs. At my age of 48, travel, exercise, and dietary changes don't come easy. However, as I write this column at the end of my Ho Chi Minh City visit, I've dropped 10 lbs., two inches in my waist, and bây giờ tôi nói một ít tiếng Việt (I now speak a little Vietnamese).

Here's how I finally blew past the obstacles in my way for the last 18 months. First, it helps to understand that obstacles come in three different flavors:

A. External Obstacles--These are obstacles outside of your control such as the economy, natural disasters, physical limitations, and the political climate.

B. Internal Obstacles--These obstacles are generally one-time issues but you have direct control over them, such as debt, cash flow, time availability, needed skills or talent.

C. Habitual Obstacles--These obstacles reflect how people get in their own way. They can only be removed with behavioral change.

To overcome obstacles business or personal, you must master these areas:

1. Embrace Self-Awareness

If you don't see the obstacle or believe it's a hindrance, you'll never reach your goals, blaming everything and everyone but the person responsible. This is particularly obstructive to resolving Habitual Obstacles. I realized my own prioritization was keeping me from what I needed to do. I could easily blame time as my enemy, but the enemy was actually my semi-conscious, daily rationalization that making money was almost always more important than health or learning. Once I admitted that my own prioritization was misguided, I made the necessary adjustments in my behavior.

2. Use Time to Your Advantage

This is most important with External Obstacles. You must learn to manage your impatience and be ready when the smoke clears. The harder the obstacle, the more time it will take to overcome. Set a preliminary schedule with clear milestones so you can track forward or backward progress. This way you'll see the cumulative impact of miniscule change. This helped me manage the weight. I could see reductions in calorie intake and changes in how my clothing fit by comparing week to week.  Once I saw small progress, I was encouraged to put in more effort. With time comes momentum. And momentum is the best way to bust through big obstacles.

3. Commit to Focused Discipline

It's easy to get distracted with the present. Business people are just that--busy! There is always a fire to put out or a new critical opportunity to distract you. True discipline is about making yourself emotionally commit time and effort to your benefit regardless of external factors. I knew I had to make myself accountable for my actions with what the late, great Chet Holmes called "Pig Headed Discipline." I cleared out every distraction and vowed to add nothing new to my plate until I made progress. Make the obstacle the No. 1 priority and focus on it every day until it's gone.

4. Engage Your Own Creativity

I like to create rhythm in my life so I can freely engage the creative part of my brain for problem solving. There's no better place to apply expansive thinking than on issues holding you back. I gave deliberate thought to what I wanted to accomplish on my trip to Asia, and set a plan. By integrating a daily run with a 30-minute audio language lesson, I was able to accomplish both tasks. Doing this in Vietnam gave me the added help of being immersed in daily speech and using the heat and humidity to sweat off extra pounds. By the end of the trip, I pushed myself to give one hour a day for both tasks, while only using one hour per day.  I also now count all my stretching in Vietnamese. Quit banging your head against the same brick wall over and over. Take time to think things through and find creative solutions that bring fun and progress to the grind of obstacle removal.

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IMAGE: Grant Faint/Getty
Last updated: Apr 9, 2013

KEVIN DAUM | Columnist

An Inc. 500 entrepreneur with a more than $1 billion sales and marketing track record, Kevin Daum is the best-selling author of Video Marketing for Dummies and the executive producer of Amilya! on 77WABC New York.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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