Do you feel as though happiness is elusive? Is it just out of your reach if only you made a small change to get it? Or do you feel it is way beyond you and that your life needs massive change for you to have it?
In either case, your happiness depends on what you do and how you think. Sometimes the dream of happiness seems not possible so you become your own obstacle to happiness. You justify and lament why you could not seize your happiness.
You know you deserve more happiness but you’re stuck and you don’t know how to move forward.
The scary part of this is that you may not even be aware of how you are the obstacle to your own happiness.
Here are six ways how you may be the obstacle to your own happiness. While this list is not exhaustive, it contains some of the most common obstacles I have met working with my Ph.D. students, all mature adults with jobs, some with families, and some with painful pasts. As you read each point, consider how each is relevant to you. Consider which dreams you are stopping yourself from going after and how your life will be different if you were living the dream.
1. Stop leaving your future happiness to chance
Happiness is complex. But research has shown that going after your goals and meaningful activities will bring you happiness.
Goals have a certain element of certainty and most times, your goals may have been accomplished by others who you can learn from.
If you don’t have an idea or some certainty about your goals or how you are going to accomplish them, you are being a solid rock in your own path to happiness.
Setting meaningful goals for the current stage of your life and going after them bring an element of certainty to your future. If you don’t have any goals you are essentially gambling your future away. Or rather, you guarantee that your life will not change.
Goals provide direction for what you do on a daily basis.
One of the biggest regrets of people are regrets of the past and not doing the things they were meant to do.
Not setting goals and not taking any action on them will bring you much regret later on. No goals and no actions could only guarantee that you remain stuck where you at now.
You can be the architect of your dreams and happiness, or at least try reaching them. You become the architect of your future when you take definite action toward your dreams.
So if you find yourself stuck in an unhappy place or situation, look for meaningful and realistic goals to pursue, make a plan, take action, and continue taking action. With a plan and actions, you don’t leave your future to chance.
And if you have already reached your goals and enjoy where you are at in life right now, then keep enjoying, but consider how best you can show up to change a small part of the world in a positive way.
2. Set realistic expectations
Very often we tend to set big goals that we believe will bring us happiness. We buy into big goals that will result in big outcomes.
While this is true, big outcomes are the result of big actions.
So, if you are someone who takes incremental actions, then big goals may frighten the hell out of you.
If you are someone who feels happier with taking small actions to show that you can change your life, then set goals realistic for your current situation.
For example, if you find yourself writing just 100 words a day for an article, then by all means do so consistently. But, don’t expect to complete a 4000-word article in one week. At your rate, it will take you 40 days to write it.
However, if you have been writing consistently and have built up to 1000 words a day then a 4000-word article can be written in a matter of days.
You can have goals, but set realistic ones for where you at now in the stage of your life. When you can accomplish smaller goals you gain confidence to accomplish bigger goals.
3. Face your fears and act quickly
Sometimes your happiness may be on the other side of your fear. Oftentimes, the bigger the fear, the bigger the outcome and benefits to you, and in most cases, the greater the payoff. For example, you may want to go after a promotion at work just because it signifies you are better at what you do but you are afraid of being assessed in front of peers and found lacking.
Fears can keep you stuck where you are at if you allow them to get the better of you.
Most people tend to retreat when they are afraid. They stop taking action on what they want and they allow fears to take them out of the game of life.
But, what most people don’t realize is that facing your fears is the best thing you can do for yourself. When you embrace your fear and take action to get over your fear and move toward what you want, you build confidence in doing new things. You learn more about the situation causing you to cower and how to work through it the next time.
Every time to act despite your fear, you strengthen your action muscle. You predispose yourself to put yourself into the game of life to go after what you want.
Here is a simple two-step method to face your fears. Assess your situation and act.
Acting quickly gives your fears less time to fester and convince you to act otherwise. Let’s return to the promotion example. Assess whether you have met the minimum requirements for the promotion. If you have, then quickly put in your application. All you got to do after is to follow up on the application and prepare for your interviews. Even if you don’t get the promotion, you will be happier with yourself that you tried. Also, you may have received feedback on areas you need to improve on for the next time.
Face your fears and take action on what you want. Both the benefits of the outcome and the journey to the outcome will contribute to your happiness.
4. Deal procrastination a blow
Being content with what you currently have is one key to a satisfied and healthy mental life.
But most people are not made to be satisfied with what they have for too long.
I believe that this stems from our innate need to create the life we desire.
Unfortunately, creating does not come easily. It requires work and most people tend to procrastinate on creating their best selves.
A multitude of factors causes procrastination: fear, fatigue, boredom, perfectionism, and anxiety related to confidence in abilities and understanding of the tasks. Too many times we use these reasons to continue putting off our best selves. For example, if you are supposed to be writing but you’re feeling lonely, you might decide to go online and look at YouTube videos or gossip talk with a friend.
Regardless of the underlying cause of your procrastination, the key to reducing procrastination is to learn how to regulate your emotions. For example, popular writing advice is to write or free-write regardless of whether you are feeling motivated or not. This advice is really about regulating your emotions to act in spite of how you feel.
There are two things you can do to reduce procrastination. First, remind yourself of your goals and how you will feel the next day if you don’t take one action today. Secondly, build simple mindsets, routines, and habits into your life to help you regulate your emotions and take action on your goals.
5. Adopt a finisher’s identity
Most times, we need to follow through with what we said we will do to feel good about ourselves.
People quit for many reasons.
Some have tons of ideas, start new projects but give up when the time came for detailed-oriented work. They bore easily and wish for novelty.
Others are you easily distracted and demotivated when external obstacles are thrown in their path.
We tend to quit as soon as our new adventure (sometimes a goal) does not turn out the way we expect it to.
When we get bored or when the work gets difficult or when we get frustrated this is usually because we haven’t been down that path before.
We may need to learn a new skill.
We may need to ask someone for directions.
But oftentimes, we need to learn to regulate our emotions, work through or work around obstacles, and persevere.
To do this you need to adopt the identity that you are a finisher and that you finish every task or goal you start.
Of course, I’m not saying you shouldn’t cut your losses in some projects. Do so when you have explored all of the available options and gotten some directions to complete them.
To help you stay on track with finishing what you started, think of the last time you quit. What were the positive and negative consequences?
Ask yourself why you want to quit and why now. Determine if you are just hoping to avoid an unpleasant feeling such as embarrassment or boredom. If so, you will need to regulate your emotions and get to the task on hand. With my Ph.D. students, I have them work on their thesis every time they think of how boring writing is. But first, they need to acknowledge what they are feeling. Some have valid reasons to not work on their theses. One had to receive counselling for living in a household with a drug addict who abused the family.
Consider that if you quit your goal now then what will be the positives and negatives of quitting one year from now. Consider your finances, your family and most of all, how you will feel and where you personally will be.
If you decide to persevere, enlist the help and support of reliable persons to help get you to the next stage of your project. As your goal changes, or even at each stage of your goals, you may find that your support persons may change. As you move through your goals, be sure to say thank you to each support person.
Regulate your emotions and get the support you need to adopt the identity of a finisher.
6. The hard way is not always the right way
Most Ph.D. students I have worked with are on two extreme sides: either trying to find the easiest way out or finding the hardest way through their PhD programme.
I am usually wary of those who try to find the easiest ways out as they tend to do sub-standard work. Then they find their dissertation committee will require them to do work that they did not plan on before.
But, my problem is not with these students.
My problem is with the Ph.D candidates who look for the hard way through.
They are the ones who believe that everything they do needs to be a gruelling challenge otherwise the outcome is not worth it. They end up pursuing the most difficult solution.
Most don’t realize that sometimes the simplest solution is the one that will help them engage with their research quickly and create insights that could potentially change the direction of their work.
And oftentimes, pursuing the hardest solution first is likely to cause you to doubt your capabilities when you don’t succeed.
Taking an easier way out is not being lazy nor is it a trick. It is about building enthusiasm, passion, and momentum. It is about discovering more of the problem and yourself in the process.
Practice getting out of your own way
You may have thought of a number of ways you have been an obstacle to your own happiness as you read through this article.
How we think and act cause us to be an obstacle in our own path to happiness.
Changing our thoughts and actions is not an easy thing to do but is worth our time and effort. You are worth your time and effort.
Consider one thing that you can do today for your happiness then get out of your own way and put in the time and effort to make it happen. Reach out to someone to give you directions and support. Consider those actions as your acts of self-care for your happiness and well-being.