The first successful person I ever met — truly successful, with accomplishments I admired and ambition I strove to emulate — was an entrepreneur in his forties, a client of mine in the first real business I’d ever started. I was 24 and eager to learn; he was constantly cheerful, and had more money than he could count.
We became close friends, and he told me eventually that he’d lost his wife, the love of his life, a half-decade before we met — the kind of loss, he said, that you never get over. It was a story that made his positive outlook seem all the more remarkable to me: Here was someone who had been through tragedy, and yet still made it a priority to do good things with his time and his money. He seemed to truly care about other people.
Often, he’d tell me what he saw as the secret to his success: “I just try to avoid being unsuccessful,” he said. He studied what made someone (avoidably) unhappy, broke, or unmotivated — and then he avoided making the same mistakes.
I knew in my bones that he was right. Too often, we adopt a plug-and-play attitude: “If I do x, I’ll be successful.” But if success was easy and predictable, we wouldn’t be seeking advice on how to achieve it. Instead of studying what’s worked for other people, I’ve followed my friend’s advice, paying close attention to the habits that hold people back from reaching their goals.
Here are 10 of the most common self-imposed barriers. If you find yourself bumping up against one, use them as a signal to reevaluate, reflect, and reverse course.
1. Always being distracted
In his book Essentialism, time-management consultant Greg McKeown describes running into a former classmate who was between jobs and looking for career advice. Midway through the conversation, the man looked down at his phone and began typing.
“Ten seconds went by,” McKeown recounts. “Then 20. I simply stood there as he continued to text away furiously.” After a couple minutes, he gave up and walked away.
I think of this story whenever I feel pulled in many different directions, as a way of reminding myself to focus on the moment I’m in and the people I’m with. If that old classmate of McKeown’s had reminded himself the same thing, he might have made a connection or gotten a tip that led him to a job.