5 Times When We Stand In Our Own Way (And What To Do About It)


1. When we listen to our fear voices

We all have them – voices inside our heads that tell us that we’re not good enough or smart enough, that we’re unlovable, powerless. They circle us like a shark and attack when we’re at our most vulnerable. What’s most confusing about our fear voices is that they’re not malicious; in truth, they’re trying to protect us – from failure, pain, shame, rejection. But that doesn’t change the very important fact that to listen to them is to utterly stand in our own way.

A lot of us try to deal with our fear voices by beating them back and smacking them quiet. More dangerously, some of us internalize them and start to believe them. But the healthier, more productive route is to listen to them – to treat them like a paranoid neighbor who has a few screws loose, an individual who is not us nor an extension of us; to gently welcome them when they show up; to approach what they have to say with a cautious curiosity; and to then thank them and let them go on their way, taking what they’ve said with a serious grain of salt.

All our fear voices really want is to be heard. But at the end of the day, what’s most important is that we remember that our fear voices only exist because we exist. Without us, they would be powerless, and thus we choose how and when we give them power, always allowing them the semblance of authority while we learn to take true command of it ourselves. And when we start to have power over our fear voices, we create a shift in our autonomy and we start to get out of our own way.

2. When we create chaos

Many of us grew up surrounded by a lot of dysfunction and instability, and as a result chaos became the familiar and thus, in some backwards way, comforting. Though it doesn’t quite make sense – and often we intellectually know it – we sometimes seek or create chaos at times when we want to feel comforted. Some part of us has become dangerously wired to associate the two, and when we get the chaos we asked for, we simultaneously step directly into our own way.

To get out of our own way, we have to learn to redefine what we consider comforting. Habits are tough to break and that which is stored in emotional memory is even harder, thus doubling the challenge – though certainly not denigrating its worthiness.

If you’re someone who wants stability and reliability from those you care about but seem to consistently find yourself alongside the opposite, there’s really no way around it: there’s work you need to do within yourself. You’ll have to admit that you have demons, face them down and deal with them – an attempt at overcoming something that you’re not even sure you physically can. But if you work at it doggedly and with persistence, you’ll likely find serenity on the other side, once you can break past the chaos.

3. When we repeat negative behaviors and hope for a different outcome

Doing the same thing over and over, hoping that things might turn out differently – it’s the equivalent of repeatedly walking into a brick wall, thinking at some point it might budge for us. It should be concerning to us that we do this, but what should be of greater concern is why we do it.

Many of us would prefer to continue trying to ram our way through that wall, no matter how bruised and exhausted we’re becoming. But if we could take a step back and see ourselves from outside our own heads, we might be able to more objectively, more rationally take a look at what we’re doing and the ways in which we’re harming ourselves. We might be able to approach it with curiosity instead of pride or willfulness – and from there we might be able to start to change.

To get out of our own way – to stop dead-end behavior patterns in their tracks and start to build new ones – comes down to awareness. If we can teach ourselves to slow down and notice what it physically feels like in our bodies when we start to engage in one of the negative patterns engrained in us, we empower ourselves to grow. It’s a visceral experience, one that can be tangibly felt, but hidden under habit, we might not see or feel its clarity unless we’re aware enough to look for it. Once we can know to start looking for it, we’ll be able to start stepping out of our way.

4. When we put too much stake in the stories we come up with in our heads

Our brains have a natural affinity for narratives, even when statistical truths fly in the face of those stories we build. Perhaps this is a result of our desire to compartmentalize events into clean, causal relationships; perhaps it’s the result of our very human need for control. More than likely, it has something major to do with our constant and continuous attempts at making sense of the world around us.

The problem is that the stories we build to explain why an event happened or to predict an expectation for the future are often developed from a flawed foundation: the belief that we are squarely in charge of how our life unfolds. From an evolutionary standpoint, we’re wired to react to perceived threats to our survival, and life’s ambiguity and spontaneity can both pose major harm. As a result, we forgo statistical fact and irrefutable truth tons of times every day for the sake of preserving the narratives that keep us from encountering danger.

But danger comes in quieter, peskier forms while our brains work to keep us safe by weaving stories: we make wrongful assumptions, we lean towards blame and we bend to fear. We point out our differences before our similarities, we pick apart others and we believe too strongly in the validity of our own beliefs and opinions. As such, there comes a point where the only real way to get out of our own way is to teach ourselves to recognize when we’re sliding into territory of absolutes and far-wing thinking, and to then look for the statistical facts that our minds so vehemently leave out of their stories.

5. When we believe ourselves to be the center of the universe

It’s not always conscious – but a very major part of every one of us believes ourselves to be the center of the universe. Can you blame us? We’ve been right in the middle of every experience we’ve ever had. But whether conscious or not, the thing about our self-absorption is that it is self-worship and self-obsession, and ultimately, the kiss of death to something very crucial to the wellbeing of all of humanity: gratitude.

Gratitude unlocks something unique and as close to magic as there might be on this earth: the ability to step outside of our realities and into those of others; the ability to see past the overwhelming nature of our chaotic lives and find room for the feelings of others.

To get out of our own way – to reduce our self-absorption and live a more fulfilling existence – we have to spend our days not just in service of ourselves but in service of others. We have to remember that when we’re at our most self-absorbed and self-driven that we are the farthest from our highest self, that challenging even our quietest and most lurking of beliefs that we are the center of the universe will help us to break down barriers, reach new levels and ultimately step out of our own way, gently, into freedom.