Obstacles in achieving goals – Is your brain sabotaging you?

obstacles in achieving goals

Written by Annie

Annie shares content that focuses on inspiring and encouraging you to dial up the feelings of happiness, meaning and purpose in your life – using easy and personalised life goals.

June 21, 2021

Do you find obstacles in achieving goals? You are not alone. You might come across them during the goal-building journey or in the process of pursuing them. 

But, if you have trouble getting started on your goal journey or find your goals forever changing – your main obstacle may be your self-sabotaging brain.

The key to this problem is to make sure your goals are deeply rooted in your understanding of why you want to make this change.

Below are two examples of self-sabotaging obstacles you might face and what to do about them.

Obstacle 1 – Your brain isn’t ready for change

If you have a goal that you can’t seem to get started – think about whether you are really feeling motivated and ready to make changes.

I recently asked my friend who is an exercise physiologist (a qualified professional who trains their clients to recover from injury, lose weight or reach other exercise related goals) – whether she can generally see a difference between her clients that are likely to achieve their goals and those that aren’t.

She told me that she can work out a client’s likelihood of success within the first two minutes of meeting them. The difference between clients is how they talk about their goal.

For example, if a client says “I am here because my doctor says I need to lose weight” – there is probably a 0% chance they will meet their goal.

If a client comes in and says “I want to be able to lift my grandchild without pain” – there is a much higher chance of success.

This can be explained by the Stages of Change concept. This tells us – you will only succeed with your goal journey if you are truly motivated and ready to do so.

Stages of change - goals

These are the Stages of Change in a nutshell:

  1. Precontemplation – You do not intend to change (may be unaware of or underestimating issue)
  2. Contemplation – You begin to contemplate change (aware of the issue – may still be ambivalent)
  3. Preparation/Determination – Ready and starting to make a change (Goal setting time!)
  4. Action – Making change & intend to keep going
  5. Maintenance – Sustaining new behaviour & intend to keep going (working to prevent relapse)

So from my friend’s perspective – she can tell within 2 minutes what Stage of Change you are in and whether you are ready for the journey.

Can you think of a goal that never seems to get off the ground?

Ask yourself – Are you feeling ready to make change or maybe you are still feeling ambivalent?

Obstacle 2 – Your brain is sabotaging you

If you have decided that you don’t need to achieve your goal anymore – it might not be that your intention or goal has genuinely changed. It might be because your brain has put it in the too-hard basket.

To make life easier for you – your brain has the (slightly unhelpful) ability to convince you that you are in fact happy with the status quo and the hard work of your goals is unnecessary.

Example goal – Trying to lose weight

Losing weight is the easiest thing in the world – said no one ever.

Weight loss is hard.

Obviously, there are those people that love to eat healthily and exercise – I’m not talking about those lucky sons of b*ches here. I’m talking about normal people.

I personally think there are two main reasons this is so hard:

  1. Food is pretty much the best thing ever – so having to reduce things or modify the diet that makes us happy sucks &
  2. Exercise (of the proper weight loss variety) is hard and often not terribly enjoyable – and who wants to do something hard and not enjoyable.

Now – to make matters worse – our brain can dislike participating in these weight loss activities so much – it can convince us we are in fact happy at our given weight. This way it (and we) can avoid the unenjoyable hard work of reaching our weight loss goal.

So – regardless of how much your body doesn’t want to play the weight loss game – your brain isn’t that interested either.

Have you ever found yourself giving up on a goal – because you decided that it didn’t matter anymore? Have you ever decided the hard work required to achieve a goal wasn’t worth it – because in fact the status quo was okay?

Obstacles in achieving goals

How to fight these obstacles in achieving your goals

Before you start taking action on your goals 

Next time you are setting goals – ask yourself:

  • Do you have the correct mindset to dedicate yourself to this goal?
    • Are you feeling really motivated and ready to make this change?
    • Do you know why you want to make this change?
  • Do you feel excited and ready for the challenge? 
    • What excites you the most about achieving the goal?
    • Will it be worth all the hard work?

Remember: If you aren’t in the right Stage of Change – you can save yourself the effort (& time & money) because you won’t have the mindset to drive you to your goals.

If your goal has dropped off the radar

Self-reflect to ensure that it isn’t your brain sabotaging you – by going back to the beginning of the goal-making process.

Remind yourself what your goal is and why it is your goal. Ask yourself (again):

  • Why is this goal important to you?
  • What are the benefits for your life if you achieve this goal?
  • What will it feel like when you achieve this goal?

Re-clarifying why this is your goal can re-invigorate your motivation and this might be enough to spark you back into positive action.

But if things still feel lackluster… Start again! There is nothing wrong with starting the goal-making process again – if you have lost your enthusiasm.

So – next time you are struggling to get your goals off the ground. Self-reflect and make sure your brain isn’t being the an obstacle in achieving your goals.


Do you have trouble getting your goals going?

Drop a comment below and let us know your struggles.


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    (Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash)

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