How to Get Out of Your Own Way

“The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

How to Get Out of Your Own Way

By Andrea Novakowski

When you created your list of goals for this year, you were probably in a hopeful frame of mind. The year was a blank slate. Anything was possible.

Now, a month into the year, you wonder if you were delusional — or at least overly optimistic.

You are not alone. Research shows that 43% of people expect to give up their New Year’s resolutions by February. Ultimately, 92% of people don’t achieve their goals.

With those odds, what can you do to ensure that YOU achieve your goals?

To be successful in a changing world, we need to be able to change with it. One way to do this is by acknowledging how we are getting in our own way.

Here’s what my client Nicole, the leader of a Boston consulting firm, shared at our last meeting: “The things I want to accomplish at work this year require me to set aside time to do them. But I don’t want to work on them at home after dinner or on the weekends. I want to use my regular work hours. Yet at the end of each week, I discover I’ve spent all my time helping my clients and employees, and no time on my personal projects.”

After some discussion, it emerged that Nicole was being held back by a secret rule, or a limiting belief. The power of a secret rule is that you may not even be aware of it, hence the name.

Nicole realized she was holding herself back because when she was a child, her mother had told her not to be selfish. Nicole had internalized this into a secret rule to always put others first. For her, that meant setting aside the work that was important to her in favor of doing things for other people.

Secret rules are often formed at a very young age. We pick up ideas from adults, by observing, or by trying things that don’t work out.

The smallest comment by someone else can easily turn into a secret rule that you follow for the rest of your life.

Here are some more of the secret rules my clients have uncovered in themselves:

  • For something to count, it has to be difficult.
  • If I’m not miserable, I’m not doing something productive.
  • I have to do it alone.
  • It has to be perfect.
  • Winners never quit.

Secret rules may even be in conflict with one another. For example: “Money is bad” vs. “Work hard, so you can be successful and make money.”

What secret rules are holding you back from achieving your goals?

To discover your own secret rules, consider the following questions, which I’ve drawn from Jon Acuff’s book, Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done. Acuff’s tips offer a clear road to identifying your secret rules and can also help you determine if your secret rules work for you or against you. According to Acuff, when you realize you have a secret rule, you have a choice: “You can continue to believe it, or you can destroy it and replace it.”

Answer these six questions to shed light on your secret rules:

  1. Do I even like what I’m working on?
  2. Have I set this goal in response to external forces?
  3. What’s my real goal?
  4. What will light me up and make a difference in my life?
  5. Does the method I’m using match who I am?
  6. Is it time to quit?

And here are two questions to ask about your secret rules that can help you destroy or validate them:

  1. What does this rule mean?
    Questioning your rule often reveals that it doesn’t make sense.
  1. Who says?
    Who assigned this rule to you? It could have been your father or mother when you were little. Or perhaps you picked it up from something you did or saw.

If you find that a secret rule is working against you, write a new rule to replace it. Make sure the new rule is supportive, honest, and reasonable.

For Nicole, this meant challenging the rule that said she must always put others first. She made some immediate changes by rearranging her schedule so that her own goals rose to the top of her to-do list. Nicole’s rewritten rule now says: “Make time to work on my goals first.”

Remember – this isn’t “one-and-done.” Secret rules from your childhood are persistent! Check in periodically to make sure you’re following your new rule and that the old secret rule hasn’t slipped back into play.


What secret rule did you discover? Write it down and also write down a new rule that makes more sense for your goals.

How does that new rule make you feel? Tell me in the comments. I’d love to hear!

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