What If The Thing Holding You Back Is…You?

Have you ever tried to launch a new project, get a new job or make some other significant change in your life, but felt that there were certain forces conspiring against you to make sure that it didn’t happen?  Maybe it was your haters.  Maybe it was your parents. Maybe it was your boss.

Well, if you’ve ever had that feeling I believe I just discovered one more person that you need to add to that list. And, I’m certain you never thought that this person would ever do anything to stand in your way. In the immortal words of Kevin Hart, let me explain.

 bba915e9737a83f0ddff58e64b1fab4b-1Photo courtesy nyelyntho.com

There’s something about stepping out of your comfort zone that can be extremely helpful in bringing clarity into your life. There may be no bigger way to step out of your comfort zone than spending time in a foreign country. Think about it: the language may be different, the food may be different, and the people there may drive on the opposite side of the street.  Try as you might, you can’t force the county to fit into your own little routine that you’ve been accustomed to living in, you’ll be forced to adapt to it.

When I accepted the opportunity to teach a business course at the campus of my alma mater, Carnegie Mellon University, in Qatar, I had some idea of what to expect.  Still, I had some apprehension about things that I felt might provide me with some discomfort.  What was I going to eat? Will the Internet be reliable enough? What happens when Ramadan starts?

The funny thing about doing something you’ve never done or going somewhere you’ve never been before is that you never actually know the things that you should truly be concerned about because, well, you’ve never done or been there before. To get the most out of a new experience you have to embrace the challenge and not be paralyzed by what you don’t know.

Adjusting to Another Country

While preparing for my trip to Qatar, I gave absolutely no thought to the fact that although the majority of the industrialized world uses the metric system, in the United States we do not.  When you get used to operating under a system of miles, ounces, and pounds, you can get a little thrown off when people, or things, start presenting you with meters, grams, and degrees Celsius. I just takes a little time to getting used someone saying that it’s 40 degrees and having that mean that it’s really, really hot.

And so it happened that my first experience with having to adjust to being in a different county occurred in the most unlikely of places…the gym.  After a long plane ride across the pond, I figured that a good workout might help me get over my jet lag, so I decided I’d hit the gym in my hotel. I got to the gym and found that it had all of the comforts of home, a treadmill, bike, free weights and a weight machine in addition to a few other welcomed extras like a sauna, steam room and Jacuzzi.  “Yes!” I thought, “This is just like (or a little better) than my gym at home.”

I decided to jump on the treadmill since one of the exercises that I frequently do at my gym at home is a 60-minute interval workout. The thing about this workout is I’ve been stuck on doing about 5 miles for quite some time now, so I generally make that my goal when I get on the treadmill.

What threw me for a loop when I got on the treadmill and turned it on was that all of the measurements on the screen were in the metric system. As most of us would normally do nowadays, I thought of pulling out my iPhone and doing a quick conversion in order to know exactly how many kilometers I had to run in order to equal my 5 miles, but I had left it in my hotel room. It’s been some time since I’ve had to convert to metric to imperial units, but I figured that I could run based on the “feel” to ensure that I got my 5 miles in.

I ran my interval workout based on the “feel” and attempted to mimic the level of exertion that I would put in back home.  Never quite sure if I was running at the right speed, I likely ran a little harder so that I wouldn’t be disappointed in myself when I took the final number of kilometers run and did my conversion back in the hotel room.

When it was all said and done, I had run 8.81 km, a pretty decent feat I assumed as I was just about as tired, winded and drenched in sweat as I normally am when I do this workout. However, I was shocked when I finally got back to my iPhone and figured out that I had actually run 5.47 miles!

I was initially impressed with myself, especially after going to the gym while still fighting jet lag. But then I had another thought. Why, after being stuck on 5 miles for nearly 2 years, was I able to run nearly a half mile longer in my very first workout in another country? Was gravity different here?  The air heavier? What was it?

The Aha Moment

Soon, I realized that I had unconsciously decided in my mind that 5 miles was my limit. When I would run at home and it became clear that, given my pace, I would get to my 5 mile benchmark, my mind would tell my body that I was getting tired and that I couldn’t work much harder.

But what I had done in Doha was trick the inner enemy that has been holding me back from getting better results with my health. I didn’t give him the information that he was used to getting in order for him to pump me with limiting beliefs and feelings. As it turns out, he doesn’t know how to convert metric to imperial either. So, without that knowledge, he wasn’t able to tell me when it was time to stop, or when the pain was too bad to run faster.  I was finally on my own and in a place to push my limits to another level.

At the same time, it was difficult to accept that I had been a victim of self-sabotage the whole time.  My shoes weren’t the problem.  My work schedule wasn’t the problem. My friends weren’t the problem. The more I thought about it, I realized that back at home, there weren’t any external factors that were holding me back from increasing the distance of my 60 minute runs.  The thing holding me back from my reaching my potential was, in fact…me.

I’ve been very fortunate in my life to have a number of significant achievements that I am very proud of.  However, I’m using this experience to become more mindful of subliminal messages that I may have been reading to myself in my head that might be holding me back from even bigger things.

Have you been holding yourself back from bigger things?  If so, here are a few tips to get you off the bench and back on the road to achievement.


1. You Are What You Accept

Have you allowed yourself to accept mediocrity?

Do you REALLY want to make more money? Or, have you accepted your current financial situation and decided that you’ll make due with it.  Do you REALLY want to lose weight, or have you accepted not having the body you’ve always wanted?

Take note of the things you think you want versus what you’re passionately working towards, and you’ll uncover the areas in which your acceptance has been holding you back from getting what you want.

2. Constantly Raise the Bar

You must always strive to go a little farther than you did before. Your previous milestone is no longer an achievement; it’s a plateau. Push yourself a little harder each time to do something greater than you’ve previously done.

If you’ve run 5 miles, strive to run 5.1 next time. If you brought in 2 clients this month, strive to bring in 3 next month.

A small step is still a step, but you can’t pull yourself out of your rut unless you take it.

3. Chart Your Progress

Stop trying to manage your goals, dreams, fears, etc. all inside of your head. Get them down on paper.

Write down your goals and keep them in a highly visible location. Keeping with our running theme, write “5.1” miles on a Post-it note and stick it on your bathroom mirror.  Leave it there until you accomplish that goal. Use the note as motivation to keep raising the bar.  You’ll likely tire of being reminded everyday of the goal that you haven’t met, and this will push you to get it done.

You can also keep a journal, or take notes on a calendar; just don’t rely on mental accounting. Your mind can play tricks on you, as mine did on me, but I can assure you that once you write your goals on a piece of paper, it will never lie to you.

Question: What Are You Ready to Stop Holding Yourself Back From? (Please leave your comment below)


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