If you feel like you’re being held back from advancing in some area of life, consider that you may be correct. Let’s suppose that something is holding you back. Can you identify what that something is?

Is some person or group of people getting in your way?

Is a physical issue with your body slowing you down?

Is there some situation or circumstance that’s behaving like an obstacle?

Can you point to a character defect that’s causing problems for you?

If you think about it, can you identify some real-life issue that’s preventing you from advancing in the areas where you’d like to make progress?

What’s really stopping you from experiencing more abundance, creating a fabulous social life, or enjoy wonderful bursts of creative output? What’s stopping you from getting desirable results in any areas of life where you feel blocked or stunted?

Whatever cause you identify, question it. Is it the real cause? Is it the only possible cause? Or is it just a convenient objection you’ve latched onto that prevents you from rationally solving this problem and overcoming this block?

An empowering way to think about obstacles is to imagine becoming the kind of person for whom that obstacle wouldn’t be an issue anymore. Frame the real challenge as a character sculpting challenge. Then work on your character defects that give rise to the perception of an obstacle.

For instance, if other people’s rules are getting in your way, would it be effective to become a less obedient character and a more independent one? If you give yourself the option to break more rules, you could advance faster. I used this approach to graduate college in three semesters. I had to break some administrative rules to accomplish this goal; otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to take enough units. I framed those rules as pointless bureaucracy and deliberately violated them in my first semester. Being disobedient to authority was what it took to succeed.

To become an entrepreneur, I had to reframe the good counsel of friends and family – advising me to get a job – as useless instead of useful advice. I knew they were well-intentioned, but I couldn’t take their advice seriously if I wanted to learn how to create my own business. Once again the pattern of being more independent served me well, at least initially. Ironically in order to make my first business profitable, I had to learn to be more inter-dependent by seeking good advice from other entrepreneurs. Sometimes what gets you past one barrier will ram you into another. When inflexibility stops you, it’s time to learn flexibility.

Looking at character defects as the real source of your obstacles doesn’t mean beating yourself up. Separate your fragile ego from your behavior patterns, and go to work on the behaviors. Problem behaviors will slow you down, but you can replace those behaviors with more empowering ones.

It’s no secret that I think Trump supporters are morons. Their presence anywhere near my social circle creeps me out. But if I see them as the problem, how can I solve it? Of course I can’t solve the issue at that level. They’ll just keep annoying me with the bottomless depths of their ignorance and stupidity. Do I really want to deal with that kind of distraction? What’s the real issue then? I’d say it was being too tolerant and being too quiet about the issue. By speaking up about it more and by purging Trump supporters from my social media circles, I must say this space is way cleaner and smells a lot nicer now. To solve this problem, I had to become firmer with boundary management, which was of course a behavioral issue. I was previously being too lax in that particular area.

What actually stops you much of the time is an internal line that you think you can’t cross, or there will be dragons on the other side. Sometimes there are dragons, but you either get to ride them or become one of them. Maybe for one of your problems, you need to embrace the dragons of fierceness or boldness. For different problems you may need to ride the dragons of compassion or forgiveness. And for another class of problems, the dragons of honesty and rationality may sail you to your goal.

Is your current approach getting the job done? If not, then what will get the job done? The solution is probably across one of those internal lines you’ve drawn for yourself, lines that are boxing in your character.

You know what really disturbs my blog readers the most? After 16 years of blogging, I’d say the answer is pretty clear. It’s when I violate their expectations. When someone has been reading my blog for years, they probably have me all sized up in their mind. And then if I behave in a way they didn’t expect, if I cross one of the lines they assumed must bound my character or personality, if I step outside of their personal definition of me – people really hate that! Some of them completely freak out and send me long emails about what I’m doing wrong. They desperately want me to return to the old box. I understand that, but I’m also going to keep doing that. It’s part of the job. 😉

Other people’s bounding boxes can create unwanted stop signs for you, especially when you internalize them. How has your family defined your bounding box? How has your employer defined it? How has your field of work defined it? Your city? Your culture? How have you made those bounding boxes into your own? What can’t you do because someone – maybe even your own inner voices – might disapprove? This is what’s really stopping you much of the time.

Stop letting the world define your bounding boxes. Stop giving your loyalty to the lines others have painted in your mind. You have more options than that. Notice where you think the dragons are. Then go there deliberately. Dragons don’t care about lines.