Think of all the things you could accomplish if only the things that stop you in your tracks didn’t exist! Self-doubt, perfectionism, and other peoples’ expectations can sabotage your best efforts before they even begin.

Whether you’re learning to become more mindful, setting a challenging goal, or solving a tough problem, your character strengths can elevate most situations. The practice below shows how you can learn from – and move through – troublesome obstacles using your character strengths.

The Inspiration

In the Mindfulness Based Strengths Practice (MBSP) course I’m certified to teach, one whole session is dedicated to identifying and overcoming the obstacles that limit and even prevent many people from practicing mindfulness. While a few of them are specific to practicing mindfulness, most are “universal” obstacles that limit or prevent us from accomplishing what we want or need daily – like working on a healthy habit, closing an important deal, or paying the bills on time.

Common Obstacles

Unfortunately, obstacles to progress often thwart the journey to living a healthier, more fulfilling life. Below I highlighted 4 common obstacles from the MBSP course:

  • Excessive self-talk – Who am I to think I can do this? This is too hard.
  • Perfectionism – Am I doing it right? Am I good enough?
  • Expectations – I’m not making enough progress.
  • Schedule challenges – I don’t have the time, it’s not the ideal time.

Do these sound familiar? I imagine you can relate to at least one, maybe all, of these obstacles. Perhaps we could add procrastination to the list, as many of us put off tasks that feel unpleasant or drain our energy. These obstacles can keep us from what we don’t wish to do, as well as what we do wish for – joy, meaning, healthy relationships, or success.

Learning From Obstacles – An Example

I’m attempting a meaningful new endeavor as I write this blog post. The practice below is helping me move through various obstacles that are slowing me down. Allow me to elaborate.

I’ve spent the last several years navigating the challenges of pandemic life, as we all have. Sometimes, it seems like I’m grinding my gears just to hold ground, not even move forward on projects that are important to me. I sometimes feel drained and irritable more easily than in the past. What I would normally do to rejuvenate simply doesn’t have the same effect anymore.

After careful consideration, I decided to “take the summer off” to rest, get more physically active, see friends and family, do some gardening, and have space for new possibilities to emerge. I’ve attempted to take summers off in the past, but I never actually allowed myself to take the time. It felt like a luxury I couldn’t afford. Hopefully, this time will be different.

The problem is that once I made the decision, my mind began spinning. What does this mean to my future work? How will I spend my time? What if I get bored? How long will this last? What if I miss out on an important opportunity? And so on. This spinning has happened before.

Notice the overuse of my signature strength curiosity, which morphed into the obstacle “excessive self-talk.” I also noticed the obstacles “schedule” and “fear of missing out,” which began to sabotage my decision before I put it into action.

I experimented with the practice below to get unstuck and move forward. After completing it, I felt confident my signature strengths of creativity, curiosity, and perspective would keep me grounded. I used creativity to reframe my endeavor to “summer hours,” which felt much more attainable and comfortable.

The Approach 

I don’t mean to minimize these obstacles. Sometimes they deserve much more attention than I’ve provided here, occasionally with professional help. It depends on the situation. However, in a nutshell, these are the steps I followed:

Step 1 – Choose a meaningful goal I’ve struggled to complete.

Step 2 – Clarify what I wish to accomplish and why.

Step 3 – What stops me in my tracks? Identify one or more obstacles.

Step 4 – Be open, curious, and accepting of the obstacles. (This is something I hadn’t considered in the past, and I found that completing this step diminished their potency considerably.)

Step 5 – Consider how my character strengths can help me manage the obstacle(s) and put them into action.

I’m excited to see where my summer leads as I navigate this endeavor in a completely new way. It feels different this time. I feel different. Plus, when I get stuck again I have a process to unravel the situation and move forward.

Are you ready to give it a try? If you find this practice overwhelming or challenging, know that I’m here to help you unpack the different parts. It’s a small investment of time, and you deserve it!

The Practice

  1. Choose a meaningful goal or task you’ve struggled to complete. Let it be something that’s not too big or complex. You might decide to write it down.

  2. Complete a short mindfulness practice. It can be as short as 5-10 breaths as you quiet yourself, close your eyes, and focus on your breathing. If your mind wanders, gently return it to the breathing. When finished, continue with your eyes either closed or opened.

  3. What stops you or is likely to stop you in your tracks? Turn your attention to one obstacle that is slowing you down or stopping you from moving forward. Draw from the list of obstacles described in this post, or notice something else that’s coming up. Name the obstacle. See and feel it. Notice the influence it has over your emotions or actions.

  4. Be open and curious about this obstacle. Ask yourself “what else is there about this feeling, thought, or action” until there is nothing more. Be open to whatever comes up. Accept that it exists rather than trying to sidestep or minimize it. Say to yourself, “Yes, this is real. This obstacle exists.” Don’t gloss over this step.

  5. Finally, how can your character strengths help you manage this obstacle? Are there any you need to temper or raise? Are they signature strengths, middle or lower strengths? Choose one and identify at least one way you will use it. Then put it into action.

The Reflection

Blending character strengths and mindfulness to navigate an obstacle helped me see that ______________. 

Fill in the blank with whatever comes to mind. Did this practice open your perspective? Boost your problem solving resources? Result in something new? Allow your thoughts to percolate until they become clear. You might want to remember this experience in the future, when new obstacles arise.

May your mindful use of character strengths keep you moving toward the things you most desire in life.