Common Psychological Barriers to Success

Success Barriers

Dr. Khadeja Mousa-Clinical Psychologist & Co-Founder of Wise Mind Psychotherapy Center

Most of us want to be successful. How we define success is different from person to person; it can be big or small, daily or lifelong. But we can all agree that success starts with setting a goal and achieving it. The most important and challenging part is pursuing our goals. 

We often talk about setting and achieving goals but not enough on the hardest part, which is pursuing the goal. The challenges in pursuing and achieving goals is most obvious around New Year’s.

Studies have shown that of all people who set New Year’s resolutions, only about 8 percent achieve them.  So, what makes some people give up on their goals and others persist and succeed? It’s action.

Action is the secret ingredient to success. However, there are certain limiting beliefs and negative habits that keep us stuck and not active in pursuing our goals. When we become aware of these barriers, we can work on moving past them. Some common barriers to success include:



Everyone experiences self-doubt, but sometimes it can stop us from taking action or even getting started on our goals.  It’s usually a sign of fear and suggests that we’re not trusting ourselves. Doubt can come in to protect us from risk and failure. Usually when self-doubt creeps in, you start to question all your abilities and potential for success. Self-doubt will start to convince you of what you can and can’t do in life.


You can’t run a marathon on your first day of training. Lack of knowledge usually leads to fear. So, learn new information and familiarize yourself with tasks that feel intimidating; practice will help you build confidence.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Where do these feelings stem from? Find the origin.
  • How true is it really? Is it based on facts or assumptions?
  • Does this doubt protect me somehow?
  • What’s a more helpful way for me to think about this?



“It is a mistake to look too far ahead. Only one link of the chain of destiny can be handled at a time.”-Winston Churchill.

Procrastination delays us from getting things done. It’s one of the biggest obstacles to productivity. Most of the time, we know we’re procrastinating, but the temptation is so great. While it’s true that we all procrastinate, some of us are chronic procrastinators.

Procrastination doesn’t have to mean that you’re lazy or unfocused. Psychologists see procrastination as closely tied to emotions—it’s a coping mechanism to deal with our anxiety. We avoid tasks that we feel are unpleasant, stressful, or overwhelming. When we avoid, we get temporary relief. Unfortunately, the long-term effects can lead to poorer quality of work, increased anxiety, disturbed sleep and more.  


Reaching your goal will happen with one action at a time. Get started, but with a small manageable goal. Start without any expectation of finishing it, and don’t focus on the quality. Once you get started then you’ll have an opportunity to improve.

Reward yourself for completing tasks. When you’re successful in completing a task, it’ll give you more motivation to continue. You want to work on making the task feel less scary and overwhelming when you approach it.



“Understanding the difference between healthy striving and perfectionism is critical to laying down the shield and picking up your life. Research shows that perfectionism hampers success. In fact, it’s often the path to depression, anxiety, addiction, and life paralysis. Healthy striving is self-focused: “How can I improve?” Perfectionism is other-focused: ‘What will they think?”-Brené Brown.

Our culture sometimes glorifies perfectionists. It makes sense, we see them as having high standards and driving themselves relentlessly in pursuit of perfection. But there can be a dark side. Those with unhealthy perfectionistic tendencies are constantly setting unattainable and unrealistic goals.  They are usually highly critical of themselves, and are never satisfied with themselves, which can often lead to feelings of depression, demotivation, and constant disappointment.


Strive towards excellence not perfection. Excellence sets the bar high but allows room for mistakes and failures along the way. Failures are not seen as scary, but opportunities for growth and learning. Finally, a healthy striving allows you to enjoy the process rather than staying focused on the anxiety.



Cycles of negative thinking can make it difficult to manage complex tasks and cause us to have a hard time processing information and think clearly. In addition, the chronic stress of negativity can lead to mental and physical illnesses.

Be aware of your inner voice. Each of us has an inner voice, and sometimes, it’s highly critical and judgmental. A persistently negative inner critic can put a stop to achieving your goals. But negative thoughts don’t have to be a way of life, we can ‘unlearn’ certain thinking patterns and change our negative thinking to more realistic and balanced thoughts.


Be aware of your inner critic, but don’t put much importance into what it says. Step back from your thoughts and try to view them as background chatter; you’re aware that they’re there, but you’re choosing not to engage with them. Hold your thoughts lightly. Thoughts are just thoughts, not reality.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Is this thought in any way useful or helpful?
  • Am I basing this thought on facts or feelings?
  • Am I having this thought out of habit or do the facts support it?
  • Does this thought help me take effective action?
  • What advice would I give a friend who had this thought?


By Dr. Khadeja Mousa, Clinical Psychologist & Co-Founder of Wise Mind Psychotherapy Center


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