The Ultimate Guide on How to Overcome Obstacles and Setbacks

Frank A. Clark

If you can find a path with no obstacles, it probably doesn’t lead anywhere.


The Landmines Standing Between You and Your Goal

Setting goals is the first step. Achieving them is the second step. And it’s at this second step that most of us stumble. We stumble not because the goal is out of reach, but rather because of unexpected obstacles. And when these obstacles arise they make the goal seem kind of improbable.

It’s probably safe to say that every goal we set comes with an array of landmines. These landmines manifest as obstacles and problems that must be overcome to reach our end goal. In fact, unless we successfully maneuver through these landmines, then we fail to learn the lessons needed to achieve our goal.

Have you ever heard of multi-million dollar lottery winners who are far worse off today than they were before they won the lottery? They lost everything. Simply because they didn’t go through the typical struggles that self-made millionaires face. As a result, they weren’t able to hold onto their goal when it was clearly within their grasp.

This article of course won’t help you win the lottery. What it will do is help you handle the obstacles you will likely face as you work toward your goals.


Breaking Down the Types of Obstacles You May Face

There are three types of obstacles that you will likely face along your journey toward your goals. These include personal obstacles, environmental obstacles and social obstacles.

Personal Obstacles

Personal obstacles are related to our psychology, behaviors and state-of-mind. They can include unhelpful habits, debilitating emotions, paralyzing fears and limiting beliefs. The reason these obstacles prevent us from moving forward toward the attainment of our goals is because of the thoughts that we allow ourselves to dwell upon.

These thoughts essentially prevent us from making effective decisions that could help us build the momentum we need to get to our end destination. Many people know these thoughts to be the ten cognitive distortions that lead to self-sabotage behavior. However, I prefer to call them Unhelpful Thinking Styles.

I would highly recommend reading the unhelpful thinking styles article. It will help you gain deeper insights into how to take charge of your thoughts. You must first learn to effectively control your thoughts before you apply any other ideas presented within this article.

Here is a list of personal obstacles that could be preventing you from moving forward in your life. I have included links to other articles that can help you gain deeper insights into each topic.

Take a moment to identify if any of these obstacles are currently preventing you from getting what you want most out of life, and choose today to take control of your thought patterns and begin making better and far more effective decisions.

Social Obstacles

Social obstacles are related to people who either do no cooperate with you, sabotage you, or are simply incompetent and unable to fulfill the responsibilities assigned to them.

When it comes to social obstacles, it’s important to do a little forward planning to ensure that you clarify your needs adequately, your knowledge thoroughly, and your instructions carefully. It also helps to develop good strong bonds and relationships with the people you rely on most.

You will of course overwhelm yourself if you try to control everyone’s behavior, decision and action. Instead try to subtly influence people by attempting to understand their needs, motives and desires. Only in this way will you successfully improve your chances of maneuvering through the social obstacles in your life.

Environmental Obstacles

Environmental obstacles are often unexpected conditions, occurrences and circumstances that you have very little control over.

Because these events and circumstances are unexpected, we are often ill-prepared and unable to deal with them most effectively. However, if we do a little research and use some forward planning we may very well be able to predict and oftentimes influence these circumstances by setting in place contingency plans. To do this, begin by adopting Murphy’s Law into your life:

Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong at the worst possible time, all of the time when you least expect it. So what are you going to do about it?

When you plan for the future, you gather a better understanding of the possible scenarios and consequences of your decisions and actions. Planning also gives you insight into additional resources you may need to help you overcome environmental obstacles that lie along your journey toward your goal.

One other way to prepare yourself is to adopt a 360 degree approach to thinking about your life and circumstances. This is all about thinking in an expanded way where you make full use of your ability to use hindsight, foresight and insight when making decisions.

Types of Obstacles to Overcome


Questions to Help You Overcome Your Obstacles

As a life skills coach, I often work with clients who are struggling to overcome personal setbacks and their life’s problems. They don’t know what to do, where to begin or how to move forward when adversity strikes. Moreover, they struggle to start-over again when everything seems to have fallen apart. In such instances I will ask them a series of questions that help them gain new perspectives and understandings about their circumstances. As a result they begin to unlock hidden resources they never realized they had.

I have outlined the specific questions I ask below.

Question the Problem

What are the indications that this is a problem for you?

How do you know this is accurate?

Question the Origins of Problem

How did all this start?

Who or what perpetuates this problem?

Identify the Details

When did it happen?

How did it happen?

Where did it happen?

Determine the Consequences

What would happen if you ignored it?

When could it become a bigger problem?

What could lead to this specific outcome?

How does this affect you?

How does this affect others?

How does this affect life?

Could resolving this cause other problems?

Take Control

Whose behavior do you control?

What aspects of this problem can you control?

What aspects of this problem can’t you control?

How must you respond to what you can’t control?

How could you adapt to all the things you can’t control?

Identify the Positives

What is happening that is good?

What would you like to have continue to happen?

Gain Perspective

What are your assumptions about this?

How are your assumptions contributing to the problem?

What is another perspective you haven’t considered?

Who has successfully overcome this problem?

What can you learn from this person to help you work through your problem?

Expand Your Options

What could you do differently?

Who could assist you along this journey toward solving this problem?

Where haven’t you looked for a solution?

How will you know when this problem has been resolved?

What is your criteria for success?

At the very least, what these questions will do is help you gain more clarity about the obstacles you currently face. With more clarity comes greater insight and understanding that will allow you to think about your life and circumstances in more resourceful and optimal ways.

Obstacle Analysis


24 Ideas to Help You Overcome Life’s Toughest Obstacles

When confronted with obstacles, problems and challenges, it’s easy to become a little overwhelmed, especially when the circumstances are unfamiliar and seem a little threatening and urgent. However, no matter what life throws your way, keep in mind that there are always options available — there are always things you can do, actions you can take and decisions you can make that will keep moving you forward in the right direction.

Step Back Emotionally

When unexpected obstacles suddenly arise, it’s often easy to react emotionally to these unfortunate circumstances. However, emotional reactions are often not very productive, and more times than not they don’t help the situation. Instead, we must learn to step back from our emotions and see the situation from an external perspective — through logic and reason. It’s only when we choose to stay calm and collected, that we eventually grasp our circumstances from an intellectual perspective. We then begin to identify the true relevance and significance of the events that have taken place.

Gain Necessary Resources and Support

At times we simply do not have the necessary resources to help us deal with the situation at hand. In such instances, we must question what pieces of the puzzle we are currently missing, and then look for the necessary tools, strategies, knowledge and the support we need to help us overcome these obstacles effectively.

Acquire Different Perspective

Sometimes obstacles are only as real as we make them out to be. In fact at times obstacles are simply misunderstandings and generalizations that we have made about circumstances. At other times, obstacles are only as real as the assumptions that are clouding our vision.

To begin shifting your perspective, start by viewing your predicament from another person’s perspective. Alternatively, you can use a plethora of framing and reframing techniques that will help you shift how you think about your predicament.

Seek Guidance

Often the answers we need to help us overcome the obstacles we face can be found when we take the time to talk to other people. In fact, without your knowledge, many people might have already dealt with and successfully overcome the circumstances you find yourself in today. You must therefore seek out mentors, life coaches or experts to help you find the answers you need to move yourself forward toward the attainment of your goals.

Breathe, Take Control and Take Action

When obstacles suddenly overwhelm us, our first automatic reaction is no reaction at all. We simply freeze and don’t know what to do. This paralysis may seem unhelpful at first, however it gives us time to ponder and think strategically about the circumstances we find ourselves in.

Take these moments to breathe deeply and ask yourself the following set of questions:

What is it that I control?

What is it that I don’t control?

How can I gain control over these circumstances?

If I cannot gain control, then how can I influence these circumstances?

If I cannot influence them, then maybe I am not seeing things clearly. Where must I look for more information? How could I view this situation differently that would be more helpful and provide me with options?

By asking and then taking action on these questions, you will gain some semblance of control over your circumstances and can slowly start building momentum moving forward towards the attainment of your goals.

Adjust Your Priorities

At times we are unable to overcome certain obstacles because our priorities are simply out of order. This is especially relevant when you consider the true value of time spent developing your skills or knowledge in areas that can impact your ability to overcome difficult circumstances. This essentially boils down to committing yourself to lifelong learning. Become a lifelong learner and start acquiring the knowledge and skills you need to work through life’s problems more effectively.

Assess Your Obstacles

You will rarely overcome an obstacle unless you quickly figure out how it originated and weaseled its way into your life in the first place. With this in mind, ask yourself:

What went wrong?

What could have caused this?

What must I do now?

The key of course is to learn from your experience, and then to use that experience to build a more optimal future course of action.

List Possible Options

Sometimes obstacles have a tendency to constrict us mentally in a confined space, thereby limiting our perspective of the situation. In such instances we must quickly come to realize that solutions can only be found when we open our minds to possibilities and options that we hadn’t considered before. To do this, simply sit down with a pen and paper and ask yourself over and over again:

How can I overcome this obstacle?

What options haven’t I considered?

The more options you have, the more opportunity you have to find a suitable answer to the problem you are facing. However, you must of course understand how to turn these options into opportunities in order to work your way through the problem most effectively.

Ask Effective Questions

The above two examples hopefully help highlight the power of questions and how asking effective questions can help you gather new and different perspectives about your life and circumstances. In addition to this, spend time over-viewing the obstacle analysis questions that are listed on the 2nd branch of this IQ Matrix. Together they provide a powerful example of how questions can be used to help shift your perspective.

Tips for Overcoming Obstacles

Experiment in New Directions

Asking effective questions will help you gain new insights into the obstacles that are standing in your way. Use gathered insights to try new things and move in new directions that you never considered before. It is after all the path less traveled that will make all the difference in the end. And of course, experimentation will be an important part of that journey. Choose to live life like a scientist and challenge yourself to experiment your way through your problems.

Accept and Acknowledge Circumstances

When confronted with an obstacle, the worst thing we can do is to deny that the problem exists.

When we deny that something exists we close ourselves off to solutions, answers and opportunities that are waiting to be discovered. We must therefore accept and acknowledge the circumstances for what they are from an optimistic, solution orientated, yet very realistic state-of-mind.

Think Critically and Creatively

Creative and critical thinking was built upon the foundations of the obstacles and problems that people have dealt with throughout the course of human history. In fact, without problems there would be no need for creative or critical thought. You must therefore take the time to learn and use these two thinking skills to work through life’s obstacles far more effectively. It of course won’t be easy. It takes a lot of work and effort to develop these indispensable life skills. However, nurturing curiosity can certainly give you a head-start. From there, I would suggest to work through the 5 phase creative problem solving process.

Take Small Steps

By taking small steps you ensure that you always remain in control and do not get overwhelmed by your circumstances. To do this, simply breakdown what you need to do to overcome this obstacle into small manageable chunks, then progressively work on one or more chunks per day until you successfully reach your outcome. Here you might find value in exploring the six step productivity process.

Make the Necessary Sacrifices

At times we find it difficult to overcome certain obstacles because we are simply unwilling to make the changes that would help us to successfully overcome our problem. Sometimes it’s not what you do, but rather what you let go of that will have the greatest impact on your life. 

Remember that in order to achieve your goal takes some form of sacrifice. There is of course a price for success, and you must be willing to pay that price in the form of change of some sort. However, many people do typically struggle with this. They struggle because they get caught up in the instant gratification trap. Avoid this trap and you will find it easier to overcome the obstacles that life throws your way.

Learn from Your Mistakes

Progress is built upon a myriad of mistakes that we make each and every day. Some are big, some are small, but one thing is for sure: they are all significant with helping us learn the lessons we need to learn to achieve our goals and objectives.

Take time to learn from every failed attempt and mistake you make. The more you learn, the more you will grow and the better you will be able to deal with the obstacles that lie along the path as you work toward your goal.

Keep Things Simple

When dealing with obstacles, simplicity is the key. The more we try and complicate things, the more likely we are to become overwhelmed with our circumstances. You must therefore keep things as simple and straightforward as possible, because the toughest of problems are often solved in simple ways.

Cultivate Self-Belief and Self-Confidence

You are unlikely to overcome an obstacle if you don’t believe that you are capable of overcoming it in the first place. Your self-doubt and that critical voice will only paralyze you. It will keep you focused on problems and not on the solutions you need to get the outcomes you want. You must therefore develop the necessary self-confidence and the self-belief you need that will help you think more effectively about the obstacles and problems in your life.

Cultivate Calmness

Calmness provides you with clarity-of-mind, which allows you to ask better questions, think more creatively, critically and effectively about your problems.

When your mind and body are calm, you naturally tap into a reservoir of internal resources that you normally wouldn’t have access to if you were to react emotionally to your circumstances.

Cultivate an Active Mindset

An active mindset helps you to proactively deal with circumstances. It’s a mindset that asks effective questions; always looks for new answers, opportunities and solutions; is flexible, adaptable and constantly learns from past mistakes, while moving forward toward the attainment of its goals and objectives.

Cultivate these Indispensable Qualities

Those who successfully overcome obstacles consistently cultivate the following qualities:

Don’t Dwell on the Negatives

When you dwell on what you don’t want, you will get more of that in your life. After all, we attract what we focus on. Therefore if you focus on worst-case scenarios, then you’re not focusing on solutions, and if you’re not focusing on solutions then you are unlikely to find the answers you need to overcome your problems.

Don’t Throw Blame on Yourself or Others

It’s paramount that you do not blame yourself or others for the circumstances you find yourself in. Certainly take responsibility, but don’t play the victim card. And yes, you can also acknowledge that someone else was at fault, however it’s important to understand that it’s often not the person but rather the systems and process in place that led you to the outcome. Fix these; do not lay blame, and the obstacles you face will fade away.

Don’t Look for Sympathy

When we look for sympathy from others, we come from a point of weakness and an inability to control our fate or destiny. We must instead look to come from a place of personal empowerment, where we take full responsibility for our life and circumstances. This of course doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t ask for help or assistance. What it does mean is that we should focus on always exploring options that will move us forward toward the attainment of our goals and objectives.

Don’t Quit

Finally, no matter what, do not quit, because the greatest opportunities are always intertwined with life’s greatest struggles. Persistence and perseverance and a commitment to consistency and massive action, is what you need to help you overcome life’s greatest obstacles.

Guidelines for Overcoming obstacles


Concluding Thoughts About Overcoming Life’s Obstacles

Frank A. Clark knew all about the value of obstacles when he said:

If you can find a path with no obstacles, it probably doesn’t lead anywhere.

Obstacles are just “things” that are there to teach and strengthen us for the journey that lies ahead. We must therefore not view them as insurmountable problems that will prevent us from achieving our goals, but rather as small — and at times large — stepping stones that are required “modules” we need to pass in order to obtain our Ph.D. in Goal Achievement.

And finally, it’s important to remind ourselves of the indispensable lesson that many former Lottery winners have found out the hard way: that there is only one thing worse than being poor, and that is “being rich and then being poor once again”. 🙁

Take time to learn the lessons that life throws your way, because these lessons will be critical to your success as you move forward into the future.


Time to Assimilate these Concepts

Overcoming Obstacles

Download Using Map Free Maps

Did you gain value from this article? Would you like to keep these concepts at the forefront of your mind? If so, then you might like to download the accompanying mind map reference poster to your iPad, tablet or computer. The map presents you with a quick overview of this article. It’s designed specifically to help improve your memory and recall of this information so that you can better integrate these concepts into your daily thoughts, habits and actions. Your purchase will also go a long way towards supporting the further development of these maps.


Here are three recommended IQ Matrix mind map bundles that can help you handle adversity, solve problems more effectively, and develop the mental toughness you need to overcome life’s toughest obstacles and setbacks.


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Gain More Knowledge…

Here are some additional links and resources that will help you learn more about this topic:


Adam is a life coach, mind mapper, doodler and visual thinker. He founded IQ Matrix in 2009 and has created over 350 self-growth mind maps. He also has a Free 40 Day How to Doodle Course where he teaches how to doodle using simple daily lessons. Read more about Adam’s story, and how he created the concept for IQ Matrix. Feel free to also get in touch and send Adam a message here.