How to Discover Your Hidden Obstacles to Primal Progress

Obstacles final

This time of year is all about knowing what we want for ourselves. We rightfully accept the window for change and wonder what kind of transformation we?re ready for?what measures we?re willing to commit to, what possibilities exist if we?re willing to go down that road. And so we daydream. We imagine what it would be like to feel better/fitter/healthier than we do right now. We think about how life would be different. We start to mentally put the pieces in place?how we?d go about this endeavor. How bold are we willing to be? Where will the energy, support, ideas and resources to fuel this venture come from? Maybe it?s at this stage or maybe even after we get started, but all too often some other element eventually weaves its way into the picture. Self-doubt, pessimism, compromise, sabotage begins trickling into our process. Our hidden, well-worn obstacles start popping up.

It seems like a universal dictum. When you start to make positive change, you?re going to get pushback. It?s not a magical force thing. The fact is, you?re rocking the boat. Your attempt to change, no matter how small, is throwing off the dysfunctional equilibrium you?ve been living with. Somewhere along the line you got used to how you live and how you feel. Inertia is as much a psychological as a physical phenomenon.

Change your ways, and it?s as if all the mental bogeys and old patterns wiggle their way to the forefront to register their agitation. Maybe even the basic, external logistics of change become a knotted mess temporarily. It can feel like the universe is on a targeted mission to crush your good intentions.

Personally, I don?t think the universe has it out for you, but I?d make this suggestion. Expect pushback and learn to roll with it.

Behavior change is genuine transition. Let?s name it as such, shall we? Transition always involves some degree of destabilization. When facing instability, your best bet is to give up the need to fix the situation (or wallow in your own irritation) and simply get comfortable with it.

Welcome instability and all it brings up. Invite it in and let it sleep on your couch for a few weeks if need be. While it?s crashing at your place, get to know it. Listen instead of slinging yourself around in the dark. You never know what it will teach you about yourself?.

Because the ultimate force at work here is you. Pushback is inevitable. Instability is expected. What?s optional is frustration.

We tend to take a ?fight this,? ?fend off that? mentality to mental or even logistical resistance. War metaphors for personal change?hmm. Whom exactly are you fighting? Doing battle with one?s self in my experience generally does nothing but expend a lot of needed energy.

Now, let?s dig in a little more for how to uncover those hidden bogeys.

We?ve covered the first order of business. Expect them.

We?ve hit the second to-do. Become willing to let your guard down and learn from them.

Now three? Listen for their voices.

Because sometimes hidden isn?t what we think it is. It?s obscured in some way but perhaps disguised as ?fixed? reality, dressed up as safe, ?rational? choice, even cloaked in self-selected ?conscious? preference.

Think for a minute if any of these have at one time belonged to your thinking?.

  • I can be happy with just?
  • I?m not really a X, Y, Z kind of person.
  • It?s probably too late to imagine that for myself.
  • The weight loss thing just never seems to work for me.
  • Whenever I start to get in somewhat good shape, something always happens to derail my progress.

(This is only a small subsection of what could probably be a book-length list?.)

In other words, a hidden obstacle isn?t something like a low number in your budget that you can commit to your health. That?s a parameter, which might reframe but doesn?t in any regard need to derail your pursuit.

Nor is it a limited schedule with screaming children or a demanding boss or a long commute. These are elements to work around, but (again) not deal breakers.

And nor is it a medical condition (whether it be morbid obesity, chronic fatigue, a heart condition or whatever). These impose restrictions or suggest a varying, flexible trajectory, but in every case progress of some kind (and often grand, life-changing kinds) is possible. (Please work with a trusted physician who can outline any restrictions and actively monitor your health as you progress.)

Maybe some circumstances don?t allow us to have total freedom in our personal schedules or budgets. Maybe we work with physical restriction, but all this suggests to me is a reframing of process?not a lack of possibility.

In short, hidden obstacles are the excuses, justifications and other imposed self-limitations we put between us and our visions.

In these situations, I have a friend who always suggests people ask what investment they have in staying the way they are. In other words, what do you gain by staying put as-is?in circumstances you say you don?t want to be in?

The question might seem off-putting. Our feathers get ruffled when someone suggests we have a stake in our own unhappiness. Except people I know who have achieved great things?as well as other people who aren?t famous but live extraordinarily content, satisfying lives all claim responsibility for their own happiness and success.

I?ve discussed some of these common roadblocks in the past?.

Hidden Obstacle: Comparison

The ?thief of joy? as Theodore Roosevelt called it? Major killjoy, rain on my motivational parade, recipe for never-measuring-up.

Maybe you grew up under a shadow of comparison. A past pattern doesn?t have to be a present choice. Don whatever metaphorical blinders you need to get going in your own process. If that means exercising in quiet neighborhoods or parks (during winter it?s easy to find these) rather than a gym, so be it. How about your basement? Eat alone or with the few/one supportive person you can identify at your workplace. Not forever?just for now?or as long as you need it.

Journal. Photo-journal. Get a trainer who will teach you to be your own competition. Don?t worry about what everyone else is doing to get healthy. Do what you will do and enjoy.

In other words, immerse yourself in your own process. Be self-absorbed. Truly. Comparison in my clients suggests an emptiness of self-attention and self-appreciation. Learn to get your head in your own experience.

Hidden Obstacle: Fear of Success

Sure, we say we want success. We want the ultra fit body or the ideal life balance or great health. Yet somehow we?re more comfortable letting a little bit of shame or sloth hang around.

The sabotage is half- or even sub-conscious because underneath we?re just a little afraid. That idea of success puts us on the hook in ways that intimate us. What will be expected of us as a result? How will life change in ways we don?t necessarily want to sign on for?

It?s time to have more faith in ourselves?in our ability to navigate our own lives through our own best interests?hooks and others? expectations be damned. The most important gains we?ll make by getting healthy aren?t the outer changes but the inner fortitude we?ll cultivate and walk with from here on out.

Hidden Obstacle: The Victim/Fatalistic Mindset

Maybe past attempts have been many and unsuccessful. Perhaps some random hits of bad luck or bad timing or whatever we want to call it have dotted your history with health/weight loss/fitness/self-improvement/etc. The only one applying the past to the present right now is you.

Time doesn?t care. The universe isn?t paying attention. Anyone who keeps stirring up past pain is truly optional in your life if you?re ready to be honest about it.

It?s time to reclaim choice. You can have a new beginning anytime you desire one. What you drag along with you, however, is your responsibility. Sooner or later we all learn to answer for it.

Hidden Obstacle: The Captive Character

The reels of old scenes, the loops of self-talk?Too many of us are captive characters in the stories we tell ourselves (and those we?ve been told about ourselves in the past).

We make a move toward some positive goal, and almost invariably the chatter begins about how worthy we are, how we?re not the athlete type, how we?ll never be able to have healthy relationship with food, how we?re not cut out for the happiness and well-being others seem to be able to claim for themselves.

While this might be one of the trickier obstacles to face, I suggest as I did earlier in the post to not fight these messages, which only throws your energy down a useless pit.

The key is let them be without identifying with them. To use the couch surfing metaphor again, when we make the distinction that they?re annoying, lazy houseguests rather than head of the household, we stop giving these voices authority they aren?t due.

Rather than silencing the messages, practice creating mental distance from them when they come up?and then get busy writing a new story you will want to identify with. Don?t worry about affirming you are this or that kind of person. Just make a self-investing, healthy choice in the moment. The string of these will become a new narrative?and the interlinking chain toward your success.

Thanks for reading today, everyone. Which of these obstacles (or others) have you encountered? What helps you get over the hump? I hope you?ll share your thoughts and advice in the comment board. Have a great end to the week.

Prefer listening to reading? Get an audio recording of this blog post, and subscribe to the Primal Blueprint Podcast on iTunes for instant access to all past, present and future episodes here.

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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17 thoughts on “How to Discover Your Hidden Obstacles to Primal Progress”

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  1. I didn’t see negativity and rationalization listed as obstacles, or maybe only indirectly. They tend to go hand in hand and can deep-six just about any effort toward self-improvement. The good news is that both can be eliminated. It just takes a little conscious effort.

  2. Interesting post. Your friend’s question is similar to something an Aunt once asked me when I complained about an aquaintence’s lack of abiltiy to make a decision. My Aunt asked me what reward was my friend getting out of it. We don’t repeat behaviours unless we are getting a reward. It might not be positive to an outside observer, but it must be to the individual. In this case, if you don’t make decisions, and let others do it, then it is never your fault, and never your responsibility.

  3. So many thought provoking posts lately! Completely agree sometimes we just have to expect pushback, and roll with it. When we fight something we are really giving it more power than it deserves. I also agree that we get caught up in the story we tell ourselves, which usually involves settling for much less than we should. It’s harder, but better in the end, to write a new and better story. A great way to do that is to spend a little time each day visualizing our new story, so we know how it looks and feels.

    1. I love that idea, visualizing our new story. That’s wonderful, thank you.

      1. Visualising is a great way to focus your mind on what you want. There is a way of doing it though. Top athletes use it to improve their performance.

  4. What a fabulous post! Thank you thank you thank you!!
    So inspiring, but also pragmatic advice as how to empower one’s mind & resilience for the coming pitfalls.

    I especially love the section:
    “Maybe some circumstances don’t allow us to have total freedom in our personal schedules or budgets. Maybe we work with physical restriction, but all this suggests to me is a reframing of process—not a lack of possibility.”

    Reframing the process, and not wallowing on the restrictions.

    I don’t usually leave a comment, but now that I am finally doing so, please know I thank you every day for your wonderful words of wisdom!!!

  5. After years of CW change is in order and so is patience. “Expect a push” if I’m getting one then I know I’m on the right track. I have a bad knee. I can do most of the PEM regardless, squats are better all the time. Sprints are on a no/low impact gazelle. I do what I can and to the best of my ability. I remind myself that I am not living in the Paleo time period, it’s not necessary to run from a sabertooth tiger, I can hop in my car. If I keep going though, if a rabid dog comes for me I can climb a tree pretty darn quick. I do this for my health. Surviving was once a priority and motivation for humans. I don’t want to just survive today I want to thrive as well. If I work for it it can be achieved.

  6. Motivated! I love stability and the first two weeks of the year have been a complete mess LOL! Soooooo I welcome the comment to embrace the instability of all of it and am gonna roll with what life is bringing me right now. Long live the adventure! Peace out.

  7. Fantastic post, Mark.

    When I work with people who deeply long for change but keep finding themselves returning to familiar patterns, I often ask them to investigate—with an abundance of gentleness and self-compassion—what they’re getting out of staying where they are.

    The answer is usually complex, but one thing that comes up quite frequently is comfort—specifically, the sort of comfort associated with lingering in a familiar, known place. This “place” usually involves a particular role—such as the “victim” or other “captive characters” you mentioned. It also exists in relationship with other people, so changing up the dynamics can result in internal and external push-back (even when everyone involved genuinely wants change).

    So, so many times we get addicted to our stories…and to places and roles that, even if mediocre or miserable, are comforting in their familiarity.

    I love your advice to notice such places and messages…without resisting OR identifying with them. Mindfully distancing ourselves from our patterns can be so, so helpful—first in creating clarity, then in stepping out of our familiar stories and into something different.

    1. Thank you! You phrased that perfectly. I’m in the middle of letting go of a 7 year relationship and the quiet, comfortable life that went with it, and only now am I seeing the strength I had all this time but didn’t notice. Being stuck in your comfort zone is indeed a sort of blissful prison…

    2. I know that comfort zone so well. I call it being in my own little bubble. I might be overweight and under-financed, but on the whole I have a comfortable and relaxed lifestyle without spending much money.

      It can’t last, but making any changes will involve a) risk of failure, b) pain of learning something new, and c) courage to make a move.

      It’s so much easier just to drift.

  8. In re: Captive Character: One of the best insights from my therapy has been “I am not the victim of my own life.”

  9. I like the Japanese proverb of “keeping one eye on the past, and one eye on the future.”

  10. Awesome post, makes me think of Romans 7:15 from the Christian Bible, “I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” We have to learn how to deal with our own nature and subconscious then learn from these things!

  11. Awesome post. I especially identify with the fear of success issue here – I’m the oldest child and grandchild on both sides of my very close family and have been told to be the example my whole life. I still rankle against anything that might perpetuate that, and making myself better is one of those things.

    One book that has helped me get past that is The Untethered Soul, by Michael Singer. It’s all about identifying that little voice in our minds and seeing it without reacting – and that becomes the key to our “getting out of our own way.”

    Anyone else have any good books about this?

  12. Yet again a post full of perceptive, profound and thought-provoking insights. Thank you!