Why You Should Let Yourself Succeed and Go Get the Life You Want

FreedomHow many of us get in our own way when it comes to leading the best life possible? The forms of self-obstruction are many and varied: We might only be dutiful about small changes. never taking the important big steps. Or we might hem and haw, cycling back and forth between rigor and passivity. We perhaps commit to improvements in certain health dimensions but forgo effort in others. We feel good about our positive choices but back away from scrutinizing the half measures. “I’m just too busy to do more than I’m already doing.” “I’ve made it further than I ever thought I could: I’ll quite while I’m ahead.” “I’m doing better than most people I know.” “This amount of change is manageable. I don’t want to push the envelope.” We tell ourselves a million things on the precipice looking out from good to great. There might be a hundred circumstances legitimately figuring into our decision to stay where we’re at in the “good enough,” but we need to be honest. Is there something in the view itself – the overlook to bigger success – that causes us to seize back consciously or unconsciously?

Maybe we fear ultimate success because we don’t like change, because we don’t think we deserve a truly great life, because we can’t imagine ourselves being “that” person – the person who has it together, the person who is really fit and optimally healthy. “Optimum” anything, we tell ourselves is too extravagant. It’s for the lucky few or maybe just better-adjusted many. We might even tell ourselves we don’t “need” optimum, that we’d be just as satisfied with good. No. Trust me – you won’t be just as satisfied.

Sit back and play a game for a minute. Imagine yourself in that “optimal” existence  (e.g. of health, of vitality, of self-fulfillment). Imagine all the amazing things you could want but think are too lavish for you somehow. Imagine living that very life. Are you getting uncomfortable yet?

Sometimes we keep deeper success at arm’s length because we’re afraid of what we’ll be called on to challenge or give up about ourselves. More than weight or weakness, sometimes our self-concept is the hardest thing to shed.

In some dark, hidden corner of ourselves, we stop short of believing we can have it really good – that we should have it really good – that we deserve to have it really good. The corner stubbornly refuses to be filled or changed or otherwise improved, choosing to retain some portion of deprivation. Obscured, perhaps long-entrenched messages limit our thinking in this way. We’re conditioned to not ask for too much from our lives. We were taught to not aim too high or expect too much. Think of how this might play out for you and in what areas of your life – relationship, vocation, social life, creative life, body image, fitness, etc.

Maybe we survived parts of our lives by learning not to expect much. Our circumstances in those situations were the inputs in our personal adaptation. However helpful these patterns were in the past, at some point we need to understand that they do nothing but hinder us in the present. This is not the script we have to go through life with. If it doesn’t serve you any more, stop repeating it. Understand what you need to about what went into it (i.e. why the messages are what they are). Accept being uncomfortable and lean into the self-defeating parts until you’ve managed to diffuse their influence. Then let it all go.

More importantly, fill your life now with different messages that will come together in a new script. Sure, it will take a certain amount of retraining. However, with time you’ll be able to rewire your thoughts and shift default tracks. Next time you begin to make a choice that isn’t in your best interest, remember it doesn’t have to be this way. Don’t beat yourself up about it. Simply tell yourself, “I could do it differently. I may be doing this just because it’s comfortable/easy – or not doing that because it would require a personal change in identity (i.e. I’m now the person who says no to bread. I’m now the person who prioritizes my sleep and doesn’t stay out until all hours. I’m now the person who makes the effort to get to the gym instead of happy hour.) Other times, we find we don’t think big enough in envisioning our goals.

This isn’t about perfection, mind you, but it is about letting yourself succeed. It’s about giving yourself a shot at expanding your expectations. It’s about saying no to sub-consciously self-sabotaging and yes to what is possible but perhaps entirely obscured by your own assumptions about what is attainable and what you deserve. It’s about doing exactly what you probably don’t want to do – push the envelope.

Let me tell you this right now in no uncertain terms: you get to have optimal health when you’re ready to own it (and, yes, work for it). You get to have vitality when you feel you deserve it. You get to have deep and genuine well-being in as many areas of your life as you’re willing to let it take root. Sure, your journey and version of success will be unique. The fullness of life isn’t any more generic than life itself. The experience of it – the nuances and gratification – will undoubtedly surprise you. The key is first being open to the Primal potential itself.

Thanks for reading today, everyone. Have you ever been your own impediment? What would you add to the idea of letting yourself succeed? Have a happy and safe 4th of July.

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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68 thoughts on “Why You Should Let Yourself Succeed and Go Get the Life You Want”

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  1. Good encouragement! I will have my husband read this. He is close to making some big changes and is already beginning to change his thinking actively, refusing to buy into the negative mind set at his work. I can think of a few people that I’d like to have read this as well.
    Thank you Mark!!

  2. Good post! I feel that one of the hardest things of being content with life is to find the balance between being happy with what you have and enjoying life, while at the same time aiming higher and planning for the future.

    After years of following MDA I really like the direction the blog is going, happiness an a gooo life is so much more than iet an exercise.

  3. Much of this has been true of me throughout my life. (I’m 70.) Unfortunately, a carb fog kept me from seeing clearly how to make good decisions. I’ve made lots of terrible ones. Primal has given me focus, and intensity. Thanks for that Mark!

    Fortunately, I made a few good decisions that allow me to have a comfortable semi-retirement. I wish I had made better financial plans but I’m not going to start a new career. I’d rather enjoy my hobbies and friends.

    As for optimal health, no, I am not going to do what it takes to get that if it means giving up my 20%, e.g. eating more white potatoes, white rice and corn tortillas (all organic) than optimal. My health is excellent for my age and gradually improving. That is enough.

  4. Great post! So important to strive for optimal- IMO. Lot’s of life to live and living healthy (body and mind) is important. I’m living the next 40 years much differently than the first 47.

    1. I love this post. I found that after feeling like I was on a slow and steady march to death, that I’ve been given life back. I was so used to feeling wrecked after any activity or fun that I now fear it a little. I am not used to being able. I am so grateful to MDA and this new life. I want all this optimal living, I am only just learning to expect vitality and energy instead of what I had the last 39 years. I am surprised by it every time. I am sure I am not using my full potential. When will the fear subside? I’ve been on it for 6 months. How long does it take a person not to be afraid of one’s abilities after such a long struggle? I feel it gets in the way, but I really am scared. I can NOT go back to feeling like that. I used to pay for weeks after a “vacation”. Any tips from the MDA folks would be appreciated to help with an “out with the old, in with the new” attitude. Thanks, Mark and all the rest, really. Thanks.

      1. A few months ago, I finally had enough of feeling self-conscious the few times we’d go out to eat and order a burger “on lettuce, no bun please.”

        I asked myself, “why do I feel so self-conscious about this?” I realized I thought it might matter what I think someone within earshot of me thinks for 5 minutes.

        Then I realized it doesn’t. I realized it’s my life. Mine, not theirs.

        It changed everything. Not a whole lot, but it truly changed everything. (Now I wear Vibrams wherever the hell I feel like it! 🙂

  5. No, on the opposite, I set my expectations too high and after a few years of channeling heart and soul and trying real hard, now am all broken and disillusioned. Try this, try that game and give it all you’ve got… and fail, again and again, and again. I can’t say I am a better person for trying. I wish I did not. And all I wanted was a firm body. Stupid.

    1. So setting up a plan to eat healthy, exercise, sleep well, manage stress and have some enjoyable recreation “broke you”? I’ll need more than what you posted before I host a pity party for you. If you were OCD about doing something harmful like non-stop cardio and high carbs then you need to review the resources available here and start all over. Unless you have a terminal illness you can ABSOLUTELY improve your health situation if you implement a solid plan and take it one day at a time. Best wishes to you.

    2. Maybe what you didn’t address was low self esteem or body issues? I find it hard to believe that if you really did optimize your eating/exercise/sleep/stress, etc.. that you wouldn’t have uncovered a healthy, fit person. Maybe your idea of that is unrealistic and is rooted in an unhealthy perception in your mind. So, perhaps what you need to optimize is something mental and not physical to create the happiest, healthiest you.

  6. Happy 4th everyone!!

    Great post today and something that’s important to be read every so often.

    My only issue is that sometimes I want too much!! Perfect thyroid hormone levels… Perfect cholesterol… Optimal testosterone…. It can be easy to be lost in chasing these numbers when I need to step back and just assess how I feel.

  7. As far as the Prima/Paleo lifestyle I am all in, I let myself succeed and I love the Primal/Paleo way of eating and moving around.
    I really need to use this advice for the rest of my life especially my job which I do like for the most part and I make good money. But why not really strive for more financial rewards. I say to myself ‘well it probably won’t get that much better’ wow that is terrible. I am going to start trying to get more and better for myself!

  8. ah once again so timely. i’ve been doing some reading on self sabotage lately and am actively trying to change some patterns in my life. i’ve actually been pretty good about aiming high and feeling limitless when it comes to my work, my fitness and my health. but one area that needs A LOT of work are my romantic relationships…
    i am consistently investing in the wrong person. men who are emotionally and/or physically (long distance) unavailable. i think i am a good catch, not perfect by any means but a good person nonetheless. i’m turning 40 this year and something’s gotta give. i keep doing the same thing expecting different outcomes. insanity is what they say!
    anyway, thanks again. what i’m trying to do now is catch myself when i make a decision that isn’t inline with what i want in my personal life. we shall see.
    thanks mark

    1. Sometimes that can be accomplished by pulling a George Costanza. Just do the exact opposite of what you think you should do. Case in point: I went out with a guy who was not my normal type at all. At the end of the date, I was thinking I wouldn’t go out with him again. Then I told myself that I had made some shitty choices when it came to men and relationships, so maybe I should give him another chance, do the exact opposite of what I would normally do. We ended up getting married and our 13th anniversary is next month. All because I decided to make a different decision than I normally would have.

      1. haha! you are speaking my language Ruth.
        that’s great advice i will apply. 🙂

    2. Hi I would be interested to look at the reading material for self sabotage. Re investing in the wrong relationships, I would highly recommend therapy or an exploration into your childhood. The relationship with your father sets up expectations for your future relationships with men. It’s all subconscious though. It’s v interesting as by discussing with a professional therapist I got to the bottom of why I endured a v lonely marriage and it’s all down to my upbringing. Am getting divorced now so all good but such an steep learning curve and by recognising this now will hopefully ensure I don’t make the same mistake if I have another relationship.

  9. THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!!!! I’m taking my GRE (Graduate Record Examination) tomorrow, and this is EXACTLY WHAT I NEEDED TO READ!!!!!!! I’ve been terrified about the competitive nature of graduate school admissions and thinking that maybe I’m not good enough to get a Ph.D, to even get into a program, so this encouraging article was the perfect thing to help correct my mindset 🙂 🙂

  10. Good things to apply to life, here in this post.

    Happy Independence Day, groks and grokettes!

  11. Yes, Oh Yes. I constructed an image of myself during my childhood and that image, which I changed only slightly thoughout my life, stopped me form seeing or even being aware of the wonderful opportunities within and around me. It still does. Now you have given me a way to see if changed.

  12. Like others have said here – thank you for this post! It’s very timely

  13. Very inspiring, like it a lot

    I would edit this line:

    Accept being uncomfortable and lean into the self-defeating parts until you’ve managed to diffuse their influence. Then let it all go.

    As this:

    Accept being uncomfortable and don’t sweat over self-defeating parts until you’ve managed to diffuse their influence. Then let it all go.

    1. “Lean into the self-defeating parts” is my favorite part of the post. I think facing our pitfalls is critical. The metaphor of leaning in resonates with me.

      1. …though I also like the idea of “diffusing the influence” of our self-defeating behaviors.

  14. Good post, and hints at the power of manifesting your ideal life. As Mike Dooley says “thoughts become things”. A mixture of discipline, daydreaming, the audacity to have huge goals, serendipity and being grateful for the journey and what you have are key IMHO.

  15. I was a physically fragile, very shy, anxious child, & it’s still a constant struggle for me claiming any sort of power. A belated Celiac diagnosis (& more recently Primal) helped a LOT with my health, but I still have to work on my deeply ingrained self-image as a hopeless wimp. Not just physically, but in my career too. Drawing was always my solace… promoting my art, like pulling teeth!

    Thanks for the reminder that achieving strength in any sense always takes effort but is ultimately freeing.

  16. I think that, for many people, this is a manifestation of the struggle between giving up the things we enjoy, crave our are comfortable with. We tend to mourn the loss of french fries and cup cakes rather than the loss of health and well being we may have had if not for those fries and cup cakes. Even in unhealthy patterns, we find comfort.

    To be successful in any long term change we have to shift the paradigm and become uncomfortable or dissatisfied with the status quo. The dissatisfaction drives lasting change allowing us to become comfortable in the new paradigm, the new way of living.

    Until I was able to internalize the primal lifestyle as my own, I felt like I was missing out when I gave up that slice of birthday cake or the long nights at the office. When my paradigm shifted, eating the cake meant giving up my weight loss and digestive health. This made all the difference.

  17. A great post, and meaningful in so many ways. It took me a very long time to feel like I deserved to be healthy, and I’m currently working on overcoming my mental roadblock when it comes to running. Physically, I know I’m capable of doing it, but mentally I need to stop telling myself that I can’t and start saying I CAN. (Warning, plug coming!) I’m trying to win a spot in a half marathon right now so if you feel inclined click my name and read more on my blog 🙂 I would be ever so grateful to you!

  18. Timely post for me as well. We have been discussing the possibilities of moving to another province (Canada) where lifestyle and health are more valued but it would mean I would need to ramp up my working week in order to afford to live there well.

    Right now we are really “comfortable” and I don’t need to work full time. The position I am considering is one that is outside my comfort zone and I’m scared I won’t have the energy nor be able to rise up to the challenge — That I’ve passed my prime — Very limiting thoughts lurking in the recesses of my mind when in reality, it isn’t really true. We’ve just created a nice little bubble of a life.

  19. Thank you! Danke! Gracias! Merci! Just what I needed to day! Motivation and the encouragement to get out of my own way! I so appreciate this blog!!

  20. I need to re-read this post every day! Very good message. I step back from greater achievement in many areas of life (weight loss, health, work). I do the whole ‘deer in the headlights’ kind of thing when I’m on the edge of achieving something awesome and back down from taking that metaphorical last step.

    I also often feel ashamed with myself for wanting ‘more’ when I see news reports about abused children, people living in appalling poverty etc. I think “wow, I have a good life already when so many others don’t, and still I want to achieve xyz?!” It seems so very selfish.

    1. Sometimes taking care of yourself is the best way to inspire and help others. You never know who is watching you.

  21. I love to be inspired! This did it! I have this long standing self-sabotage pattern bc of an incident in my past. When I was in college I was very good at a sport quickly and made my peers on the team angry. I somewhere deep inside decided not to be great, but instead to have friends and family “love” me. Silly, I know anyone worth their salt would love their freind or family member’s successes. I really dumbed it down after that and keep hitting that wall or ceiling-despite finally realizing it’s there. I fear success in all areas. I stop just shy of my greatness. I fear losing my life, my family, my friends. Haven’t been able to drop this- much to my detriment and frustration… And despite knowing it doesn’t make sense or serve me. Words of wisdom to change deeply ingrained fears are very welcome! Great post!!

  22. Great post! Thank you so much for your help in my life and my husband’s life!

  23. It is true that some people are having a hard time imagining themselves to be successful and very healthy individuals. I’ve had that problem in the past and still a bit struggling with that mindset a bit til now. However, as people grow older, their views begin to change. Some start to believe in themselves and strive for change and become successful. Others refuse to change and get nowhere in life. What you say is true, it’s just a matter of mindset and self-confidence. If only people believe that they can achieve the best of almost anything, that will definitely happen.

  24. WOW!!! Thank you Mark for this post, it came at the best time, just when I really needed it. I am one of those people that feels like I don’t deserve the best life, that I am not good enough, so I sabotage myself. This post was like looking at myself in the mirror. Its time for some deep personal reflection so I can learn, and accept, that I do deserve a healthy, fulfilled, and joyus life. Thank you, thank you and thank you!!! This is the push I needed. 🙂 <3

  25. One of my fav mark articles. Very pertinent, as often it is not the diet that really needs tweaking, but the mental set of the individual that is holding them back. Those who are open minded enough to except the knowledge that this blog provides can benefits from it, others fear change too much to let it help them.

    Good luck with change folks it is worth it

  26. I got into my profession out a desire to help others, but more than anything, it has been a journey of self-discovery. It is true that to reach our potential, we have to know ourselves, and that is a voyage that never ends.

  27. i’m my own impediment all the time! but i’ve worked very hard on cultivating self-reflection so at least i’m able to see where i’m blocking myself and i can work to overcome it. i saw the life that i want in my mind and i’m steadily working towards it. it took a lot of courage but i finally launched my freedom business. it’s not perfect and it’s just getting started, of course, but at least the hard part is over and now i can refine it. just like any project, i suppose.

  28. This resonates so much for me, but can anyone offer HELP! about YOUNG ADULT KIDS who Do have sky-high expectations but aren’t demonstrating the work ethic/ job consistency required to even come close to supporting themselves? All googling/ book reviews I have read deal w/ raising younger kids/ teens to prevent this from happening, but nothing on young adults (23 yr old male son). Yes, I would change some aspects of parenting if I could go back; Our kids went to schools for academic giftedness, & we didn’t want to put addl. pressure on them by piling on lots of chores & other responsibilities. In hindsight, huge mistake! So, the 23 yr old was able to get into an amazing university, which was a difficult financial feat for us.
    The job mkt for his degree is poor, but so were ours when we got out decades ago. Common sense told us to make a full time job out of looking for a job, & that worked! He could definitely be putting in more effort, & the push & frustration/ anger comes mostly from me (Mom) than Dad. I’m not a big believer in saying “Find a job w/in __ weeks or you’re out of the house & on your own”. We need to find a middle ground, & set specific expectations. Any ideas on how to do this, good books/ articles, other than “Just throw him out”. This is a smart, charismatic, caring son who Does help around the house now. I don’t know if he is scared, lazy, set his initial expectations too high or all 3. Please advise! Thanks so much!


  30. Thank you Mark, I’ll consider this post a birthday present, as the fourth of July is my birthday.

  31. Fear of success is more dangerous than fear of failure. Many people never reach their full potential because they are afraid of change. I’m glad I was able to surpassed it.