Trouble Achieving Goals? 10 Psychological Issues That Affect Success

Every year you make new goals for yourself. You set them right, using the SMART method, and things seem so promising…. at first. But somehow, you never seem to quite achieve what you mean to.

What is truly behind your fear of success and self-sabotage? Could it be one of the psychological issues below, known to make moving forward a challenge?

10 Psychological Issues that Make Achieving Goals Harder

1. Unhelpful Core Beliefs.

Core beliefs are ideas about yourself and the world that develop from your experiences as a child.

Unless you do the work to recognise and change them, you can live your life assuming that what are only your beliefs are instead facts, and they will colour every decision you then make.

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If your core beliefs are negative (I am not worthy of good things, I am stupid, the world is dangerous) they will cause you to make choices that support these negative ideas, which are rarely the decisions that lead to success and contentment.

2. Low Self-Esteem.

It might sound too obvious to bother listing. But it’s still always worth discussing because many of us hide our feeling of unworthiness and shame even from ourselves, denying we have low self-esteem. And what you don’t admit to, you can’t really change and move on from.

Or, we mistake confidence and self-esteem, which are different (it’s actually possible to be confident with many things but still suffer low self-esteem).

3. Negative Thinking.

We all have some negative thoughts when we are about to push through our comfort zone (what was I thinking, this is too hard, etc).

But if you practise negative thinking more often than not, including things like black and white thinking, catastrophising, or other forms of what psychology calls ‘cognitive distortions‘, this will seriously affect the choices you are making.

Cognitive behavioural therapy calls this a behavioural “loop”, where negative thoughts create negative feelings, and then negative feelings create negative actions.

4. Poor Sense of Self.

If you grew up in a family where you were punished for being too emotional, or messy, or loud, etc, you might have learned to do your best to always fit in and please others. Or, if your parents are people you greatly admire, you might be trying to be like them even as an adult, not realising you never took the time to be like you.

And the trouble with not knowing how to be yourself is a constant feeling that something isn’t quite right, and often a sense of fatigue or failure no matter how many things you do.

(Not sure how to even know what you think or feel? Read out piece How to Listen to Yourself).

5. Lack of Attachment as a Child.

Another way you might have lost your sense of self is if you didn’t receive what’s known as ‘healthy attachment’ as a child.

Attachment theory states that when some children don’t experience the opportunity to feel safe with a main caregiver, or don’t receive consistent care, they often grow into adults who suffer things like poor boundaries and anxiety.

All of which can make achievement in life much more challenging.

6. Codependency.

Another side effect of growing up with poor attachment can be codependency.

If as a child you learned that the best way to receive the care you needed was to please your parents, you are likely now an adult who works so hard to please those around you there simply isn’t enough time and energy left to move forward in life in the ways you’d like.

7. Childhood Trauma.

If you experienced not just attachment challenges but real trauma as a child – if you were abandoned, neglected, or abused, or went through something like war or homelessness, for example – you might find yourself in a state of emotional shock or post traumatic shock disorder (PTSD) even decades later.

The constant anxiety, fear, and brain fog that are amongst the symptoms of these conditions can again mean it’s challenging to move forward in life.

8. Confused Values.

If you don’t know your real values, if you instead are taking on the values of your family, friends, or colleagues, then it’s likely you’ve set goals that mean you are going against yourself.

Look out for any thoughts that involve the word “should” (I should do this, I should want this) which is often a sign you are doing what you think is right over what truly is right for you personally.

9. Adult ADHD.

If you assume that you can’t possibly have ADHD as that’s for kids, think again. ADHD is actually a real problem for many adults too, and you can be diagnosed at any age.

Don’t think you have to be hyper, either. Hyperactivity is only one of three main symptom groups of ADHD, and is often not present in adult ADHD (for more information, read our article on Adult ADHD).

10. Personality Disorders.

Personality disorders begin in early adulthood and are consistent patterns of thinking and acting that do not match the norm, causing you real stress and difficulties in life. If you are suffering from a personality disorder much of your time and energy can be spent trying to just get by in a world where you often seem misunderstood by others.

What to do next?

If any of the above rings a bell and you are worried you might be stuck on one of these psychological stumbling blocks to success, again, the good news is that there are ways forward.

Self help is a great option, and there are wonderful books, forums, and online courses that are a useful starting point.

But don’t overlook the power of professional support. Sometimes the unbiased perspective of someone who truly understands can be a revelation. You might even find that the self-knowing therapy fosters means that instead of having to force life to happen, you experience greater a sense of ease altogether in moving towards the life you truly want.

If you think you might have ADHD or a personality disorder, professional help is definitely recommended, as they can be very hard to navigate alone. Consider talking to your doctor who can refer you to a mental health professional, or book a session with a private counsellor or psychotherapist who can advise you on the best ways forward.

Is there a psychological issue you feel blocks success that we’ve forgot to mention? Share below, we love hearing from you.

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