Arbitrary Barriers.

Do you know what these are?

Arbitrary barriers are traps we set up – for ourselves, by ourselves – that preclude us from doing great work.

The dialogue is pretty simple. It’s usually an “if-then” statement, a wish to be fulfilled that can only happen after you do something else. This is what it looks like:

“I’ll learn how to play the guitar after I finish paying off my student loans.”

“I’ll publish a book when I have more time.”

“I’ll figure out how to do it when I finish doing this other thing first.”

This isn’t about the case of the tomorrows (or laters), which we all know almost always means never.

This is a psychological mind trap, a way of thinking that you’re probably not even aware that you’re doing.

Are you setting unreasonable limits to your own success?

One way to get out of it is to talk about your ideas – loudly, publicly, to your friends and peers – and let them know what your scary dreams are. They’ll ask the questions you don’t want to ask yourself yet.

Here’s an example: I want to learn how to sing. Don’t ask me why – I’m a terrible singer and I’ve not really done it before. And I told my friend, one of the most beautiful singers at stanford b-school I’ve ever met – that ‘one day,’ I’d get some vocal lessons. And then I made excuse after excuse after excuse about why I wasn’t doing it. I’ll do it when I have more money. When I have more time. After I finish the project that I’m doing. When I feel comfortable enough to sing in front of people and not be embarrased. Every excuse follows a pretty similar pattern. I’ll do it when ___________.

Whatever the __________ is, it’s an arbitrary barrier. You’ve told yourself, in your mind, that you will only do something after you do something else. And if you don’t accomplish the first thing, then you don’t really ever have to get going on the second thing.

Bullshit. Call it when you see it. Call it on yourself – I’m putting it out there – bullshit on you, Sarah, there’s nothing *really* stopping you – you’re full of a load of Arbitrary Barrier bullshit.

Let nothing stop you on your quest for attainment, for your quest for success, for what you want, really want to do. Each invisible barrier, real or imagined, needs to be blown up like a military man on a quest for points in an (arbitrary?) video game. Do it.

Blow that shit up.

And stop fooling yourself. If you really want it, you’ll do it despite of the barriers, maybe even because of the barriers, because you want to get there. When the doctor told me I’d never swim again right before she performed surgery to remove a rib from my body, I called bullshit four weeks later (a weak bullshit, since I wasn’t so good at talking after chest surgery, but bullshit nonetheless).  Six months down the road, I jumped in a pool again.

This summer I swam a ten-mile open water swim for the first time.

Don’t tell me what I can’t do.

And stop telling yourself what you can’t do. Recognize the arbitrary barriers you set up for yourself and use them as motivation to get started that much faster.

So get there. Bullshit. Stop with the arbitrary barriers.

Get out of your own way.


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