I’ve been reading a book called The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday.
It’s all about how to deal with OBSTACLES and it contains some very fabulous advice for what to do
when things don’t go according to plan.

When you set your New Year’s resolution, you were probably bouncing with enthusiasm and “can do” attitude. But it’s hard to keep that up and rapidly fades when obstacles start to appear.

And appear they do!

Not enough time to work on our goals, not enough money, an unsupportive partner –  you get the idea!

Because obstacles are a fact of life I think it’s really useful to train yourself to deal with them in a way that

means they don’t derail you or cause you overwhelming anxiety.

The book The Obstacle is the Way: The Ancient Art of Turning Adversity to Advantage has a little method, excellent advice and some inspiring stories which have helped me look at obstacles differently and I really think it will help you too!

Read on!!!

Uh oh Obstacle ahead!

1 An obstacle is ANY frustrating, unfortunate, problematic, unexpected problem which prevents us from doing what we want to do! (Got any of those?!)

2 In LIFE there will ALWAYS be obstacles.

The question is, can we get past  them or will we allow them to crumble us?

3 Whenever there is an obstacle, we have a choice: Be blocked by it, or go through/over/round it.

4 Most of us don’t make that choice. We just freeze when we encounter an obstacle.  For example we might be thinking about our Goal and the obstacles that could possibly lie ahead and that alone might make us feel wobbly and totally unable to do anything (except eat chocolate or drink wine!)

5 Our obstacles are unique to each of us. But we all feel them in the same way: Fear. Frustration. Confusion. Helplessness. Depression. Anger.

“It can feel like an invisible enemy has you boxed in, and is holding you down with pillows” Ryan Holiday

6 The big thing is that obstacles are not only to be expected but embraced.


In the face of an obstacle we need to be thinking ‘this must be good!’ We should see it as an opportunity to move forward, or go in a better direction. We should do something special BECAUSE of the obstacle!!

A method for dealing with Obstacles

It turns out that what matters most is not what our obstacles actually are but how we see them, how we react to them, and whether we keep our composure. And this really is the best method for dealing with the obstacles life throws at us.

  1. Look at the obstacle OBJECTIVELY (see obstacles as they really are)
  2. Take ACTION
  3. Develop the WILL to withstand obstacles

The first part is to see obstacles simply and straightforwardly, as they truly are.

Neither good nor bad. Just a fact………

1 Most of us don’t see obstacles objectively. We normally have a perception of obstacles as scary, painful, frustrating, a sign that we ‘shouldn’t be doing what we’d planned to do’, or simply the end of the road.

2 We tend to react emotionally to obstacles, get despondent, and lose our perspective – That’s not good. In fact there’s no faster way to turn a bad thing into a REALLY BAD THING than to fill our mind with unhelpful thoughts.

3 Nothing actually makes us feel this way about an obstacle; we choose to feel that way. An obstacle is just a thing, it’s not  “good” or “bad” until we decide it is so!

4 The trick then is to be super-disciplined about how we think about obstacles, or how we perceive them. We need to look at them unemotionally which means we need to do this in a panic free zone!

5 Panicking in the face of an obstacle is totally unhelpful. When we panic, we make mistakes, we override systems, we disregard procedures, we ignore rules, we deviate from our plan. We stop thinking clearly and we just get in a spin from all those panicky hormones racing around inside us.

6 So we need to Cultivate the Art of Not Panicking

7 We need to look at obstacles rationally and clearly, and as an opportunity and NOT as as something to fear or moan about. (I know this is tricky !). While we can’t change the obstacles themselves, we can change how they appear to us.

We can change our perspective. 

8 Then we can DECIDE the story we tell ourselves about the obstacle.

  • We can say “I might not have wanted this to happen, but I decide how it will affect me. No one else has the right”
  • We can see the obstacle as an adventure
  • We can decide that, just because our mind tells you that something is awful or evil or unplanned or otherwise negative, we don’t have to agree!
  • We can say “I resist the temptation to declare this a failure”
  • We can say “I don’t agree to let this obstacle intimidate me.”
  • We can say “Do I need to freak out about this? No, because I know that that won’t add anything constructive.”

9 So when faced with an obstacle we’re going to try and be objective and calm and choose to see the good in a situation. We’re going to steady our nerves, put things in perspective, be in the present moment and focus on what can be controlled

10 We’ll probably still want to have a good old emotional freak-out when we encounter an obstacle, so this is more about controlling our emotions, rather than pretending they don’t exist. But when that freak out starts to bubble we’re just going to say: “No, thank you. I can’t afford to panic” .

12 We will only overcome the obstacle if we keep our emotions in check (not easy I know!) and focus all our energy on solving the problem rather than reacting to it. We don’t want to overthink the problem because that’ll get us all worked up!

13 Our perception of an obstacle is VERY important, so don’t let the force of an obstacle knock you off your feet. Just say to it: “Hold on for a moment; let me have a good look at you and what you represent” If we don’t do this, we’ll probably believe that the obstacle is bigger than it is and end up all overwhelmed by something actually quite small.

14 If you’re finding it difficult to distinguish between your perception of an obstacle and it’s reality, just think about how you would advise someone else in the same situation.


Well when we think about our own obstacles we see them in the context of our emotional baggage whereas when we advise someone else, emotions just don’t come into it. When we look at other people’s obstacles we are objective, with ourselves we have a perception. This is why it’s helpful to talk your obstacles over with others.

15 If part of your baggage is past decisions that turned out to be mistakes, you can jettison that into the stratosphere!!


Well you had a hypothesis and it turned out to be wrong. That wouldn’t upset you.It’s all about your perception!

16 Confidence in the face of obstacles isn’t easy Mostly because we were brought up to be realistic or conservative or ‘not rock the boat’. This is an enormous disadvantage when it comes to trying big things because though our doubts (and self-doubts) feel real, they have very little bearing on what is and isn’t possible.

17 We need to focusing only on the things we can change. Every ounce of energy directed at things we can’t actually influence is wasted.

18 When we do get over an obstacle we feel amazing!

Psychologists call it adversarial growth “What  doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” is not a cliché but fact.

So, look at the reality of your obstacle, keep calm, shake off the bad stuff and soldier on as though nothing has happened.

Because (and this is TRUE!) if you hold your nerve then nothing really did “happen” : your perception made sure of that!