Understanding barriers to personal growth: Key 2

EMERALD CONNECTION LIFE COACHING Barriers to personal change post Photo By Mathilda Khoo on Unsplash“Your life does not get better by chance, it gets better by change.” – Jim Rohn

This is the 2nd key in the “Creating Positive Change in Life” series. In the 1st article, I spoke about the importance of knowing what is important to you and why.

I also discussed the twin motivators and the importance of our awareness of which wolf we feed that may be keeping us stuck.

The next key you need to look into is understanding barriers to personal growth. Understanding what’s holding you back, will help you step out of the past to live in the present.


In their book “Immunity to Change. How To Overcome It and Unlock the Potential in Yourself and Your Organization” (2009), professors Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey address why personal change is often so difficult. They propose that a lack of willpower is not the culprit. But actually an “emotional immune system” that protects us from what we perceive to be the negative impacts of change. These negative impacts include, but are not limited to disappointment, shame, emotional discomfort, anxiety and fear, amongst many others.

Kegan and Laskow Lahey (2009) define immunity to change as a hidden commitment(s) which has an underlying root cause. When we commit to change, there is an underlying, often unknown cause to why we fail or are stuck. These hidden commitments are the real barriers and why we struggle to implement personal change. And, is the cause of those failed new years’ resolutions, failed diets, quitting smoking and the like. This hidden commitment could be fear, assumptions about ourselves, others and the world around us, specific rules, etc.


So what is this hidden commitment all about? With the uncertainty that comes with any change, our protective shield goes up to protect us from the unknown. Read in Key 1 how our ego protects our identities by manifesting these emotions. We would rather remain committed to the safe and familiar, in most cases. The emotional immune system pivots on the beliefs and rules that guide our thoughts and behaviours. We are often unaware of how our competing commitments actually limit us. They operate as subconscious guidance systems that serve to keep us on our safe “straight and narrow”. These commitments represent the barriers to our personal growth and inhibits us in our lives.

An assumption underlies each hidden commitment – a belief. This belief is what we need to replace or rewrite. By uncovering the hidden belief(s) you are able to identify what prevents you from creating lasting change. As a result, you come face to face with your “emotional operating system” – your protective shield.

During coaching, clients experience this as the “panacea” that sets them free and empowers them. By articulating their value systems and aligning the rules and responsibilities, their actions align with their values and life vision. Consequently, this allows them to experience positive outcomes which develop positive belief systems that are, you guessed it, aligned to their values. It’s the reinforcement that builds and supports the empowering beliefs system and an empowering success cycle is the result.


EMERALD CONNECTION LIFE COACHING Barriers to personal change Photo By Pete Nuij on UnsplashBeliefs are strongly held personal opinions about what we believe to be true – our internal maps. This is the lens through which you view the world and filter your perceptions. Our beliefs develop over time and solidify into convictions of how we understand specific aspects of life.

The sources of our beliefs include: our own thinking, the environment (media, public opinion, etc), education (family, teachers, etc), personal experiences and significant events in life.
The more evidence that validate our beliefs, the stronger a belief becomes. This is true for both empowering beliefs and disempowering or limiting beliefs.

Fortunately we are not born with our beliefs and the ones that we develop through childhood and into the present moment are replaceable. However, these beliefs are very strong and we accept that “oh, that’s just the way I am”. We have the power to change what we believe about ourselves and the world around us. The ability to break through the barriers to personal growth comes with mind-mastery. We are what and who we think we are.


One’s state of mind has a direct bearing on the beliefs that we hold about ourselves and the world around us. In a negative state of mind, disempowering/limiting beliefs give rise to negative expectations. This invariably drives self-defeating behaviour (self-sabotage) which, surprise, surprise, leads to a poor outcome. The result is that these disempowering/limiting beliefs are reinforced and function as the barriers to personal growth. This is how negativity breeds lack of action and we get stuck in a loop, unable to bring about change.

Conversely, with a positive state of mind, empowering beliefs give rise to positive expectations. This drives self-motivating behaviour which leads to a great/desirable outcome. The result is that the empowering belief is reinforced. This is how positivity breeds success. In the end, by understanding what’s holding you back and causing your change immunity, you are able to step out of the past to live in the present.


Hopefully it has become clear to you that a lack of willpower is not actually the culprit that prevents us from change. But it’s our “emotional immune system” that protects us from the (perceived) negative impacts of change.

To create lasting change we need to uncover the hidden commitment and the linked belief. This will allow the obstructions to become visible so we can rewire/reframe them. There are many tools and techniques to rewire our beliefs, but a topic for a future post. Are you ready to face and interrogate your “emotional operating system” – your protective shield? Yes, it takes courage and self-honesty to face it, but think of the liberation you will experience once you’ve broken free.


Grab your journal and a cup of coffee or tea. Ask yourself these questions to reflect on the impact your protective shield has on your life:

  1. What is the “evidence” suggesting thus far in your life in terms of its limiting hold on you? – i.e. what are you committed to? (whatever you’re not doing, or doing to prevent something, etc).
  2. What are the beliefs that I hold that could be preventing me from making progress in my life? Here’s a hint: I’m not good enough, I’m not this, I’m not that. I’m afraid of…
  3. Reflecting on your past (from childhood throughout your life), where do you think that belief might have sprouted from?
    —And what were the events that supported this belief? The evidence and supporting “facts”.
  4. List your rules and beliefs about how you think you should be. How are these beliefs getting in your way to move forward? For example, think about social pressure, parental or peer pressure.
  5. Who do you need to become to break through this protective shield to achieve what you desire? How do you breach the barriers to personal growth?

Read the 1st key in this series about understanding what’s important. The final chapter in this 3-part series is about getting to grips with the change process. Understanding the stages we go through and how to safely and happily navigate change.

I would love to hear how you are breaking through the barriers that have kept you back.

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