Confidence and Success with CBT/REBT – Blog #3

Blog #3: Obstacles to Choosing Your Goal

Welcome to the third blog in our series on Confidence and Success using Rational Emotive Behavioural Therapy (REBT). In this piece, we’ll be looking at the obstacles, often based on irrational and unhealthy beliefs, we put in the way of even choosing a goal to aim for, never mind starting on the path to achieve it.

Last time, we outlined the key steps in achieving goals, and began exploring how to go about achieving step one:

  • Identify what you want
  • Fact find
  • Set SMART goals
  • Make a plan
  • Take action
  • Stay focused
  • Review and decide

This first step can often be the hardest. It is the start of the change process and beginning to think about future goals can trigger some obstacles to achieving this step.

Watch out for these obstacles

The following are two common obstacles that provoke anxiety and avoidance:

  1. Not knowing what you want even after reflecting and exploring.
  2. Thinking about what I want is too much effort.

Unhealthy beliefs are at the root of these obstacles.

Obstacle 1

“Not knowing what you want even after reflecting and exploring”

Being fearful of not knowing what you want after reflecting and exploring can stand in the way of even starting this step. The unhealthy belief will take the form of the general following theme.

I must achieve what I have set out to do.

The above attitude will give rise to many off-shoot beliefs and specific beliefs such as:

I must know what I want to do after I have reflected and explored and if I don’t I couldn’t bear not knowing.

I must know what I want to do after I have reflected and explored and if I don’t it would be awful if I don’t.

I must know what I want to do after reflecting and exploring and if I don’t know what I want after I have explored possibilities it means I am stupid and worthless.

I MUST know what I want…

When demanding that you must know what you want even after reflecting and exploring you will have a tendency to stop yourself beginning the process. You will do your best to avoid considering what you want as the unhealthy belief insists that you must know at the end of this step and the unhealthy belief does not allow for the possibility of not knowing. When you hold this belief, not knowing after this period of reflection is disturbing. Making this demand on yourself will provoke feelings of anxiety. Accepting the possibility that you may not know what you want after spending time considering it, will enable you to start and continue to search for what you do want.

Holding the belief that you must know what you want to do after reflecting is unhelpful. It would provoke anxiety at the thought of starting to consider what you want. You would begin to have all sorts of thoughts provoked by this belief to persuade yourself not to start looking. Demanding you must know what you want to do after reflecting will sabotage your desire to achieve any goals before you even begin.

I CAN’T BEAR not knowing what I want…

Believing that you would not bear it if you did not know what you wanted to do after your reflection is unhelpful. The LFT belief is unhelpful to you, not only will it prevent you from further exploration it will also provoke anxiety and avoidant behaviours making clear identification of your goal far less likely.

I don’t know what I want and it’s AWFUL…

The third challenge to the awfulising belief is to whether it is helpful to you to hold this belief. Holding this belief that it is awful is unhelpful in your discovery of knowing what it is you do want to do. Viewing it as awful mobilises your body into a state on anxiety. In this state, your mind will be pre-occupied with ‘what if have doubts, what if I still don’t know?’ It provokes avoidance. The most likely outcome is not achieving a simple step that takes you closer to your goal.

I’m STUPID because I don’t know what I want…

Holding the belief that I am stupid and not worthy because you have not found out what it is that you want to do is a self-limiting and unhelpful belief that does not assist you in finding what it is you do want to do. If you hold this self damning belief you will prevent yourself, in all likelihood, from making any further attempts to find out what you want. All you do is crush your confidence in yourself. Does this, in any way, help you move closer to your goal?

Obstacle 2

“Thinking about what I want is too much effort”

We have a tendency to disturb ourselves by demanding comfort, as discussed earlier and in the Introduction. When we insist that we should be comfortable at all times we tend to avoid circumstances that will create perceived discomfort. In this obstacle, it is the avoidance of the discomfort of effort. It is provoked by the general theme that:

Life must be easy, hassle free and comfortable.

It provokes more specific beliefs about effort, difficulty and ease. For example:

Thinking about what I want must not be difficult, that would be unbearable
Thinking about what I want must be easy for me or else I can’t tolerate it
It must be easy and comfortable for me when I think about what I want. I can’t stand it if it is not

These lead to the inability to take this first step into exploring what we want. Often, we choose to remain as we are, it feels more comfortable. They trigger anxiety whenever you find things challenging or uncomfortable.

When you demand that you must be feel comfortable or that you must find things easy e.g. thinking in this case, it leads to avoiding situations or tasks that are challenging.

Many of us have a tendency to want comfort and ease at all times, and why not? It does not mean that we must feel comfortable nor find things easy all of the time though. There are many times in life when we find life and tasks challenging or uncomfortable, but it does not mean we give up or refuse to do those things. Feeling discomfort and experiencing challenges is part of human existence and many times when we get through the discomfort, we tend to experience a sense of satisfaction within ourselves.

In stoic philosophy Epictetus discussed the concept of the Trichotomy of Control. He explains it is helpful for us to understand what is in our control, for example our thoughts, and what we are not in control of, like the weather and the experiences that are somewhat in our control, such as driving a car. You may have come across this concept, the organisation Alcoholics Anonymous call this “The Serenity Prayer” which is based on Epictetus’s philosophy.

To insist that you must be in a state of effortless ease when you think about what you want is unhelpful to you. It provokes anxiety, negative thoughts and avoidance which ultimately lead to you giving up on the first small step towards attaining your overall goal.

It doesn’t help you to believe that you can’t tolerate thinking about what you want because it is not easy. When you have such a low frustration tolerance to thinking about what you want it provokes a negative attitude. You may end up doing something that was easy and comfortable in the short term but you would have also given up on your important goal. It leads to short term comfort and long term discomfort. Beliefs that support us through things that we find difficult enable long term goal achievements.


Instead of holding on to the rigid and impractical beliefs above, it will be a lot more helpful to believe something more like this…

I really prefer to know what I want to do after if I start thinking about it BUT I don’t have to know, I may not like the fact I haven’t discovered what I want to do with my life but I can stand it. I am a fallible human being who is worthwhile even if I do not know what I want to do after reflecting.

As you can see in the above example healthy beliefs are stated as a preference “I really prefer…” and the demand is negated, instead becoming “.. BUT I don’t have to know…”

I strongly prefer to do things without effort (including thinking about what I want) but it doesn’t mean that it must be so, I can stand it if things don’t come easily even though I don’t like it.

Repeat these knew beliefs, tolerate the initial discomfort and take action.


  • Choose a goal that is important or significant to you. It is important on this first step, as you explore what you want, to choose something that you feel passionate or that is significant to you.
  • Write it down and put reminders in your environment, for example, on the fridge door in your diary on your screen saver.
  • This step is about beginning to aspire and be inspired and there is no particular time limit.
  • Visualise the goal regularly.

Join us next time when we’ll be looking at the next step in achieving your goals – fact finding.

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