Tear Down Obstacles With These 4 Simple Exercises


This is a guest post from Jared Akers, an author on a mission to empower people to achieve happiness that’s practical, actionable, and sustainable. He enjoys traveling and sharing his journey at How to Be Happy by Jared Akers (JaredAkers.com) and with his wife through the How to Be Happy Podcast on iTunes.

Obstacle: something that obstructs or hinders progress

Challenge: a call or summons to engage in any contest, as of skill, strength, etc.

I don’t know about you, but challenge sure sounds a lot more invigorating then obstacle.

As long as you’re moving, engaged, working on yourself, you’re making progress. If you’re engaged, your progress is never hindered, you’re just adapting. Challenges take you to where you’re supposed to be as opposed to where you’ve just ended up.

Challenge or obstacle? Choose your perspective

Obstacles hinder progress, but challenges can be just what you need.

Living in a halfway house was a drag; the first time. So much drama and guys “going out” all the time was a constant reminder that my circumstances sucked. With all that crap going on around me, how was I expected to heal and move toward a healthy and productive lifestyle?

I had to get out of there because the circumstances created obstacles that made it impossible to move on with my life in a healthy manner. And of course I wasn’t as bad as those guys.

I moved into a nice loft downtown; after all, I had everything under control – right? Those other guys were losers and I was different. It was time to get back to changing the world!

That’s when I self-destructed. It was March of 2006. After a lost job, failed marriage, and losing a close friend, I was emotionally, spiritually, and physically bankrupt. Out of desperation, I was forced to have a different perspective. Thankfully I tried again.

The second time, the halfway house was exactly what I needed. The circumstances were the same — different guys, same stories — but the environment was motivating and inspirational. I used it to get to where I needed to be as opposed to where I’d ended up.

The circumstances in our lives don’t suck, just the stories we tell ourselves as the reason we’re not getting something we think we want or need.

With the right perspective — that anything is possible — we have so many choices.

We only need to get through a huge challenge, maybe something we thought was impossible, to have the confidence and changed perspective that we can accomplish anything.

Be confident about your mental strength

With the right perspective, you can access your mental strengths. Case in point: Finishing college.

I flunked out of college twice. I never thought I was smart enough to be there anyway. So I followed a childhood dream and became a zookeeper (primate keeper).

Yes, I got paid to take care of chimpanzees and spider monkeys; it’s not as glamorous as it sounds. It was great for a while. So much so I thought I’d found my calling in life. But as with most things, I got bored after a few years. I do miss the animals, but not the poop.

So I tried college again, and again they told me to leave when my grades didn’t measure up. So I tried a little of everything; from building houses to restaurant management, I was searching for where I fit in.

Eventually I stumbled into the IT field; technical support and computer networking. I loved it and realized it challenged me and I was good at it. So I studied and passed a few industry certifications and I realized I might be smart after all.

I discovered that learning new things made me feel better about me, and that perspective drove me to want to learn more.

I eventually earned a bachelor’s degree in information technology and an MBA with a perfect 4.0. Not bad for someone who flunked out of college twice.

Be confident about your physical strength

With the right perspective, you can accomplish amazing physical feats. Case in point: Competing in a triathlon.

A few years ago I couldn’t run more than a block without my lungs feeling like they were going to explode. But I knew — from working through other challenges in my life — that I could accomplish anything with this new perspective. Just keep moving.

One dream I had was competing in a triathlon. So I began running, one block at a time, working through each challenge as it presented itself.

For example, I was a terrible swimmer. So I did some research and found Terry Laughlin’s Total Immersion DVD course. I re-trained my body what proper technique felt like; one step at a time. I learned that, like in life, things are easier when you reduce resistance.

Within three months I competed in my first short-course triathlon at age 40. I’m no Ironman, but it was an accomplishment for me nonetheless. I continue to compete in 2-3 triathlons each year and enjoy the challenge and staying in shape.

Be confident about the strength of your message

With the right perspective, you can share your message with the world. Case in point: Writing a book.

By overcoming challenges, we gain a new perspective of what’s possible. And that perspective and experience is worth something not only to you – it’s worth something to others going through similar struggles in their own lives.

After reaching a bottom in 2006, I threw out every preconceived idea of what I thought it meant to be happy. Honestly, I was just happy to be alive. But I knew I was missing something, so I dedicated my life to finding out what it was.

Without really knowing where it would lead, I sought every resource at my disposal to discover what it truly meant to be happy – therapy, 12-step programs, spiritual coaches, life coaches, blogs, happy people, mentors, clergy – and spent thousands of dollars on books and seminars.

The process revealed that there are not a lot of new things under the sun. Most common were familiar concepts like living in the moment and experiencing love, purpose, and gratitude. But these concepts were just theories and fluffy self-help talk in most cases. I needed the how not the what.

So I took massive action. I took bits and pieces from different resources paying close attention to the practical and actionable parts. I put them into practice, kept what worked and threw out the rest.

What I found was emotional connectedness with self. The knowing that my authentic self is perfect and that everything I need to be happy is already inside of me. And it’s inside of you too!

I started sharing my story with others, and many suggested I write a book. So I did.

We all have something to share with the world – yes, that means you.

Be confident about your ability to attract kindred spirits

With the right perspective, you can find the perfect partner for your adventures. Case in point: My wife and I travel the world together.

“Men do not attract that which they want, but that which they are.”
– James Allen (As A Man Thinketh)

In February of 2007, after eleven months of working hard on myself, I decided to try dating again. After chatting with someone online for several nights in a row, we decided to meet for dinner. At which time I asked her my special qualifier question, “If you could go anywhere in the world, where would that be?”

Her answer? “Las Vegas.”

I’m thinking to myself … this is the entire world we’re talking about here, seriously?

Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against Vegas, but I was looking for something a little more… worldly. Shortly after that, her cell phone rang and she pulled it out of her bra; classy. “Check, please!”

I contemplated giving up on dating after just one attempt; maybe I wasn’t ready. But as fate would have it, I was asked out for coffee the next day by a woman after instant messaging for 2 minutes and 40 seconds.

A little piece of advice about online dating: Meet in person as soon as possible. Obviously you want to be safe about it (meet in a public place, etc.) But from my experience, you know instantly if there’s chemistry. By spending days or weeks chatting online, you become somewhat invested, which makes it more complicated if the chemistry isn’t there physically.

On February 25th of 2007, I met Emily for coffee. Again, “if you could go anywhere in the world, where would that be?”

Her answer? “Belize, because I’ve always wanted to SCUBA dive and hear the diving is great there.”

We took our first trip together that fall to St. Croix U.S.V.I., and become certified SCUBA divers. Since then we’ve traveled to Hawaii, Playa Del Carmen, Cancun, Curacao, Cozumel, Belize (twice in the last 6 months) and are going to Roatan in a few months. We got married while on Kauai in December of 2008.

Everyone says they’d love to travel more, but very few people actually do. Emily and I make it a priority. We have a savings fund that we put $100 in each week. That gives us $2,400 for a vacation every six months.

We stick to that budget when planning as closely as possible, and we never plan our next trip until we’ve paid off the last one. We usually have the trip paid off before we even leave, except for diving, food, and other incidentals.

Granted, we don’t have young children (although we do have a granddaughter, yes, I’m a 41-year-old grandfather and it rocks!). But anything is possible if you make it a priority.

If success was easy, we’d all be successful. But this, too, is about perspective and redefining what success means to you.

It’s so clear now to look back over the times in my life when I was struggling and realize I was always right where I was supposed to be.

My journey has taught me the most valuable lesson of all: Life is about Learning, not winning.

4 exercises to help you change your perspective

Are you ready to start facing your challenges – and changing your way of thinking? Try these practical exercises.

1. Let Go.

Take a shoe box and cut a hole in the top of it. When something is weighing on your mind, take out a piece of paper and write it down. Next, write down what steps you could take in order to resolve this issue.

Is there something you can do about it today, tomorrow or next week? If yes, make a commitment to take that action (asking for help if needed). If not, put the piece of paper in the box and let it go. Sometime in the future (I like to do it once a year), take out the box and have a look-see at what’s inside. Chances are, most issues will have resolved themselves, or often you won’t even remember them!

2. Practice Gratitude.

Write down on a piece of paper ten things you’re grateful for. This is a great exercise I use often; anytime I’m feeling a bit down.

Seeing on paper all the things you have to be grateful for is a great way to concentrate on what you have as opposed to what you think you’re missing.

3. Be Understanding Rather Than Understood.

When you feel like you’ve been wronged, when you’re holding resentment toward someone, try being understanding rather than understood.

This can be something as simple as when you’re cut off in traffic. Think about what that other person might be going through.

Maybe they’re on their way to the hospital or just found out they lost their job. Ask yourself, “Have I ever done the same thing to someone?”

We spend so much energy trying to get others to see our point of view or understand us; we often lose sight of what they might be going through.

4. Examine Your Priorities.

Excuses are another way of saying “That’s not a priority to me.”

Try changing the statement “I don’t have time” to “It’s not a priority.”

Does that statement align with the direction you want your life to go? We’re often not as busy as we think, just full of excuses; are you as busy as you think?


Are you confident in yourself – and your ability to turn “obstacles” into “challenges”?

What one particular obstacle do you need to change your thinking about today?

And how will you make that change?

Let us know!

42 thoughts on “Tear Down Obstacles With These 4 Simple Exercises”

  1. A change of mindset is usually all it takes for me. Being a graduate student, it’s easy to get lost in the minutiae of life and fail to see the bigger picture. I find that taking a few days ‘to get away from everything’ helps me find perspective and see things in a positive light.

    1. Michael,
      I can totally relate to getting lost in the minutiae of life. I’ve often felt that men (at least from my perspective) seem to be better at that. Of course I’m only speaking from personal experience, but before I was really emotionally connected with self, I needed less emotionally to keep me engaged and thus I could more easily just “go through the motions.” Especially in relationships.

      OK, that was a little off topic of your comment, but… LOL

      Getting away is an awesome way to gain perspective, and honestly one of the major contributors to my wife and I’s amazing life. Regardless of how hectic work and life seems, I always know we’re working towards something and it makes the vacations so much better. Plus, another amazingly benefit is I’m always eager and looking forward to getting back engaged with work.

  2. Thank you, Adam, great post. I needed to hear that LIFE IS ABOUT LEARNING….NOT WINNING…you’ve made my day! The downside of learning is that some things you just won’t be able to stomach!

    1. Lucille,
      You’ve hit a good point, that learning is tough sometimes. Life (experience) can be a painful teacher. But as you mentioned, when we look at it from a perspective of learning (vs winning) it helps.

  3. @Michael: There’s a quote that says something about the forest and trees : )

    These are solid concepts for remembering the important things when making decisions and “planning” your life.

    1. Jason, I was just sitting here thinking about if or how to respond to your comment. I was thinking about the concept of “planning your life.” Of course this famous quote comes to mind:

      “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” – John Lennon

      Although now I realize you had “planning” in quotes, so guess you were sort of saying that same thing.

      I feel these days I don’t plan much, because it leads to expectations. Which are often unmet and then turn into resentments. I like to think I’ve simplified things, I have a goal of acceptance of all things. Sure, I have some things I’d like to achieve, like writing more and being more of service, help others, etc., but the only plans I have of achieving that are being available and listening to my heart. I may make short term plans or strive to take an action on something that I think will get me closer to that goal. But I also don’t put too much pressure on myself these days. It’s a lot easier.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  4. Great post, and it’s absolutely true that so many of the challenges and even obstacles we face in our careers, businesses, lives… can be shifted by changing our perspectives around the circumstances, and not necessarily the outside circumstances themselves. It’s a lot more empowering to look at it that way, understanding where we have control to grow, and thrive and be successful. Thanks!

  5. I agree completely! Thanks for sharing Jared, your words are reinforcing what I’ve been trying to do in my life in the last couple years. Letting go is probably my biggest challenge at this point but I am working on it every day. I was recently diagnosed with cancer, surgery is waiting for me in the near future, but I refuse to bow out and completely collapse from self-pity and “what iffing”. I know I will beat this and will live to see my 6yr old son graduate college and marry and have kids of his own.

    1. Thanks for sharing Kate. As you, I always hear what I’m supposed to at the right time, big difference today is I’m open to receiving it. Acceptance and letting things go are certainly things we all struggle with. I lost my dad suddenly a few years ago and I learned what it really means to find beauty in even seemingly tragic things.

      And remembering that just because I accept something, doesn’t mean I have to like it. It’s just shifting our perspective to one of action and deciding what we’re going to do about it. Victim versus victor! You will be in my thoughts.

  6. This is such a timely post for me! It almost feels like a “sign.” I will be participating in my first sprint triathlon in about 4 weeks. I was ready to throw in the towel on this ambition the other day due to my life long and huge fear of open water. I am a terrible swimmer. I have been swimming in open water, trying to be comfortable with it and had a set back (panic attack) a few days ago. I have the most amazingly supportive husband who wouldn’t let me just walk away due to fear. He reminded me that I have the physical strength to do this, I’m letting my fear hold me back from this accomplishment. My fear is not an obstacle, it’s a challenge! Thanks!!!

    1. Hey Jenn! That’s awesome stuff right there! I can totally relate to that. And you know, I’ve even had those panic attacks myself, and even scarier I’ve had them while scuba diving. It really made me mad more than anything, and it’s a total mind screw!:) But when you’re in it, man, I even get a funny taste in my mouth and all I want to do is GET OUT OF THERE!

      So I went at this panic thing in a logical way. What can I control? My equipment, breathing, etc. So I purchased my own scuba gear so I know it’s in top shape, and I spend time in the pool at the local dive shop brushing up on all my skills so I’m prepared. Plus, I even purchased some meditation mp3’s (natural hypnosis) that I listen to on vacation before each dive. And it works!!

      And I have had that panic happen a few times in the open water swim. But I just remind myself that I’m not the only one in the water. 🙂 I take it slow and just relax.

      Your husband is right and your (really) lucky to have such a supportive person in your life. I’m so pumped for you about finishing your first triathlon and I don’t even know you that well!! HA!!

      Seriously, get in touch with me somehow and let me know how the triathlon goes. I’m holding you accountable and I want to know how it felt to accomplish such a great goal!!!

      1. I did it!!!! I freaking did it!!! No wetsuit, no fear, no backing out!!! I asked for assistance when I needed it during the swim and pushed hard whenever I could. I wasn’t first and I wasn’t last!! You were right! It was amazing – in fact I think I’m still processing what I just accomplished. So thank you for your kind words!! I was driven by all the people who spoke words of encouragement and support, the people on the sidelines and the other women I was doing this with!! Yay for triathlons!!

    2. Jenn – stay focused on your goal. You can do anything..even overcome your fear. Everyone has trouble with open water at first. Heck, I’ve only done triathlons in Maui and Cancun because I’m only comfortable swimming for long periods in clear water HAH. Finishing your first triathlon is going to be an amazing experience. Think about how it’s going to feel and let that drive you to success!

  7. Thank you for the great advice. I consider myself to a very positive optimistic person, but at times I look at the obstacles and not the challenges in my life. I need to look more for the challenges and figure out hot to beat them and not how to avoid obstacles.

  8. A lot of great advice and congrats on the 4.0 MBA! Step 3 and 4 are the two exercises I have been focusing on lately. I’ve been trying to find ways to be more efficient when I work, as well as implementing things like reading and learning a second language into my routine. If you told me 5 years ago I would enjoy reading I probably would have laughed at you, now I realize its a way to improve my mindset and life, as well as giving me a way to relax.

    1. Hey Dave, I can so relate. And I can get obsessive at times (like when I went back to school or even shopping for a watch recently, I research to death!!). One thing I have learned though is a little balance. Like you, I’ve been trying to learn a second language (not making a lot of progress… hmmm, guess it’s not a priority) but listening to mp3’s on my commute.

      I’ve also realized that balance is important. For example, I used to feel guilty or not see any reason to read fiction; having the mindset that if I’m reading, I should be using the time to better myself and consume knowledge. But now, I like to mix it up, I’ll usually read a few fiction stories to every non-fiction. It helps me relax also.

      Good luck with the second language!

  9. Wow. I also had to chime in to say this is a great guest post and Jared Akers, you are an inspiration. Thanks for sharing your story.

  10. Competing in a triathlon is a great example of how you can overcome excuses with the right mindset. Congrats on making such great improvements on your lifestyle and competing in some races! Training and competing in the Ironman was an overwhelmingly emotional but really important experience for me. I’ve seen that I can go from huffing and puffing a couple miles to racing 140 miles nonstop! This sort of focused determination can get you anywhere…you just need to make it easy for yourself, tear down those obstacles, and stop making excuses. Thanks for the post..we can always use a reminder to do these things every now and then!

    1. Wow Rebecca, that’s awesome, an Ironman? I’ve dreamed of that some times but honestly, I’m not sure I’m up to that. That’s a whole different ball-game. Although I’m sure I could do it physically, I just don’t think I could balance the training it would take at this point. I’m actually looking forward to just getting back to running and biking on a regular bases without being in “training” mode. But as you said, focused determination is very powerful!

  11. Awesome post! I just watched the last lecture of Carnegie Mellon professor Randy Pausch a few days ago and the thing that stood out for me the most was when he kept repeating “brick walls are made to show you how bad you really want something.” That’s exactly the right way to look at it – very wise words.


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  13. Jared, thanks for a spot on (and very ‘meaty’ message). The confidence statements are just what I need to hear right now, particular having confidence in mental strength. The odd thing about life accomplishments is that even with a measure of success under your belt, life can take wind out of your sails and you find yourself back at the starting gates again. I know I’m not alone in finding myself in a financial and career quagmire with the current economy; a setback that I can’t seem to move forward from (or at least as quickly as I would like….lol). I am grateful for what I do have, but I’m finding it difficult to be energized by the current state of affairs. I appreciate what your message has to offer, inspiring me to keep moving forward and feeling hopeful for the future.

    1. Faun,
      Mental strength is important, but even I get a little… well, down sometimes. It’s in those times I just tell myself, “this too shall pass.” And often (as the saying goes) fake it until you make it. Although that’s not one of my favorite sayings as I think there’s a lot more to it than that. Meaning, I “faked” it for a LONG time and it really didn’t get me anywhere.

      Keep moving forward and you’ll get there!

  14. In college, I was dating a high school sweetheart that was a huge negative factor in my life. I decided at the worst point that being happy was a choice. I knew at that moment I could choose to continue on the destructive path I was on, or I could decide to be happy. I chose to be happy. After that, the breakup didn’t even bother me. Things seemed so much easier. I started to realize all of the positive and good things in my life.

    I liked reading the exercises in this post because they provide me with a few more tools to keep my life in perspective and happy. Being happy is not always easy and I don’t have it in control all of the time. However, I can very quickly catch when I am descending and reverse course.

    One of my biggest challenges right now is time management. I have 3 young children, a full time job, home renovation, a wife and a bunch of side projects I want to complete. My current approach is to accomplish small steps in hopes of drawing a glorious big picture.

    Great post, Jared!

    1. Kevin,
      Great stuff man. You really nailed it with, “Being happy is not always easy and I don’t have it in control all of the time. However, I can very quickly catch when I am descending and reverse course.”

      That’s so critical. 1) acceptance that we aren’t in control of everything 2) self-awareness to know when you’re heading in a direction you don’t want to be and make adjustments.

      Time management was a big issue for me also right when I started this journey. School, working, writing, exercise, relationships, etc. I found that when I thought of all the stuff I “wanted” to accomplish, I got overwhelmed. So I used an online task manager and (at least for school) kept track of what I wanted to accomplish on a weekly basis.

      It’s amazing though, after developing some emotional connectedness with self, (self-awareness, mindfulness, self-love, etc.) was able to really strike a balance. Truly being in-the-moment in my relationships yet still having all these goals and activities going on. Even though I was doing a lot of things, (school, work, vocal lessons, service work, relationship, etc.) I didn’t really feel rushed. I made sure to take the time for myself also through prayer, meditation, etc.

      I love how you put it, “accomplish small steps in hopes of drawing a glorious big picture.” That’s awesome and a great way to look at it. Thanks for sharing that.

    1. Charlotte,
      The box works great! And that “understanding” part is actually an adaptation of the Prayer of Saint Francis – which for me is an amazing guide on how to live. Thanks for taking the time to comment, it’s appreciated.

  15. Dr. Wayne W. Dyer has a favorite saying, “Change the the way you look at things and the things you look at change.” I think this is absolutely true.

  16. I really enjoyed this and your story Jared. It truly is inspiring. And practicing gratitude is something everyone needs to do, probably about once a week. We get so caught up in our lives that when something goes wrong we look at the negatives instead of remembering everything else we have to be thankful for. Thanks for the great article!

    1. You’re welcome Alex, thanks for the great comments. Getting “caught up in our lives” is natural, but I also like to think about getting caught up in life; in the positive, divine, relationships, and the parts that make it so wonderful. I try and see those things every day, especially reminding myself when feeling frustrated or overwhelmed.

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