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Goals & Habits, Time Management

What’s your phantom barrier?

In my recent work with authors designing and building websites, I’ve become aware of a pitfall which many of us encounter. During a big project, and sometimes even during a small one, we often place entirely false barriers in our way.

Phantom barriers

Consider the following statements:

  • “I can’t start to help others, until I get a coaching qualification.”
  • “I can’t make progress on my new website, because I need a new headshot.”
  • “I can’t submit my non-fiction book to agents, because it’s not finished.”

Now let’s look more closely at each of them…

I suggest they’re all phantom barriers

  • You have wonderful gifts to offer, with or without an extra qualification. You can mentor, lead, facilitate, and manage, all without another certificate to your name. Tara Mohr talks about this in her insightful book, Playing Big. This barrier likely comes from self-doubt.
  • A successful website is made up of many parts. Your photo, or lack of one, won’t make or break it. You could add a new headshot later, or ask a skilled designer to make the best of what you have. This barrier likely comes from procrastination.
  • A few minutes of internet browsing would reveal a non-fiction book proposal does not require a finished manuscript. This barrier likely comes from lack of research, possibly because knowing the answer could be scary.

Gretchen Rubin draws our attention to phantom barriers in a similar way; she says they can show up as false choices. Example: not having time to go to the dentist because you’ve landed a big writing project.

Be your own life coach

As long as you pay attention to your thoughts and decision-making processes, you can act as your own life coach for the barriers you perceive. Ask yourself:

  • Is that true? How would somebody else frame it? Have you researched it, or just made an assumption?
  • Even if your barrier does exist, what could you do to make it smaller?
  • How would it look if you allowed for some imperfection, scrappiness, or “minimum viable” thinking?
  • What could you do more cheaply, or faster, than your ideal approach?
  • Imagine the barrier was magically solved. What would your next step be?
  • How could you acknowledge the barrier… and move forward anyway?

Phantom barriers bring doubt and frustration to our work. They make us anxious, waste our time, and deny us the results we could otherwise achieve.

For more on this topic, you might enjoy When planning is a bad idea and The joy of a small leap.

Can you identify just one false barrier this week, and work around it in some small way?


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3 Comment

  1. Reply
    April J Harris
    September 11, 2019 at 6:27 pm

    This is definitely food for thought for me! I think I may have more than one of these…This is definitely food for thought, Pauline, and I like your tips for dealing with these phantom barriers as well!

    1. Reply
      Pauline
      September 11, 2019 at 8:27 pm

      Yes, they are ghostly but sneaky, April!!

  2. Reply
    Pauline
    September 12, 2019 at 9:18 am

    A newsletter reader suggested the following, which I thought was really helpful:

    “Julia Cameron also talks about creative u-turns, where people panic when it looks like a big step forwards might be happening, instead retreating…

    …I recommend people use GroupOn or similar to buy a cheap (usually about £20) photo session with a professional photographer including hair and makeup beforehand. You usually get just one image: but that’s all we need for the headshot.”

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