9 Mental Blocks That Could Be Holding You Back

Recently, we had the great opportunity to trade posts with Amy Christensen. For those of you who don’t know, Amy Christensen is a certified life coach. Her company, Expand Outdoors, works with adventurous women and beginning athletes to help identify and break through their own mental blocks to live a bigger, more active and passionate life. She recently returned to Boulder, CO after completing one of her own life dreams of traveling around the country in a converted van. Learn more about Amy at www.expandoutdoors.com or contact her directly. She is currently taking new clients.

In short, Amy knows her stuff. Aside from being a life coach, Amy’s love of the outdoors has her mountain biking, snowboarding, hiking, camping and traveling all over the country. Check out her recently completed adVanture. Here is Amy’s post for your reading pleasure, all about the top mental blocks we all have keeping us from reaching our goals.


9 Mental Blocks That Could Be Holding You Back

I’ve heard it said that running a marathon is 5% physical and 95% mental. While I’m pretty sure physical training is important, it’s absolutely true that our mental attitude and strength is at least, if not more, important to overall success.

We’ve all been there. We’re not performing as well as expected. We’re not as excited as we thought we’d be out on the slope. We’re tired and crabby while we’re out there and can’t figure out why.

Mental blocks are frustrating and no one is immune. Recognizing and understanding them can be an essential first step toward overcoming them and reaching your goals for the season—or in life.

Whether you’re a beginner or seasoned pro, I’m hoping that the following nine mental blocks might help you gain some added insight into your own mind (I’ve personally experienced all of these at one time or another!).

Here they are: 9 mental blocks that could be holding you back:


1. Lack of a goal. Whether you’ve entered your first cross-country race or you’re hoping to make it down a black diamond run for the first time, having a clear idea—or goal—of what you want to accomplish each season can help you stay focused and motivated throughout the season.

This doesn’t have to be a tangible goal, either. Crossing a finish line or increasing your overall speed are great examples of a tangible goal, but having fun or falling in love with a sport are also realistic goals. In fact, the year I set a goal to “have fun running,” I purposely didn’t sign up for any races. I challenged myself to get out and train for the love of the sport, which helped me internalize why running was so important to me in the first place.

2. Too many goals. Having too many goals can be just as challenging as not having one at all. The issue goes from what to focus on, to what to focus on first. And having so many desires and goals can get overwhelming quickly. How do you increase your speed, learn those three new tricks and teach your friend the basics?

Where do you start? What do you concentrate on first? If we try to do too much at once, we usually end up doing none of them particularly well. Too much pressure to learn and accomplish too many things at once can also lead to feeling paralyzed with inaction and sucks all the fun out.

So choose one to focus on first. (Hint: the one that excites you and makes you smile is a good place to start.) Allow yourself at least a few weeks or months to work on it. Then consider switching gears towards another.

3. High expectations. Aiming high is awesome. I believe in reaching for the impossible. (I adore Arthur C. Clarke’s quote: “The only way of finding the limits of the possible is by going beyond them into the impossible.”) But there’s a definite difference in setting high expectations for ourselves and criticizing ourselves too much along the way for not meeting them.

Think of yourself as your partner and best friend. How would you encourage and support your friend? Practice that compassion toward yourself. The long-term effects of self-criticism (especially the self-berating kind) can be incredibly damaging.

Instead, make sure your expectations are realistic and exciting. Getting excited and motivated when you think about working towards something are good signs that you’re on the right track.

4. Underestimating your ability. This is especially common for women. While men often overestimate their skills and abilities (thus they tend to take more risks and try new things), women have a tendency to believe their skills need improving before going for it. (Interesting sidenote: as adults, more women sign up for beginner classes than men.)

If you’re having doubts about your ability, ask a trusted friend who’s experienced, or a professional, for objective feedback. Also consider trusting yourself, your abilities and your capabilities.

As athletes, we aren’t generally shy about pushing ourselves, but when we underestimate ourselves, we don’t reach the limits of potential nearly as often.

Head out on the slopes with a different crew once in awhile. If you don’t normally, take on the role of leader and see for yourself how much further you can go than you thought.

5. Taking mistakes personally. Sometimes a mistake is just dumb luck. Too often we (especially women) personalize a missed turn or bad run as a reflection on our character or ability. “If only I’d leaned in a little more.” “If only I’d been paying more attention or concentrating harder, then I’d be better.” Sound familiar?

We can learn from our mistakes without blaming ourselves or undermining our confidence—and our fun.

6. You’re too comfortable. You’ve been doing the same routine for years. Same sport. Same resort. Same crew. Same slopes. Same time of year. It’s tradition.

Tradition is awesome, but when it starts to become a rut and/or you start to get bored—or worse, you begin to resent the traditions—it could be time to shake it up. Which brings me to one of the biggest and most common mental blocks out there.

7. Fear of taking risks. This is one of the biggest mental blocks that gets people stuck. And with good reason. Risk is a risk for a reason—we might get hurt (or worse). But here’s the thing. Fear is normal and risk is essential to growth and progress.

Get to know your fears instead of allowing your fears to hold power over you and your choices.

There’s a difference between acknowledging a fear and backing away from something, and backing away from that same thing because of a blind fear. Blind fear results in a reaction. Being aware of your fears allows for conscious choice—and more room for learning and progressing.

Here are some questions to ask yourself when you’re scared:

– Am I really afraid, or do I just think I “should” be afraid?

– What is it I’m really afraid of? Dying? Spraining my ankle? Bruising my ego? Getting lost? Looking like an idiot?

Depending on your answer, you are then in a position to make a choice whether or not to take the risk. You are able to assess the consequences objectively. Ask yourself what’s the worst that can happen and how likely it is to happen (and how you feel about it). The answers might surprise you.

We’re often afraid of the unknown, right? And when we can’t recognize our fears clearly, we end up giving those fears a lot of power

You’ll also want to consider your risk threshold. Your risk threshold is unique to you and is constantly changing based on a variety of factors:

–  Who you’re with. (Are you alone? A group? Do you trust them? Are they supportive? Can you raise concerns and feel good about it with this group?)

–  Your surroundings. (Are there people around? How’s the weather? Are there any dangers?)

–  Your skill level & equipment. (Are you a green skier on a black diamond? Have you been Avy trained if you’re going into the backcountry? Do you have gear or extra food if something happens?)

–  Your energy level. (What else is going on in your life? Things like job stresses, family dynamics, and level of fatigue all play a part in how comfortable you are with taking risks on any given day.)

Get to know where your risk tolerance is and honor it. Some days we’re up for a lot more risk than others. Once you know it, you’ll have the confidence to push within—and beyond—that boundary.

8. You’ve forgotten about yourself. It’s easy to get caught up in the lives of others. What they need, what they’re doing, how they’re feeling, or how much they’ve improved. It’s easy to forget to pay attention to ourselves.

Watch that you’re not comparing yourself to others (or even your past racing or younger self). Whether you’re just starting out, or if you’ve been at it for years, remember that everyone cycles and experiences different things at different times. Own your skills and talents and curb the comparisons.

9. You’re taking it too seriously. Don’t forget WHY you’re out there in the first place. Recall that sense of fun and wonder the first time you stepped into a pair of skis, or felt that rush on your board? Seek out that feeling again.

Let go of your expectations for the day and simply revel in the passion and exhilaration of feeling the crisp air on your cheeks and snowflakes on your eyelashes.

Smile into the wind and embrace the fun.

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3 Responses to “9 Mental Blocks That Could Be Holding You Back”

  1. Kim Kircher March 14, 2012 at 9:41 am #

    Excellent list. I especially like the questions you raise in #7. Group dynamics plays a big part in outdoor activities, and being with a group you trust and can raise concerns with is paramount. I also love your last one. Don’t take it too seriously. Check.

  2. Amy C March 28, 2012 at 1:52 pm #

    Hey Kim. Thanks for stopping by. Number seven really needs its own post, I think… so much there to uncover and understand!

    I think #9 is my favorite!


  1. Questions? Ask Amy from ExpandOutdoors.com | WinterWomen.com Blog - May 11, 2012

    […] with professional life coach Amy Christensen from ExpandOutdoors.com. You may remember Amy from 9 Mental Blocks That Could Be Holding You Back, a post we did a few months back, where she discussed mental barriers to achieving your […]

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