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Barriers are your enemy

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It’s surprising to me when I hear someone come up with something they want to do, but–in the same conversation–they go through every conceivable thing that could go wrong, and conclude that it will never work.

It’s like they have all the physical manifestations of running a marathon, but they never left their chair.

At these times I want to throw something at them and scream!!! But I don’t. Instead, I come home and write an article on a blog. If only all criminals were like this.

I’ve been thinking about why some people are so successful so quickly, while others seem to get stuck. I think I’ve got one big reason: The smartest people relentlessly remove barriers around them. And the others let barriers control them.

Last weekend, I went home to visit my family. While I was there, I asked my mom if she would make me some food, so like any Indian mom would, she cooked me 2 weeks’ worth. I came back home skipping like a little girl.

Now here’s where it gets interesting. When I got back to my place, I took the food out of the brown grocery bag and put the clear plastic bags on the counter. I was about to put the bags in the fridge but I realized something astonishing:

food1.JPG

food2.JPG

I’m hella lazy. And if I got hungry, I’d probably go to the fridge, see the plastic bags, and realize that I’d have to (1) open them up and then I’d have to (2) open the Tupperware to (3) finally get to the food. And the truth was, I just wouldn’t do it. The clear plastic bags were enough of a barrier to ignore the fresh-cooked Indian food for some crackers!!

Obviously, once I realized this, I tore the bags apart like a voracious wolf and have provided myself delicious sustenance for the past week.

But the larger point of removing barriers is what I want to talk about for a few minutes.

I think the source of 95%+ of barriers to success is…ourselves. It’s not our lack of resources (money, education, etc). It’s not our competition. It’s usually just what’s in our own heads. Barriers are more than just excuses–they’re the things that make us not get anything done. And not only do we allow them to exist around us, we encourage them. There are active barriers and passive barriers, but the result is still the same: We don’t achieve what we want to.

This happened to me a few years back, when I tried to start an education company with a couple of friends. We solicited feedback on the prototype (from our friends–you’ll see why this was a mistake). And what was the #1 question we got? Not “What’s the market size?” or “how do your financials look?” or “what do your users say–would they use it?” Nope, we never got those questions. The most common question:

“Don’t you need a business license to run a company?”

 

* * *

I hate theory, so I’ll keep it short: These are the the 2 types of barriers I’ve thought of, and they’ve helped me frame my thinking: Active barriers, the kind that stop you from doing something, and passive barriers, whose absence actually stops you from getting things done.

  • Active barriers are physical things like the plastic wrap on my food, or someone telling me that it’ll never work, etc. These are hard to identify, but easy to fix. I usually just make them go away.
  • Passive barriers are things that don’t exist, so they make your job harder. A trivial example is not having a stapler at your desk; imagine how many times a day that gets frustrating. For me, these are harder to identify and also harder to fix. I might rearrange my room to be more productive, or get myself a better pen to write with, etc. In another example, a design student named Maja Kecman realized a barrier–of doing laundry.As a fix, she created WashingSacks:

    The WashingSacks, designed by industrial design engineer graduate Maja Kecman, are nifty dissolving laundry bags impregnated with washing liquid. Once filled up with laundry the bags can be placed straight into the washing machine.

    Very cool. If I had that, I wouldn’t dread doing laundry. Imagine how that could apply to things you dread.

You can use barriers to your advantage
The good news is that you can use barriers to your advantage. Want to watch less TV? Throw the remote control away. Want to drink less Coke? Don’t buy it at the grocery store. It’s not rocket science, but it works.

You don’t know what you don’t know
I have a friend who I’ve been helping with jobs over the last few weeks. She’s doing fine but has one very peculiar view: She thinks she’ll never succeed in the corporate world. Why? I calmly asked, knowing I wouldn’t remain so for very much longer. She told me that she thinks she’s “not confrontational enough and not aggressive enough.”

Oh my god. Ok, here’s the thing: First of all, you don’t necessarily need those characteristics to succeed in business. Second, what does “succeed” mean to her?

Third, and most important of all, does she have any idea what she’s talking about? I’ll answer that myself: no. Any guesses why?

Because she’s never worked in the corporate world.

Most of us don’t know what we don’t know. I’m included, you’re included, everyone’s included. (This is why, when it came to our friends’ feedback on our company idea, we took it with a grain of salt, because they didn’t know what they didn’t know.)

And in ambiguous situations like these, we look to cues around us to guide our attitudes and behaviors, cues that are reassuring. Isn’t it more comforting to say “Aw that’ll never work” than to actually dive deep, talk to people who know what they’re talking about, and figure it out for ourselves?

Of course it’s easier to say no. Creating barriers is easy–especially the kind that let you do nothing. If someone approached you about starting a business, would your first questions be about who gets how much equity? Or who’s going to steal your idea? If so, you’ve successfully created a barrier.

Fortunately, most other people do exactly this–so if you’re the rare person who doesn’t, you win.

Some examples of barriers
Once I started removing barriers, I got wayyy more done. Here are some more examples. I hope that they give a sense of how the Removing Barriers mindset can be applied to your own situation:

  • “It’s got to be perfect.” Here’s a chat with a friend. Background: She had an idea that I was going to take to a company I’m consulting for, and I’d been after her for a week to send it to me. For some reason, she’d been dragging her feet.Ramit: hey can you also send me your mobile phone ideaRamit: i need that today if you want to send it

    Friend: today what time?

    Ramit: asap

    Friend: does it have to be fancy

    Ramit: no

    Ramit: no!!!!!!!!

    Friend: oh

    Friend: i started on a ppt

    Ramit: dude

    Ramit: it needs to be like a paragraph

    Friend: oh

    Friend: i’ll do that now

    Do you make things more complicated than they have to be?

  • “I’m not going to apply to Stanford/Harvard/etc because even if I got in, I couldn’t afford it. Plus, it’s expensive to apply.”Apart from being completely wrong, that sentiment takes the approach of someone throwing their arms up and saying “There’s not much I can do! Might as well give up!” Give me a break. I’d rather have someone say “How we can we make this work?” and then find clever ways to solve the problem.When it came to my college applications, it was about $50/application. In a middle-class family, that adds up quick. You know what I did? I didn’t enclose the application fee. Instead, I put a note in my application explaining my situation and asking if they could help. And I told them that if they couldn’t help, would they please let me know and I’d find a way to send the fee in.What’s the worst they could say–no?

    And of course, you can guess how many colleges asked to send the fee in: 0.

  • “I can’t start a Web site. It’s too hard.” Listen, I hate coding and dealing with the logistics of Web design. That’s no excuse not to start a site. Why do you think this site is an easy-to-update blog?

The bottom line of this whole essay is to remove the barriers that prevent you from getting things done. Some of these barriers are assumptions, things like “I can’t get that award” or “You need to have X, Y, and Z” before you can start a company.

No, you don’t. Talk to some people who’ve actually done it before you shoot yourself in the foot. PLEASE!!!

Other barriers are very real: The plastic bags on my food, no matter how trivial, would have actually discouraged me from eating my food. The outcome in both cases, however, is the same: They get in your way and you don’t get what you want.

The above examples were just that–personal examples. If you can connect my basic point with the barriers you have on a daily basis, I’ll be thrilled. Let me know how it goes.

Update 3/30/09: I’ve written many more articles on barriers:

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  • How to identify and narrow down a profitable idea
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41 Comments on "Barriers are your enemy"

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Scott
10 years 11 months ago

This is great advice! I particularly like the suggesting with college applications. I will be passing that idea on.

Mike W.
Mike W.
10 years 11 months ago

WashingSacks. Freakin’ genius. Why didn’t I think of that?!! haha

a man with barriers
a man with barriers
10 years 11 months ago
Thank you for your fantastic post on barriers. As I read your post I realized that one of my biggest productivity barriers used to be the desire to sit around in my pajamas and read several newspapers in the morning. Though I simply identified it as ol’ fashioned procrastination at the time, now I realize that I was trapped by the mental barrier of feeling like I had to be showered and dressed, despite my lack of will to do so in the morning, to actually do something productive. I lived uncomfortably with this tendency to let my morning slip… Read more »
Rick
10 years 11 months ago

Your post is perfect! You do not have to think of barriers when doing something big, but in each and every little thing you (Ramit’s food example is good) – I just start making a list of what all I need to overcome – and I have repeatedly found (I get surprised even after repeatedly finding it) that every barrier was small enough to overcome once I became aware of it – so take a simple step of becoming aware that a barrier is blocing you!

Ravneet
10 years 11 months ago

Perfect advise on startups and presenting ideas. I believe in demo-or-die and the demo needs to do just what it actually does and nothing else ! Lots of people I confront with when presenting an idea, ask silly questions about the fancy stuff and forget about the actual usage of the idea itself.

Vu
Vu
10 years 9 months ago

Dear God I love this site…

Otto
Otto
10 years 7 months ago

This is the best site on the internet. This guy is a genius and I have now doubt he will soon be rich.

murli mohinani
murli mohinani
10 years 7 months ago

I think it was a great article..Indian moms are greatest in taking care of their kids but at the same time very very protective which I think is a time capsule barrier…many time ppl who leave away from Mom’s protection graduate faster then others.. So in every bizness I think its looking over the barriers and beyond..takins self advice then having too much protective advisers is the greatest advice

Gerard
Gerard
10 years 6 months ago

Thanks Ramit. I’ve read this post twice now, and it is still a really great post.

arthur
arthur
10 years 6 months ago

thanks mate. this is quite interesting to read. i have never really thought of obsticles in my life as barriers that i could simply overcome. i am working in school right now and i think that this advise is going to help me in the near future.

Eric Nakagawa
10 years 4 months ago

I wanted a place to blog and write private journal entries, every blog didn’t have the exact tools i wanted. I started my own site, and now I control what people see, who can read my posts, and have a single place to send friends/family/and clients.

It’s still not finished… but it’s a start.

annab
annab
10 years 4 months ago

This is the best site ever. I’m really learning a lot from your posts.

ted mills
10 years 4 months ago
You are absolutely right. I’ve come to this realization about barriers too. I call it “rolling the stone.” It’s like a large stone blocking water from flowing freely. But because it’s part of the landscape, we don’t see it, or we assume it’s *part of the stream*. The most important thing is *identifying the stone*. And once you’ve done that and moved the stone, everything flows freely. Example–I was working on editing this music video and getting very frustrated–I felt there wasn’t enough footage and the repetition was just that, repetitive. I was getting further and further behind on the… Read more »
Joseph Kincade
Joseph Kincade
10 years 4 months ago

I think you are great thats always been my attitude.i’ll will bet a rat can out run a race horse if iu am in control of the rat

kevin
10 years 4 months ago

this is some of the most sensible stuff i’ve read in a long time. thank you.

Naz
Naz
10 years 3 months ago

This is a great post, but as well as that I just wanted to say that leaving food in a plastic bag in the fridge at my house was always the best way to make sure no one else ate your yummy food – no one ever bothered to look what was in them.

Bree
Bree
10 years 3 months ago

I happened to read this at exactly the right time. Thank you for writing it and posting it.

lungoinverno
10 years 2 months ago

Really a wonderful post! I have had a lot of barriers in the past, and I mean BIG ONES. Your post has made me rethink about what I should have done instead of accepting the barriers which I created

Joo
Joo
10 years 2 months ago

This one post probably summarizes a large fraction of the self-help book market. Really good.

yalej
yalej
10 years 2 months ago
This is awesome, I mean really. This has come at the right time. To echo the guy above about morning routines, here’s what I do now: Wake up at 7:20 and let our cats out of the garage (where they sleep so they won’t disturb us at night). Feed them. This takes about 5 minutes. Then I go upstairs and sit in front of my computer and read blogs/news until about 8:20! So there is approximately 45 minutes each morning where I could be doing something else, but instead I sit there passively. That’s 11 24-hour days out of each… Read more »
rachna
10 years 2 months ago

Hey, that was an interesting read. Cogent & well articulated as well!

Susant
10 years 1 month ago

It’s late since you posted this.. I know.. but I feel Like I was led here.. to face the issue of barriers. Excellent read. And I didn’t know Bush beans were part of a Indian meal 😉

Thiago
Thiago
10 years 1 month ago

Hey Ramit,

I’m facing the same barrier about having a business with no licence, etc. Could you please give me more light on that issue? That has been holding me down for years.

Thanks

Adi
Adi
10 years 1 month ago

Great post. Just the kick in the butt that I needed. I’ve been stalling about setting up an e-business. I’m having trouble finding a good webmaster. Any suggestions?

Ali
Ali
9 years 11 months ago

wish blogs like this one had existed when I was at the University, but hey, the computer didn’t even exist then!

I would encourage you to visit
http://www.scienceofgettingrich.net, download the free e-book, puruse the site and take the Practical Genius course!

NLG
9 years 10 months ago

I wrote a follow-up post to this one on my blog where I talk about a few of my own experiences with barriers, and list some of the common ones I’ve come across.

NLG

Alex
Alex
9 years 10 months ago

Yes I am commenting on this very old post – because it is that damn good. But it’s tough to get yourself to follow this advice. Damn laziness!

Stingy Student
9 years 10 months ago

Yeah, this is coming in a good while after you wrote this post, but it’s funny that I happened to read this tonight. I just read Rich Dad Poor Dad, and the author echoed a similar philosophy about barriers. Getting to that next level really is about removing those barriers.

evan
evan
9 years 9 months ago

this is a clear way to describe a lot of things i’ve been thinking about. thank you.

Inventive Genius
9 years 4 months ago

You have a great blog. I included it in my IASL website as an inventive resource. It is required reading. 05/04/2007

John
John
8 years 7 months ago

This was an excellent essay on barriers! I could not agree more. I can honestly say that my life i sbasically built on barriers, it’s horrible. I am the what if man, or this won’t work, or better yet what will people think. After reading this essay I know I need a change. I’m not sure where to start but accepting the fact that I have a barrier problem is a good place to make a change. Thanks!!

Kevin @ Change Your Tree
8 years 7 months ago

I really enjoyed this. You’re exactly right concerning successful people and unsuccessful people with regards to barriers.

It happens a lot with victims also–in their case it’s about making as many excuses as possible so you can excuse yourself from trying.

Great article.

Elysian
8 years 2 months ago

Thank you Ramit! Very practical advice. I think the best example of breaking down barriers you mentioned was getting accepted to Stanford with that note. Nice!

Harsh
Harsh
8 years 1 month ago

Really an excellent post……very much applicable to everyone’s life…..can you suggest how we go about in removing these barriers…..you know….we dont know what we dont know…..

prateek
prateek
7 years 10 months ago

wow!!!!!i always thot of this ,but u made it crystal clear by writin it in words

thanx a lot,

let me tell u after 2 weeks wat difference it made 2 me

Marco Almeida
Marco Almeida
7 years 9 months ago

“Want to watch less TV? Throw the remote control away”… nice!

I did something of the sort: after realizing I was procrastinating a lot at work by reading news web sites, I blocked them on my computer (tweaked my “hosts” file). It is still easy to revert that blockage, but it works fine! 😀

Adam Steer - Better Is Better
7 years 6 months ago

“Want to watch less TV? Throw the remote control away”.

We went one step further. We had the cable cut!

Cheers,
Adam

Ananth
Ananth
7 years 5 months ago

Great article, made me realize how often I cop out of things by creating barriers.

I’ve noticed that it’s way too easy to associate with other people’s barriers/failures and make them your own. Whereas, we rarely try to turn that around and associate with others’ enablers/successes.

Andy Pels
Andy Pels
7 years 5 months ago

I think you said something about barriers, but I’m still stuck homemade Indian food. 🙂

Myclear backpack
10 months 20 days ago

Plastic bag sometimes use full.

Jason
9 months 15 days ago
“The smartest people relentlessly remove barriers around them. And the others let barriers control them.” ^This is precisely the crux of the entire issue for me. As a coach and mentor myself, I’ve observed first-hand that the most common difference between successful and average folk, is the ability of the former to align their attitude with that of progress, growth, and abundance – REGARDLESS of the state of external circumstances! They’ll always find a way to do what needs to get done, even in the least-optimal of conditions. This, in all honesty, is the one “secret skill” that will enable… Read more »
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