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Life & COVID
July 19, 2021
3 Emotional Barriers To Achieving Post-Pandemic Goals

Shaun Ali

Pens and planner on a desk. Planner reads "Journal, do yoga, meditate, read more, face yoga."

Series Of Emotions

It’s natural to start thinking about post-pandemic plans and try to obtain a “new normal.” However, normalizing a daily routine and setting goals can prove harder than it sounds with such a significant transition.

For many in North America and Europe, the vaccination rate increases daily and businesses are opening up again. In Canada, we are fortunately experiencing a decrease in COVID cases and can let out a cautious sigh of relief.

Any change, good or bad, can bring stressors or unleash a series of emotions. Therefore, we must focus on our mental wellness during this time. It can motivate us towards success in our personal and professional goals. It can also support better relationships with ourselves and others. Wherever you live or whatever your post-pandemic plans are, talking to a therapist can be tremendously helpful for recognizing the emotional blocks we have toward forming successful habits, personal acceptance, or both. In this blog, I will discuss three emotional barriers and share some strategies to overcome them.

How Do Emotions Become Barriers to Goals?

Our emotions play a key role in motivating us to be successful in our goals. Sometimes we have to practice personal acceptance and believe we are enough or have enough resources to achieve what we want. Other times, we have to face habits, emotional patterns, or mindsets that may be preventing us from success. For example, cognitive psychologist and coach Amanda Crowell explains in her TEDx talk that the term “defensive failure” describes what occurs when we want to achieve something but don’t do it. There are “three powerful mindset blocks” locking us into defensive failure, one of them is believing we can’t do something.

When we want to achieve a new goal, it’s best to have a plan and a strategy to deal with the discomfort or doubts. It’s best to avoid too much of what psychologist Albert Ellis called “discomfort anxiety,” also known in rational emotive behavioural therapy as frustration intolerance. We want to be able to accept a certain level of frustration as we work towards our goals. To help explain this, I like to introduce the Yerkes Dodson curve to clients.


The Yerkes-Dodson curve represents the relationship between stress and performance. As the graph shows, we can reach our peak level of performance with an intermediate amount of stress and motivation, also known as “arousal.” Too much stress can be hard to manage and lead to a fight, flight, or freeze response. An optimal and manageable amount of stress can be motivational and enhance performance.

While there can be many stressors and emotions preventing success, I will discuss three that often rear their heads. With therapy, we can identify which ones impact us the most and create personalized steps to overcome these barriers and improve mental health.

1. Fear of Failure

Being afraid to fail can prevent us from taking the first step towards achieving any goal. It also fuels other negative responses, such as fearing shame, judgement, or embarrassment. Almost everyone thinks about the possibility of failure. We just have to make sure it doesn’t stop us from trying.

Strategies to overcome the fear of failure include:

  • Refocusing with Breathing: When we find ourselves in a state of fear, we can use breathing exercises to relax and refocus the brain. A relaxed state will make it easier to think positively.
  • Identifying the Reasons for Fear: Sometimes, knowing which consequence of failure bothers us the most can help us face the fear or plan for the consequence. Remember to differentiate between severe consequences and simple ones fear may have blown out of proportion.
  • Reflecting on Past Failures: Failing the first time can feel scary. However, when we reflect on ways we have dealt with failures in the past, our ability to handle future failures will be easier to recognize.

2. Limiting Beliefs

When we believe we can’t accomplish something or don’t have the right skills and resources to achieve a goal, it can prevent us from even trying. Most of the time, what we need is a well-thought-out process. An outcome without process can lead to disappointment, other blaming, or self-blaming. These emotions then fuel limiting beliefs that we can’t accomplish something “everyone else is doing” or “should be so simple.”

Overcoming limiting beliefs can include these three strategies:

  • Set Small Goals: Start processes by setting small goals that are easy to achieve. This method can make the process feel less overwhelming and give milestones to celebrate.
  • Identify Strengths: Instead of focusing on why you can’t do something, make a list of the strengths that will lead to success.
  • Take Time for Self-Development: Sometimes we need to prepare ourselves to accomplish a bigger goal, like developing a skill or learning something new. Take small steps to ensure you possess the necessary knowledge to obtain that bigger goal.

3. Perfectionism

We can build our expectations on faulty information we receive or tell ourselves. Maybe we are annoyed about not achieving goals during the pandemic or feel inadequate when comparing ourselves to others. Expecting everything to be perfect all the time can lead to frustration and demotivation.

Strategies to overcome perfectionism can include:

  • Be Realistic: Not everything will be perfect and that is okay. Understand we can only do our best and there is no need to compare ourselves to others. Everyone’s situation is different.
  • Be More Flexible: Sometimes our plans are too rigid, and we cannot adapt to pivot. Approaching situations with a flexible attitude can help ease frustrations during changes.
  • Be Kind to Yourself: Unexpected things come up all the time. The process towards accomplishing a goal can sometimes feel like taking two steps forward and one step back. Be kind while navigating these realities.

Final Thoughts

Focusing on our mental health doesn’t only come after a diagnosed condition. Any transition requires adjusting, and post-pandemic changes can be complex for anyone. Whether to move locations to figuring out whether to continue working remotely, many decisions can create stressors or bring up unhealthy responses. The good news is, we don’t have to go through these changes alone.

A therapist can help with identifying emotions that are barriers to goals and provide guidance on working through them towards success.

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