Overcoming Obstacles to Lifestyle Change

  • August 20, 2020
  • by Diane Duvall
Dr. Geni Abraham

One of the first steps to creating lifestyle change is setting goals. However, you can often encounter barriers to change that may leave you wondering if you will ultimately persevere and reach your goals. Setbacks are normal and are to be expected. It is important to have a plan on how to get back on track. Try to identify potential barriers ahead of time and how you will navigate around them to successfully reach your health and wellness goals.

What are some obstacles that have previously kept you from reaching your goals? Consider various solutions and develop a plan to move forward. Enlist support from friends, family, your doctor or a health coach to help you discover strategies to overcome these barriers to your success. Listed below are some common obstacles and possible strategies to overcome them. Perhaps they can help you to brainstorm creative solutions to a challenge or barrier you may face. It is important to direct your energy toward finding solutions and staying focused on your desired outcome. Create a clear vision of what successfully reaching your goals looks like. Without a clear vision you can lose your focus and allow circumstances to distract you from your course.

Lack of Time

Daily time constraints are often seen as a primary obstacle to healthy lifestyle habits. When you are trying to find time to fit healthy habits into your day it is important to start with a few, simple changes at a time. Small changes take less time but can quickly add up. Review your weekly schedule and look for ways to adjust your time slightly or replace less important activities with healthy habits.

Decide where you can fit exercise into your week. Would a long exercise session two or three days per week work for you or could you squeeze 10 to 15-minute walks or exercise sessions into your day? Are you a morning person who would enjoy a morning walk or would you like to practice an exercise video while dinner is in the oven?

Healthy eating does not have to be time consuming. Avoid being caught off-guard when you are busy or too tired to cook by meal planning and prepping. There are many cookbooks, apps and websites offering quick, healthy meals. Stock your fridge or freezer with prepared, ready to eat meals. Look for shortcuts and buy pre-cut veggies, cooked lentils, or rotisserie chicken. Tuna is an easy no-cook protein to add to salads or snacks. Fresh fruit, hard-boiled eggs, nuts, pre-cut veggies and prepared hummus are great snack options to have on hand. And if you do slip when you feel time strapped or tired and mindlessly grab those chips, don’t waste time on feeling guilty. Just try to be more mindful of your intentions.


Fear of Failure

This obstacle can manifest itself in many ways. What is considered failure? Is it giving up, falling back into old habits, never going after the goal, or not achieving the desired outcome within an expected timeline? As long as you continue to make an effort toward your goal there is no failure. Set yourself up to win by setting goals that are within reach and achievable. A healthy lifestyle isn’t about being perfect, it is about taking active steps to be as healthy as possible. Having an “all or nothing” mentality unfortunately can lead to “nothing” being achieved. Set small, measurable goals and celebrate every success. A measurable goal has specific criteria so that you will know when you achieve it. A general goal would be ‘get in shape’ or ‘eat healthier’.  Adding two vegetables per day or starting a weekly Yoga class would be examples of small, measurable goals. Make sure your goals are attainable. Giving up your favorite food or committing to one-hour of exercise daily may be unrealistic and may lead to disappointment or keep you from even trying. Perhaps eating your favorite food less often or practicing a few daily stretches might be a great start that you can build on.  

As you celebrate small successes you will build your confidence and your ability to change. It can be helpful to focus on ‘what to do’ and not on what you shouldn’t do or what you are doing wrong. Focus on what you can add into your life. There may be certain foods or lifestyle practices you feel can benefit your health goals such as adding nuts and seeds, fruits and vegetables, a new exercise, a new meditation practice, spending more time with family, walking in nature or reading more.  

Family/Social Life

Our social connections and relationships are an important part of a healthy lifestyle. Plan for times to enjoy a fun meal with friends and family. Bookend healthy eating around parties and never go to a party hungry. When possible use smaller dishes and enjoy smaller portion sizes. When you are on vacation or have company balance having special treats with making healthy food choices the rest of the time. Enjoy your family and friends and don’t beat yourself up for having a good time with them. You can plan to eat healthy the next day. Follow the 80/20 rule. The 80/20 rule is an approach to healthy eating that states you don’t have to make perfect food choices 100% of the time. 80% is enough to be healthy and balanced.

Trying to eat healthy when the family is not on board can be challenging.  Communication is very important so be sure to share your goals and concerns with your loved ones. They may fear that if you change, they will have to change. When your family insists on high calorie foods just have a smaller portion and fill the rest of your plate with salad and vegetables. You can also choose healthier versions of the same foods such as substituting a pizza topped with healthy vegetables for a pizza loaded with extra cheese and pepperoni. You can also substitute healthier dessert choices for yourself. Dark chocolate dipped fruit or dark chocolate and nuts can quench that chocolate craving. Exercise may be a challenge if it will interfere with your family time. Try to involve them (such as riding bikes or walking together) or arrange a time in your schedule that will not take away from family time. It is important to have support when adopting new lifestyle habits. Engage in a support network with others who are also working for healthy change so that you can encourage each other and share recipes, exercise tips and advice.


Daily stress or unanticipated events can drain the energy and commitment we need for implementing positive change. Throughout the day subtle feelings like impatience, anger, or worry can accumulate, draining our energy and leaving us feeling depleted by the end of the day. When our energy is low it can be difficult to think clearly and focus on our good intentions and lifestyle goals. It is easier to just grab that bag of chips when we walk in the door if we feel wiped out.

To better regulate our energy throughout the day we can incorporate stress-relief breaks. This can include deep breathing, prayer/meditation or gratitude journaling. Angry phone calls, traffic jams and stressful meetings can leave mental garbage. We need to clear this garbage out continually, so we are not worn down by emotional clutter at the end of the day. Before daily meetings or calls take a few deep breaths to focus and after the meeting find a few moments to decompress. Resolve issues that need to be dealt with and offset angry or worrisome thoughts with “meditation snacks” to infuse more peace into your day. When you have more time, try to de-stress with activities such as gardening, yoga, spending time in nature, reading a good book or enjoying a relaxing bath.

Negative and positive emotions get turned into chemicals in our brain. During sleep our brain is restored by flushing out toxins and chemicals that build up during waking hours. If we want to start our day feeling refreshed and energized and have energy at the end of our day, we must prioritize sleep and regular stress relief. Journaling before bed can be helpful for releasing toxic emotions. Write about the day’s events and if anything made you angry, sad or frustrated. End by writing about what you are grateful for so that you go to sleep with positive, happy thoughts.

With proper planning and support we can overcome the barriers to change and achieve our desired results. By creating a clear vision for our future goals, we can stay focused on our priorities and stay motivated for positive change.  

Diane Duvall, Life Coach and Certified Health Coach for the Lifestyle Medicine Practice of Dr. Geni Abraham, Board Certified, American Board of Internal Medicine. Our Internal Medicine Practice is an integrated medical practice with a focus on Lifestyle Medicine. We offer health coaching sessions to help you reach your personal goals. Dr. Geni Abraham, Medical Specialists of the Palm Beaches, Inc., 205 JFK Drive, Atlantis FL 33462.
Phone: (561) 432-8935, Visit DrGeniAbraham.com and Follow us on Facebook

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