Embarking on a journey through the neural pathways of your brain, you will find a complex network that not only governs your physical actions but also orchestrates your thoughts, emotions, and intrinsic barriers to success.  However, with a simple understanding of neuroscience, you can navigate your way through your psychological and emotional barriers, thereby unlocking the vault of your latent potential and success.

Psychological Barriers to Success

I’ve often wondered why people don’t, as a rule, live up to their potential, and why we create barriers to success. People who have fabulous skills who for many reasons don’t feel the need to use them.  The world is full of untapped potential, and one of the reasons I coach others is to unlock that potential and free people from the barriers to success.

A great friend of mine has an interior designer skill, Lawrence Llewellyn Bowen. She tirelessly attacks her house like painting the Forth Bridge. She finishes designing and changing her final room, then starts again. Her imagination, flair and precision in detail and colour are amazing.  She makes her living from a completely different profession. One where she contributes greatly, but it is hard work and low pay. A few years ago I asked her why she didn’t take her outstanding design skills to the next level, get paid for it, and become a success. I realised there was a lot at stake when she gave me about 15 resounding reasons why not.

My friend’s potential in interior design remains veiled behind a curtain of psychological barriers. Her neural circuits, while ablaze with innovative design ideas, are simultaneously entwined with synaptic patterns of fear, self-doubt, and resistance to change, inhibiting her from transforming her talent into a prosperous career.

barriers to success – research

When researching for my degree dissertation, one of the questions I asked about 100 people was: “If you had all the money you wanted and there were no obstacles, would you be doing what you do now?” I can’t remember the exact figures, but it was in the 80%+ bracket of those interviewed who said “no. They wouldn’t”. When I asked them what they would do instead, some had startling clear ideas. Some had a bit of an idea and others didn’t know. What they were sure of though was it wasn’t what they did right now.

It’s not just about making use of our talent and skills. Many of us (me included) procrastinate and talk about the fact that “we should get more sleep” “we should lose those extra pounds” or “we need to stop working so hard, spend time with the family, take that holiday we’ve always dreamed about. I imagine you can add to the list.

The shadow effect

I listened to the audio version of “The Shadow Effect” (2009) a co-authored book by Deepak Chopra, Debbie Ford and Marianne Williamson. The three authors describe their unique perspectives of how our unconscious or our shadow affects us all. For those on a spiritual path, the book is a must. For those of you who aren’t, there are still many great psychological principles which are useful to understand if you want to be your true self.

In the book, Debbie Ford describes how our shadow dictates our behaviour. We need to look within to harness and direct what can be an unconscious destructive power. If we are being driven by an unconscious force, then we don’t know about it and we are in denial. Our shadow is made up of all the characteristics, feelings, memories and traits we want to bury away and forget. When such episodes are repressed then, they don’t go away. They are stored and resurface in several destructive ways.

I have done enough reflection and work on myself to have experienced the sweet release when you face up to a painful or shameful memory, and come to terms with it. I recognise the healing power of looking at our shadow, although it doesn’t make it any easier, and there is always something to look at.  It is very much a lifelong journey.

In the workplace, again and again, I’ve seen characters who had the potential to be successful who at the last minute would do something to jeopardise their progress. I saw people yearning for a different lifestyle, not extraordinary outrageous changes, just simple ones. But forever keeping it out of their reach. There are many ways we sabotage our success, for me the following are the 3 most prevalent.

1.  Repressing painful memories

Not facing up to our inner pain seems like a good strategy. Who wants to feel pain? Of course, we don’t. Allowing ourselves to work through pain heals and releases us from unnecessary suffering. The main reason we hold onto unnecessary pain is that we have interpreted the pain we are feeling to mean something about us. “He left because I wasn’t good enough”, or,” He lost his job because he is just one of life’s losers”.  We bury the pain because we cannot bear to face the incorrect interpretation we have arrived at. The repression of this pain is one of the barriers to success.

2. Allowing fear to prevent us to maximise our talents

Many of us live in our comfort zone. This prevents us from facing fears which is an essential part of growing and living. When I asked my friend why she didn’t want to take her interior design skills and get paid for her obvious talent, one of the many reasons she stated, was: “Who would want someone of my age to design their houses?” (She was in her mid-40’s at the time). What this response and many others amount to, one of our many human foibles is that many of us just don’t feel good enough. The truth is of course, that we are all good enough, and we don’t have to be perfect. We create barriers to success by giving in to our fear.

3. Claiming inappropriate guilt when we have honoured ourselves.

My friends got together many years ago, leaving their respective spouses. They had kids, and it was a terrible guilt-gut-wrenching time for all involved. A couple of years ago, my friends realised that guilt was still dictating their lives when their children were all stretching them to the limit and causing havoc. Although they didn’t realise it, they were not drawing appropriate boundaries and limits because they felt guilty. One of the ex-spouses had never married again, proclaiming that their lives had been ruined. This spectre of blame and guilt overshadowed the lives of the long-married pair.

When removing oneself from a poor relationship, is a way of honouring oneself. That is not to say there should not be respect, kindness and consideration for the other partner who may not want the split. Certainly, if you want to move on from a relationship, you have to take responsibility. But how long should you wear that hair shirt? Of course, it benefits no one, especially those children, who need to understand that sometimes, life’s like that. Once they realised their guilt was governing their lives, they made some big changes, and months later, much happier children resulted and a much happier family life was achieved.

At work too, the collective shadow can come into play, keeping great potential cloaked in an unhappy comfort zone, creating conflict and affecting the success of the team. Organisations carry their own stories of guilt, repression of feelings and fear. That’s why story-telling and re-framing the past as well as stories about the vision for the future is so important for businesses.

The freeing concept of Neuroplasticity

However, our self-sabotage tendencies aren’t fixed.  We can change our brain’s neural pathways to unlock our barriers to success.  Research, such as that conducted by Dr. Tara Swart, a neuroscientist and leadership coach, underscores the pivotal role of neuroplasticity in reshaping our brain’s pathways, thereby enabling us to overcome ingrained fears and self-limiting beliefs. Dr. Swart’s work elucidates how understanding and harnessing the power of our brain’s plasticity can pave the way towards redefining our narratives and achieving success.

The Shadow Within: A Neuroscientific Perspective

“The Shadow Effect,” while exploring the psychological shadows, also inadvertently touches upon the neuroscience of repressed memories and emotions. Our brain, in its attempt to shield us from emotional pain, may suppress certain memories. It relegates them to the shadowy recesses of our subconscious. However, these repressed neural patterns can inadvertently influence our behaviours and decisions.  Thereby acting as unseen barriers to our success and well-being.

By understanding the neural mechanisms that govern our emotions and behaviours, we can strategically navigate through our shadows, thereby enabling us to lead with authenticity and foster an environment conducive to organizational and personal growth.

Neurological Pathways to Overcoming Barriers

1. Navigating through the Neural Networks of Pain

The brain’s natural inclination to avoid pain, both physical and emotional, can sometimes lead to the repression of painful memories and associated neural pathways. Engaging in mindful practices, such as meditation, has been demonstrated in research, like that conducted by Dr. Sara Lazar of Harvard University, to alter brain structures related to emotional regulation and self-awareness. Meditation can thereby facilitate the processing and healing of emotional pain.

2. Decoding the Synaptic Patterns of Fear

The amygdala, our brain’s fear centre, often plays a pivotal role in inhibiting our actions and decisions. This is through the activation of fear-related neural circuits. By understanding and acknowledging our fears, we can employ strategies to overcome them.  Strategies such as cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), proven in numerous studies to be effective in rewiring fear-related neural pathways, gradually dismantle these synaptic barriers to success.

3. Unraveling the Neural Threads of Guilt

Guilt, often residing within our prefrontal cortex, can subtly influence our decisions and behaviours. Guilt acts as a silent saboteur of our success. Studies show that by employing neuroscientific strategies, such as neurofeedback, which has been utilised in various studies to alter brainwave patterns, we can gradually untangle these threads of guilt. This then enables us to make decisions that honour our well-being and facilitate our journey towards success.

A Neuroscientific Blueprint for Success

The intricate neural networks within our brains hold the keys to unlocking our potential. We can use neuroplasticity to navigate through the psychological and emotional barriers that impede our path to success. To do this, we can employ a neuroscientific lens and integrate research-backed strategies. Ultimately this will enable us to decode and reshape our brain’s synaptic patterns. This will then facilitate our journey towards achieving success and realising our latent potential.

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I help leaders develop self- mastery, helping them to become confident in their own inner guidance.

I collaborate with leadership experts, managers and HR professionals to help them get their own message and unique services and products to a wide audience.