In Life Management, Managing Priorities

A few years ago, I visited Alcatraz, a Federal Prison that operated from 1933 until 1963 in San Francisco Bay. After I entered the walls of this place, I tried to imagine what it would be like to be locked up there for years…or for life. I could not wait to get out of Alcatraz! Keep reading to identify ways you can get out of any self-imposed prison you may have created in your life, while opening new doors to possibilities.

Self-Imposed Prison

Although most of us will never have to experience life in a real prison, some have created a self-imposed prison made up of imaginary walls that are named “should,” “gotta,” “have to,” and “can’t.”

An estimated 80 percent of the population puts themselves into a self-imposed prison on a regular basis, forfeiting their freedom of choice through their own thought processes. When I hear someone using this victim language, I often ask them, “Do you have to or do you choose to?”

There are very few things in life that you have to do. Yet some forfeit their ability to choose and view their options in life as limited. This generally leads to a feeling of hopelessness. If you do not feel at choice, it may be time to change your self-talk. There are times that we truly are victims, but often this has been self-imposed by limiting our own choices.

We all experience times in our lives when we find ourselves in a situation where we want to escape–where we want to be, do or have something different than what we have now. This is a normal part of the human experience. How we respond to this urge to change has a huge impact on the outcome.

What Are Your Decisions Rooted In?

Here’s an important question to ask yourself: Is your wish to make a change rooted in fear and desperation, or is it rooted in desire? Are you running from something to escape, or are you running toward something to reach a target or goal?

Escape-based decisions seldom result in a positive outcome. Jumping from the proverbial frying pan into the fire in order to escape something undesirable (a relationship, a job, etc.) will not serve you well.

I know a woman who desperately wanted to get married and start a family. As she was running from loneliness, she got engaged to a man who did not share her values or treat her with respect.  The relationship eventually fell apart, and she is back to being single again…and much happier than she would have been if she’d married and had children with him.

I’ve met many professionals who are desperate to get out of an unfulfilling job, so they take the next opportunity that comes along, despite the fact that it’s not what they really want. Before long, they’re back to looking for yet another job so they can escape the undesirable situation they’ve once again found themselves in.

Target-based decisions have a much better outcome. When making a change that focuses on achieving an ultimate goal, you are much more likely to find contentment. Ask yourself if a change you are considering (relationship status, job, move, etc.) will move you toward or away from what you ultimately want.

Common Obstacles to Opening New Doors

When you’re making an important decision, here are some obstacles to be aware of.

1. Overcoming fear
Fear is such a powerful emotion, and it stops many people from taking the necessary action to follow their heart’s desires. The bigger the goal, the greater the fear and the more likely you are to resist making a decision or taking the necessary action.

I like this acronym for FEAR:  Fantasized Experiences Appearing Real.

Here’s a great coaching exercise I’ve used to help clients work beyond fear so they can take action. It’s called Walking the Plank. Ask yourself, “What’s the worst thing that could happen if I did _____ (an action you are scared to take)? If that happens, then what? And then what?” Play this all the way out until there are no more possible actions you could take. Then ask yourself, “If the worst-case scenario actually happened (not likely), could I live with it?” Would it really be as awful as you imagined? By simply playing it out in your mind, you dilute the power of the fear that has been controlling your decision-making or your ability to take action.

For more insights about how to overcome fear, read Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway, by Susan Jeffers.

“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”
–Wayne Gretsky, Canadian hockey legend

2. Listening to “should” and “have to”
Are your decisions and actions guided by the desire to impress or satisfy others? When you stop worrying about what everyone else thinks you should do, and you stop being informed by old beliefs that no longer serve you (usually represented by “I should/have to” thoughts), the best decision for you will become clear. If you’ve been an “approval junkie,” it’s time to let go of what others think and focus on your own heart’s desires regarding choices you make about your life.

3. Being impulsive or too analytical
If you are one who makes impulsive decisions that you often regret, make a rule that you will sleep on it before deciding, or consult with a trusted friend who can help you sort out what’s best for you. (Be sure it’s a friend who has no attachment to what you decide and will not judge you either way.)

If you are one who gets into analysis paralysis, make a written list of the pros and cons for each of your options. Putting these in writing may help you have greater clarity as you make decisions. Remember that there is not one right decision, but rather the best decision for you.

Open New Doors by Aligning with Your Heart’s Desires


“Sometimes the best way to discover what really matters is to release what doesn’t and see what’s left behind.” –Cheryl Richardson, Waking Up In Winter: In Search of What Really Matters at Midlife

You can’t live a new life with an old version of yourself running in the background. Honor your soul’s need for space by giving yourself the freedom in your schedule to cultivate a state of openness and consciousness.

Are you ready to honor your heart’s desires, open new doors to possibilities, and take the next step toward making it happen? I can help!  Let’s schedule a no-cost, no-pressure Discovery Call today.

What’s one thing you’ll begin putting into action, starting today? Build in some accountability for yourself by sharing in the comments below.

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Showing 2 comments
  • Bryan Bossley

    Some wonderful metaphors, you used Kathy, for illustrating those imprisoned limitations!

  • Sheida

    Wonderful blog….Love it….And yes I have already read the book “feel the fear and do it anyway” great book….Thank you Kathy….

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