Get Out of Your Own Way: The Beauty of Internal Roadblocks

Let’s start with a Q&A.

Q: Which one (or more) is the odd one out?

  • Weak organizational skills
  • Procrastination
  • Unclear goals
  • Anxiety
  • Power Outage
  • Unhealthy habits
  • Fears
  • Noisy neighbors
  • Poor coping strategies
  • Negative Thinking

A: Power outage and noisy neighbors.

These two are external roadblocks. The rest? Examples of internal roadblocks.

Let’s consider a power outage from a storm. Your client likely cannot resolve the power outage (external roadblock to whatever the goal was for the evening). If their goal is now to survive the power outage and they do not have the necessary survival equipment, stress management skills and emotional regulation, this could affect their chances of successfully adapting to the outage.

The good thing is the latter are internal roadblocks!

In this article I hope to help bring awareness and insight around internal roadblocks and explore some approaches and tools to address them.

I also hope to help you see the beauty of internal roadblocks – rather than see them as dead ends, embrace them as part of the journey forward.

When a client reports their roadblocks are things like self-defeating thoughts, lacking a particular skill set for a job, maladaptive behaviors and habits, I say “Great, let’s get to work”

Why great?

Because these are internal roadblocks; they are controllable obstacles that CAN be  overcome.

What is an Internal Roadblock?

Helping your client identify internal roadblocks is essential. It can help them gain a sense of personal agency and an internal locus of control to help work through (or around) the roadblock at get to their desired destination.

A roadblock is a metaphor referring to something that is getting in your way of where you want to go.

An internal roadblock refers to something within yourself that is getting in the way of achieving your goal (yes, you can be your own roadblock).

An external roadblock refers to something in your environment, often unpredictable, difficult to manage and often not in your control (though can be within your influence). For example, poor weather conditions, the company you work for going out of business or limited access to health care.

It is important to note that the definition of a roadblock is subjective.  Your job as a coach is not to determine what the roadblock is, but rather to help the client gain insight into what may be a roadblock for them (what is getting in the way of their goal), explore options (what do they want to do about it) and help them create a plan of action to reach their desired destination.

Note that just because something is seen as an external roadblock, this does not mean your client is helpless. Ever! They can work on areas they can influence, their reaction and coping strategies.

Types of Internal Roadblocks you May Encounter

To help identify and recognize roadblocks, I have placed them into three categories:

1. Complicated


Where there are multiple roadblocks, you can ask your client to look at which one they would like to address first (possibly, though not always, the most problematic).


This is where a client will create or place a roadblock in front of them, (consciously or subconsciously) often out of fear, limiting beliefs, etc. You may also see a client perceiving an internal roadblock as an external one, possibly to avoid accountability, feeling helpless, self-doubt, etc.

2. Hard (quantitative)

These are often easier to identify and measure. An example could be lacking a specific qualification for a desired job.

3. Soft (qualitative)

Harder to measure, often referred to as “mental” roadblocks often linked to internal thought patterns, such as lack of confidence, negative thoughts.

I’m at an Inner Roadblock. What are the options?

Now that you and your client have identified the roadblock, there are three options for how to address it:

Option 1: Reassess/alter the destination (goal, desired outcome)

  • Does the goal need to be postponed? Is the goal realistic? Is the action plan clear?

Option 2: Face/overcome the roadblock

  • What are some alternate routes to getting to the destination?
  • What will the plan of action be?
  • What resources and support will be needed?

Option 3: Try on a different perspective and reframe how the roadblock is interpreted

  • Could this roadblock be helpful? What opportunity could it provide? (i.e., learning, strength)

Do’s and Don’ts to Consider when Helping Clients


  • Explore the external roadblocks, too, and look at areas of influence.
  • Help the client develop strategies to cope with external roadblocks (stress reduction, social support, reframing).
  • Use tools to help the client identify and address the roadblock, such as the ones below:
    Circle of Concern and Influence
    David Peterson’s Development Pipeline
  • Refer to appropriate/additional resources (especially if the roadblock is linked to physical and/or mental illness).


  • Tell the client what their roadblock is.
  • Assume that what the client tells you is a roadblock is the actual roadblock (dig deep).
  • Assume the client is ready and willing to address the roadblock.
  • Determine that it is an external roadblock and conclude the client is helpless.

Dealing with an internal roadblock is not easy. It’s likely not fun. It may take time and support will be needed.

So, what is the beauty?

I’ll leave you as I started and end with that question for you to reflect on.

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Written by by Fanie Zis, PCC