The Differences Between Real Obstacles and Justifications

The Differences Between Real Obstacles and Justifications

When people first start to use GROW they often get stuck in the obstacles section because they do not understand the difference between an ‘real’ obstacle that is stopping the client moving forward and a justification of the client’s position. So in this entry I will give you the different definitions and suggest ways of separating the two issues.

It may seem ridiculous to suggest that an Obstacle is not real. If a person has a fear it is certainly real to them. But Obstacles can be real or imagined, and the imaginary ones can feel just as hard and heavy as the genuine article.

For the purposes of the GROW process we define an Obstacle as something that stops us moving towards our Goal. A justification, on the other hand, is a belief we have about ourselves or the world. Justifications come from our history and are an attempt to protect ourselves from repeating bad experiences.

The GROW process is very useful when dealing with justifications because it highlights when an Obstacle is not real.

By ourselves our minds go all over the place trying to find a Way Forward which will avoid pain and difficulty. By systematically addressing each Obstacle and asking if it is really stopping us, we are able to deal with them more effectively.
The Obstacle or justification test

Here is a test which you can use to see if an Obstacle is real for you.

The exercise is made up of just three questions that you can use to test whether you are confronting a real Obstacle or a justification. Once you have something you suspect might be an Obstacle you can apply the tests to see if it is a real block or a justification.

Test 1: Is it a global statement?
What we mean by ‘global’ in the context of GROW is that we do not know what it refers to. Justifications tend to be global, or universal, blockers. Once you know what a statement refers to, you can question whether it is correct. Leaving it open means it cannot be questioned, which is our hidden purpose when making justifications!

You can test whether your justification is global by asking, ‘What does that mean?’ at the end of the statement.

Test 2: Is there a way round this?
There is no way round a justification. If we accept that it is true it becomes an insurmountable Obstacle which stops any progress towards a Goal dead in its tracks. If it was a real Obstacle, then the way round it would be obvious.

Test 3: Is it a real Obstacle?
Justifications do not represent clear Obstacles to achieving a Goal. This can be tested by asking, ‘How does that stop me achieving my Goal?’

Lets take an example of someone who is unhappy in their job and wants a new one but when you work through GROW with them they come up with the statement – ‘I am too old’ as one of their Obstacles.

Let’s apply the three tests.

Test 1: Is it a global statement?
‘If you are too old, what does that mean?’ Once the person properly considers the question they are often better able to identify the fears that lay behind the statement, often that they will be rejected or not given a chance.

Test 2: Is there a way round this?
There is no way around an age. It is a statement of fact.

Test 3: Is it a real Obstacle?
If the Goal is to identify alternative careers or getting a new job, then it is not clear how being ‘too old’ stops the client from doing this. While it is possible that there may be jobs that have an agelimit, until the client has completed the first step of identifying the career they want they will never find out whether their age is a true block.

So, having applied all three tests, the example comes out as a justification rather than a real Obstacle.

Another simpler test is to imagine you were to be offered one million pounds for facing the fear you were avoiding. Regardless of the result, you would get a million for doing it.

Would you still be holding back or would you be making that call? If a large enough reward is sufficient incentive for you to face the fear, the chances are that it is not a ‘real’ Obstacle which is really stopping you moving forward. You might need some creative Options to deal with fear and provide the necessary motivation but that can be dealt with.
Justifications are not completely irrelevant.

They may well indicate a genuine fear. It is worth bearing in mind that they are there for a purpose – to keep us from experiencing pain, difficulty and frustration. But until we name them and address them for what they are they can have the effect of keeping us immobile.