7 “Mental Traps” That Sabotage Your Progress

One of the funniest things about the human brain is how it’s able to manipulate surroundings and perceptions to make almost any situation fit our internal dialogue.

Case in point: The blog you’re reading right now.

When I started Rich20Something in November 2012, I had to actively overcome dozens of excuses for why it wouldn’t work.

I thought to myself:

“Ok, I’ll start a blog…but I really need to make sure I’m doing it the ‘right’ way. Better do some more research.”

“Man, I really want to talk about entrepreneurship…but there are so many (better) blogs out there that talk about that…I’ll never get my voice heard.”

“I don’t have special connections or a fancy degree. Nobody will care about what I have to say.”

On and on I went like this until one day…I just say “F*** it.”

I started writing.

At first, nobody listened.

But then, I started to gain traction.

Slowly and steadily my readership grew.

And the interesting part was that I found later most of my assumptions about what “should” happen or what I “couldn’t” do were entirely wrong.

In the end, my brain made up excuses as a shield in an attempt to protect me from failure. Ironically, those same excuses that were supposed to protect me from failure were also holding me back from making progress.

I don’t want that to happen to you.

I’d much rather see you get started with something crappy and keep going than let lame excuses hold you back from making real progress.

Excuses like these are “mental traps.” They often come in the form of perverted logic and well-intentioned excuses.

They often sound reasonable.

But make no mistake, they are deadly.

Here are 7 common “mental traps” that sabotage you, along with the solution to overcome them.

I’ve used them. I know you have too.

It’s time to eliminate them.


1.) “I should do more research.”

No. You should start. Don’t research every possible outcome of a project or idea. Just identify the first steps. Ask yourself, “What’s the absolute minimum knowledge I need to get started?” Then do that. “Ready, fire, aim” is an overused phrase, but it really works. A poorly executed plan trumps the perfectly planned, unexecuted idea.

2.) “It’s all about who you know.”

Well yeah. Knowing people is extremely important. But that tired ass phrase leaves out a crucial detail: YOU CAN MEET MORE PEOPLE. You can make the connections. Most people aren’t born well-connected, and just because some people are, that doesn’t mean that you cannot become well-connected too. That’s why I wrote The Ultimate Guide to Connecting With Anybody. So don’t let that excuse hold you back. I’m calling your bluff.

3.) “I have too many ideas/not enough ideas to make a decision.”

See how I grouped these seemingly opposite thought processes in together? It’s because they both come from the misguided belief that you’ll find an idea that is “The One.” Look, there are a lot of great ideas out there that end up working out very well. And there are other ideas that appear to be pretty elementary, yet have massive success. These things make us scratch our heads and wonder why we didn’t come up with them. The difference, then, is execution. (See #1) Need help executing an idea? Try this.

4.) “That idea has already been done.”

Good. That means there’s a market for it. Now do it better. Or differently.

5.) “I’m too busy.”

If you’re being brutally honest with yourself, are you really too busy…or is is that you’re still learning how to organize your time? This is something that I’m continually working on! I’ll start work on a new project and say “That’s it. My time is completely booked up!” Yet I still find time to binge watch every episode of House of Cards and OITNB Season 2. Be brutal. Track yourself. Where is your time really going? I’m not saying to cut out all your leisure activities…we need those to keep use sane. But reduce them by 1/2…or even 1/3 and replace that time with the work you claim to be “too busy” for. Boom. You just added extra hours to your week.

6.) “I need more money before I can start.”

Mmmm….nope. No you don’t. There are PLENTY of things you can do to start a project that don’t require any startup capital…like this, this or this.

7.) “I’ll do it tomorrow.”

If you said that yesterday, you’re already lying. Nike solved this problem decades ago. You know what to do.

Can you name a “mental trap” in your life?

What’s one mental trap that you find yourself struggling with?

It can be an excuse you make for yourself, a faulty belief or a misguided idea.

Leave it in the comments, I want to add these to my “List of Exile.”



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Justin Tan
Justin Tan

One huge mental trap i find yself in a long is trying to rush for success. Whatever we do should be done because we enjoy doing the activity in itself (ie running a business you are passionate in, blogging about an interesting topic etc.) yet society's pressure makes it so easy to give ourselves the "how will this benefit me?" mindset. A lot of times I wish I would stop thinking about the external factors like how much money am I going to make from a deal, and just focus on being able to help someone in need by being the most accomplished supplier for their needs. I hope that in future I'll always remember why I do something, and not just do it for the result.


My biggest block goes something like this:  "If I try and I fail, then I'm not allowed to try again.  Everyone will see me as a laughing stock, cast me out, and I'll die a loser and social pariah."  That's certainly an illogical fear to have holding me back, but since when is the emotional part of the brain logical?


A recent habit I've developed is cramming my productivity into about a 6-hour span. It's because most of the day is spent chatting with people (which isn’t too bad considering how prone to work-a-holicsm I am) and then I sort of ease my way into completing my daily tasks, then I have uber levels of productivity for about 4-6 hours. Once I'm done, I ease my way back down into chillin again. I swear though, it's borderline trapping myself because the potential is there to not wanna breakaway from enjoying myself for the sake of getting things done. Quite a few times I’ve ended up pushing getting things done back into the wee hours of the night. The mental trap for me is convincing myself it still counts as completing that day’s task even if it’s done between the hours of 12am and 4am because I wanted to hang out all day.

“It’ll still count if you do it later in the day.”

Zach Grove
Zach Grove

My biggest mental trap is "I have tons of ideas....but none of them will make money." 

Clearly I'll be 10X happier if I just start writing on a blog around any of the 3-4 ideas I'm passionate about, and try to build a readership because it's fun for ME.

It's interesting that all these mental traps are "This won't work because _____." But what defines a project "working"? I have these vague ideas of "launching" some epic success...none of which are specific, defined, or written down. Thank you for sharing your first post with zero comments. Your blog is great, so that helps lower this weird "launch" idea I had in my head...just gonna get started. 

I want 100 email subscribers on my blog that's been sitting for a year with zero posts and 25 drafts. Can that work? Only one way to find out...

Thanks for the end-of-week inspiration, Daniel. Just cleared out my Sunday afternoon to get started shipping.

Allison S
Allison S

Great points, once again. Often we over think things to the point that they become too complicated to execute. The most straightforward approach to an idea/ program is usually the best. There's always time to refine on the back end. Keep the motivation coming! I'm enjoying this as I'm pursuing my next business venture and it keeps me going :)


Thanks for this article.  I needed this today :) typing my first blog post this morning (actually have been staring at Google Docs the past 2 days...) and reminding myself I have to just figure it out as I go.  There's only so much planning/research you can do ahead of time before it stops helping and actually becomes a hindrance.  For me, I just get distracted by the other million things I need to work on.  It's hard for me to finish one project/article/whatever it is to completion because I keep thinking of everything else that I need to get finished.  I keep reminding myself "one step at a time."  Have a great day!

Tiffany Lee
Tiffany Lee

As always, thanks for the wake-up call Daniel. My excuse was always about money...I don't have enough right now, so I'll wait until I have more. That's totally backwards thinking since starting a business will solve this problem. I know this now but it has held me back for a while now, so I'm just diving in.


Great article. I can related to #5 in some similar way. I usually fall into the trap of "I don't have the time today". Of course, the solution of that is to free up some time. Even if it's for an hour a day. Even if you sleep in until noon and grumble about how you slept half the day away, it's still possible.

Josh Bretow
Josh Bretow

A mental trap I definitely fall into is "I don't have the experience that all these other successful entrepreneurs/bloggers have". This has kept me from starting businesses in the past, need to man up and go for it. Thanks Daniel, awesome article as always!

Viktor Jiracek
Viktor Jiracek

Very awesome!

I think this is one of the best posts so far... rating up there with hacking Elance, Marsupial Method, and Lori Greiner interview...

Thanks Daniel!



I am subscribed to dozens of newsletters and email lists but honestly, yours is probably the most engaging, inspiring and well-written. Good going. Glad you didn't let your excuses hold you back.

Allison S
Allison S

@Rich20Something After too much time skirting, I'm focusing on my core competency and passion: public relations. It's exhilarating! Thanks for asking.

Tiffany Lee
Tiffany Lee

@Rich20Something @Tiffany Lee Well, my second son is due in about two weeks so I've been trying to get ready for that :)  On the business side, I finally decided that I'm not ready to take on being a blogger but being a freelance virtual assistant is really along the lines of the skills that I have already been using.  I've set up my website (http://tiffanypatrycelee.com/ if you wanna take a look) and I'm reviewing your Elance and Marsupial Method posts now to work on getting clients. ;)

I'm sure I'll move into something else later because this business isn't as scalable as I would like, but I just need to do something to get the entrepreneurial ball rolling.