CC360 Blog

What Holds Us Back

What Holds Us Back

What is holding me back?

It’s a question we all face at some point – maybe now is that point for you. As we look in the proverbial – or literal – mirror and consider our personal, professional, or athletic potential, we know we’re better than our outcomes represent. But what is our limiter? The knee-jerk response in 2024 is to simply shift to the role of victim, essentially removing all responsibility from ourselves and placing it elsewhere (our boss, parents, bad luck, culture, referees, etc). Admittedly, the world is far from a level playing field. However, wherever we currently find ourselves on that field, choices – impactful choices – remain available that will influence our results. In fact, there’s an entire philosophy built on identifying and then bolstering our limiters: the Theory of Constraints.

Developed by Dr. Eli Goldratt as a project management tool, the Theory of Constraints (TOC) came to life 40 years ago this year via his “business novel” The Goal, which sits on the bookshelf in front of me. The core elements include the following, concepts which we’ll then utilize to enhance our lives…

  1.       EVERY system (we are “the system” in this picture) has at least 1 constraint hindering achievement of the goal at hand. Identify the most significant constraint.
  2.       Tune into reality that improving anything other than the constraint will not significantly affect our results. The constraint IS the limiter. Stop wasting resources elsewhere until addressed.
  3.       Once identified, take every step possible to “exploit” the constraint. This involves throwing everything we’ve got – the entire kitchen sink – at the constraint, until it is no longer the constraint.
  4.       Rinse and repeat.

Perhaps this seems obvious… basic… too simplistic. Yeah – yeah. I know – it’s more fun to chase the shiny object or go in search of the secret formula. Friends – this IS the secret formula.

Personal example: I enjoy endurance sports. Unfortunately in marathons, stomach issues have derailed targeted outcomes 23 of the 26 times (11 Ironmans, 15 open marathons) I’ve toed the line at that distance. I keep coming back, adjusting my training, equipment, sleep, pacing, self-talk, and more. While all those are beneficial things to address, not a single one of them is the constraint. Until that constraint – the gut issue – is addressed, none of the others play a role of any significance.

Biz example: Let’s say you sold fax machines in the early 80s, as they first began to be readily available. There are many improvements you could have made, from noise to clarity of the print and space required, but were any of those the true limiter? No. The constraint was simple: (almost) nobody else had one, so they were useless. Nobody cared the machine could magically send a printout to someone across the country if they didn’t have the ability to receive it. The ONLY thing that mattered was getting some form – any form – of fax machine placed in as many locations as possible. Companies threw everything – even their early profits – at that singular constraint. Once “everyone” had one, the floodgates to profits through replacement ink, paper and better machines opened wide. But as long as that constraint continued, nothing else was of any consequence.

Perhaps your desired personal outcome is additional energy levels. Maybe you’ve tried supplements, various caffeine schedules, a stand-up desk, changed your meals, adjusted exercise routines, reduced your alcohol intake and more. All good things, but throughout the adjustments, your peaceful, screen-free time in bed remains 6 ½ hours most nights. That is the limiter. That is the constraint. Sure – the other ideas make sense to consider, but until time in bed is addressed, nothing else will garner significant outcomes. With that noted, throw every possible resource into creating quality time in bed – even if it means reducing other positive things. Then – and only then – will the other variables provide any notable traction forward.

The Theory of Constraints is counter cultural. It runs upstream against the Instagram “broscience” and social media “optimization” world that highlights the final 2% of the equation while ignoring the foundational 90+%. If we’re in it simply for entertainment, then sure – knock yourself out pursuing the latest #instagood or #bestlife. However, if results are our priority, there’s a 3-step solution: 1 (ID the primary constraint), 2 (shift all resources to addressing #1), 3 (rinse and repeat)!

Send Us A Message

Share This ARticle

Related Posts

The Study of… YOU

The Study of… YOU “Human freedom involves our capacity to pause between stimulus & response and, in that pause, to choose the one response toward which we wish to throw

Read More »

Is Longevity the Goal?

Is Longevity the Goal? “Human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think they are finished” (Daniel Gilbert) Have you been caught up in the net of the longevity craze

Read More »

What Holds Us Back

What Holds Us Back What is holding me back? It’s a question we all face at some point – maybe now is that point for you. As we look in

Read More »