Stuck in a Rut? Use this Step-by-Step Method to Overcome Any Obstacle

setting goals Jun 12, 2017

It happens to the best of us. We are moving along, getting things done, reaching our goals, and then all of a sudden we get stuck. An obstacle seems to get in the way. We start spinning our wheels and months go by, and we’re in the same situation extremely frustrated and stressed out.

So, what can you do when you get stuck?

Rather than continue spinning your wheels with the same actions, or lack thereof, try using this scientific problem solving method, also known as A3 Thinking, to come up with a better solution. Often times, it’s not a lack of ideas that gets people stuck. The solution or idea might be great on its own but it may not be the best one to tackle the root of the issue at hand.

A3 Thinking is an evidence based method that’s used by many industries and companies. It got its start at Toyota, where their floor shop managers and front-line employees have used this method to solve problems quickly for decades.

The same problem solving principles can be applied in personal development by learning how to overcome obstacles using a simple, systematic approach. This is the exact method I use to help clients (organizations and individuals) overcome obstacles blocking their path to success.

Putting a Band-Aid on Symptoms

Often, people tend to focus on the symptoms of the problem and never really address the underlying cause. So essentially, they’re applying a Band-Aid to their problem rather than truly fixing it.

Imagine someone who regularly gets headaches. They could easily take ibuprofen or another pain killer to make the pain go away, temporarily. But the underlying cause of the headache remains and therefore the pain will come back. If this person instead digs a bit deeper to understand when they get these headaches, what triggers them, how often they occur, etc. they might determine that every time they get less than 5 hours of sleep, a headache is sure to come around. Now, they can fix the real problem which is related to getting adequate sleep.

The 7-Step Scientific Problem Solving Method

  1. Describe your Problem using the following format.

For the past ____months, _________________(the problem) has been happening, resulting in ___________ (the negative consequence).

Example: For the past 6 months, I’ve been struggling to lose weight, which has reduced my self-esteem and caused me health issues like knee pain.

2. Describe your Current State with quantifiable data (the physical evidence of the problem). What have you tried already?

Example: As of May 2017, I weighed in at 140 lbs. In the last 6 months, I’ve tried the Paleo diet, joined a local gym, and tried a juice fast. I lost a few lbs initially, but then gained all the weight back.

3. Describe your Target State with a quantifiable goal, include a date, how you will measure your success, and what success would look like for you. Give a reason WHY this is important to you – this is your anchor.

Example: My goal is to lose and keep off 10 lbs. for 8 weeks in a row by October, 2017, as measured by weekly weigh-ins. I will have less knee pain, more energy, and more confidence in myself. Because I’ll be able to do more physical activities without pain and feel good about how my clothes fit me, I’ll be happier.

4. Now, it’s time to analyze WHY you’re struggling with achieving your goal. You need to drill down to understand the Root Cause.

Traditionally, someone trying to lose weight after 6 months might either a) get discouraged and give up because it’s not working anyway, or b) try a new diet or join a different exercise program thinking that’s the solution.

They think they haven’t been able to lose the weight because the Paleo diet just wasn’t working for them. They love bread and dairy too much. They think, “Maybe a low-carb diet might work better” so they try that for a while, until they give that up too. They read about another fad diet or exercise program and get excited, temporarily, and eventually the interest fizzles out like all the other ideas.

Keep it Simple – Less is More

The issue is that you cannot just pile more solutions on top of solutions and just hope something will stick! It’s not sustainable and it’s not effective.

Instead, you need to figure out the underlying reason(s) keeping you from your target state.

First, start by listing all the contributors to why you might not be losing weight. This is a brainstorming exercise so think freely. The only rule is you can’t come up with a solution disguised as a root cause (I.g. I don’t have a treadmill at home).


  • I love to eat too much.
  • I hate exercising.
  • I don’t have time to exercise.
  • I am too tired in the mornings to exercise.
  • I’m too hungry by the time I get home from work and end up eating junk food.
  • I don’t have time to pack a lunch so I end up eating fast food.
  • I don’t know how to cook healthy and easy meals.
  • I don’t have time to cook.
  • I lose interest easily.

Now, pick your top 3 reasons that contribute 80% to the problem of not losing weight. Begin drilling down on each contributor, asking why after each answer until you get to the root cause. The thinking is that it often requires someone to ask why multiple times, in this case 5 times, before the real cause of the issue surfaces.

Let’s Try It

The 5 WHYs is a common problem solving technique used in many industries to drill down the lowest level in a cause and effect chain that is actionable. In reality, it might take even 7 whys before you get to the root cause, but the general rule is to ask why at least 5 times to peel the onion back several layers. Little kids are really good at this.

Ask WHY 5 Times


Top Contributors

Root Cause
I don’t have time to exercise. 1.       Why don’t you have time to exercise? –> I have too many other responsibilities of priority.


2.       Why do you have too many other responsibilities of priority?–> I don’t get any help at home with cooking, cleaning, taking my daughter to school, etc.

3.       Why don’t you get any help at home with cooking, cleaning, etc.? –> My husband is tired at the end of the day too so I don’t want to bother him.

4.       Why do you think it would bother him?–> He doesn’t like it when anything is sprung on him last minute.

5.       Why doesn’t he like things sprung on him last minute?–> It stresses him out when he can’t anticipate and plan for it.

I’m too tired in the mornings to work out. 1.       Why are you too tired in the mornings to work out? –> Because I go to bed at 11pm and then can’t wake up too early.


2.       Why do you go to bed so late? –> Because I end up reading stuff on the internet before bed.

3.       Why do you read stuff on the internet before bed –> It’s the only time I have for myself.

4.       Why is it the only time for yourself? –> I have to take care of everyone else all day long and I end up over-indulging in my “alone time.”

5.       Why do you tend to over-indulge in your “alone time”? –> In an attempt to relax, I end up losing track of time.

I lose interest easily. 1.       Why do you lose interest easily? –> When I start a new diet or a new exercise program and don’t see results, I end up quitting.


2.       Why do you think you’re not seeing results? –> My goal is to lose 30 lbs. and that seems overwhelming at times.

3.       Why is your goal so lofty? à Because that’s how much I weighed when I go married 10 years ago and felt the best.

4.       Why did you feel the best at that weight? –> Because I looked good and was more confident and I had more energy to do more things, so I was getting more done.

5.       Why do you have to lose exactly 30 lbs. for you to feel great again? –> I don’t. I’d take even a 5 lbs. loss. I just figure the more things I try out, the higher the chance of me reaching my goal.

Aha! See what happened? The root of the issues here were a little different than what may have known if we didn’t dig deeper.

5.  Now that you know your 3 root causes, you can come up with a Plan of Action to remove them.

Root Cause Solution Expected Impact
It stresses out my husband when I ask for help without advance notice. On Sundays, schedule 2 days in the week when I can go to the gym after work and he can cook. No stress because it’s planned, gym time is guaranteed.
I end up losing track of time in the evenings. Set a timer for 1 hour. When timer goes off, it’s lights out. Will go to bed at same time each day, and be able to wake up early to exercise.
I try out too many new things at once. I will test out my 2 days of gym/week after work and 2 days of morning walks at home for 30 days. Once this routine is hardwired, I’ll add something new. Increase the likelihood of getting any exercise built into an ongoing routine.

      6.   Now, Make it Happen!

Check in with yourself at the end of each week the first 30 days. Readjust For example, maybe you realize that Tuesdays and Thursdays are actually a bad time to go to the gym after work because those are the busiest days, and you end up having to wait for the machines. So, try out Mondays and Wednesdays.

    1. If something isn’t working, change it. You don’t have to keep spinning your wheels trying the same thing if it’s not working.
    2. How’s it going? Are you sticking to your plan? If so, great! If not, why not? Ask why a few times to really understand what’s blocking you. Then, (this is key) make a small change and readjust.
    3. Make your 3 small goals easy to track by making them visual. You can put up post-its in your bathroom or fridge, or on a calendar as reminders.

     7.   Reflection and Next Steps

  • At the end of 30 days, re-evaluate your progress.
  • What worked really well?
  • What didn’t work so well? Why?
  • What did you learn?
  • What noticeable changes have you seen?
  • How far are you from achieving your next goal?
  • What are you going to keep doing or change for the next 30 days?


Day 30 – Weighed in at 136; lost 4 lbs. Learned that gym is super crowded on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Changed schedule to Mondays and Wednesdays.

Because it’s now scheduled on my calendar and agreed upon with my husband, I’m actually able to make it happen without any stress.

Since I didn’t have an additional diet goal, I could focus just on getting my workout schedule in place.

Now that I have maintained a weekly workout schedule, I’m going to modify my diet by cutting out snacks after dinner for the next 30 days.

Since using a timer, I’ve been going to bed on time and at the same time each night, which has improved my energy levels. I don’t use the snooze button any longer.

I have had less knee pain in the past 2 weeks and my dresses fit me looser.


Call to Action:

What problem or obstacle are you facing right now? Use this 7-step method to work through it. Let me know how it goes and if you have any questions or feedback!

Cheers to your success,



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