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We all know the age-old story. Work hard, keep your head down, do the right thing, and success is all but guaranteed. We’ve probably been on that awesome train ride ourselves at one point in time. We’re getting great results on a project at work so we come home happy and satisfied. We bring that energy home with us and project it onto our family which in turn has them happy and excited for us.
Our relationships are full of joy and passion and it seems like our good fortune will never end. Then most, if not all of us, get that one little thought in our head, “things are going too well” or “something bad is bound to happen.” That’s the planting of the seed that blooms into self-sabotage. But what is self-sabotage? How does it affect us? And what can we do to overcome self-sabotaging behaviors?
What is self-sabotage?
As you can probably work out from the phrase itself, self-sabotage is defined as ‘the sabotaging of one’s self.’ What this means is that we allow our behaviors to actively or passively derail our long-standing goals which in turn can affect our daily lives. Those behaviors most often include procrastination, comfort eating, and more recently, binge-watching television. They also often include much more destructive behaviors such as self-medicating with drugs and alcohol or forms of self-harm.
Now obviously some of these are extreme cases and not to be expected in most circumstances. I myself personally, struggle with procrastination. I’ll be in a state of flow for a long period of time and then something will distract me long enough that I lose my train of thought and I’ll put off getting back to my project by telling myself “I’ll do it tomorrow” or “Once I’m back in the zone I’ll knock it out.” I’ll then unconsciously look for every reason not to finish whatever I was working on. It’s a challenge I’ve had since grade school.
But what is the psychology behind it? Why do we fall into these behaviors and patterns that keep us from achieving our goals and living our best lives? And most important, how do we recognize and avoid these unhelpful behaviors?
“We need to ascend beyond our own petty Resistance, our own negative self-judgment and self-sabotage, our own “I’m not worthy” mind-set.” – Steven Pressfield
Why do we do it?
One of the key reasons behind self-sabotage is a lack of self-esteem. While this may stem from a variety of different causes, the end result is still the same: feelings of self-doubt, worthlessness, beliefs around not deserving, and fears of jealousy or inadequacy.
When these emotions and beliefs begin taking root, we tend to increase our negative self-talk, which only fuels those emotions and beliefs and entrenches them even deeper into our subconscious. And because of the way our subconscious mind works, when we embed these “commands” into our minds, we begin to unconsciously find faster and easier ways to manifest them.
What does self-sabotage look like in our everyday lives?
While some of the examples above are often blatantly obvious, self-sabotage manifests itself in subtle and often disruptive patterns of behavior that we don’t automatically recognize or see. Behaviors such as making impulsive negative decisions, the inability to make decisions one way or another and unjustly criticizing yourself are all signs of self-sabotage. On the flip side, self-sabotage can also take the form of perfectionism.
Have you ever not done something or put something off because you thought it was less than perfect or just needed a little more “this or that?” Have you ever put something off because “you’re just too tired or you had a long day?” What about that time you shed 50 lbs and then on a whim decided to treat yourself to a late-night drive to Taco Bell that ended up lasting about 3 days?
All of the above are behaviors and patterns of self-sabotage that most of us do every single day. The worst part is that once we fall into these behaviors, they tend to become patterns that snowball into devastating habits.
“You leave old habits behind by starting out with the thought, ‘I release the need for this in my life’.” – Dr. Wayne Dyer
How do we recognize these behaviors and prevent them from becoming habits?
Step one is to take a deep introspective look at one’s self. In order to prevent these behaviors, we have to know the source of our actions and then actively challenge and confront them. This takes some time and self-reflection and will often lead to us reverting to a defensive mode in order to justify our self-sabotaging traits. However, it is necessary to understand why we behave this way and where those beliefs are rooted.
One way we can begin preventing our self-sabotage is by becoming self-aware. We can revisit some of our past experiences where we have succeeded and thrived and ask ourselves questions such as “What challenges did I have to overcome?” and “What steps were involved in that process?” In recognizing and acknowledging these past experiences, we can then retool those same processes to overcome certain limiting beliefs that are leading to our self-sabotage.
Another method we can use is by changing the self-talk we allow into our language. In Neuro Linguistic Programming, we learn that our unconscious mind – like electricity – follows the path of least resistance to get to its desired outcome. By using words like “can’t” and “try” or phrases like “it’s too hard”, we are subliminally programming ourselves to seek out the fastest and easiest ways in which to not succeed.
If we can eliminate words such as “not” and “hope/wish” from our vocabulary, we can focus on programming our minds to find the fastest and easiest ways to get exactly where we want to go. As an example, we can change the statement “I don’t know what to do” to “I don’t know what to do yet, but I’ll figure it out.” Our unconscious mind is a funny thing. By expanding that statement with the word ‘yet’ and then adding ‘but’ followed by an empowering statement, we are in essence deleting the former statement from being stored in our unconscious and embedding the latter empowering statement to take root instead.
And finally, another tool we can use to beat self-sabotage is to begin leaning into discomfort. Most of our self-sabotage reveals itself in the form of staying in our comfort zones. We don’t want to let go of that security blanket. It keeps us safe and cozy from achieving our full potential.
When we can lean into our discomfort, we can begin identifying the challenges that come along with it. Only by identifying those challenges can we begin to start making a plan to overcome that fear or that trigger. Even if we can’t see all the steps in the process, just by taking the first step we build our confidence and self-esteem and can begin compounding that into a snowball of growth and progression.
Do you have any tips or suggestions for our readers on how to elevate your confidence in order to succeed in life? Share your thoughts below!
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