Self-sabotage - 5 tips to break free from what's holding you back.
“Self-sabotage is when we say we want something and then go about making sure it doesn't happen.” (Alice P. Cornyn-Selby).
(First published February 2017)
Human beings, like all living things are meant to thrive, but we all engage in behaviours that aren’t so good for us; self-destructive actions that may not seem harmful but which can have detrimental long-term effects when patterns of behaviour mess with your ability to truly live your life.
Now if you’ve ever wondered “why am I doing this to myself?”, the answer is simple. It’s part of being human. We are all masters of standing in our own way sometimes. We all do it, and often don’t even realise we are.
Self-defeating mindsets, self-pity and self-neglect are only some of the ways we sabotage our happiness and purpose. But with positive action and being clear about what you want, you can turn it around.
Come on my friend, let's see what's possible!
What is self sabotage?
Sabotage means to destroy or tamper with something on purpose. Like setting a trap with the intent to slow someone’s progress or stop something altogether. Self sabotage is when you stop or tamper with your own progress on purpose. Sounds pretty horrible, right? But yet we do it all the time.
How? Alright. Take a moment to close your eyes. Now, think of the one thing that’s gnawing away at you the most in this moment. Something you’ve been struggling with, but feels like you never really make progress. That healthy habit or creative calling, that you want to shift so badly but it just doesn’t seem to work. It could be weight loss for example, an exercise regime or meditation practise.
Now, ask yourself why it hasn’t worked. All of these reasons will come to mind - ‘I just can’t do it’, ‘it’s too hard, I just don’t have the willpower’, or ‘I’m too busy to prepare my meals in the morning’. Or 'it's never worked before, so it won't work this time!"
At first you think they’re all true. But guess what? They’re not. None of them. That’s your self-sabotage.
Why do we self sabotage?
Here’s the harsh truth - we sabotage ourselves because we’re used to it.
When we have a thought about something - an event, a place, a healthy habit - our brain travels along the easiest route it can inside your brain. Whatever path your brain is used to, from all of the past times you’ve thought that thought, it will choose and start speeding down that road again because it’s quicker. The road is paved, there are lines on the road, and so on. It’s safe. You’ve been there before.
If you’re finding it difficult to eat healthily and exercise, every time you think about it, your brain travels the same pathway it’s been programmed to take, gets flooded with self-sabotage thoughts like ‘my goal is so far away, what’s the point?’ and you feel horrible.
It’s a vicious cycle, and if I could put my finger on the ONE REASON so many people fail to change their habits, it’s this.
But, there’s some very good news. Some amazing news. You’re going to love this. The best thing about this is you did it to yourself. Which means:
You can change it.
How to Reprogram Your Thoughts
The key to establishing healthy, nourishing habits, and regaining control over your mind (and life) is changing your relationship to your thoughts.
Once you set about re-programming the thoughts produced when you draw on the idea of picking up that paintbrush, choosing the salad or getting out for a morning walk, a curious thing happens: your brain changes. When you start consciously making different choices or thinking different, positive thoughts, your brain slowly gets used to the new pathway, and voila - after a while the sabotage stops.
So without further adieu, here are my top 5 tips you can start applying daily to start tilting that sabotage-o-meter in the other direction.
1. Let go of the past
A lot of our self-sabotaging thoughts are simply ruminations that we created long ago into the past. It might have started from a hurtful remark from a loved one, or an irrational thought process you started yourself. Either way, it doesn’t matter. Let the past go. It doesn’t exist. Focus on the moment in front of you right now.
Continuing to dwell on the past only compounds the thoughts. You can’t change the events of the past, but you can let go of their importance, and separate your true self from some nonsense thought process started years ago. You are not your thoughts, because thoughts can be changed. Let go of the past.
2. Acknowledge your thoughts
Relax yourself in your chair, for a moment. Clear your head and go inside. What’s the one thought at the core of your sabotage? What negative thought are you believing that’s holding you back? Listen to your mind chatter, and when you’ve found a sentence that keeps repeating, hold it in your mind.
Look at the sentence. It’s just a sentence! Allow it to sit there for a moment. Acknowledge it’s there, and accept it. We all have thoughts like this about everything. It’s completely normal. If we didn’t have doubting thoughts in our heads, humans would have become extinct after burning ourselves too much on hot electric stovetops that don’t look hot. If you didn’t doubt yourself you wouldn’t still be here!
3. Accept your thoughts (don’t fight them!)
We have a tendency to get angry at ourselves for having sabotaging thoughts. Unfortunately, doing this only compounds the problem and can put you in a sabotaging negative spiral.
You can go all Xena Warrior on yourself and end up lost in thought, trying to win internal arguments with your own ego. But you won’t win. You can’t - because the ego is designed to argue. So instead, let the thoughts exist, and pass through you. Let them be annoying, but don’t let them phase you. Keep moving.
You can let your thoughts come in, but you don’t have to serve them tea - old zen proverb
4. Start Today. Not tomorrow!
How many times have you set a goal for yourself, even just a small one for the rest of the day, and either said to yourself ‘yep, I’ll do that tomorrow’? Or started it and failed early, then wrote the rest of the day off? ‘Might as well start tomorrow’.
Here’s a quote I love:
If you’re sick of starting again, stop giving up.
While it’s a bit of a challenge at first to make different choices and turn around thoughts, momentum works two ways. Once you get going on the new path to health and vitality, inertia carries you through. So get started today. Not tomorrow!
5. Build Positive Habits
Lastly, it’s important to listen to yourself, audit your life and look at what works and what doesn’t.
To start with, get a piece of paper and write down the one burning desire you want to work towards at the top. Now draw a line down the middle, and put ‘positive’ on the right, and ‘negative’ on the left.
Finally, go through your habits that contribute to the goal in some way. If it’s to lose weight, go through your daily habits and list everything that takes you closer to the goal on the right. On the left, everything that doesn’t. Now, draw a horizontal line under your last dot point in the right column, and underneath write down a positive habit you could create for each negative one above.
Now take the first one in the bottom column. Start there!
We are all human and all prone to self-sabotage. What are some of the things that resonated with you after reading this post? Do share.