Self-sabotage is one of the juiciest topics out there, because we all do it. Whether you are constantly procrastinating your work, avoiding difficult conversations, not putting yourself forward for that job or soothing your problems with emotional eating, self-sabotage is at play.
From the get go, I don’t judge you for any of these actions – I too still do them from time to time, but the more I work on understanding my self-sabotaging behaviours and develop new coping mechanisms, the more I’m able to get in the driver’s seat during these hard moments.
We self-sabotage for so many reasons. We fear failure. We fear success. We are people pleasers. We like to avoid conflict. We want to feel in control. We’re afraid of the unknown.
And here’s the thing, those are good reasons.
Often when I talk to my clients about self-sabotage they are very much in the personal-blame-game. They’ll say they have no willpower. Well… cough… willpower isn’t actually a thing. They’ll say that they’re just born this way and have a lifetime of training. That may well be true, but the science of neuroplasticity proves that our brains CAN and DO evolve with training. They’ll also say that it feels easier to self-sabotage than to do the hard thing. That I get. And frankly, it is easier. But easy isn’t fulfilling.
I do not want you to get to the end of your life and say you didn’t try for the things you wanted and dreamed for. It’s the number one regret that people have, not following their dreams. So let’s nip it in the bud now.
I want you to think about whatever that goal is that you keep sabotaging yourself around. Is it that job that you haven’t applied for? That book you can’t seem to get your butt in the chair to write? The emotional eating you’re struggling to let go of? The workout you’re not doing even though you know you’ll feel emotionally better afterwards? Whatever it is, you likely know all the GOOD things that would come if you did them. That’s why they’re goals, right?
Well, I want to turn that on its head. What are the good reasons for NOT getting what you want?
This can be a tricky one for many people. Why would it be good to NOT get what I want? Well, news flash, there is 100% a good reason for not getting what you want, otherwise you wouldn’t be staying stuck.
Like I said before, there are some common GOOD reasons we self sabotage.
We fear failure. Who wants to admit to themselves, their friends, family or colleagues that they didn’t reach that goal? Very few of us. Failure feels very personal and a judgement on ourselves. But what if instead we though of it as getting one step closer to our goal?
We fear success. This confuses many people, but genuinely a lot of us are worried about who we would be if things changed. Would our closest loved ones judge us? And if we were super successful would we have less time than ever? Would we have to give up things we love in order to be successful? I guarantee if you follow your values, there is very little to fear about success.
We want control. As a type-A person I hear this. How many times have I tried to control the outcomes with my kids, my partner, my work, my life… a zillion. But control means we have to know the outcome, and the things worth having very rarely can be predicted and planned down to a T.
We don’t feel deserving. Hello! If you’ve said “I’m not good enough, smart enough, thin enough” or anything “enough” then you’re in this boat. Women in particular tend to self-sabotage because we have a lifetime of systemic learning that shows us that men get ahead, pretty women get ahead, etc. The bar seems like it’s set higher for us than anyone else. Well, you’re the only one that can change that. And if you don’t even try, you don’t get the chance to find out if you could prove them wrong.
We take comfort in what we know. I have traveled the world, and let me tell you in my backpacker days the number of North American travelers who would see the top 10 things to see, but not venture into the unknown or trying local cuisines or testing out the language. Eiffel Tower, I’ve seen it on Insta – check. Foie gras? No way! The thing is this shows up in so many ways. We don’t try a new strategy at work, we don’t try a new way to speak to our partner, we don’t try a new way to communicate with tantruming kids, because the unknown can be scary.
These are all GOOD reasons for not getting what we want. We need to get to the place where you can let go of that good reason and find an even more compelling one.
First and foremost, I want you to identify a goal that you’re working on where you self-sabotage a lot. Next ask yourself which one or combination of these good reasons you fall into.
Okay, now you’ve named it out loud, which is a big step. We can’t tame anything if we don’t know the beast we’re fighting. My next question for you would be what tends to trigger self-sabotage for you? Is it a feeling? Being in certain situations, like confrontations? Is it a certain person? Certain memories? Again we need to know what that trigger is so that next time it comes up, because it will come up, you can proactively recognize it before it owns you.
Go back to that goal you’re working towards. What are all the reasons you want it? What would having achieved that goal do for you? How would it improve you and your life? What are all the positive and cool ripples that could come from the journey?
Okay, so you know in detail where you want to go and why. You know, in detail, the good reason you’re not getting there. What would happen… if you thanked that good reason. Write it out on piece of paper if that feels right for you.
Thank you, self-sabotage, for keeping me safe. For letting me feel in control. Thank you. You served a purpose, but that purpose isn’t serving me anymore, so I’m going to lovingly let you go. Because there is more for me out there. I’m releasing you, and I’m moving headfirst into the direction of that goal.
Why this process is important is because you’ve made the self-sabotage not about YOU, but about behaviour that you had that did serve you at a time. It’s no longer a personal judgement, and more a tool that you picked up when you needed it, and now you’re proclaiming you no longer do.
So go back to that trigger. It’s not going anywhere, so knowing what you crave, be it acceptance, success, comfort, avoiding failure, how can you proactively manage that fear next time? If you could mentally rehearse that moment right now, with no distractions, what would you do?
When we mentally rehearse challenging moments, it makes us so much more likely we’ll act the way we wish we would in the moment. I can’t tell you what it is you’ll do differently, because it’s so personal, right? Depends on your trigger and your goal.
I’ll share a personal one for me. I’ve always had a challenging relationship to food. It’s been the tool of comfort in my life. Hard moments – I eat. Sad moments, I eat. Celebratory moments, I eat. It’s a lifetime of learned behaviour, but it’s not getting me to where I want to go. And this isn’t about weight, or body image, or anything like that.
Let’s talk current COVID situation. I would have hard days with the change in our family and once the kids were in bed I’d soothe my day with chips, or chocolate, or gin. But that led to me not sleeping well. When we eat late at night, your body and your brain is processing all the food late into the night, and holy moly was I having disturbed sleep. So truly, it’s not about weight. I like my sleep. I need my rest.
So the trigger truly was the time of day and feeling like I deserved it. Here’s the thing, I do deserve a break and some escape, but there are other ways to get that. My new tactic was to sit with any discomfort FULLY for two minutes. If after that I found I was still hungry, that I still wanted the food or the gin, I allowed it. But more often than not, I was not hungry (I’d just eaten dinner) and by settling in and acknowledging what I was feeling, that could be enough.
Now my evenings are still usually watching movies with my husband or podcasting or doing our freaking puzzle of the world (the ocean is killing me), but it’s less often about food to be the balm for hard moments.
Your self-sabotage may look all kinds of different, but that’s just one of mine.
This is a heavy topic and I really encourage you to dive deep into it.
If you want to really learn more about not just self-sabotage, but also how to build resilience during hard times, my next cohort of Don’t Just Survive -Thrive: Building Resilience During COVID-19 launches on June 23. It’s a 6 week program where we systematically build the foundations to help you bounce back faster and stronger from hard times. Sure, it’s relevant during COVID, but these are skills and tools that will last a lifetime.
The previous two cohorts have been amazing. I am a bit of a data geek and I always ask for feedback from participants. 100% of them said they learned valuable skills, 100% said they were able to immediately apply them to their lives and 100% said they would recommend the program. They’ve said they’ve been able to finally build strong habits, to work through their challenges in the most productive way, and to feel so supported by their community.
Honestly, I’m so proud of this program. If you want to know more and to snag a spot, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org There are only FOUR spots for cohort 3 as I’m finding four is the sweet spot to give you enough time each session. This cohort also includes two 30 minute 1-1 calls with me so that I can get a good grounding in your needs before and after.
This program is FIRE and I hope you’ll join me. For more info, email me.