by Howard M. Cohen, Licensed Mental Health Counselor
What is self-sabotage? Psychology Today writes, “Behavior is said to be self-sabotaging when it creates problems and interferes with long-standing goals. The most common self-sabotaging behaviors are procrastination, self-medication with drugs or alcohol, comfort eating in the face of weight concerns, and self-injury such as cutting. These acts may seem helpful in the moment, but ultimately undermine us, especially when we engage in them repeatedly.” I also feel that other forms of self-sabotage can be choosing the wrong life partner, not taking care of your well-being by ignoring health concerns, or staying in a job that you dislike for much too long.
Being a self-professed, self-saboteur, I spent several years in a banking career that I was no longer passionate about and waited for the market to crash to do something about it! The good news is that you don’t have to continue the cycle of unhappiness and disappointment, but you do have to look a little more inward to stop the pattern.
Why do we unconsciously, or maybe even consciously, get in the way of our success? Do we not feel worthy of happiness? Were you told at some point, “No pain, no gain?” From now on, it’s only gain!
In this article, I discuss the idea that we don’t do things in our lives that we aren’t aware of, but maybe we just ignore them or don’t believe it is possible to achieve them.
Let’s talk about relationships for a moment, and also career choices. Let’s use the example of a flight attendant who may be experiencing a problem with having a successful, loving partnership. As you may know, a steward or stewardess may have incredible benefits bestowed upon them such as a decent wage, free travel, nice hotel stays, journeying to exciting and new destinations. All in all, they have a fairly stable income with an incredibly fun lifestyle. Or, do they really?
New mega-mergers, not-so-modern locations and accommodations and long and tedious layovers can wreak havoc on their daily routine. Never being in one place for long or a minimal time spent at home could also put a damper on meeting Mr. or Ms. Right. But, our happy, go lucky jet-setter may be wondering, “Why is it that I am so unlucky in love?” More than likely, they don’t realize that they have chosen a profession that does not foster such long term connections. Now, don’t get me wrong. I realize that there are many pilots and flight attendants with successful relationships; however, it must be a real challenge for them to keep their feet on the ground! Maybe we choose what we truly want. In the case of the world traveler, maybe their desire for a down-to-earth romance isn’t so strong and they are in the correct profession.
This article is for those people who wonder why they can never get what they want from their relationships, friendships, or career choices, and maybe blame others for their inability to not achieving their goals. If so far you are reading this and can relate to what I am writing about, then continue onward.
How can we stop our own internal interference? First of all, we have to be aware that we may be the culprit at hand. Written in a section of her recently published book, Imperfect Spirituality, Polly Campbell tells us how to end the self-sabotage and make good on our dreams. Here are three of the subtle ways we sabotage ourselves and limit our greatness and what we can do to overcome them.
1. You are just too busy to focus on your dreams.
“Really,” you say, “I am busy.” Sure you are. We all are. But what are you busy doing? How much of your busyness do you spend taking inspired actions toward your goals? I, for one, can feel very important and keep myself very busy by checking emails, writing blogs, and paying bills—but let’s be honest, that isn’t getting the next book written. In fact, it’s so easy to get busy with the busy work that we never actually move toward completion of anything that matters. Make your dreams a priority. Put in a little time each day on the things that excite and inspire you. You can always do the cat litter or respond to emails after you’ve done some dream building.
Solution: For two days this week, write down everything you do during the day. Make a note every time you check your email, make a call, do the dishes, write a report. Make a log of how you spend your time. After two days, take a close look at the log. Where did the time go? Are you spending some of it working toward your dreams? If not, revamp the schedule. Commit to returning all calls between 9 and 10 a.m. Check emails once in the a.m. and once in the afternoon. Wash clothes two mornings a week, or schedule volunteer hours in one long block as opposed to a bit every day. This will free up a few more minutes, and in that open pocket of time, you can work toward the one thing that matters most to you. Do it even if you feel uncomfortable or afraid. Do it when you’re busy, if it feels like an indulgence or luxury. Dedicate some time each day to fulfilling your dreams.
2. You feel stuck no matter how hard you work.
How many times do you sit at the computer facing a blank screen? The words just won’t come. Ever fixated over a problem without coming up with any new ideas? Tried to figure out a financial strategy or manage a parenting dilemma only to feel stymied and stuck? Often we work, struggle, push to finish one job or solve one problem, even when we are making no progress. This is a form of self-sabotage. You sit there, trying to bully through these moments by working harder, but it won't get you anywhere.
Solution: Stop pushing. Trust that it will work out. Contemplate (don’t obsess, just get clear about what you’re dealing with) your circumstance for a minute, then go do something else—something easier. Go for a run. Take a shower. Fold the clothes. Do something unrelated to the thing you are sweating over and let your subconscious take over. Your brain will continue to puzzle over the matter and will often come up with just the right answer, even while you're immersed in a seemingly unrelated task. Let the creative process work. Loosen up. Let go. Answers will emerge, along with some forward momentum.
3. You need to do more research.
Each day you are confronted with dozens of decisions: what to cook for dinner, when to workout, what to order at Starbucks, who to call, and what to buy, which task to take on next. Then you toss in the biggies like managing a business, raising a child, maintaining a relationship and the sheer number of decisions you face can feel overwhelming. You don’t know what to do, so you do research—lots of it. Your intellect tells you that this study will help you make the smartest choice, but it’s often a form of self-sabotage designed to keep you in your comfort zone, to keep you stuck where you are.
Solution: Too much research keeps you from taking inspired action and limits how much you’ll grow and how far you’ll go. Sure, some research and info is helpful, but set a limit. Need a new roof? Get bids from three roofers and go from there. You don’t need to pick from dozens. Once you find your three, stop the Web search. Want a new doctor? Get a referral, make an appointment and see what you think. Just. Do. Something.
To be eternally in the process of deciding is to be stuck. Often, if you slow down long enough to get quiet and listen to your instincts, you’ll know what to do just by how you feel. If you make a choice that feels constrictive, boring, negative—that’s probably not the best direction for you to head. If you choose something that makes you feel exhilarated (even if it’s scary), engaged, excited, energized—chances are you’re moving in the right direction.
“The key, as always, is to become aware so that you can recognize when you are settling into a pattern of self-sabotage. Then, if you catch yourself procrastinating, putting yourself down, feeling unworthy, you can take steps to stop it and fully step into your greatness,” states Campbell.
Here are some other steps you can take to stop limiting yourself and your potential:
• Beware of creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you feel you are going to fail at something, most likely you will. Give yourself a chance to experience a change of scenery or take a new direction. You might love it!
• Work on developing your self-esteem and confidence. Create a goals list and action plan. And, praise yourself for accomplishing new tasks, no matter how small.
• Take care of yourself. Eat nutritionally, get restful sleep, do moderate exercise, see your primary doctor annually and take the time to enjoy a simple moment in your day.
• Seek ways to reduce your stress level by exploring meditation techniques, allow time for romantic pursuits, and spend some time with family and friends who have a calming effect on you.
• Try to expand your knowledge a little every day. Read an interesting article (hint, hint!), research a topic you heard about on the news or ask a friend about their interesting career.
If you are really stuck, reach out for a professional to talk with about turning things around for you, and don’t settle for just “better” but for “greater” or much improved!
Yours in personal change and growth, Howard M. Cohen, Licensed Mental Health Counselor, 2312 Wilton Drive, Wilton Manors, 954-980-9628.