When your mindset, behaviors, and beliefs get in the way of your best efforts to move forward in life — to succeed in your job, to take risks in love, to do the things you long to do — it’s a form of self-sabotage. Learn how to bring your self-defeating habits to a halt by recognizing them and freeing yourself with self-affirming Innercises.
Have you ever indulged in ice cream when you told yourself you’d stop? Or maxed out your credit card when you’d promised to pull yourself out of debt? How about making a New Year’s resolution only to break it come to Groundhog Day?
If you answered “Yes” to any of those questions, you’re not alone. Fiction and real life alike are ripe with characters who break their own dreams. Obstruct their chances at love. Gamble away their fortunes.
Take Walter White in Breaking Bad. A high school chemistry teacher who learns he has terminal cancer, Walter promises himself he’ll protect his family from falling into debt after his death. He mixes methamphetamine in his spare time, sells it for profit, and digs himself deeper into his own well of disaster. Ironically, he ends up turning away the people he most loves and putting everyone, including himself, in grave danger.
In Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, the King of Thebes kills his father and marries his mother. (Talk about self-sabotage!) To overcome the guilt and grief that comes from the blindness to his own behavior, Oedipus pokes his eyes out with the golden pins of his dead wife’s dress. (Yikes!)
You may not share Walter White’s penchant for disaster. And your choices may not be nearly as gruesome as Oedipus’.
But we’ve all had our fair share of self-defeating habits and delusional tendencies. On some level, we’re all fumbling in the dark. Blind to our own urges. Ignorant of the immense power our fears and fantasies may be having over our relationships and careers.
Despite any oath you’ve betrayed, bridge you’ve burned, or train you’ve wrecked, however, you can learn to stop self-sabotage.
How to Stop the Most Common Form of Self-Sabotage: Procrastination
There are dozens of ways you can self-sabotage. We’ve all wasted precious opportunities to self-doubt and delay. Who hasn’t shied away from asking for what they most need from others only to sabotage their chances of success? But the most common form of self-sabotage is by far our tendency to procrastinate. Few of us are strangers to putting things off.
When you procrastinate, you avoid doing the things you need to do. You knowingly undermine your best intentions and purposefully cripple your chances of achieving a favorable outcome.
There are three reasons.
First, for some people, procrastination is a form of arousal. When you have less time to do what you need to do, pressure builds up in your central and peripheral nervous system. It arouses your sympathetic nervous system.
When that “fight and flight” system is triggered, the brain produces epinephrine, (also known as adrenaline). A neurochemical that acts as both a neurotransmitter and a hormone, epinephrine plays a role in metabolism, attention, focus, panic, and excitement. It prepares your body to face (or flee from) its fears. Your pupils dilate to better take in the light. Your blood moves away from your skin, and your airways open up to deliver more oxygen to your muscles. Your heart pumps faster, and your blood pressure increases. All that stirs up your energy and stress levels, invigorating you to carry out the tasks you need to perform.
Another reason people procrastinate is because they fear what might happen if they carry through with their intentions and goals. They’re scared of the embarrassment, ridicule, judgment, disappointment, or rejection that may lie at the other side of putting themselves out there. One person might hesitate to ask for a promotion because she fears she’ll be turned down. Another might delay finishing a project around the house because he worries it won’t live up to his wife’s expectations. Wherever the anxiety comes from, procrastination becomes the method for the person to deal with it.
- Self-limiting Beliefs
The third reason people procrastinate is because their limiting beliefs are holding them back from going after what they want. They may have a fragile self-image or a low sense of self-worth. They worry how they’ll look in front of others when they finally step up. Their desire to protect their self-image magnifies. Their inclination to follow through with the right intentions diminishes. Some people wonder if they deserve success. They sabotage any chances they may have of achieving it.
Behind each of these three forms of procrastination lies something I call “secondary gain.” When you wait until the eleventh hour to study for a test, arousal might be your secondary gain. When you’re unable to carry through with your intentions because of your fears or your fragile ego, you may win the second-place prize of self-protection.
Whatever lies at the heart of your procrastination, learn to get ahead of it. Accept that feelings of self-doubt will come up. Welcome your fear as a friend you can work with. Notice whatever you feel without judgment.
Let go of the shame and the blame for whatever has caused you to feel the way you do. Then turn your thoughts toward what you want to happen. If you weren’t afraid, if you felt worthy, what might happen? What’s your ideal outcome? Go for the primary gain.
Focus on how great it will feel when you stop falling behind and start aligning your actions with your vision.
To train your brain to overcome self-sabotage, here’s a brand new Innercise to get ahead of it.
The ICR Process
The ICR Process is simple. It stands for Interrupt, Create, Reinforce.
Whenever you sense yourself falling under the influence of self-sabotage, the first step is to interrupt the thought pattern. The emotional pattern. The disempowering behavioral pattern. Whatever pattern is getting in the way of your best self, just interrupt it.
I once knew a lady who would dance like a monkey whenever she wanted to overturn a negative thought pattern. Buddhists sometimes call the runaway patterns of the mind the “monkey mind.” When you deliberately do something silly, like imitating a monkey, you interrupt the trains of thoughts that are mindlessly steering you away from your highest vision.
Remember that you have the power to choose what dance your inner monkey performs. While it may not always be practical to imitate a monkey whenever you have self-defeating thoughts, a quiet internal visualization does wonders to interrupt a negative pattern. Imagine your thoughts like a train running down the wrong tracks. Put yourself in the conductor’s seat. Pull the brake. Or come up with your own fun way to suspend your harmful ruminations.
If, for example, your goal is to create an online course to share your knowledge and insight with a wider audience, you may find yourself worrying that you’re not smart or skilled enough to pull it off. You may procrastinate doing the work you need to because your monkey mind is telling you that you can’t or that you shouldn’t.
Bring awareness to those thoughts and behaviors. Acknowledge that ruminating about failure or being disappointed is not serving you. Interrupt the mindless inner movement and consciously choreograph a new pattern of steps to take you where you want to go.
Once you’ve interrupted the negative thought pattern, once you’ve pulled the brake on your runaway thought train, get back in the driver’s seat. It’s time to design a new route. Engineer a new pattern for your mind.
What dance do you want your brain to perform? You’re the ringleader of your inner circus now. Decide which feelings, sensations, and behaviors you need to lift you up and onwards.
Keep it simple.
If your goal is to create an online course, choose what feelings you need to encourage. What emotions will help you see the project to fruition? Optimism? Open-mindedness? Curiosity? You choose. Cultivate those feelings through whatever safe means possible. Meditation. Visualization. Singing. Movement. Whatever suits you. Whatever works.
Once you’ve decided which feelings you need to encourage, ask yourself which behaviors you need to enact. Keep it really simple and easy to do at first. You may need to create a clear work schedule, follow through with appointments, and ask for guidance and support. You may need to hire a contractor to help with the tech or the sales of your online course.
Don’t forget to create the daily habits you’ll need to keep yourself aligned and guarantee you make it to the end of the line.