Our brains are designed to help us fail.
Kind of. In a way.
Brains are pre-wired with a fight or flight response that is easily triggered in the face of any perceived danger.
I once got charged by a bear, and my flight response kicked in. Everything I knew about safety in the wild was temporarily frozen in the bowels of my limbic system the moment I accidentally interfered with a mother bear and her cubs.
This is an extreme example, and hopefully one you’re never faced with, but in everyday life situations your brain does its job to keep you safe.
But your brain is often too good at detecting potential danger, and protects you from anything and everything outside your normal comfort zone. And these fight or flight responses are what stop you from going after things you want, but are subconsciously afraid of.
Your brain doesn’t mean any ill-will, it genuinely just wants you to stay safe.
So when you decide to step outside your comfort zone and focus on self-improvement, start a new business or train for your first marathon, your brain goes into panic mode and creates drama that doesn’t exist.
You might blow the money for a week-long self-improvement course at the casino, claim the timing is never right to leave your current job or accidentally step off the curb and sprain your ankle…
These are unconscious self-sabotaging behaviors.
What Exactly is Self-Sabotage?
According to Adam Sicinki, self-sabotage is any behavior, thought, emotion or action that holds you back from getting what you consciously want. It’s the conflict that exists between conscious desires and unconscious wants that manifest in self-limiting patterns of behavior.
And it not only prevents you from reaching your goals but also acts as a safety mechanism that protects you against disappointment.
In fact, your brain is so good at its job, you’ll need to diligently rewire it to stop protecting you when you don’t need it.
Take climbing, for example. I have been scaling mountains for most of my life and sleeping in a bivy sack dangling from the edge of a cliff doesn’t send off alarm bells in my brain like it might yours. But ask me to solve a complex math problem and my brain says, “Run! There’s no way you can solve this, save yourself the embarrassment of even trying”.
I’ve been training my brain for years to be comfortable with many of the crazy situations I put myself in while climbing (crazy for you, normal for me).
And to be completely honest, it hasn’t always led to the best outcome. But most importantly, it’s allowed me to experience the success I have now.
Why Would I Sabotage My Own Happiness?
Well, that’s just it. You don’t intentionally create a situation that keeps you from being happy.
But the truth is:
If you have limiting beliefs about yourself…
…like you don’t deserve financial wealth, or a spouse that admires you, or a life full of passion and purpose…
Then you will always have excuses for these desires to go unfulfilled.
And to go even deeper, you may not even realize that you believe these things about yourself. It’s why self-sabotaging behaviors are unconscious and only serve to block you from getting what you really want.
I recently had a client sign up for executive coaching with me. We were booked, he was committed, and at the twenty-fifth hour, he pulled the trigger.
Money wasn’t an issue for him. He said he was ready and wanted the support and guidance to make positive changes in his life. But at the last minute, something convinced him not to follow through. His flight response kicked in.
But whatever the “excuse” it’s ultimately never the real reason for the sabotaging behavior.
…Work is too busy I don’t have time to invest in myself
…My spouse left me because I was never around
…I’m not a natural athlete, I’ll never be able to run a marathon…
All sound like legitimate reasons, but they all have deeper meaning.
Work is too busy most likely means: I get my self-worth from working hard and I don’t deserve to pursue my own happiness.
I was never around so my spouse left sounds more like: I don’t deserve to be in a loving relationship.
And a lack of genetics is linked to a fear of failure: What if I come in last? Or bonk? Or don’t make my time goal? I’ll look silly, and I don’t want to fail.
But they are all conscious justifications — resembling excuses — to procrastinate, avoid emotional pain or not be the best.
The good news is, you can take conscious control of the behaviors that prevent you from going after what you really want.
How To Take Control Of Self-Sabotaging Behavior
Through identifying your self-sabotaging behavior, and developing some self-awareness around it so you can recognize it for what it is, you can identify healthy replacement behavior and practice new behavior until a habit is formed.
So how can you do this?
1. Don’t be afraid of negative feelings.
Not everything in life feels good. And nothing in life is certain. If you attempt to control everything in an effort to avoid negative or bad feelings, you will invariably experience those feelings anyway, or worse.
If you constantly pick fights with your partner to get them to leave because subconsciously you don’t believe you deserve to be in a loving relationship, or you aren’t worthy of love, then when they finally do leave, you can prove you were right.
Or worse, they may have left you anyway, even without creating unnecessary animosity…but you weren’t going to wait around and let that happen.
Either way, you’re left with worse emotional pain than if you were in a relationship that had the normal ebbs and flows of any healthy relationship.
Sure, you’d experience negative feelings from time to time, but the positive ones would undoubtedly outshine the lousy ones.
Negative feelings are a normal part of life. Setbacks are inevitable. But learning to embrace them with dignity and a little humor will lead to a more fulfilled life.
2. Determine how you get your self-worth
Self-worth is derived differently for everyone, and it’s important to know yourself well enough to know where you get yours.
You might do everything right at work which is why you’re now running the company. Or you’re a star athlete and never lose a squash game. Or maybe like how I used to prove myself by bagging every major mountain peak possible, it comes from outshining those around you.
But no matter what you achieve in life, you still feel undeserving of success or happiness.
Some of the biggest achievers in life are also the most unhappy because they have a never-ending sense of inadequacy.
When your self-worth comes from within — from just being who you are — you’ll stop feeling like you have everything to lose, embrace the highs and lows of life and learn to experience adventure in everything.
3. Learn to identify the right decisions that will propel you forward
Every minute of every day you make decisions about your life. Some are good…eat healthy, go to the gym, keep the kids alive, give one hundred percent at work…
And some are not so good…skip the gym, eat fast-food, hit snooze ten time, stay in a toxic relationship.
But learning to identify the right decisions that will get you where you want to be in life is critical to ending self-sabotaging behavior. If you consistently make choices that take you farther away from your goals, discernment skills will help you make more effective decisions…
And know if something is going to add to your life by:
>aligning with your values
>creating new, healthy opportunities
>enhancing your skills, and
>providing positive experiences…
…you will recognize them for what they are.
If a decision is attractive in the moment, but is ultimately not aligned with what you truly care about, then success and happiness will continue to elude you.
4. Recognize your efforts
If you attribute everyone else’s success to good fortune, luck or genetics, you offer yourself the excuse to not even try. If your effort is directly tied to your success, why even bother in the first place?
This kind of thinking puts you at risk for self-sabotage…you won’t try just in case your effort alone isn’t enough.
Trying something outside your comfort zone puts you in a vulnerable position. If you fail, it’s humiliating. And God forbid you actually succeed, then suddenly there are unwanted expectations from everyone around you.
Everest wasn’t conquered on the first try. And you’ll never know what you’re capable of if you’re not willing to take a risk.
And unless you’re attempting to compete in the Olympics, genetics has nothing to do with your effort to success ratio.
5. View failure as an opportunity for growth
I didn’t get to where I am in life by doing everything right. I’ve made plenty of bad decisions and mistakes. I’ve tied my self-worth to my achievements, avoided negative feelings and made choices that didn’t align with my values.
And I’ve most certainly experienced failure.
But out of all my experiences, I’ve faced my fears head-on. And through all of it, I remained open to life…seeing where certain experiences would take me and learning to make choices that align with my authentic self.
Failure doesn’t mean you’re terrible at something or unworthy of happiness and success. It’s an opportunity to learn and grow...okay, that didn’t work. Now what?
Stay open to exploring new ways of being and thinking…your future self depends on it.
If you suffer from self-sabotaging patterns, I encourage you to do something about it. Because if you continue to block your own happiness, you’ll live a life full of regrets and unfulfilled expectations.
And if you’ve achieved everything on the outside…but you still feel empty and unfulfilled on the inside, send me an email and start a dialogue.
Don’t wait another month…six months…year…decade…to finally get what you want out of life.
Have you overcome limiting beliefs and self-sabotaging behavior? Please share in the comments below so others can learn from your experiences.
Yours in freedom,