If you’ve ever quit a job right before an expected promotion or cheated on your partner even though things were going great, you have engaged in self-sabotaging behavior. You’re not alone. Many people harbor a feeling that they don’t deserve true happiness. When everything seems perfect, we become scared and actively initiate our own downfall.
A common misconception is that self-sabotaging behavior is subconscious, but often we know what we are doing, it’s not hidden. Maybe you care about your health, but find every time you reach your ideal weight you follow eating a salad for lunch with snacking on four donuts leftover from the morning’s board meeting. On some level, you are probably very aware that binging on donuts will mean you’ll have to lose that weight all over again. Perhaps you’re in a relationship that seems perfect for you, but you find yourself sitting on the edge of the couch far away from your partner night after night playing on your device, rather than engaging in meaningful conversation. You know your relationship is slowly dissolving and you are letting it happen.
When we self-sabotage, we are protecting ourselves from unknown fears. The fear that we are imposters, the fear that people will expect more of us, the fear that we will be noticed, the fear that we might fail somehow. You can change your self-sabotaging behavior.
1. Define the problem– Defining the problem is easy for most. Again, we usually know what we are avoiding. Say it out loud. “__________ is getting in the way of my ability to be the person I want to be.” That’s it. Step 1.
2. Prevent procrastination– Start now. If you want to stop a behavior, for example, drinking, you can’t give yourself a start date. If you tell yourself, I’ll start next week. I’ll stop at the end of the summer. This is my last bottle, I’ll quit tomorrow. What will happen, is that you will continue to put off the intended start date. You have to start right now, this second immediately following Step 1.
3. Take action– Move. Literally, get up and move. Exercise does help you focus and releases anxiety, but just moving at all, says “I’m ready to do something”. I have this trick I play on myself at work when I’m dreading making a phone call. I force myself to pick up the receiver and put it to my ear. Sometimes I get nervous and hang the phone right back up again, but then I pick up the receiver a 2nd time and I force myself to quickly dial the number. Once the phone is ringing on the other end, there is no backing down, and soon the thing I dreaded is done.
4. Make new habits– Once you’ve defined the problem behavior you can replace it with behavior that is less harmful and maybe will be helpful to you. For example, if you sabotage every relationship you’ve ever had by cheating, try replacing the momentary attention towards someone new with love notes or gifts to your partner. The action will refocus your thoughts and boost your current relationship.
Breaking the cycle of self-sabotaging is a process, but it is a cycle you can change.
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