How to stop sabotaging yourself

Whether it’s telling yourself that you deserve a muffin after that amazing workout or procrastinating about following up with those interesting colleagues you met on last week’s workshop, many of us have experienced self-sabotage in one way or another. The problem is that it can become a pattern that’s hard to break

by Psychologies

Here, personal branding consultant and psychologist Dr Lisa Orban looks at ways we can break the self-sabotage habit.

‘There are a number of reasons why we self-sabotage,’ says Lisa. ‘And one of them is that pesky inner critic who assures us that we can’t keep it up or that it’s not worth the effort anyway. We can be subjected to years of these unhelpful messages that end up becoming our default thinking style.’ So, what can we do about it?

Forget waiting for motivation

It’s common to want to wait around for the feeling that will tell you when you’re ready to start that diet, apply for a new job or take up running, but you may be waiting a long time. Instead, adopt an approach of ‘I’m willing to do it’ and move forward with a willingness to commit to an action, even if ‘wanting to do it’ never shows up.

Remember that while our thoughts can have an influence over us if we let them, they don’t control us, so we can have a thought (‘I don’t want to do it’) and do it anyway. This may feel like a big push, but typically accomplishing our goal (or even a small part of that goal) in the face of not wanting to do it is highly rewarding and self-empowering.

Learn to step back from your thoughts

Learning to step outside your thinking is a skill, but it’s one that is worth learning. When you find yourself being undermined by negative thoughts, notice this and remind yourself that you are not the thoughts running through your head, nor are you controlled by them. The old adage of ‘don’t believe everything you hear’ can also be applied here in the form of ‘don’t believe everything you think.’ Spend some time developing and practicing mindfulness as a skill to unhook from your unhelpful thoughts and refocus on moving towards the direction of your values and making committed action steps towards your goals.

It doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing

A strict all-or-nothing mentality is often rigid and self-defeating and if self-demands are too unrealistic or inflexible then they will likely set us up for failure. If you’ve fallen off the exercise wagon, given up on your novel in the middle of writing chapter 10 or find yourself forgetting to listen to that Italian language CD, identify small ways you can move ahead instead of labelling such setbacks as a failure.

Try walking more instead of that cardio class, dust off your novel notebook to brainstorm a few bullet points or maybe put some Italian music on and listen to the lyrics. You may find this encourages you to get back up to speed, but even if it doesn’t, you will still be staying the course.

Observe what is holding you back

Notice the function behind what your mind is saying to you - it might just be trying to keep you safe. If you keep hearing that you can’t go for that promotion because your soon-to-be-leaving boss was much better than you’d ever be, realise that your mind is, in fact, working hard to keep you in your comfort zone.

The only way to grow is to deliberately move out of your comfort zone as often as possible and become more accustomed to feelings of discomfort. As you get more and more habituated to this discomfort, you’ll find that your mind learns that it’s not so bad (or dangerous) after all and you will find yourself taking risks more and agonising less.

Notice choice points

Choice points are moments when you can choose to move towards your goal or away from it. It’s that moment when you decide you’ll turn on Netflix instead of heading out for a run or cancel a date with a feeble excuse because you’re not in the mood. When you reach these choice points, notice them, along with any other self-sabotaging inner dialogue, and see if you can mindfully step back and look at your choices. Choosing actions, however small, with full awareness will encourage good habits and momentum.

Avoid the slippery slope of perfectionism

Perfectionism is an illusion that we easily buy into, but even if we did reach 100 per cent we’d only want 110 per cent next time. While the desire to be perfect is common among high achievers, it is often rigid and self-defeating and implies that mistakes are not acceptable.

Procrastination is also a very common way to self-sabotage, due to fear that the task won’t be completed to the necessary high standard. Look towards role models or mentors who have got where you want to get, acknowledging that even with their imperfections, they did it. Most importantly, give yourself permission to be human - you are entitled to make mistakes and grow from them, like everyone else.

Embrace Imposter Syndrome

A close cousin to perfectionism, Imposter Syndrome is a common experience among high achievers that can hold them back. The fear of being unmasked as a fraud (the hallmark of Imposter Syndrome) is often the result of one’s difficulty in accepting their success and contributing it to luck, rather than ability.

Instead of buying into this form of intellectual self-doubt, try to recognize the positives that come with it. For example, when Imposter Syndrome shows up, it means that we are being challenged, that our comfort zone is growing and that we are self-aware enough to have noticed it. Most people don’t talk about it, but it happens to the best of us, so you are in good company.

Dr Lisa Orban is the founder of personal branding consultancy, Golden Notebook. A clinical psychologist, Lisa trained and practised in New York City for eleven years before relocating to London. Lisa helps clients make a name for themselves by discovering their distinct and authentic personal brand — one that consistently represents who you are and reflects both inner and outer confidence. She takes a unique approach to personal branding that combines psychological assessment and theory with branding strategies to create powerful and enduring individual change and personal impact.

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