I was mediating every morning, reciting mantras, visualizing my future, reading the personal development books, nourishing my body, and feeling incredible. I felt amazing. Not only mentally, but physically. My body was actually starting to release the weight I had gained from binge eating. I felt light, energetic, and confident.
Was all of the inner work actually working? This is incredible! I feel fantastic! Go me!
I'd bask in excitement for all of five minutes until I started to hear some dark, gloomy chatter chime in.
Don't fuck this up. You know this isn't going to last. You're never going to be able to be happy and maintain a healthy weight. This isn't real.
I'd hear these thoughts and feel this negative energy take over my body and be crippled with fear.
No, no! Go away! I can do this! Please just let me do this!
But, reasoning with that shaming spiral never worked. It only made me more fearful. More anxious. And you guessed it....more likely to give in to self-defeating behaviors.
I'm sure you've experienced this at one time or another in your life. Maybe you started to gain momentum in your sobriety until you couldn't stand it and went on a week long bender. Maybe you started to feel so great eating healthy and exercising until you broke down and binged for an entire weekend. Maybe you were falling in love with someone so deeply until you sabotaged the relationship by cheating on them.
And after the sabotage, I'm sure you felt an intense feeling of shame.
UGH! What is WRONG with me? WHY did I do that? I will never get this right! I have no willpower! Seriously what is the point in even trying?
Been there. Done that. Got the t-shirt.
I spent years going through this cycle. Even with all of the tools I had learned from personal development, I fell victim to this self-sabotage cycle as soon as I got close to the breaking the ceiling of a new level of happiness.
But through awareness, reading, researching, coaching, and a lot of frustration....I started to stop the cycle before it caught traction. And I didn't beat it by fighting it.
I started to accept it. I started to see it for what it was. Simple brain conditioning. And with that new information and a strong sense of self-motivation, my sabotaging voice eventually lost its power over me or my actions.
If you're a self-admitted self-sabatoger, you are not alone. You are not broken. You are not doomed to fail and fuck up for the rest of your life. You are simply acting the way you have conditioned yourself to act. More specifically, you have conditioned your brain to act.
Whether you knew it or not, you have set a baseline for your brain's ability to feel joy, happiness, success, and fulfillment. Throughout your life, you have primed your brain to expect certain emotions, thoughts, behaviors, and patterns. So every time you acted out in a jealous rage, every time you ran to alcohol to cure your problems, and every time you broke a commitment to yourself...you were conditioning your brain to act in that same manner in the future.
So when the day comes that you decide you want to change, you want to be happier, healthier, and achieve more success....you are attempting to act in the exact opposite way of what you've trained yourself to do.
For example, let's say you're right handed. And one day you decide "Hey, I want to be left-handed." An hour later you go to write a note and pick up the pen with your right hand. You think "Damn. I want to write with my left hand!" So, you switch hands and try to write with your left. But, you can't write anything legible. It feels awkward. It feels wrong. You start to think "Why am I doing this? It's so much easier to just write with my right hand!"
That's pretty much what's going on with your self-sabotaging behavior.
By attempting to start new behaviors that will up-level your life, or or in the case of self-sabotage, stop the behaviors that are keeping you stuck....you are literally working against the makeup of your brain and physiology.
Let's say you spent the majority of your life sedentary, eating processed food, and blacking out at every Sunday brunch. Until one day you decide "Screw this! I'm going to get healthy!" and you uproot your entire routine (New Years resolutions, anyone?)
So you start working out everyday. You change your entire diet. You start to finally create a new healthy lifestyle for yourself and then you get hit with those doubtful thoughts "You can't stick to this." "C'mon just eat the ice cream!"
And as soon as the urges and thoughts become to much to bare, BAM! You cave. You can't stand the discomfort your brain has created and you're back to square one. In your comfort zone.
Now, I don't say this to discourage you from making positive changes in your life. I'm telling you this to empower you so you can prepare yourself for what is about to come your way when you want to elevate your life.
Self-sabotage is not a sign of weak character. It's merely the function of a healthy brain.
So release the shame and guilt you've had around your sabotaging ways in the past. Because those intense emotions are only making the brain more addicted to the patterns you're acting out.
Yes...that's right. Your brain becomes addicted to negative emotions like shame, guilt, and disappointment with the same intensity it does to nicotine or heroin. More on that in another post.
So what does one do when they want to elevate their set point of happiness, health, and success? How do we overcome our brains to stop self sabotaging and create a new level of living for ourselves?
Short answer....Get ready for the ride.
Long answer...Work your way through these eight steps.
1) Understand What's Happening.
Now that you know this has nothing to do with your character, your willpower, or your ability to succeed....take a step back and get objective. Look at your brain like a piece of software. You can't get mad at it for acting out the way its been programmed. But, if you ignore the urges it sends you and decide to do something different, despite the discomfort your brain creates, you can create a new normal.
2) Get familiar with your sabotaging voice.
Write down the area of your life you're sabotaging. Your health, your relationships, your productivity, your anger, your finances, etc.
Now...write down the specific thoughts that come up right before you act out in a way that isn't serving you.
"Having a drink would make this party so much more enjoyable!"
"You know you'll sleep better if you eat that bag of chips."
"She's probably cheating on you anyways. Might as well beat her to it."
Write it all down. Become aware of these thoughts. Because the next time you hear them come up in your inner dialogue, you can quickly label them as your sabotaging voice and disregard them as mental junk.
3) Create A Pattern Interrupt
Once you notice your sabotaging voice come up... now comes the hard part.... do something different than you've done in the past.
Do 10 jumping jacks. Call a friend. Write in your journal. Do a funky dance. Recite a couple empowering mantras. Do SOMETHING other than act out of sabotage in the moment.
Even if you end up acting on the urge, be sure to tie SOMETHING different before/after it to break up the hard-wired pattern in your brain.
I.e. Before you eat the box of cookies, write 2 lines in your journal.
Or before you cave and smoke a cigarette, do 5 push ups.
The purpose of doing this is two-fold:
One, AWARENESS. If you can become aware of your urges before you act out on them, you are half way there.
Two, changing the neural pathway. Every time you create a pattern interrupt, you are literally rewiring your brain to change your programmed behavior.
4) Celebrate Your Wins
This might/most likely/will absolutely be a tough journey. Change ain't easy. Change ain't quick. So, you better be sure to refuel yourself with pats on the back and acknowledging your wins along the way. And not just the big wins. EVERY win.
So, you were sober for two weeks and ended up binge drinking tequila all weekend. But, you remember asking yourself before you took the first drink "Should I do this?" WIN.
You wrote down three words in your journal before you acted out in a jealous rage. WIN.
Celebrate every victory, big or small, throughout your journey not only to refuel you, but to start to train your brain to look for the good and view yourself in a positive and empowering light. It's your low self-esteem, shame, judgment, perfectionism, and self-criticism that got you to sabotage in the first place....so let's make sure it doesn't happen again.
Just the fact that you are here right now reading this is a win! YOU GO GLEN COCOA!
5) Find An Accountability Buddy
You don't need to go to AA or find a group of people struggling with the same issues you are (although that might be incredibly helpful), but you could simply open up about your situation to a friend or loved one. Tell them what you're trying to change. Ask them for support and encouragement every step of the way. Check in with them on a daily/weekly/monthly basis to keep you on track.
This was probably one of the hardest things for me to follow through with during my own journey. As a very self-motivated person, I thought I could handle it myself. I didn't want to be seen as weak. I didn't want be dependent on someone else.
But, after trying to sort out my shit by myself for years, I finally realized...I needed help. So, I forcefully opened myself up. I shared my struggle. I asked for support. And that moment of vulnerability catapulted my growth and transformation more than any meditation, podcast, book, or journal entry I ever tried.
6) Get Clear On Your WHY
Your why is your strongest motivation to follow through on your journey. And without a strong why... you'll easily get sucked back into the trap of your own negativity and doubt. So dig deep and ask yourself "Why am I trying to break free from this?" And once you answered....dig deeper. The deeper you go, the more motivation you will cultivate to progress forward.
Don't settle for surface level bullshit answers. Get to the real root underneath it all.
A few examples....
"I want to quit smoking because my wife wants me to." vs. "I want to quit smoking so I can live long enough to see my kids graduate, get married, and have their own children."
"I want to stop binge eating so I can lose weight." vs. "I want to stop binge eating so I can clear my mind of all food/body image thoughts and finally start my own business and live a happy and fulfilled life."
"I want to stop cheating on my girlfriend so I don't get caught." vs. "I want to stop cheating on my girlfriend and allow myself to fully surrender into our relationship and be willing to face my fears of abandonment and learn to love and support myself no matter what."
Can you feel the difference?
7) Get Clear on Your WHY NOT
That's right. Just as there is a reason you want to end the self-sabotage, there is usually a deeper reason as to why you don't want to break free from whatever it is you're struggling with.
If you're thinking "No way! There is absolutely NOTHING about what I'm doing that is serving me!"
I'll invite you to dig deeper. There is always a risk involved with playing bigger in your life, whether it's completely dramatized by your brain or quite realistic.
Here's a couple ideas to think about...
"If I stop drinking alcohol, I won't be the life of the party, I won't know how to numb my pain and I'll be a completely negative and depressed person who no one wants to be around."
"If I stop binge eating and eventually lose weight, I'll draw too much attraction from men and will most likely end up getting hurt."
"If I stop procrastinating and actually start working on my entrepreneurial side hustle, it might actually work and then I'll have to leave my secure job and deal with the uncertainty of working for myself."
"If I stop acting out in a jealous rage, I'll have to show my girlfriend my true vulnerable and wounded self and she'll be turned off and leave me."
Don't scoff at this shit. Because it's within you. Somewhere. Grab a journal and find it.
8) Repetition Breeds Success
This might not be sexy, but its the truth. In order to truly stop self sabotaging yourself and create a new level of well-being in your life, you have to do this work repetitively. Mantras. Guided Meditations. Journaling. Pattern Interrupts. Falling. Getting back up. Visualization. Reading the books, listening to the podcasts, doing the things. And most importantly, reminding yourself that this is simply a function of your brain. It has nothing to do with your worth or strength or will as a person.
It requires awareness, patience, compassion, and commitment. If you can muster up those things and work your way through the steps outlined above, you CAN stop the madness and beat self-sabotaging once and for all.