Self Sabotage – It’s a Dirty Phrase
If you look at the dictionary definition of sabotage it will state something approximating: disruption, damage, interruption or interference. That’s exactly what it is. It’s not evil, nor is it always avoidable as many self-help gurus might have us believe. My experience as clinical therapist and as an educator over the past 25 years, has led to me to understand that self sabotage is a learned behavior and over time can become a habit, but the response that leads a person to self sabotage is more often than not (but I happily accept new cases with interest) a direct result of low self esteem.
Self Sabotage is a choice that is made to fail
It is the choice to be in control when all around you is out of your control. Ironically, it usually falls into play just as the desire to change a situation is so great that someone begins a new program of study, a change in their lifestyle, an exercise or eating regime. The problem with something new is that the results are not definite. The results are in a land unknown and for the subconscious mind, for the person who has had a low sense of self-esteem tucked away, it is simply too threatening to process and the safest thing is to control the situation. How is that done? To change the order of things, to disrupt the pattern been given or prescribed, to interrupt the process of change. Procrastination is not a weak willed response. It is a response of high control. Control to set the situation to fail because it is a choice.
When someone chooses to fail, in their mind, they simply fulfill a belief about themselves, that they cannot do something. They are proving themselves right. This is a method of control and to the subconscious, much less scary than trying something and sticking to it blindly.
Overcoming Self Sabotage
Overcoming self sabotage requires your life-script, the voice in your head, the rulebook by which you have lived, to be changed. It cannot be done overnight. It will not stick after a transformational weekend somewhere. The only way your self-sabotage can be overcome is for you to reinforce habits and practices. DAILY. There needs to be a high level of structure to the way you tailor your responses in your day. That’s just part 1. Then there are techniques you can use to quiet the voice that criticizes your decisions in your mind. The critical part of you did not originate in your head. This is a learned response usually from childhood and by the time we become adults, we often change the voice and it becomes our own. There must be accountability for your decisions. I hear some of you say – you haven’t got time to write down your day, you haven’t got time to join a challenge group, but that’s just part of your procrastination – your ultimate controlling behavior. So how do you make the transition out of fear into what is really risk-taking behavior when you want to make changes because losing weight and keeping it off, is a risk? Adopting a new eating pattern is a risk – believing you might be different – is a risk. It is exceptionally important to be able to leave behind quite specific baggage. The problems lie in Fear, Anger, Guilt and Sadness.
The main protagonist of Self Sabotage is Fear
The main protagonist of self sabotage is fear. When we are born, we enter this world with the fear of two things, loud noises and falling. All other fears are learned behaviors. If we repeat a behavior over and over again – the synapse link in the brain becomes stronger and stronger until it feels like the most natural thing in the world to respond in such a way. How does one get rid of the baggage of fear? Cognitive Behavior Therapy is great for creating an understanding of what or even how it occurred but it does not reprogram the mind to create new synaptic responses. There are specific brain exercises one can do, without having to regress or re-live where the fear began, which can change your synaptic response. This means you feelings change and when your feelings change, you are not locked into unproductive responses. Self sabotage can become a thing of the past. The key is to continue to practice these new techniques in order to strengthen and reinforce these new synapse links and in doing so, make courage a norm instead of fear.
Someone once said to me that being brave is feeling the fear but doing it anyway. I disagree. That sounds like a judgment call of ethics and values rather than courage. Courage, for me, is when you respond with the strength of lion in your heart and mind and it’s easy, because life is an uncertain thing and you know that nothing can be gained without setting one foot in front of the other, or one idea in front of the other.
Self Sabotage is not a Weakness
Self sabotage is not a weakness. It is a behavior indicative of incredible strength that you have developed in order to keep you safe. It doesn’t matter if you are no longer at risk, but it is the behavior your brain chooses to feel good about yourself in the strangest of ways. If you are tired of the regret you feel, coupled with decisions of self sabotage, then it’s time to get help. If you are reading this, it’s probably because you want to be fit and healthy. SO here’s a checklist to help you.
1) Make a commitment on paper. Tell your partner, your friends and family. Make sure you make a public declaration – hiding only gives you the option of running away. It’s time to change, remember?
2) Choose an exercise program that suits your body and level of fitness. It is important to join a class or even online group to make sure you have a network of support. You may prefer to exercise alone, this is fine. Then join a Beachbody challenge group. It is the ideal opportunity to workout at home and have online partners. ( I have loved this, especially when I felt self conscious about my appearance when exercising)
3) Choose a food program. Get rid of all the food in the house, which might stop you from succeeding.
4) Set up a journal or diary, which you fill in daily. This includes food, exercise and feelings. It doesn’t have to be an essay, a list will do. Handwritten journals kept last thing in the day work better than typed ones on the subconscious – but choose which suits you best. Accountability is the name of the game.
5) Set up a pattern of regularity to help you. Even a shift worker can create a regular pattern for each type of shift. Get up at a specific time. Go to sleep at a specific time. If you are prone to insomnia – get help for it, work out a plan and stick to it. Being sleep deprived (less 6 hrs a night) may be a norm but it affects your judgment and ability to make decisions.
6) Seek help for the negative voice inside you.
7) Seek help for the self sabotage- get help to get rid of the fear. There are specific brain exercises to do and can be done in anything from one – to two hours.
8) Practice daily self-affirming techniques to help raise your self-image and self-esteem.
9) Learn and practice one of the following on a daily basis. Allow yourself 15 -20 minutes a day. It’s really not that much: Meditation, Self-Hypnosis, Prayer, Chanting, Tai Chi, Qigong, Yoga
10) Set targets and goals – weekly ones, monthly ones, three monthly ones and yearly ones. When you plan them, work out where you want to be this time next year, then work backwards in order to see what you need to do, month by month, week by week, day by day in order to get there.
How to get Help if you Self Sabotage
I know this article may seem unclear in some places, as I have alluded to getting help with certain aspects of your attitude. As a therapist, and because it’s my field, I would recommend something fast and effective like Neuro Linguistic Programming. Find yourself a Master Practitioner and know that you could probably cover all aspects of change in 1 – 2 sessions! It can be done on the phone or face to face. However, it is important to stress that everyone has different baselines, values and needs. Perhaps your church is a place that can help you with these aspects of your life. Perhaps you have friends who can share their techniques and ideas. Perhaps you are already seeing a psychologist and wish to do more investigation in this area with them. What is important for you to realize is that change is just a response away but unless you learn HOW to change your mind, you will spend forever understanding WHY you feel this way and still make the same choices you did before.
Even as a therapist, I am not immune to the process of self sabotage. However, I’m happy to take a pill for a headache, to drink water when I’m thirsty and to practice a type of thinking in a particular manner to change my responses. This is how I’ve lost over 100lbs (over 45kgs), and kept it off. This is how I no longer destroy my own efforts and how when I’m tempted to, I am able to go to my checklist and follow my own instructions for success. This can be you too. It’s just time to reach out and get practical about your own life.
Dr Jane Nash, Ph.D
Proud Member of Beachbody Coach Johan Van Aarde’s Challenge Group