Self sabotage is a tricky son of a bitch (Quick note: I curse. I curse when I write and I curse when I speak. If that offends you, please unsubscribe).
Anyway, it’s a topic that comes up a lot when I speak to clients or I speak at events.
“I know what I want and I know why it’s important to me … I just can’t seem to stop sabotaging myself.”
I have firsthand experience with those feelings and I still sabotage myself with relative frequency.
There are the obvious forms of self sabotage like …
1. It’s an identity issue. You fundamentally believe that you aren’t worthy, aren’t good enough, aren’t capable, or don’t deserve to be successful. So your brain will pull you back into that belief system by sabotaging your efforts.
2. It’s a fear of failure issue. You want to remain in control (even if it’s perceived control) so if you’re the source of your failure than it remains known and predictable.
3. It’s a fear of success issue. You recognize that success will come with change. Potentially change in attention, change in environment, change in your social circle or family dynamic … and that scares you so you sabotage your efforts.
4. It’s a perfectionist or control issue. You operate with an all or nothing mindset so when perfection cannot be achieved, you swing to the opposite extreme. Or you are so driven by control that you sabotage as a means of remaining in control.
5. It’s a goal setting issue. You get a big dopamine rush by imagining how great it’s going to be when you achieve your goals. Then, the work begins and it’s boring and hard and uncomfortable. So you sabotage yourself so you can start back at square 1 and get another big dopamine rush by imagining how great it’ll feel when you reach your goals.
These are the most common forms of self sabotage. I’m susceptible to all of them so I fully know the struggle.
What no one talks about when it comes to a solution for self sabotage is this …
How well do you cope?
For example, fear isn’t something that just leaves. It’s not something you solve for and then it goes away forever.
A need for control isn’t something that disappears once you’re aware of it.
All or nothing thinking is a cognitive distortion that every human experiences.
Our brain also attaches more to negative thoughts than positive thoughts so it’s easy to get caught up in negative self talk that may lead to self sabotage.
The traditional solutions for self sabotage are often full of fluff and surface level BS.
“Believe you are worthy, girl!”
“You deserve this!”
“It’s ok that you failed, just get back on track!”
The intentions are solid, but in practice, it’s flimsy.
The real solution is a bit more complex than that but it’s well worth the time and energy.
The solution is gradually improving how well you cope when these situations arise.
Emotional processing is not something that many coaches discuss because they’d rather just tell you to get back on track.
But the real key to success is increasing your processing speed of a setback or failure and how quickly the feedback loop kicks in.
Let me give a personal example to illustrate what I mean.
Here’s what emotional processing looks like …
I’m currently in a fat loss phase.
I’m down about 7 lbs. and have been feeling pretty good about my progress.
On Saturday, I had planned for a free meal to enjoy myself and take a little mental break from dieting.
It was going ok but then I let it spiral a bit more than I would’ve liked.
I found myself feeling a bit down and disappointed.
Then, the feedback loop kicked in. I sat with those uncomfortable feelings and I listened to them. I got super curious about why they were there and what they were telling me.
I allowed myself time and space to sit in the discomfort.
Then, I got to have the last say. I said, I hear you. I understand why you’re here. But here’s what I’m going to do about it …
I’m going to do the things that make me feel my best. Which meant … starting my Sunday with my morning routine. Getting in a quality breakfast. Having a great conversation with Mel to talk about our relationship. And spending the day recharging my batteries.
Increase your emotional processing speed, get different results.
In the past, my Saturday decisions would’ve spilled over to Sunday. But my feedback loop processing speed has increased over time.
I have improved my coping abilities when I sabotage. In fact, sometimes it’s not even sabotage. Sometimes it’s just a decision in a moment and it’s not even as big of a deal as we make it out to be.
I’ll often hear people say … no, it’s not that I’m sabotaging myself, it’s just that I need to be more disciplined with avoiding sugar because when I eat sugar, I over indulge.
Ummm, that’s the self sabotage part. The part where you think you just need to restrict and deprive yourself even more.
It’s poor coping skills. You think that the “failure” has to be followed up by working even harder and doing something even more extreme.
When you make a decision that’s out of alignment with the person you want to become or the goals you want to achieve …
The decision served a purpose. Figure out the purpose.
Then figure out what the emotional response is trying to tell you.
Acknowledge those feelings and sit in the discomfort.
Then, decide how you would like to respond.
That’s where progress happens.
It’s possible to imperfectly become the best version of yourself.
It’s not some linear sprint to the finish line.
In fact, there is no finish line.
It’s simply the ability to cope more effectively when shit hits the fan.
Because shit will hit the fan again. and again. and again.
The more you improve your ability to cope with shit hitting the fan, the more likely you are to achieve your goals. The less you’ll sabotage. And the quicker you’ll know exactly what to do when the sabotage occurs.
The real flex is knowing that you can imperfectly become the best version of yourself over years and years of this exact process.
A quick litmus test to see if you need some help in this area …
When something goes wrong … when the scale is up, when you over indulge, when you make poor decisions, when you feel like you’re not making progress …
Do you want to quit? Do you say fuck it, why bother? Do you stop showing up for yourself for weeks or months at a time?
If yes, no judgement here. I used to be in that head space too.
Just know that if you don’t address that … it’ll be a long and frustrating road ahead.
The good news is that improving your coping ability and emotional processing is doable. And rewarding. And valuable for all areas of your life.
It’ll give you a sense of peace throughout the process as well.
Don’t hesitate to reach out if you need support in this area.