How to stop self-sabotage

By Juliana Kassianos, Transformational Coach, Yoga Teacher and Founder of The School of Fertility

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Start believing and stop self-sabotaging. If we turn down the voice of our inner doubter and resist the temptation to place obstacles in our path, we open up the possibility of fulfilling our own potential.

Negative thoughts, feelings and self-destructive behaviours often get in the way of us accomplishing what we really desire in life. It’s called self-sabotage. And we all have our own ways of doing it. Many people procrastinate – they intend to act, but get lost in deliberation; some self-medicate with drugs or alcohol to escape feeling negative emotions, while others may comfort eat, even though their goal is to lose weight.

So, how do we know if our inner saboteur is at work? Its tell-tale sign is when there’s something we consciously want, but we seem to do everything in our power, on a subconscious level, to make sure we don’t get it. By acting against our self-interests, we prevent ourselves from reaching our goals, achieving success and having fulfilment in life.

‘Self-sabotage is like a game of mental tug-of-war. It is the conscious mind versus the subconscious mind where the subconscious mind always eventually wins’ Bo Bennett

Let’s take my inner saboteur. It developed when I was 18 years old. At the time I wanted to be a doctor, so I sent off my university application and anxiously waited for the offers to come in. As I opened the letters, one-by-one, realisation hit me like a punch in the stomach. Not one academic institution had invited me to attend an interview.

I felt both pain and shame for being the only one in my year group who was going to have to go through the clearing process. I had worked solidly day-in, day-out to get the grades required, yet still I had been rejected. These painful emotions left a lasting imprint on me.

With the benefit of hindsight, I now realise I unconsciously interpreted my experience from a negative perspective and created the limiting belief that no matter how hard I worked, I would never be good enough. It was a bold declaration that I presented to myself as fact.  

I set forth on my quest, proving the harsh words of my inner saboteur to be true. I became a workaholic; first the BS(c), then the MA, followed by multiple diplomas. When it came to job hunting, although I had all the qualifications under the sun and ticked all the boxes, I held back from applying for certain positions as part of me felt I wasn’t good enough to even be considered. This was my inner saboteur at work.

WHY DO WE SELF-SABOTAGE?

As strange as it may sound, the reason we self-sabotage is to protect ourselves. Our inner saboteurs spring from our subconscious mind, rooted in the form of negative beliefs, thoughts and feelings. They protect us from experiencing negative outcomes like failure, disappointment or pain, which we expect to occur. Through the process of self-sabotage, we don’t experience the negative outcomes we fear, but nor do we succeed in achieving what it is we consciously want. They give the illusion of protection by keeping us within our comfort zone, but in reality they prevent us from moving forward in life.

The source of our self-sabotage is fear; one of our natural survival instincts. If we refer back to my inner saboteur – it instilled fear in me that if I applied for certain job positions I would risk experiencing the same painful emotions of rejection that I had felt back when I was 18 years old. It was fear that guided my thoughts. It was fear that held me back.

BRAIN POWER

Unless we face our anxieties and consciously confront, challenge and change our limiting beliefs, we risk letting our inner saboteur stand in the way of our success, because it thwarts our attempts to progress and gets in the way of achieving our goals. To do this, however, we have to step out of our familiar comfort zone and enter unknown territory, which is much harder than it may sound.

You see, there’s part of our brain that doesn’t like change; registering it as unfamiliar, risky and unsafe. It attempts to stop us in our tracks, by building up internal resistance. Think of it as though you were sky diving. As you’re about to jump out of the plane, your brain senses a threat to your survival. It reacts by building up resistance as it tries to stop you from making the leap in order to keep you safe. We have to push through this resistance, face our fears and have the courage to jump, so that we can spread our wings and fulfil our true potential.

THREE STEPS TO STOP SELF-SABOTAGE

Make a decision today not to be ruled by your inner saboteur any longer. Use these three simple steps to overcome internal resistance to change and break the cycle of self-sabotage for good. Take the leap and soar into the unknown.

1. Become aware of your inner saboteur

Tune into what’s going on in your subconscious mind. Start to notice any negative thoughts and feelings you have or self-destructive behaviour you exhibit and note the consequences. These are most likely to become apparent when you feel yourself resisting something. 

Keep a note of what comes to mind in a journal. Writing down our thoughts is a powerful tool that provides us with greater insight and self-knowledge. By keeping a journal you will be able to start to recognise more easily any self-sabotage patterns that emerge. Underlying these will be the limiting beliefs you have formed. Their root source may be the result of your reactions to past experiences, feedback from others or perhaps even the culture you grew up in. Try to identify what they are. What do you believe about yourself and the abilities you have? You can then look towards transforming them into new, empowering ones. 

First, though we need to question their validity. Are they sensible or silly? Ask yourself what others would think of them. This will help you to gain a fresh perspective and start the process of moving away from identifying with them.

Then you need to distinguish the impact these beliefs have on the decisions and choices you make in all areas of your life, whether it be your health, relationships, work or money. Ask yourself whether they are pulling you away from success or pushing you towards it? Lastly, you need to question what’s stopping you from believing something else. What is it that you fear? This will help you to the next step.

2. Create new empowering beliefs

To establish a fresh set of beliefs, we need first to change our internal dialogue – the doubting self-talk of our inner saboteur – and switch the charge from negative to positive.

Go back to your journal. Take the list of listing beliefs you identified, the ones that have been working against you, and place them under a column on the left-hand side of the page. Then on the right-hand side, list a number of advantageous beliefs. These are the ones that will help you get what you want.

It’s important you have ample motivation to push through your internal resistance to change. Underneath the left-hand column in your journal, write down how your limiting beliefs have been holding you back from achieving your goals. Then on the right-hand side, note what the long-term benefits would be if you were to change your beliefs to those in that column. What will they help you achieve? Who will they help you become? What impact will they have on the various areas of your life?

3. Make change happen

It’s now time to break through your comfort zone and make change happen. Create an alarm on your phone that goes off three times a day; morning, midday and afternoon. Label your alarm with one or more of the positive beliefs you listed on the right-hand column of your journal. When the alarm goes off, repeat the words to yourself three times and let them sink in.

Make an action list of what you need to do in order to get what you want. These will be in-line with your positive beliefs. There’s a saying ‘small steps reap big rewards’. Every day, first thing, do one action, however small, that will move you towards success. Schedule it into your diary and put it at the top of your priority list.

Should you start to feel resistance at any point, stop what you’re doing, focus on your breathing and refer back to the list in your journal detailing all the positive ways your new beliefs will affect your life.

Make sure you have support around you. Choose a person to take with you on your journey, someone who can hold you accountable to your actions and be your cheerleader; spurring you on and helping you maintain momentum. With persistence, you will make significant positive progress towards achieving all you desire out of life.

REFERENCE

• Article published in Breathe magazine, p22-23, Issue 5 and Teen Breathe, p2-3, Issue 4


Juliana Kassianos