What Self-Sabotaging Behavior is About

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Self-sabotage is not about lack of willpower; so, you can stop beating yourself up about that one. What it is about may surprise you… and empower you.

Self-sabotage happens when you confront the need to move out of your comfort zone to improve your life experience or make a dream or goal happen. This is one reason willpower doesn’t work.

A few words about willpower…

Have you noticed how well trying to force willpower to work and last… works and lasts? It doesn’t, not really. In fact, it sets you up for heavy-duty self-criticism more than accomplishment and self-fulfillment. You might believe willpower did it for you at some time, but it was awareness, choice, commitment, reminders about intention and desired outcomes and motivational statements made to yourself repeatedly that supported you.

Willpower means self-control (according to my dictionary). We don’t like the word “control;” that is, no one really likes the concept of being controlled. When we attempt self-control, it can feel like a force acting from outside us, which we resist. It’s why regimes and resolutions get tossed. Self-management is far friendlier, more realistic, and doable.

Back to self-sabotage…

Think about something you say you really want to do or a project you need to get done or a change you know needs to happen. If anything about that challenges your comfort zone(s), self-sabotaging behaviors pop up. You may notice this as
• Your mind wanders when you need to focus
• You convince yourself some other task must be done first or instead of priorities (a real trickster for those who work from home)
• Self-doubt creeps in that says you don’t have what it takes to do whatever or to do it “right”
• If it’s something you haven’t started or you’ve started but don’t stay consistent about it, you may convince yourself you don’t actually have time and that you can’t make time either… that you have to wait until the perfect time shows up to focus on it
• You suddenly feel anxious or exhausted, too much so to be productive or creative—you convince yourself that you can only focus on this project or action when it (you) “feels” right, that you can’t even give it five minutes and see where it goes from there

It’s easy (and preferable) to believe your self-sabotaging aspect points to something outside of you that needs to change before you can be productive, when, in fact, it points to something inside you that requires change. The first thing to change is belief that your sabotaging self is against you. It isn’t. It wants you to see a blocking belief that holds you back or stops you so you do something about that rather than resist, or continue to resist, the need for inner change.

Resistance causes you to believe, temporarily or longer, that your ability to choose is impeded, and even removed in some instances. So, instead of making a decision in your favor, you engage lots of activity (or conversations with others or yourself) or go immobile, with little to no productive action on what’s really important and leads to desired results. This applies to business, weight loss, relationships or dating… any goal that requires you step out of your comfort zone about any improvement you say you truly desire. One big trigger for many is—“If I succeed, what will be expected of me then?”

Taking action will make your sabotaging self go quiet. Here are a few examples of your sabotaging self and you having a different kind of conversation.

SS: So, you want to write a book! Well, if you write it and it isn’t perfect, you’ll humiliate yourself. Save yourself the embarrassment and don’t even try. Go do something else—something safe, like house or yard work.
YOU: Maybe you’re right and maybe you’re wrong. I won’t know unless I prove one or the other correct. So, I’m going to write anyway. I may write only one paragraph or even just one sentence a day. And then I’ll write another and another, and take it from there.

SS: You’re overwhelmed! There’s too much to do and think about, so do nothing for now…or for longer…or rake leaves or do something that doesn’t challenge you but lets you feel busy.
YOU: There is a lot to do, but I’m going to make a list and prioritize it. Then I’m going to make a schedule that helps me address priorities and get to it, one item at a time.

SS: Don’t focus on your priority. Think about all those other things on your to-do list.
YOU: I’m going to give at least an hour or two of full focus each day to my priority, until it’s done. I’ll attend to other matters, as well, but my priorities will get done. [I wish I’d made note of who said this: “Make your to-do items your Ta-Da! items.”]

Your sabotaging self waves its hand for your attention. Fear gets triggered. Clarity of thought disappears—it’s like mind static. Your conscious mind doesn’t clearly hear what your sabotaging self is saying because of the static—which is why you don’t know specifically what’s bothering you, but you feel its effects. A remedy is to look at what you were supposed to do when you did something else instead or are about to. What’s up with that? A fact is that sometimes you really do need to do something else or something else first, or genuinely need to rest; but, you know the difference between a real need and avoidance.

The example conversations showed you can hear what your sabotaging self says to you (to get your attention, not actually to stop you in your tracks) and then do the opposite. The thing is that once you do this enough times or one really good time, your sabotaging self will put a checkmark by that item and never bring it up again. It won’t need to. It will be a block you’ve overcome. Your sabotaging self wants to help you get over fear of taking calculated risks so you can receive rewards you desire.

Practice makes progress.
© Joyce Shafer

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About Author

Joyce Shafer

In 2004, I trained as a Life Empowerment Coach with the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (iPEC) while living in New York City, and began my coaching practice at that time. In 2008-2009, this training was enhanced through Coaching From Spirit.

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