Have you ever been your own worst enemy? Maybe it was a relationship that you really wanted at the time, but for some reason couldn’t bring yourself to put in the effort to sustain.
Or perhaps you had a project that you’d been meaning to finish, but kept finding reasons to put off.
Whatever your goal, the culprit was most likely your inner saboteur.
What Is Self-Sabotage?
Self-sabotaging behavior is a sign that there is a part of you that is crying out to be acknowledged. It’s a problem that goes deeper than a lack of ability, resources, or skill. It’s deeply rooted in belief.
That’s typically when you can expect to be hit by a wave of inexplicable fatigue, lack of motivation, or become overwhelmed by performance anxiety.
It’s natural to want to brute force yourself through these moments. You might even succeed for a time. But until you confront your inner saboteur, you will continue to fall into the same patterns.
Willpower is meant to be a force of momentum. Imagine you were driving somewhere and had to keep your foot on the accelerator the entire time! It’s completely unsustainable; you’d run out of gas before you were able to reach your destination.
So you simply cannot maintain this brute force approach forever. Eventually things will come undone.
But it doesn’t have to be this way…
How Can We Stop Standing In Our Own Way?
1. Befriend The Enemy
The battle between our conscious desires and subconscious belief systems results into a plethora of problematic habits.
Often, we are unaware of the subconscious programs that are running our lives because they don’t make themselves known.
Even though we may not be actively thinking “I am not worthy,” that belief will show up as a compulsion to overeat, procrastinate, or be intentionally uncooperative.
The best way to get over this hump is to listen to this part of you. Sit in silence and ask yourself why you don’t want what you want.
For example, a person that keeps cheating on a spouse that they claim to love, might find that they are holding onto a toxic relationship out of neediness. Or it could be the case that they are paralyzed by a fear of true intimacy and commitment.
The point is to get to the core of that bitter truth and swallow it.
2. Lead Your Team
Think of yourself as a leader of a council with your inner saboteur as one of your trusted advisors.
Despite appearances, the reality is that this person truly has your best interests at heart. They’re primary objective is not to ruin your life.
Rather, they seek to minimize pain, discomfort, and stress. Unfortunately, they are often stuck in the past, misinformed, and don’t have enough faith to let you take the driver’s seat.
When we think of good leaders, we typically think of people who inspire others to act. Rarely do we consider the tremendous amount of inner work that goes into becoming an influencer with personal agency.
Whereas toxic leaders will galvanize themselves and their teams by feeding into delusions, bullying, and manipulation, healthy leaders search deep within to grow self-awareness and emotional maturity.
The latter’s team members are typically positive and adaptable. In an effective team, everyone feels heard, plays to their strengths, and feels that they are contributing to shared goals.
Sometimes, we lack faith because our motivations are too vague and our plans undefined. Without a good understanding of who you are, you probably struggle to communicate your vision with confidence to even yourself.
If you are self-sabotaging, you are trying to force a part of you to jump onto what it perceives to be a sinking ship.
As a dictator who will not listen to dissenting opinions, your doubtful aspects are letting you think you are in charge while secretly plotting from the shadows.
A more sustainable strategy would be to work to build consensus.
Studies show that emotional intelligence – not IQ – is the greatest determining factor in the success of a team.
Well-choreographed teams anticipate each other’s movements, and flow intuitively in part because they are socially sensitive to each other’s abilities and feelings.
In the context of our inner team, that translates into the ability to recognize, understand, and process our conscious and subconscious emotions.
When there is a disconnect between the two, developing a mediation and conflict resolution plan is necessary.
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3. Create Harmony
Both you and your inner saboteur want to live your best life, you just disagree on how to do that.
It’s important to validate this part of yourself and call on your inner nurturer to help comfort and assure the part of you that is getting in your own way.
You’d be surprised how much of a difference simple acknowledgement can make.
I like to use the following affirmations from the book: “Who’s Really Running Your Life? Free Your True Self from Custody and Guard your Kids” by Peter Gerlach.
- “Some of my parts will naturally resist and try to sabotage my [work]. When they do, they’re misinformed and are trying to protect me and themselves.”
- “None of my parts are evil or bad now – nor have they ever been. My parts always mean well from their (limited) point of view. They can and will learn to safely change their views if needed.”
- “I can respect and empathize with each protective part of me, as it expresses its fear and distrust, without agreeing and impeding our inner family team building.”
Affirmations can feel silly at first, but after awhile they start to stick – especially if you follow it up with action.
4. Synthesize Differences
Through collaboration, you can find a solution that incorporates the needs of everyone on your inner team.
Most people find that their self-sabotaging behavior is fear based.
Human beings have a biological imperative to avoid discomfort or pain of any kind – including emotional pain. It makes sense and it’s what has allowed us to populate and prosper.
But in modern times, we long to design happy, fulfilling, self-actualized lives, even as we seek shortcuts and creature comforts.
Counter-intuitively, the fulfilling lives we want can only be realized by integrating the fear that we instinctively want to avoid.
Try the following steps to set you farther down that path:
- Recall every time facing your fear paid off. Log every past success you’ve ever had from biggest to smallest. Similarly, log every past failure that taught you a valuable lesson or led to another unforeseen success.
- Plan to take small steps so as not to get too overwhelmed.
- Choose role models that reflect your value system, study their lives and how they overcame their challenges. Attempt to emulate what feels authentic to you. If you can find mentors, that’s even better!
- Imagine what a life ruled by fear looks like. This will help to convince your self-sabotaging part that the benefits of facing your fear far outweigh the potential costs. Eventually, you will come to realize that in fear, what you gain in familiarity and faux security, you lose in resentment, depression, addictions, and a host of other conditions that stem from untapped potential.
Letting go of the need to feel good all the time is key. Work on reframing your relationship to negative emotions. Pain is inevitable, and you might as well as use it to your advantage.
Rather than being blown to and fro by the winds of change, choose to navigate through it by taking what is given and transforming it.
Learning to view our problems as an object of play, negative outcomes become another puzzle to solve.
This is essentially why people enjoy board games, video games, and sport. We play to win, and we want to win, but we’re only able to really have fun because there is some detachment from how things will turn out.
So that even when we lose, we feel the disappointment, but it doesn’t make us question our self-worth or stop us from developing new strategies and playing again.
As spiritually-situated beings, we should aspire to reduce our attachment to outcomes and learn to act for the sake of acting. Tomorrow is not promised and nor are the results we seek.
Buddhist principles teach that attachment to desire is the cause of suffering. It fosters a conditional happiness that only allows us to be at peace if things go a certain way.
The process of releasing attachment isn’t easy, but it all starts with committing to a dedicated mindfulness practice.
Becoming aware of the present moment and applying it to the everyday business of life, we start to put goal achievement in perspective, realizing that it is just one element in the overall equation of our happiness.
The ability to offer our work to the universe/higher power will help us to let go of expectations and liberate us from fear-based paralysis.
Oftentimes, the deepest joys and rewards that life has to offer come at the other side of strife. There is no escape from our shadow selves. But with enough openness, we can use our shadows like a sun dial to show us where our light is currently positioned.