I am the QUEEN of self-sabotage! No matter what your self-sabotaging behavior is that you are trying to stop doing, I KNOW that it’s possible to get a handle on it and transform your life, because I’ve seen the results first hand in myself and my clients. More on that to come, but first — what is self-sabotage? At it’s core, Self Sabotage is when your actions (what you do) is out of alignment with what you want.
For decades I would sabotage the things I wanted most in the world. My desire to have beautiful clear skin – sabotaged with a destructive compulsive skin picking habit. My desire for a healthy relationship – sabotaged by texting my ex when I felt lonely. My desire for a healthy body and mind – sabotaged by a cycle of restrictive eating, binge drinking and subsequent carb loading to try to ease the hangover pain.
Here are some examples of self-sabotaging I’ve seen first hand:
- Choosing unavailable partners when you deeply desire a relationship
- Lashing out at work in anger and frustration over a project disagreement
- Compulsive behaviors that you want to stop like Skin Picking, Hair Pulling, Nail Biting
- Turning down opportunities through fear of not being good enough
- Quitting too early when you hit your first roadblock
- Eating foods that don’t make your body feel good
- Drinking to excess and taking drugs, even though you know it’s having a detrimental impact on your life
- Over spending on things you don’t need when you really want to save
I’m sure you can think of more (add more ideas to the comments!)
However you self-sabotage, know that it’s normal AND fixable. What do all of our self-sabotaging behaviors have in common? They are triggered by deep rooted fears and pain we are desperately trying to avoid feeling.
Take my skin picking habit as an example. When I feel a compulsion to pick my skin, the underlying fear is that I need to ‘fix’ something on my face that I perceive as being out of place or undesirable. The feeling I’m trying to avoid is the feeling of being ugly, unwanted and unlovable. In my effort to smooth away this perceived imperfection and avoid feeling ugly, I actually mark my face to the extent that now there IS something noticeable on my face — the damage I just caused by the picking. And we see how the cycle continues.
Having a compulsive habit like this has helped me to see this pattern clearly and realize ways to STOP the cycle in it’s tracks. I’ve also been able to apply the same logic to other self-sabotaging behaviors that can be present in my life like drinking, bickering with my partner and getting really stressed out about things that don’t matter.
Here is my process for tackling your self-sabotaging behaviors today:
STEP 1: Like anything, the first step is to become aware. Get REAL honest with yourself about where in your life your actions are out of alignment with what you think or say that you want.
STEP 2: After you’ve admitted to yourself where you are self-sabotaging, the next phase is to notice when your self-sabotaging behavior is triggered. I highly recommend keeping a journal and noting down the details leading up to a trigger or self-sabotaging moment. When I was first trying to stop Skin Picking, I would write down where I was physically, what time of day it was and what was happening around me and inside me (thoughts, emotions, actions) leading up to me picking me skin. Although this step takes some time (when I know you really just want to stop NOW), it is very important for us to deeply understand what is happening in our experience leading up to a trigger so that we can start identifying the triggers earlier and earlier.
STEP 3: When you’ve gathered a good amount of data on what happens around you and inside you when you are triggered to do the self-sabotaging behavior, now we look for patterns. What is the common denominator to these times when you’ve done the thing you don’t want to do? Perhaps it’s a feeling like loneliness, anxiousness or stress. Maybe it’s being in a certain place or with certain people. Just look for the similarities and get curious. Maybe it’ll be obvious or maybe it’ll take more time to see but I guarantee you there will be a common thread to be found.
STEP 4: Now you’ve got a good idea of the circumstances that lead up to a trigger, the next step is to notice AS EARLY AS POSSIBLE when those circumstances arise. I’ll give you an example — for me, drinking alcohol is not something my body can tolerate. I’ve been sober off and on for three years, and recently recommitted to sobriety for the benefit of my health and my dream of having a baby. I noticed that my biggest urges to drink came from a feeling of wanting to belong, and so were most triggered at social events like family gatherings or meeting up with a group of friends. Now I try to pre-empt when I’m going to get the feeling of “do I belong here?” as early as possible so that I can protect my energy in STEP 5.
STEP 5: When you are able to notice early on in the cycle that a trigger is happening or is likely to happen, this is where our intervention comes in. Now this sounds so ridiculously simple that you will probably think it won’t work but I PROMISE you it does and I’ll explain why. The intervention is: STOP, BREATHE, NOTICE, STATE THE FACTS, RECOMMIT, MOVE ON.
Let’s break these down:
STOP: Exactly as it sounds. Just stop what you are doing. Don’t take any action for 30 seconds while you do the rest of the intervention
BREATHE: Take a big, deep breath into your belly. DO NOT scrimp on this step as this is providing your brain with much needed oxygen that it needs to kick into gear for the rest of the intervention.
NOTICE: Notice the circumstances and how triggered you feel. For me in the example above that would be noticing — I really want to fit in at this party and feel at ease here and like I belong. That could even start before I get to the event, when I’m choosing what to wear and noticing a tightness in my chest. This is the stage to get really curious with what you are experiencing and give yourself compassion for whatever it is that’s happening. It’s real and it’s understandable to feel that way.
STATE THE FACTS: This is where we say to ourselves, preferably out loud but in your head is fine, OK I’m feeling triggered and this is how it’s manifesting (i.e thoughts, feelings, sensations, actions). When I feel triggered around my skin I am often looking in the mirror, and I stop, take a deep breath, tap into what’s happening and then say to myself “OK Laura, you are feeling worried that there is something on your face.”
RECOMMIT: Now we remind ourselves what our ultimate desire is. My ultimate desire is to have healthy beautiful skin and to be free from my destructive Skin Picking habit. I’ll literally say to myself…”OK Laura, you are feeling worried that there is something on your face BUT you know that the best thing you can do is leave it alone and let your skin heal on its own.”
MOVE ON: Ideally, this is the part where you can remove yourself either physically or mentally from the triggering situation. Maybe it’s saying no to the glass of wine, moving away from the mirror, leaving the meeting, putting down the phone and deleting the text, and so on.
Like I was, you might be thinking…why does this work? Here’s my layman’s understanding of the neuroscience:
When we are triggered, we see activation in the part of the brain called the Amygdala – the brain’s fight, flight or freeze response center and the part of our brain that goes equally haywire when we are chased by a tiger and when our boss sends us a “we need to have a serious talk” email. This part of the brain is responsible for our survival and upon it’s activation another part of our brain, the pre-frontal cortex, our executive center responsible for our decision making, willpower and logic, is temporarily taken “offline”. Science has shown that taking a deep breath and using language to name your experience can help kick-start the PFC back into action. With the PFC at increased capacity, our ability to remember our ultimate goal and overcome any temptation or compulsion is greatly increased.
The science is helpful but in my experience just trying it and seeing the results for myself has been the biggest motivator for sticking with it. Of course, sometimes we may revert back to old self-sabotaging behaviors and our best intentions may not be enough. In those moments all we can do is send ourselves love and compassion and try again next time.
You can learn more about you self-sabotaging behaviors, limiting beliefs and saboteurs in my 6 week Learn to Love Your Life Program, allowing you to deeply explore these topics at your own pace with 20-40 minutes of daily content, mindfulness practices and world-class coaches tools that have changed my life. Working on aspects of ourselves that have been ingrained for many years can be tough; the program offers support options from $19.99 a month, including personalized voice-note coaching and one-on-one private sessions to walk you through your own transformative journey. Because everyone deserves to live a life they love – are you ready to live yours?