“How does one break a habit of self-sabotage?”
Imagine that you are in a room.
There are about 20 people in it, all people that you know well. Your mother, your father, brothers and sisters, close friends and relatives, maybe some teachers, some boyfriends or girlfriends from your past.
All of them are people who made a meaningful impact in your life.
And all of them are talking to you, at the same time.
What do you hear? At different times, you hear different voices. Some voices are louder and more familiar, so they stand out. They are more significant to you. Some voices are soft, but say words that catch your interest. Sometimes, one of the voices demands attention, and throws a tantrum until you listen.
This is a useful abstraction of how your mind works.
There is you, your own emotions and feelings, and your own core values. And, also in your head, is a clone of everyone else who has influenced you. You’ve essentially created a copy of them, unwittingly.
It’s why you’re pretty sure you know exactly what Mom & Dad would think, just as if they were there with you, about that hot guy or girl you’re crushing on. It’s why you can guess what would make your girlfriend happy, or piss off your boss.
Each of these people exists as a “model” inside your head, and they’re all actively influencing you, all the time.
The people who have played the biggest role in your life tend to have an opinion on everything, and are almost never silent.
Every new thought that comes into your head enters the “party room,” and everyone starts talking about it, expressing their own opinions to you.
Sometimes the noise is so deafening, all you feel is confusion. Sometimes arguments break out, and you feel conflicted… and paralyzed, unable to decide what is right.
So where does the self-destructive behavior come from?
Chances are, someone important in your life, at some point, didn’t want you to succeed, and pushed you down.
Maybe they were afraid of you outshining them, and they made an effort to keep you below them.
“Wow... are you really going to try that? … you know you won’t succeed.”
Or maybe they were genuinely afraid, and believed they were being protective by holding you back. They truly believed you will fail, because they truly believed they would fail in that same challenge.
Whatever the cause, this suppressive voice translates into lower self-confidence, and unhelpful, completely imagined expectations of failure that appear in your head, especially when you’re close to success.
“Hey you’re losing weight! But... there’s no point you know, you’re not good looking enough even if you’re skinny. You should give up and eat that pizza.”
If some of the voices in your head are still saying “You don’t deserve that.” “You’re not good enough.” “You’ll never succeed.” … then the first thing to understand is that those are not your voices.
Those are simply memories of how someone treated you, fantasies about what they’d say in this situation, if they were observing this situation and your thoughts right now.
The ability of your mind to imagine reality is fantastic, but it can be hugely harmful if you let it blindly dictate the path you take - or to stop you from taking the path that would benefit you most.
How do I deal with these voices?
The most successful way I’ve found to deal with these “voices” is..
- Recognize when these thoughts happen. Often, you’ll find them in the moment when you feel compelled to do something self-destructive. This takes time to develop - but you’ll get better with practice. Daily Journaling is one of your best tools to evolve your awareness of this.
- STOP, and realize that they are just thoughts. At first, the self-destructive reactions feel automatic - but they aren’t, you do have total control. Just like seeing a TV commercial does not make you buy something, having a thought does not make you do something. In between that desire impulse and that reaction, you get to make a decision on what’s best for you.
- Acknowledge that they are not your thoughts. Say it out loud if it helps, “That’s not my thought… it just flashed through my head. Where did that come from anyway? That person is just nuts.”
Over time, you’ll start to notice that the same voices say the same things, and you’ll know who is speaking, in your head. Soon, those voices may get names, and they may even clearly represent people you know.
Thanks, Mom. Opinion noted.
Once you can see that person saying that phrase, you’re in a far better place, because it becomes very clear to you that it’s not you. At that point, just close the door on that person when they are giving you unhelpful advice that won’t improve your life.
Keep practicing, and you’ll notice that you have a voice too.
Often it’s very quiet, at the beginning, and uncertain of when to speak up. Sometimes it hides against the wall, trying not to be noticed - but listen and you’ll learn to recognize it.
It’s different, it’s the voice of you, your beliefs, and your core values - and It’s the only voice really worth listening to.
Practice using it and it will get louder. Pretty soon, it’s the only one you’ll hear.
Michael Neill’s TEDx talk, Why aren’t we Awesomer? is important to hear. It presents a very powerful understanding of how your mind works, and how to manage harmful thoughts better.
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