How do you stop self sabotaging? In the 12th Principle in our Think and Lose Weight series, let’s talk about The Brain. And its role in sabotaging everything you want to accomplish.
If you’re anything like me, you have all of these good intentions in life. You’re going to stick to that diet this time, or quit smoking for good!
But then, something happens and it all falls apart. Everything seems to go like this for you. You don’t like it, and you’re trying to do better. But you just can’t figure this out. And what’s worse, now other people are accusing you of self-sabotaging.
What does that mean? How do you fix this? Is it even possible to change your life around?
I constantly battle self-sabotaging behaviors. And I mean, constantly. It’s an awful battle to fight, especially when you don’t know anything about it. In this war, knowledge is power. And it starts with knowing your “Self”.
What Is this “Self” We Are Sabotaging?
Before we can get into the “sabotaging” part, we need to talk about The Self.
You’re likely aware of the concept from mainstream Psychology, but humor me for a moment, and let’s define “The Self” a little differently. That way we’re both starting from the same foundation of understanding in order to build upon our more complex thoughts as we go.
The Self is made up of three different parts: Body, Brain, and Soul.
Your Body is like a car, the thing we use to get around. The one deciding where the car is going is your Soul. And your Brain is like the car’s computer, working with the engine and other components in the car to make it all work.
And the computer in that car is so very smart. It has built in GPS, with lane changing assistance, and a cruise-control feature to even drive the car once you’ve set it in motion. It can even press the brakes if the sensors determine that the car is going to crash – what an amazing machine!
Yet, for all its smarts, your brain cannot imagine, feel emotion, understand nuances from experience, or sense intuitive danger. It can only react to the pre-programmed controls and alerts as set forth in the logic that you’ve learned up to this point.
Often times, the logic of the Brain is determined through using the body’s five senses – sight, taste, touch, smell, and hearing. The Brain stores this information in the sub-conscious, just like a computer stores data. Those are the ways the Brain processes information. And that’s incredible.
But the Soul is the only one who can turn this data from the senses into real meaning – using some subtle and often unrecognized senses in order to steer the car toward goals and around obstacles. Ultimately, your soul is the force in charge, and the one who can stop the self sabotaging.
Intention (having the will to do something)
Imagination (wild, illogical dreams)
Intuition (the inexplainable understanding that something unpredictable will happen)
Emotion (the spectrum between love and hate)
Empathy (Recognizing these senses in another soul aka. emotional intelligence)
What Is Self-Sabotage?
Self-Sabotage is the consequence of not controlling our own known or unknown harmful coping mechanisms and behaviors to our individualized triggering events, preventing the success of accomplishing small daily tasks or in compounding deviant behaviors that lead to the destruction of over-arching life goals.
So, let’s use the car metaphor to break down what this means. Imagine the Soul is behind the wheel of the car driving down the interstate highway. It’s a long drive, and the scenery is boring. The Soul’s eyes droop, and the steady hum lulls this sweet passenger to sleep.
Abruptly, the vehicle alarms go off, alerting the Soul to danger. In a flash of panicked reflexes, the Soul whips the steering wheel to correct course, narrowly avoiding tragedy.
The Soul then chooses to nod off again, relying on the alarms of the Body to alert it to danger. Nothing really bad happened last time, so next time we can get away with the bad behavior again probably without negative consequence.
It seems so obvious as an outsider to question this decision. But we are all guilty at some point of doing this, to varying degrees of consequence.
And this is actually, just a really simplified example of the concept of Normalization of Deviance.
What Is Normalization of Deviance?
On the frigid morning of January 28th, 1986, the space shuttle Challenger lifted off at 11:38am from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Seven crew members were aboard, including Christa McAuliffe, a high school teacher included as part of a collaboration to inspire STEM students and teachers across the nation.
As a result, millions of people were watching when only 73 seconds after liftoff, it exploded on national television. Tragically, all seven crew members were killed.
The cause? NASA’s seemingly insignificant, but intentional choice to launch despite warnings from engineers that the O-rings inside the shuttle – small pieces of plastic in the shape of a circle used to seal liquids and gases from escaping – weren’t tested below 40-degrees Fahrenheit.
And that morning’s temperature set record lows at just 26 degrees, a record that still stands over thirty years later.
A 15-degree temperature difference really is significant, and so the engineers were rightly concerned. But this launch had already been repeatedly delayed due to other factors.
And since the O-rings had never failed before and the temperature had warmed up to 36-degrees by 11:30am, NASA managers approved the launch.
After analyzing the tragedy of the Challenger explosion, sociologist Diane Vaughan labeled this destructive phenomenon as Normalization of Deviance (Source).
And we can use this profound concept in our own lives to minimize our own self-sabotage.
What Causes Self-Sabotage?
Normalization of Deviance causes self-sabotage, and occurs when we take short-cuts or do destructive behaviors in order to achieve efficiency. We allow for this because of our constant need to get things done in the most efficient way, and we do not immediately suffer negative consequences for these short-cuts.
And each time we fail to suffer negative consequences for behavior we know is wrong, our Brains solidify that pathway as the most efficient way to do things.
So, after a while, it becomes an automatic habit, instead of intentional choice.
We do this as a result of not having enough time, money, patience, or other resources and need to find a faster way toward our goals. We may also do this due to peer-pressure or in an attempt to gain respect, admiration, or love.
In the example of the Challenger, the managers likely felt overwhelming pressure to accomplish their goal after having to reschedule so many times.
If you are at the point where you have to get something done so fast that you’re skipping steps, look around. You’re on the path of Normalization of Deviance.
And just because you may not be feeling the negative consequence now, that means nothing. If you keep up with these behaviors, though, you will eventually have to pay up, in some form.
If we think about the car analogy again, the Brain is laying out the most efficient pathway, much like the way the route is laid out on a GPS screen.
The fastest route is not always the safest, or cheapest route. If you don’t have specific settings selected, your GPS may take you through expensive toll roads or over dangerous mountain passages in the dead of winter, just to save ten minutes.
Until the stars align, so to speak, to cause us to experience negative consequences, there is no reason to question or change these behavioral short cuts. Why wouldn’t we trust what our Brain says to do? But that’s where the senses of the Soul and intentional accountability become vitally important.
How to Stop Self Sabotage?
Self-sabotage is often unintentional; something we don’t know is happening until it’s over. It’s like being on auto-pilot while driving, and wondering how we got to our destination. Or setting out with the intention to diet, but ending the night with a bingefest, having eaten two day’s worth of calories in one sitting.
The Brain took over, and took us down our previously programmed pathway. What do we do?
- Compartmentalize the Three Parts of The Self
The Soul, the Brain, and the Body all have to work together to re-set the programming. It takes intention, commitment, and accountability – three things that can feel overwhelming for so many of us.
Some of us are experiencing health or mental issues that we have identified with for the majority of our whole lives. We take accountability and responsibility for either the causes or the effects. And it is exhausting, emotionally and physically.
By acknowledging that your Body is like a car, and your Soul is in that vehicle, we can separate the concept of YOU from your body.
And in doing so, we can separate the concept of YOU from your illness. And that actually matters a great deal in changing our self-sabotaging behaviors, though it might feel like a silly exercise.
But think about it like this, if YOU are your body, then YOU are your disease. You can’t do anything about it if YOU are the problem. It is a really, really hard task to be so self-aware that you can identify your own problems, as well as find the solution for them.
2. Look at Your Brain in The Mirror
The Brain is so incredibly smart, but it cannot SEE itself or SEE the areas for improvement. It’s like kissing your own elbow. You know your elbow is there; you can feel when you bang your funny bone. But you can’t kiss your own elbow.
You can barely even see it without a mirror. (Insider joke here, but if I ever refer to my super-power as being able to see or kiss my own elbow, you are now in on it. I can’t actually do it, though, just to put that out there).
My sister told me once about the practice of Neurofeedback, where she was hooked up to a device that recorded brainwaves. She watched the brainwave patterns, and her brain was given real-time feedback on how it was working.
She could watch her brain watch itself, and in doing so, it was able able to re-write its internal code. The way it was described to me sounded like her brain was de-bugging code in computer software. Fascinating!
So, since your Brain can’t see itself, it needs someone else to help do the work of change. This is why counseling, therapy, or even just talking to someone else, is so important and necessary. Talking to others is your mirror, and the way the Brain can see itself and fix things.
3. Become A Believer – In What Is Up to You
Separating the concepts of your Soul from your Brain and Body can also help to give you distance from your problems in order to see or accept the solution.
My prediction is that you’ll likely start hearing about these concepts more and more in the coming years, as the trend toward holistic medicine sweeps across the nation.
Keep in mind, this may be a really weird concept for some of us to accept. But if this feels too supernatural to you, find comfort in your religion, whatever it is, because in just about every religion, this concept is universal.
*Traditional Oriental Medicine calls the spirit the Qi (“Chee”).
*Other Asian practices may refer to this as Tai Chi or Qi Gong
*The Hindu/Yoga tradition recognizes the soul and spirit and mind.
*In Islam, the soul is referred to as the nafs (Source).
*A common fundamental belief in Buddhism is reincarnation, with an assumption that the same soul repeats life in different bodies in order to attain Nirvana, liberation and freedom from suffering.
I do not practice Buddhism personally, but I really gravitate toward the three trainings or practices, and see them as proof of concept here. I’ll list the three out, but just know, these are my simplistic views on these trainings and are far more sophisticated than I’ve laid out here:
- Sila: Do good things (Body/physical)
- Samadhi: Think good thoughts (brain/meditation)
- Prajna: Be a good person (Spirit/intuition)
*In Judaism, the soul and body are two parts of a whole: Genesis 2:7 “the LORD God formed man from the dust of the earth. He blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being”. So, again, man had a body, and God gave it a spirit.
*It’s even written in the New Testament in the Christian bible: 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 NIV “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own:”
4. Pay Attention to What You’re Doing And Spot The Pattern
Self-sabotage shows up in our lives in so many different ways for everyone. For me, self-sabotage is clear when I day-dream at work, eat a dozen cookies in response to an emotionally triggering event, or being too lazy to pack my gym clothes the night before.
What does your version of self-sabotage look like? Alcoholism, drug addiction, smoking, yelling at a loved one, ignoring deadlines or details, casually showing up late wherever you go, physical self-harm, anorexia or bulimia… the list can be endless.
But the patterns are easier to spot when you just start looking.
5. Keep A Journal
The best way to find your self-sabotage behaviors are to journal your day. If you’re new to journaling, here are some helpful questions to answer in your journal every single day:
- What do I remember doing today?
- What emotions did I recognize feeling?
- Was it a good day or a bad day?
- What made it good or bad?
- Is there something I did that I liked?
- What did I do that I didn’t like?
- What is a good thing that happened?
- How did I react to that?
- What was a bad thing that happened?
- How did I react to that?
- Did something happen yesterday that affected me today?
- Did something happen today that I know will affect me tomorrow?
- Can I plan for that happening tomorrow to get a positive result?
- What do I wish would happen tomorrow?
- Is my wish realistic or do I need to let it go?
- If it is realistic, what would it take to make my wish come true?
- What am I feeling anger over today?
- Why am I holding on to that anger?
- Can I let it go or do I need to keep holding my anger?
5. Talk to someone
If you’re not good at writing, start talking. Have them ask you these questions, and maybe discuss the answers. This is where a good counselor or therapist come in, because they can answer questions you have, or dive into deeper questions to get to the root causes.
But sometimes just talking to someone you love or respect about these things can really help.
How to Help Someone Else Who Is Self-Sabotaging
If you’re looking for resources on how to help someone else who is self-sabotaging, are you sure that person is even ready? Why are you looking for resources, instead of them?
Speaking from my own experience, until the person with the problem seeks the answer for themselves, you may be wasting your time. See, you could go to all the trouble of finding the PERFECT answer.
But they may not be in a place where they can recognize when someone is holding the answer to a question that they didn’t ask on a silver platter right under their own noses.
The best way to help someone stop self-sabotaging is by simply asking them the questions on the previous page. And then, practice actively listening to their answers.
Active listening is a learned skill. I’ve rarely met anyone who is a natural. Keep in mind, simple does not equal easy.
To practice active listening, don’t answer any of their questions yourself, and don’t prompt their answer or suggest anything.
Only ever ask new questions.
The goal in helping someone to stop self-sabotaging is to get THEM to the basic level of self-awareness needed to start moving toward a solution – never to exert your own authority or expertise upon them.
Your role is to be quiet, and rarely speak. It’s harder than it sounds. And knowing which question to ask, and when the right time to ask that question in order to keep them talking takes practice.
This is a painful lesson I learned as I moved through the levels of management in my corporate career. It can be very hard to do, and, for some of us, takes a LOT of practice.
This is why doing this with an experienced manager at work or, especially, a therapist or counselor in your personal life, is a good idea.
Otherwise, you could damage the very relationship you seek to save by inadvertently trying to turn the conversation back toward yourself or push them through the questions. And it only takes one moment to irreversibly damage a relationship.
That’s why a third party is so vital in this process.
30 Day Stop Self-Sabotaging Challenge
Your challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to answer the journaling questions everyday for 30 days.
If you don’t make it 30 days, that’s ok. But try to do it the majority of the month.
Then, read what you wrote!
With a pen and paper, list out any patterns you notice. Highlight the positive things with a pink highlighter, and all of the negative things in blue (or pick a different color combination to suit your personal style). Do you have more pink than blue?
Or is it the other way around.
Was there an ongoing theme? Do you feel better about yourself, or worse? What can you do to make more positive highlights? Do you want to try this again for another 30 days?
Now, stop reading this, and go start your own challenge!
Happy weight loss <3
"No Excuses Chili" is my Go-To weight loss recipe when it is cold outside, or I know I'm in for a busy day.
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