Deconstructing Self-Sabotage

Ever wonder why you can’t seem to make progress on an important project? Or why you can’t seem to find the time for that special person in your life? Or why you can’t stick to a diet? Or why you can’t complete whatever-it-is?

Well, I’m here to tell you there’s a reason to that and 99% of that reason starts and ends with you. 99% of the reason is a form of self-sabotage and that measly 1% is for circumstances beyond your control.

At first glance, you may be inclined to contest the idea that you are principally responsible for your failures or lack of achievements. If you are so inclined, then believe this–you are in fact responsible for the results in your life, but maybe you are just unaware of it.

So, let’s get on with it. Self-sabotage can take many forms: procrastination, self-justifications, blame on others/circumstances, distractions such as excessive consumption of food and entertainment, and a whole host of other mediums to name a few.

But to broadly define self-sabotage, it is essentially any action/lack thereof that takes you away from advancing towards a meaningful goal.

It may not make sense to some—why would anyone willingly or unwillingly sabotage their own progress?

To understand this, we have to realize that at the heart of self-sabotage is one or more of several things:

  • Fear of Failure
  • Fear of Success
  • Desire for Instant Gratification

Despite setting ambitious goals, a lot of us either consciously or unconsciously lack a faith in our ability to achieve them. That lack of sufficient faith in our abilities can paralyze us into inaction or over-analysis. In order to protect our ego, we un-wittingly decide that it is better to not try than to try and fail.

On the other hand, some of us fear success. We may have an aversion to money, peace, and even health. Why you may ask? Most often because of beliefs planted in our childhood. We may believe that if we work out every day and get in great shape, that we might antagonize our friends and family who aren’t in as good a shape.

We may fear that if we achieve monetary success we are evil because we were taught money is bad or we might fear being recognized by others only for our monetary success.

We fear peace, because we are told we cannot be competitive and successful while enjoying peace—that you cannot have one if you want the other.

And yet again on another hand, we engage in self-sabotage because we do not have the patience for delayed gratification. We are completely immersed in a society where we can have everything on demand—movies, music, fast food, diet pills, etcetera.

What we fail to understand when we cannot endure the prospect of delayed gratification is that we shouldn’t expect gratification/happiness when our objective is achieved. Instead the gratification should come from the journey and the growth in our skillset, perseverance and wisdom that occurs along the way in trying to achieve our goals.

Ask rock-climbers. The pleasure a rock-climber derives from the sport is finding tougher and tougher rocks to climb and overcoming them with persistence and good training. Their pleasure does not necessarily come from reaching the top of the rock—they’re only there for a second or so anyway before they go back down—their pleasure comes from process of pushing themselves hard and overcoming the obstacles in between them and the top.

Now, I know I mentioned three underlying causes for conscious and subconscious self-sabotage. What I have not mentioned is that we all suffer from a combination of all three at any one given time.

We could simultaneously fear failure while fearing success while wanting instant gratification. However, for most people even though all these forces are at work within us we tend to be predominantly led by one.

Some people are predominantly led by fear of success. Some people are predominantly led by fear of failure. Others are predominantly led by a desire for instant gratification.

So next time you find yourself stuck in the same place or not making the kind of progress you want, ask yourself which one of these is holding you back. And ask yourself why it is holding you back. Keep asking why until you can fully deconstruct the fear. As you do this, just remember this tried and true tidbit of wisdom: the best way to get rid of your fear is to face it.

Take the leap, have a little faith, and face what’s holding you back until it can’t hold you back any longer.


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