Picture the scene: it’s 9 pm on a Tuesday night and a deadline is looming. There’s a thousand word article that needs to be written but the lure of Netflix is, as ever, overwhelming. I give in; succumbing to an hour of mindless TV, ignoring the fact that this now means an early start in the morning and extra, totally unnecessary stress. Why do this to myself, I wonder, even when I know I’m going to begrudge having to pay the consequences?
The thing is, this scenario isn’t entirely unfamiliar – in fact, when I really think about it, there have been many occasions where I’ve made a decision that I know I’ll regret later. Buying half price Haagen Daaz when I’m on a health kick is one example that springs to mind. Scrolling through Instagram until well past midnight despite being cripplingly tired, is another. I know I’m going to regret these decisions immediately after and yet… I make them anyway.
We all set intentions for things we’d like to achieve or improve, whether that’s cheese grater abs, finishing that novel or finally getting eight hours’ sleep a night. Yet, between working forty hours a week and trying to have some semblance of a life, they often end up falling by the wayside. And whilst we usually put this down to external factors such as overloaded schedules or lack of resources, psychologists have recently found that it’s often a much stealthier, internal demon.
Are we all actually self – sabotaging without even realising it?
As our awareness of mental health and its importance for our overall wellbeing has grown, so has the number of possible explanations for our weird behaviour patterns. Self-sabotage is the latest of such to be thrust into the spotlight, offering up a clarification for why we sometimes find it nigh on impossible to align our actions with our goals.
Life Coach Adele Clough, whose book ‘Say Yes to Life! The Ultimate Guide to Creating an Amazing New You’ will be published in August, sees it most often manifesting as a form of low-self esteem and a way to avoid impending disappointment. ‘So often we are familiar with things not working out for us, why even anticipate a great outcome? It might seem easier to avoid disappointment and feeling like a failure. Sabotage can feel more comfortable to us by maintaining the status quo and therefore it is ‘easier’ than success.’
So what’s the solution? Are we doomed to a life of scuppered plans and distant daydreams?
Thankfully, Clough thinks not and has come up with a guide for getting out of our own way once and for all.
First off, you need to work out where your self-sabotaging behaviour might be lurking. Do you find yourself repeating unhelpful or unhealthy behaviour patterns? As Clough says, ‘[self – sabotage] is not under our conscious control’ so it can be difficult to identify these patterns. If you’re having trouble spotting them, be brave and ask someone you trust to offer a bit more objectivity.
Pay attention to the excuses you give yourself when you choose not to work towards a goal. ‘Naming and shaming these thoughts can take away the power they have over you,’ explains Clough. By really examining your own justifications in the harsh light of day, you can start to see them for what they really are – not helpful thoughts but simply excuses the subconscious uses to keep you from the ‘unsafe unknown.’
Positive thinking is key at this point. If you’re trying to cement some good habits – ones that will help you reach your goals – you’re going to need to become your own personal Pollyanna and retrain yourself to focus on helpful instead of destructive thoughts. According to Clough, ‘what you focus on expands. Get behind yourself and generate some encouraging inner dialogue – you need to be a cheerleader in your own life.’
So you’ve identified your negative thoughts and turned them around, now it’s time to make a promise to yourself to take positive action. ‘Choose to be proactive from now on,’ Clough suggests. Writing things down can help – identify things you want to achieve and the actions needed to make them happen. Then jot down all the great side effects that will come from getting them done.
Last but certainly not least – you need to give yourself a pat on the back when you make a step towards your goal. As Clough says, ‘every time you avoid self-sabotage, congratulate yourself for your commitment and effort.’
In this digital age, the stakes are high when it comes to mental wellbeing – and self-sabotage is one hurdle we just don’t have time for. Whatever your goal – whether that’s a thousand word article or getting a full night’s sleep, a few tweaks to your thought patterns might just make all the difference.