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  • Writer's pictureAllen Tedjo


Updated: Mar 29, 2021


Do you have habits that are stopping you from taking action in your work or home life? Are you feeling guilty and dissatisfied with where you’re at personally or professionally? Has self-sabotage become your go-to strategy when you feel uncomfortable, down, and upset?

These cycles of avoidance may be stopping you from taking actions that align with your values, which can lead to an intense feeling of dissonance or disparity. Self-sabotaging behaviors - procrastination, making excuses, perfectionism, indulging in negative self-talk - these are all the things that get in the way of what we truly want to be doing. In order to identify the self-sabotaging behaviors that exist in your day-to-day life, you must start by determining what it is that you value.

Determining our Values

It can be difficult to understand your sabotaging behaviour if you have lost the connection to your values. Your values are what inspire you most, what makes your heart move. They indicate what you stand for and who you ultimately want to be. It is possible that through your habits of self-sabotage your sense of self has begun to change, enabling you to lose sight of your core values and your identity has become foggy. I’ll give you an example.

Let’s say you value hard-work and discipline. Over time, you establish new goals and start new projects, such as painting, or starting your own e-commerce business selling pants. To do these things you need to acquire certain tools (like paints and brushes) or learn new skills (like taking a web design course so you can start building your own website). Instead of doing these essential tasks, maybe you choose to read or play video games or binge the newest series on Netflix. Why?

As humans, we are wired to reduce our discomfort. It’s evolutionary. A long time ago, we learned to avoid certain uncomfortable situations as an act of self-preservation. Something as simple as eating a berry that made us sick, we would avoid eating it again the next time around. If we saw someone at a distance we didn’t know, we might avoid the uncomfortable engagement out of safety. Avoiding certain things would have historically kept us alive and so it is deep in our nature to avoid discomfort. This learned behavior has taught us to naturally lean into the comfort of certainty and avoid the discomfort of the unknown.

Binging a show on Netflix is comforting to us because it poses little risk - we can’t fail at it. It does little to disrupt your comfort and you’re certain it’s going to provide you with immediate gratification/satisfaction. However, if you were to pick up a paintbrush for the very first time and your masterpiece turns out to be awful, you’ve now invested time and effort into something that leaves you feeling dissatisfied at first, or like you’ve somehow failed. The trick here is to acknowledge the failure and try again, incorporating the lessons you’ve learned along the way. This is called grit - it’s not always easy, and can take some practice.

As we’ve learned with the bad berry, not all forms of avoidance are bad. Some avoidance might be okay, such as avoiding junk food in order to live a healthier lifestyle or avoiding staying late after work in order to build better work-life balance and avoid burnout.

Where avoidance becomes self-sabotage, is when we engage in the avoidance activity MORE than the activities that are important to us and that align with our values.

These avoidance behaviours we mentioned earlier may drain us of our physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual energy, as well as time, and money.

So, how do we break these cycles of avoidance?

  1. First of all, be gentle with yourself. This is a process of rewiring your brain's natural tendency to avoid discomfort, and that is no easy task. Facing something hard, rather than avoiding it is always going to require more effort.

  2. Don’t force it. Give yourself the space to focus on what matters to you in this moment. You don’t have to do everything at once, or become a new person overnight. Being honest with yourself allows you to move forward without judgment. The process begins with repeating new, more aligned behaviours until your brain begins to rewire itself, and have stronger connections with these new behaviours than the old ones.

  3. Remember that progress isn’t always a straight line, but rather zig-zaggy, and you may move sideways, backwards, diagonally. The idea is that you are moving, and not stagnant in the same line of sabotage. You will fail, but don’t take it as a failure. Simply acknowledge that your brain still hasn’t strengthened the new pathways yet.

  4. Do not give into the brain's tendency of making excuses and generating stories that may hold you back further. This is essentially sabotaging the path to removing self-sabotage. These are just stories in your head, they aren’t true. You’re not too far gone, and you haven’t been a certain way for so long that you can’t change.

  5. Acknowledge you are not where you want to be. This allows your brain to be set up for creating new pathways. When you acknowledge you are not where you want to be, the idea of changing will be preferable to staying where you are.

  6. View your environment as something that can hold you back from change. Be aware that our environment, one that we created, is invested in keeping us the same. It is our job to encourage, and invite discomfort into our lives to begin to deconstruct this environment. It is likely that you’ve read this far because you believe there is a life for you that is meaningful, and aligned with your values. It is okay to feel like you aren’t ready. It is okay to feel overwhelmed. You are here because you’re ready to try anyways.

  7. Speak to a therapist. They can help you identify what self-sabotaging behaviours you have, and where they come from. They can work with you to implement strategies to minimize the amount these behaviours impact your life.

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