Self-sabotage. It’s the timeless tale of potential gone wrong and opportunities missed. It’s the hidden enemy that launches an attack when we least expect it. And it causes us to engage in all sorts of behaviours and habits that we never would logically conduct.
From procrastination to jumping into the wrong opportunity without due diligence, from skipping the gym to not paying our taxes, from staying in a relationship laden with red flags to turning to alcohol, drugs or any other numbing activity…there is no behaviour so low that self-sabotage won’t stoop to. All these behaviours are designed with one goal in mind – to stop us from following through or reaching our full potential.
There is a misconception that our unconscious mind works against us. Despite Freud’s belief that the unconscious mind is this big, bad, dark thing that wants to see you fail, that couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, our unconscious mind exists to serve us. It wants us to succeed.
The trouble is, most people communicate ineffectively with themselves, leaving their unconscious mind to create a reality out of limiting beliefs and negative experiences. When we’re creating a reality from a negative and disempowering foundation, we can’t help but find ways to be let down, miss opportunities and sabotage ourselves.
To further add fuel to the fire, we are also wired to always be right. So even when the opportunity does arise to make more money, find more fulfilling and loving relationships, advance in our careers or grow our business – our unconscious mind pulls the proverbial handbrake before we move into unchartered (and therefore the potentially unsafe) territory of our reality not aligning with our beliefs, thereby proving them wrong. And so, like a fish out of water, we find a way to flop.
So despite our best efforts to show up as our best selves and achieve our full potential, how does self-sabotage still sneak in to derail us? Let’s take a look inside the mind:
Step 1: You experience a situation that threatens to challenge one of your belief systems
It could be finding a relationship where you feel loved and supported (when you believe that you’re not good enough). In business, it could be where you have opportunities to increase your income through high paying clients, high profile opportunities or company growth (when you believe you’re unworthy of success).
Step 2: There is an incongruency between your conscious and unconscious mind as the fear of the unknown kicks in
Consciously, we enjoy the opportunities that come our way, however, our conscious mind is only 4% of our minds capacity. Our unconscious mind is 96% of the minds capacity, and it goes into panic mode because the beliefs it has long held to be true are being challenged. The amygdala, the fear center of the brain, goes on high alert from the perceived threat of this new reality that is unfolding.
“You can conquer almost any fear if you will only make up your mind to do so. For remember, fear doesn’t exist anywhere except in the mind.” – Dale Carnegie
Step 3: Course correction begins
The unconscious mind will kick into action to bring you back to the reality you’ve always known and begin taking action to undermine the new relationship or extinguish the opportunities in your business.
In the relationship, you will start misinterpreting their communication or their tone. You’ll go back into your old patterns of not being able to trust the person or not believing what they say to you. You’ll start questioning everything they say and do, and find reasons to discredit them by any means necessary. Over time, this will lead to a complete and total breakdown of a relationship that once held so much promise.
In business, you find logical reasons to justify buying unneeded items, or you overpromise and underdeliver for a client so they decline to continue working with you. You make business decisions or take risks that are unnecessary or costly. Or you procrastinate on getting important tasks done until your cash flow is scarce and the business is financially stressed. Slowly, but surely, any business success you were finding disappears – further validating that you aren’t good enough.
Step 4: Nothing changes
The reality that we’ve created for ourselves is one that never changes, because we’ve never taken the time to work on the belief systems that reside in the dark recesses of our minds. Our relationships progressively get worse and worse. In business, we experience crushing blows after any amount of success. We may even get drawn into the victim mentality cycle of “why me” and “poor me.”
The good news is, we can change! We can stop self-sabotage in its tracks and create a reality that has everything we’ve ever wanted…and more! How? It starts with recognizing that our behaviours and habits are nothing more than symptoms of our belief systems.
When we have enough self-awareness to recognize the patterns that we continually engage in that derail our forward progression, we can begin the process of questioning them and digging deeper to find out the belief that is at play.
“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” – Victor Frankl
Once we know the root of the problem (the belief) we can do the work needed to revisit the circumstances in our life that created the belief in the first place. We can reframe our perceptions of these events to recreate the old belief.
The truth is – the bulk of the belief systems we carry around in our adult years were created between the ages of 0 and 7. These beliefs are then further cemented in place in our unconscious mind by how we choose to view other events that occurred in our life.
For example, what if that significant other who cheated on you, leading to the belief that you can’t trust anyone, didn’t cheat because you weren’t good enough, rather they were demonstrating their own lack of confidence or self-worth. Or maybe they were just a jerk with no self-control. Either way, none of those realities have anything to do with your personal self-worth.
In business, what if those challenges and obstacles that popped up were designed to help you tap into the internal resources you needed to cultivate (like strength, resilience, tenacity, compassion or grit) to help you become more effective in reaching your potential? What if failure was an event and you had made the unconscious choice in the past to take it on as your identity?
Being able to see the failures of others that are considered successful by society helps reframe these beliefs quickly as well. Afterall, it’s hard to feel like a failure when one or two ventures didn’t go your way, when Thomas Edison “failed” thousands of times at creating the lightbulb!
Take the time to reflect on the habits that you continually engage in that seem to derail your progress or success. Be willing to dig in and ask the question “what is the purpose of doing this?” so that you can, like so many other successful entrepreneurs and business people have before you, say goodbye to self-sabotage and fully embrace your potential!