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Some months ago, I gave up—I quit.
There was no point in exerting effort, or in trying to get my work done. I remember telling myself that it was just as useful to open my computer and watch TV as it was to open a document and get to work.
When I thought about the situation around me, I could see how everything was stacked against me. Putting time and energy into getting work done was causing me nothing but frustration.
I remember the feeling of disgust washing over me as I fell into self-criticism, hopelessness, and despair. It had the same quality as sticking sandbags on my legs and putting a blindfold over my face: darkness and heaviness surrounded the situation in my mind. I spent hours texting and engaged in phone conversations to determine that I was right—I was wasting my time.
I was deep in the trenches of self-sabotage and was ready to sit on the couch and wallow in my own version of the truth.
Why do we stop ourselves from achieving our greatest goals?
Why do we hold ourselves back from our greatest potential?
Why is it so much easier to talk ourselves down than to build ourselves up?
It’s easy, and often reflexive, to blame others and circumstances outside our control—the boss, the family, the timing—but often, it’s not others who are holding us back. It’s ourselves.
Self-sabotage is an epidemic in a world where we are cultured to believe that every effort deserves applause or accolades, or, at least, must have an immediate sense of purpose and value.
We are conditioned to push through and make something happen once or twice, but we don’t come equipped with the tenacity needed to push through dozens of times, let alone hundreds or thousands—the kind of numbers that the most successful people will tell you is often necessary. That’s something we have to build up for ourselves.
In our world and with our general conditioning, it’s easy to give up and become slowly demoralized by a lack of attention or positive feedback. It’s easy to tell ourselves that no one wants what we have to offer. Easy to let ourselves crawl into a shell, abdicate our power and voice, and drop into self-pity.
We want results, scores, and measurements that show us that it is “all worth it.”
But the world won’t fill us with self-worth we don’t already have.
Other people’s opinions, while valuable, are not the primary fuel we should be burning to keep going. All work that is good and important is not valued by this world, and all that this world values is not good or important.
So, we have to decide to keep going and stay committed to our path in a world that isn’t patting us on the back.
The answer is not just positive self-talk. We can’t “you go girl” our way through life when our inner self is screaming, “no one wants you, girl.”
Every single one of us has an inner self-saboteur. It is one of our four core archetypes (the others being the Victim, the Child, and the Prostitute).
This means that we all have the power to sabotage ourselves—especially when we are on the brink of breaking through to something greater.
We quit writing, just when our words were beginning to reach people.
We quit learning a new instrument, just when we were about ready to reach a new plateau.
We leave a relationship, just when the work was about to pay off.
Part of the human condition is struggle.
Thomas Hobbes once said, “Life is short, brutish and nasty.” Yet we are conditioned to avoid all three.
We want to have peak moment experiences, and it takes a great deal of effort to allow ourselves to linger in those experiences that make life feel long and painful.
When I was working with a life coach, she pulled me out of my own quicksand. She had me focus on the end goal, rather than allowing me to fall into the frustrations in the present moment.
I got my ass in the chair and got my work done, reminding myself during the hard moments that the things I believed were true were only true in the eye of the beholder.
Months later, I’m in a completely different position in life and work.
We generally don’t try to hold ourselves back from success, achieving our goals, or getting what we want: it’s quite the opposite. Most of us want it, want it easily, and want it now. When that doesn’t materialize, we simply become convinced that circumstances are stacked against us. This is more about our perceptions than our realities.
We focus on the meaning behind what we see, infusing it with our worst-case scenarios or things we are triggered by. We self narrate, analyze, and assess why it just won’t work out, and we are better off if we just stop.
Our body reacts, and we quit, give up, or remove ourselves from the situation.
We are often convinced that this is driven by a “gut” feeling. It rarely is.
So what can we do?
>> Check the facts. Look at the situation as it is, not as we think it is
>> Examine the possibilities for why things are the way they are. Is the story we are creating around it the only possibility, or are there others?
>> Tune in to our body sensations. What are we experiencing, and what are the feelings around it? It’s not “self-sabotage” if our body is telling us “no” or “don’t.”
>> Look at what is triggering us. Is the trigger causing us to have thoughts that create self-sabotage?
>> Set down the memes. It’s not helpful to think about how there is a “lesson in every failure” in the moment we are failing: we are failing at finding the lesson while also failing. It’s not beneficial to convince ourselves that “it’s all worthwhile in the end” when the end has not arrived. Stay off Instagram, with its bite-sized bits.
>> Get your ass in the chair. Whatever it is that you are avoiding, do that. If it’s work, get to it. There’s nothing that helps us overcome invented narratives faster than replacing them with action.
Our tendency for self-sabotage can be our greatest power when we see it and call it out for what it is.
>> When we see how we’re spinning a story to fit a more comfortable narrative and choose to seek the truth instead.
>> When we realize that we are giving other people power over our work in the world and come back to our core.
>> When we find that we’re being swayed by public opinion, but choose to stand in our own integrity.
>> When we struggle through work that might look easier “for everyone else,” we practice, learn, and grow.
There’s something about standing in our own integrity, power, and voice that powers us in a whole different way than waiting to see what others will think or whether or not it agrees with the current consensus.
To unplug the power of our self-saboteur, we have to learn to live without constant public attention, rewards, and accolades. We have to find our path and keep walking it with courage and tenacity.
If our inner saboteur is the villain in this story, then the hero is our tenacity and courage to trust and believe in ourselves and our path—regardless of what others might say or do.
When we want to quit, give up, avoid, shut down, and leave, we need to dig into ourselves and examine what is really true. Are we letting our narratives dictate our behavior so that we can avoid something painful, or are we able to access our inner hero and rescue ourselves?
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