My friends it is officially spring and that means we are a long ways away from the New Year’s resolutions. Now that the winter is over I look around the gym and notice most of the New Year’s crowds are gone. What happened? Although there are many possible answers, one in particular stands out. Self sabotage. This subtle little mental problem is more common than you think. I always have believed that the more subtle the problem is the more dangerous, because it is tough to identify. In this post, we are going to address self sabotage syndrome and how to combat it.
What is Self Sabotage?
Self sabotage syndrome is a mental condition where we set realistic goals and repeatedly fail to achieve them. It is not that the goals are unrealistic. It is that we have a bad mindset and try not to achieve our goals. Of course we do this in a very subtle manner. We don’t really realize that we are doing this. There are many key indicators of this kind of behavior, but one in particular stands out above the rest: procrastination.
Procrastination is the hallmark of self sabotage syndrome. Having a big “to do” list and instead of just doing the stuff on the list, we procrastinate and before you know it the entire day has gone by and we have gotten nowhere. Sound familiar? Only then we realize how we have spent our day doing nothing productive. Then we feel guilty and as a result we procrastinate even more. The whole thing is a vicious cycle until finally you end up quitting.
I could spend more time going over all the different indicators of self sabotage, but it really isn’t necessary because the key indicator, procrastination, is usually what leads to all of the other indicators. Besides, understanding the indicators is only a first step. The most important thing to understand is not how it happens, but why it happens.
Why Does It Happen?
Self sabotage happens mainly because of fear. In my last post about Confidence, I dedicated a huge section of the post to fear. In the case of self sabotage, fear happens because we are confronted with emotions that make us very uncomfortable. Our brain and our ego are so afraid of being hurt from these intense emotions that rather than do something, it does nothing. This is why we procrastinate. If we do nothing there is absolutely no risk of feeling any pain of failure, or success.
Its kind of ironic because temporarily we feel no pain, but in the long term the pain comes back. It reminds me a lot of the dating world. We observe a good looking member of the opposite sex and rather than ask the person out we do nothing to avoid rejection. There is also the entrepreneur who has great ideas for a new startup, but when the time comes to act, nothing happens.
If we instead decided to take action we might fail, but we also might succeed. People often assume that if you keep failing over and over again at a particular craft then it is not meant to be. This is simply not true. Failure paves the way to success. If you don’t know what doesn’t work, how do you know what will work? You won’t! Action determines the outcome. Procrastination stands in the way of action. So let’s break through it and make stuff happen.
How To Avoid It
The first step to overcoming self sabotage is to stop procrastinating. Simple in theory and hard in practice. However, I found a good technique for combating this. Dr. Barbara Oakely, in her book A Mind For Numbers: How to excel at math and science, mentioned a technique you can use with a stopwatch. It involves setting a timer for 20-30 minutes. During that timeframe you are to do nothing but work. No TV, cell phone, limited internet and absolutely no social media. This will force you to focus and do work. As 20-30 minutes becomes easier try increasing the work time to 60 minutes, or 45 minutes if you prefer. The point is that you work to increase this over time and before you know it you will be a results machine.
Above all else stay positive. Nothing will drain you momentum quicker than a negative attitude. Realize that procrastination is nothing but a habit and if you want to stop procrastinating, then just break the habit. The stopwatch technique mentioned above is very effective! However, it needs to be repeated day after day. Otherwise the newer “good” habits won’t stick and the “bad” habits will remain. To be persistent requires a positive attitude. I have said this before and I will say it again, a positive attitude will not get you there by itself. It will however, make the work much easier to deal with. So the next time something doesn’t go according to plan just remember this quote from Marcus Aurelius:
“You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.”
Use The Power Of Your Purpose And Push Forward
Remember what your goals are. No matter how bad the procrastination can get, you will never succumb to self sabotage if you have a strong purpose. A strong purpose will push you forward when the going gets tough. Make sure that you check and recheck your goals as often as you can. You have to know where you going otherwise procrastination will take you in another direction. Every day you need to push forward in some way shape or form. Don’t feel like lifting weights, fine, then do calisthenics. Don’t like running, do the stair-master. No stair-master either, alright find a trail nearby and go for a hike. The time for excuses is over and the time for results is now. So what are you waiting for, get off the computer and start making your dreams become reality.