Written by: Fanny Elizaga, Senior Level Executive Contributor
Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.
Have you ever indulged in chocolate cake when you told yourself to lay off the carbs? Or turned down a job offer because you thought you weren’t good enough? How about making a resolution to read more only to find yourself making excuses not to?
Self-limiting beliefs can convince us that we’re not worth it.
Are we all hardwired to give into our impulses and submit to negative self-talk?
If you’ve ever been a victim to self-sabotage, take heart: There’s a solution. You can train your brain to stop undermining you.
But before I give you my NeuroTip to Nix Self-Sabotage, let’s look at three of the most common ways that we obstruct our own chances of success: We waste opportunity, we don’t ask for what we need, and we procrastinate.
1. Are you wasting precious opportunity?
In a letter to his friend, American-British novelist Henry James writes that his only regrets have been the “occasions and possibilities that [he] didn’t embrace.”
We become our own worst enemies when we never take chances to do the things we love in life. We betray ourselves when we hold off telling our friends and family that we love them. We fail at every challenge we never take on.
Notice when your patterns of thinking lead you in the opposite direction of what you long to do. If a friend invites you on a spontaneous road trip, do you immediately cast the idea to the curb because you’ve gotten in the habit of saying: “Spontaneous trips aren’t something I do?”
You may be self-sabotaging.
2. Are you neglecting to ask for what you need?
John Donne famously said: “No man is an island.” Neurobiologist Eric Kandel puts it this way: “We are by nature intensely social beings…More than any other species, we depend on others for survival.”
You can’t meet your goals all on your own. Building resourcefulness, nurturing independence, and cultivating self-sufficiency are all worthwhile pursuits. But if you always act independently, you’re acting against yourself.
Language, for example, is a skill built entirely within a community. Human beings thrive when they are forming and maintaining healthy bonds. Sometimes we forget that even our closest friends can’t read our minds, so we sabotage our efforts to succeed, let alone to give and receive love, by not expressing our needs.
Does any of that sound familiar? You may be self-sabotaging.
3. Are you procrastinating?
If you’ve ever experienced a gap between what you said you would do and what you ended up doing, you’re not alone. Twenty-five percent of adults see procrastination as a defining trait of their personality. Thirty-three percent of Americans put aside filing their taxes. Sixty percent leave shopping for the holidays until the last minute. And who hasn’t stayed up the night before to prepare for a presentation?
Researchers into procrastination consider the flaw to be a form of “self-regulatory failure.” If you have a tough time managing your thoughts, emotions, and impulses, how easily will you focus on attaining your goals and fulfilling your aspirations (let alone making that deadline on time)?
That said, it’s best not to think of yourself as a “failure” if you find yourself unable to “self-regulate” all your thoughts and emotions. Often what psychologists call “intrusive thoughts” get in the way of our best efforts to move forward. They hijack our goal-setting and goal-fulfilling habits. They appear to exist outside our conscious control.
For some, procrastination is nothing more than a coping mechanism to avoid negative moods. As anyone who has ever been in the grip of a cycle of negative thoughts and feelings, once you’re caught in them, it’s hard to get uncaught.
Researchers Pychyl and Sirios point out in their 2013 study: “Procrastination is an emotional regulation problem, not a time management problem…People engage in an irrational cycle of chronic procrastination because they are unable to manage negative moods.” ¹ If a task makes us feel anxious or insecure, our amygdalae might perceive that task as a genuine threat to our well-being.
Take the simple task of filing a tax return. Inherently, there is nothing traumatic or threatening about tax season. However, if you’ve experienced any kind of financial trauma or significant economic setback, the mere thought of taxes may lead you to feel like your security and well-being is being threatened. As Benjamin Franklin once said: “...in this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” If you don’t file your taxes, it’s certain to cause you trouble. You may ruin your credit score. The IRS may audit you. And all that might lead to further money problems, which deepen your traumatic stress. No one wants to get into that vicious cycle.
NeuroTips to nix self-sabotage
The key to overcoming all of these common forms of self-sabotage is what I call the A-U-M methods.
First, raise your level of awareness, then take a cognitive U-turn, and finally master the technique.
Awareness: Develop your skills of awareness
Set an intention to stop yourself whenever you see yourself procrastinating, wasting opportunity, and not asking for what you need. Raise your level of awareness. Get above the unconscious habit. Take a bird’s eye view of what you’re doing. Take a few mindful breaths. Become aware of what feelings might lie at the root of your self-sabotaging tendencies. Whether it’s anxiety or low self-esteem, allow the feelings to be there —without judgment.
If you find you have common patterns of self-sabotage, write them down. It will help you keep track and see your own patterns more clearly.
U-Turn: Navigate with self-compassion
If you notice that your low self-worth is underlying your self-sabotaging behavior, take a U-turn. Act self-compassionately. Stop thinking of yourself as a failure for not filing your taxes on time. Get in the habit of speaking to yourself gently and kindly when tax season rolls around. Your job is to overcome the fear and the shame. Not add to it.
Tell yourself something nice about yourself. Generate and embrace feelings of self-worth. What activities make you feel good about yourself? Do those. And keep a record of those mental, emotional, and spiritual boosts.
In a 2012 study examining the relationship amongst stress, self-compassion, and procrastination, Sirios found that procrastinators tend to have higher levels of stress and lower levels of self-compassion. This suggests that self-compassion provides “a buffer against negative reactions to self-relevant events.”
Mastery: Master the art of AUM
How do you become a master? You practice. Make a commitment to practice the A-U-M technique whenever you notice a habit of self-sabotaging. See any act of procrastination, wasting opportunity, and not asking for what you need as chances to master your inner AUM. Teach the A-U-M technique to your friends, co-workers, and family. Pretty soon you’ll be a Master of Building Yourself Up and Making Your Dreams Come True.
For More Brain Enhancing Tools, Practical Mind Hacks...and Live Courses: Click HERE
Download my FREE e-Book Chaos to Clarity. Taming the Unfocused Brain: CLICK HERE
Link to access my previous articles:
Many of us ritually get in the way of our own best interests.
Fanny Elizaga, Senior Level Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine
Fanny Elizaga is an occupational therapist, certified Neuro-Coach, and trauma-informed mindfulness trainer. Over the years, she has embraced her passion for learning and applying holistic modalities for mind-body healing in her personal and professional life. Fanny is also a Reiki master practitioner and certified instructor in the art of Qi-Gong. Fanny inspires, empowers, and educates her clients by teaching brain-enhancing tools for self-improvement, expanding out of their comfort zone, and thriving. Fanny is also the founder and trainer of Neuro-Wellness Academy; she is genuinely passionate about creating content and courses based on practical brain science – for wellness, resilience, personal transformation.
Procrastination and the Priority of Short-Term Mood Regulation: Consequences for Future Self. Fuschia Sirois, Timothy Pychyl https://compass.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/spc3.12011
Self-Compassion: An Alternative Conceptualization of a Healthy Attitude Toward Oneself Kristin Neff https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/15298860309032