We’re sometimes our own worst enemies. We say, think and believe we want something and then we go about doing everything NOT to get it. Isn’t that strange? Well, it’s called self-sabotage and it comes from our core beliefs about ourselves, the beliefs, or as I call them, labels, that society, our parents, our peers and just about everybody including ourselves have been giving us. When we entertain a belief about ourselves, we’re ready to do anything to make this be true. If not, then we’d have to change our beliefs to make them correspond to what we see as true. In other words, we go through life making sure that reality corresponds to what we believe. Can you see how this can potentially trip you up?
We’re hardwired for integrity. That means that you can’t believe one thing and then do another. Your beliefs and reality have to align. If they don’t, it’ll feel uncomfortable and generally speaking you’ll do just about anything to keep your beliefs intact, including sabotaging yourself. Before this gets to be too abstract, let me just give you an example. I’ve chosen to explain this with a very common core belief or label that has got the inconvenient advantage of being visible: believing that you’re fat. Whether you “just” believe you’re fat or whether you’re actually fat is not important. To your subconscious, it’s all the same. If you’ve labelled yourself as fat, then you will go through life ignoring any information that doesn’t correspond to that label. Why? Well you wouldn’t recognise yourself in “slim”, would you? Your brain would sift the information about slim and put it aside, invalidating it, because it wouldn’t correspond to your identity and you do want to hang onto your identity, don’t you? If you let go of your identity, well, then who would you be?
So your mind is busy hanging onto all the information it can gather about your being fat. This feels very comfortable because you’re used to it, you identify with it, your subconscious isn’t detecting any danger here. It’s signalling: “Business as usual,” to your rational mind. BUT if you start dieting or exercising, if you start being less fat, then what is your subconscious supposed to do? Reality no longer corresponds to your core belief that your subconscious is jealously storing for you. The new information it’s receiving cannot fit in with existing information so it signals: “ALARM!” It says “STOP!” “DANGER!” To eliminate the danger, it activates a lot of emotions that will trigger behaviours to get reality to conform to your core belief. In my example, the core belief is being fat. So to stop the core belief or label of FAT being invalidated, well, your subconscious will have to trigger emotions in you that will make you quickly put on weight. So how can it do that? It can make you eat, can’t it? It can make you eat sugar or fatty foods, the foods you’ve perhaps been avoiding in your diet SO THAT YOU COULD LOSE WEIGHT or change your body shape. It’ll make you feel lazy so you won’t go exercising, won’t it, because if you keep exercising, then you’ll lose weight and this does not correspond to your core belief!
So you might be saying:
“Well, now that’s just stupid. I really WANT to lose weight. I’m really motivated. Why am I sabotaging myself by suddenly overeating or stopping exercising WHEN EVERYTHING HAS BEEN GOING SO WELL UP TILL NOW?”
The answer is that your subconscious is putting on the brakes, it’s screaming: “STOP THIS or you’re going to lose weight and then who will you be? You’ll no longer be able to call yourself fat, then what will you call yourself?” Losing your identity is a threat to your survival and a very painful experience. Your subconscious mind as well as your conscious mind will always do everything in their power to protect you. They MEAN well. Just remember that.
My example from above is about labelling yourself as fat, but the principle at work with anything else is just the same. Maybe you’ve been labelling yourself as “not good at maths”, “incapable of consistency”, “weak”, “stupid”, “not good enough”, “awkward around people”, “shy” you name it, anything goes. So it seems to me that getting rid of these labels would be a very good idea if you want to change. What some self-help gurus recommend is to change the labels, but I think that we don’t need them. I know it’s comfortable to know who you are, but what if you’re wrong? What if you took on new labels that are no more right than the old ones? What if you didn’t need to define yourself at all but could just be? Sometimes shy, sometimes bold, in some situations awkward around people, sometimes not, sometimes weak but able to be strong when needed? This opens a lot of doors to possibility because when you’ve got no label then everything is possible. All doors are open to you, you just have to choose which one you want to go through.
It can feel really scary to reinvent yourself. If you let go of your definitions, your beliefs about yourself and all the labelling that has been going on then what’s left? This applies to positive labels too. If you have been identifying yourself as a dutiful mother, an excellent employee, a conscientious student then you’ll always be restricted to that. You cannot make yourself do something that doesn’t conform to these labels without violating your core beliefs. This can get you stuck in a role you’re playing and that, with time, you come to realise might not be the whole truth, because you’re so much more than your labels. But you have to be willing to let something new come in. You’ve got to open the doors and be willing to walk through them, even if it feels uncomfortable, even if it’s a bit scary, and as ever, I recommend starting with baby steps. If you want to explode all your beliefs about yourself and open wide all the doors to possibility, then chances are that you’ll…. self-sabotage 😉 So it’s best to concentrate on just one little thing. One thing at a time.
Let me get back to my example of the label “fat”: if you just change the label into saying “slim” instead of “fat”, then it’s still a label and it’s extremely difficult to go from one extreme to another. It’s too much of a change for the subconscious to feel safe in. What I advocate is to let go of the label entirely, to let go of the need to label your body shape. What if your body shape could be anything from fat to slim? What if it could change? If you’re with me on this, grab a piece of paper and a pen, or your journal, and start writing about what your life would be like if you let go of the need to define yourself as any particular body shape. How would you feel? What would you do?
Once you’ve written about what your life would look and feel like then go about doing and feeling it! Don’t put it off! Don’t tell yourself: “Oh, I can’t do this right away because I first have to do this other thing.” No, do it NOW. Don’t replace one self-sabotaging behaviour with another in the form of procrastination. You’ve written about these changes, you’ve been priming your subconscious with some lovely thoughts on what your life would be like, so it’s time to act! Maybe you’ve been writing about how gorgeous you’d be looking if you weren’t defined by your body shape. Well, it’s time to get looking gorgeous. You’re gorgeous now! It’s not: “I’ll feel gorgeous when I lose 20 pounds”. It’s happening now! Do whatever it is that you need to do to start looking gorgeous: get yourself an outfit that enforces the feeling of gorgeous, think about what you associate with gorgeous. Is it also being self-confident? Being comfortable in your body? If so, practise it. Start doing whatever makes you feel confident. Turn up the volume for it and turn down the need to define yourself.
When you get into a stressful situation, you risk reverting to your old, self-sabotaging behaviour, because stress is a fear response and signals “DANGER”. Your subconscious wants you to do something that feels comforting, to keep the danger at bay, and nothing works as well as old, well-rehearsed behaviour. This old self-sabotaging behaviour is what you’ll be reverting to, if you haven’t got a plan for an alternative behaviour in place. So think up something you can do when the going gets tough and you risk self-sabotaging. Do you need a support person? Healthy food in the fridge? A favourite film to watch? Music to listen to? Hobbies to cultivate? A warm, relaxing bath? Before giving in to the self-sabotaging behaviour, just check in with your conscious mind, your rational mind, and ask it what’s happening. It’ll tell you: “You know, it’s just that old labelling thing going on. Don’t worry about it, do this instead.” You can programme yourself to ask: “Is this behaviour going to support me in getting rid of my label, or is it going to stick the label even firmer in place?” “Am I going to be even more my label, or am moving way from it?” You could even have a few of these questions stuck on your computer screen, your fridge door or wherever you think the situation might arise and you’d need some reinforcement.
Just remember that if you do give in, if you do engage in your favourite self-sabotaging behaviour, there’s no need to judge yourself, there’s no need to stick yet another label on yourself. One error cannot define you. You gave in this time, but who knows what’ll happen next time? Leave the door open to success.
I hope that this has been helpful. I’d love to hear from you. You can write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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