The Self Sabotage Cycle

Sharon BartleyWriting

Here’s the latest article from Neil on dealing with self sabotage

A student of mine recently confessed to being stuck in a cycle of self-sabotage. They had exciting, clearly defined goals for the month. But after taking a few small steps, they’d get distracted and prevent themselves from going any further…

Which is a place I think we’ve all been.Whenever someone reports being stuck in this cycle, the first question I tend to ask is: What feeling are you trying to control?

Because avoidance and procrastination are ultimately just types of control strategies.When we start taking action toward something that generates feelings of discomfort or anxiety.The easiest way to stop those feelings is to stop taking action.

For example: You’re feeling unfit, so you start exercising again. But it’s hard work. And you might not be hitting your usual numbers in weight, reps, or miles. Which brings up feelings of inadequacy.

To stop confronting those feelings, you stop exercising. Soon after, you may feel weak for stopping. 

So, you start again, stop again, and the cycle continues. By trying to control these unpleasant feelings, you get to feel relief, in the short-term…But in the long-term, the feelings only get worse, and take on new forms…It’s like throwing an emotional boomerang. It goes away, for a moment. But it comes back in the form of guilt and self-loathing for not taking the actions you know you want to take.

And every time you throw that boomerang, it gets a little bit heavier, harder to throw, and comes back stronger…Until you feel completely stuck and hopeless. Many people need to reach this place before having the leverage to finally change…

But it’s hardly necessary. At any time, you can likely break the control cycle by doing the following:

  1. Get present to your control strategy. These cycles can go on for years, or even a lifetime, if you don’t see them. Oftentimes, we’re so attached to the payoff that we don’t even want to see them.So, first, name the undesirable feeling between you and your goal. Then identify the key behaviors you use to avoid/numb/distract from it. (ie. To avoid feeling incapable, you do easier work, scroll social media, or outright quit.)Then…
  2. 2. Get held accountable to moving forward.Once you see it, the cycle can still easily continue unless someone else is seeing it too. When you’re reporting to a supportive person/group, who cheers you on and occasionally dishes out tough love, you’ll find that all your usual convenient excuses nearly disappear, if not entirely. And it suddenly becomes much easier to stick with a course of action without getting sidetracked— as was the case with the member I mentioned—because it’s harder to give in to the control cycle. I’ll put a pin on this idea for today. But I have another higher-level thought on this I’d like to share next time…

For Neils latest article visit here: