Screwing yourself over can be infuriating. But there’s a psychological reason behind it. And it’s not that you “just don’t want it badly enough”.
Self-sabotage is a strange concept.
The idea that someone would wilfully impair their own happiness or success seems, on the face of it, absurd. Yet what we term “self-sabotage” is an all too common occurrence that holds many of us back from living the happy, healthy, successful life we crave.
It was only 18 months ago that I exited my personal training studio business after drowning in my own self-sabotage. Despite investing thousands in its start-up and gradually growing the client base, it seemed like I just continually found ways to stall the progress and keep myself stuck.
I knew what I had to do to get that business to the position I wanted it, yet, for some reason, I just couldn’t seem to get myself to do it on a consistent basis. What success I did have felt extremely forced and I ended up miserable, stressed and just needing to get myself out.
We do this in all areas of our lives. We want to be healthy but can’t get ourselves to make consistent changes. We want to be successful but we hold ourselves back. We want to be happy but choose fear and frustration instead.
The normal reaction from the ‘outsider looking in’ is to criticise and jibe with the usual comments of “you just don’t want it badly enough” or “just hustle harder”.
But I believe this is an issue rooted at a deeper level. I’ve seen people invest thousands in businesses, turn up for gym sessions over and over and read every self-help book going, but still manage to ruin everything they’ve worked for at crucial times. Is it fair to cast off their reason for remaining stuck in whatever area of life as them ‘just not wanting it badly enough’? There is more to it.
Conscious vs. Subconscious
What we tend to forget in our modern day ‘action, action, action’ world is the huge difference that exists between our conscious and subconscious brains.
In fact, it’s estimated the average human goes through the day with their subconscious in charge a whopping 95% of the time. That means only 5% of our daily activities are consciously controlled.
So it’s very easy to say on a conscious level that we want to lose weight, be healthy, become successful and experience happiness. If our subconscious isn’t programmed for this then we can’t help but hold ourselves back.
Think of it like riding a giant elephant, where the elephant represents the subconscious, and you are the conscious mind, sitting on top. We can struggle all we want to turn right, but the elephant is so big that if he wants to turn left, then there’s nothing we can do. It’s the same with our subconscious controlling almost everything we do.
When we truly see how powerful the subconscious mind is, it becomes completely understandable when we start ‘sabotaging’ ourselves. If we have beliefs, limits, and preconceived ideas about who we are buried deep in our subconscious, then it’s only logical that it be a monumental struggle to override them through the relatively feeble conscious will.
What the Subconscious Really Desires
What we term ‘self-sabotage’, then, is simply a clash of conscious and subconscious desires.
When we get a moment to sit back in conscious thought and consider what we want from life, most people would wish to self-actualise and achieve their own definitions of health, wealth, success or happiness. We can conceive of this quite comfortably and may get periods of excitement about various directions we can see ourselves going.
This is when we have that spur of the moment flicker of motivation and commit to starting that business, signing up for that gym membership, beginning that diet programme or going ‘all in’ with a relationship.
But then the subconscious comes into play. And the subconscious brain, all 95% of it, simply wants one thing – safety.
It wants us to have access to food, shelter, to get as far from danger as possible and to feel connected to other humans within the safety of a tribe. There’s no thought or care about whether we’re successful, happy, sad, rich, poor, healthy, overweight, famous or anything else. All the subconscious cares about is to keep us safe.
So when we start to come up with conscious desires that oppose this, we cause a conflict and an ‘internal tug-of-war’ scenario where one side is monumentally more powerful.
Training the Subconscious
Maybe this all sounds interesting, intriguing and all very simple in an ideal world. But the question remains; How do we get past it?
If we’re continually finding ourselves on this path of ‘self-sabotage’ and somewhere along the line bowing down to our subconscious desires, how do we break that pattern and achieve anything in life?
This is where we usually get ourselves stuck. We try and try and try on this treadmill going nowhere attempting to force that giant elephant underneath us to move in the opposite direction. When we feel like giving up, we listen to the people telling us we ‘don’t want it badly enough’ and fill everything with feelings of guilt, shame and resentment believing that we’re ‘just not cut out’ for this.
In actual fact, the solution comes at a deeper level. Rather than trying to ignore everything inside us and willing our way through, we need to get to know and understand what’s happening at a subconscious level. Attempt to tame that giant elephant.
Most of us don’t know our subconscious. In fact, many of us don’t even really acknowledge the fact that it’s there.
But the first step to training it to be more aligned with where we consciously desire is to talk to it. Spend some time by yourself and become aware of what is actually going on in your head. What do you think about yourself and life?
Taming the Elephant
The paradoxical thing here is that we have a subconscious that’s set for survival in a world where it is now, for most of us, relatively easy to survive. Gone are the days where our brain needs to protect us from near constant threat of sudden drought, famine, harsh weather or attack from predators.
What this means is that many of the modern day threats that pull us back into the subconscious brain and away from conscious desires are potentially not real threats. They are perceived threats.
Of course, this doesn’t make them any less real to us in the moment. But if we can begin to recognise these moments and talk to our subconscious brain, we can start to re-pattern new ways of thinking into it. Ways that serve us in line with our conscious desires.
The key is to become aware of everything in the first place. When I checked in with my own thoughts and what was regularly running through my subconscious mind, it changed the game for me.
Suddenly, I was no longer scrambling for success and happiness in the dark. I switched the lights on, so to speak, and saw the internal obstacles holding me back.
So I would invite you to tune in to exactly what’s happening inside. What are the fears, the beliefs and the negative thoughts that keep you stuck? And simply ask yourself whether each of these are real and what a better thought would be.
It’s not an instant fix. But it’s this regular and continual re-patterning of new beliefs into the subconscious that enables us to learn better serving programs and identities and prevents our pursuit of happiness being overthrown by a rebellious elephant.