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The Top 3 Reasons Why You Self-Sabotage and How to Stop

Faulty thinking and fear of failure play a part.

It’s easy to sabotage yourself when you’re trying to meet an important goal, like developing healthier habits, getting assignments done on time, saving money, managing weight, or building healthy relationships. Self-sabotage isn’t just one thing — it can have many causes — but the end result is that you get off track, mess up relationships, don’t get things done, or don’t perform as well as you would like. All of this can lead to feeling bad about yourself and expecting to fail, which leads to more self-sabotage to avoid facing failure head-on, which perpetuates the cycle.

Below are some of the ways in which you may sabotage yourself and suggestions for what to do instead. My colleague and fellow Psychology Today blogger Alice Boyes has an excellent new book out called The Healthy Mind Toolkit, which provides simple, practical psychological tools to help you stop self-sabotaging and develop healthy habits and attitudes instead.

Why do you sabotage yourself?

There are many reasons for self-sabotage, but three of the most important ones involve your thinking patterns, fears you may have in intimate relationships, and the tendency to avoid things that are difficult or uncomfortable. Read on to find out more.

1. Faulty thinking

Our human brains tend to be wired to cling to the familiar, to overestimate risk, and to avoid trying new approaches. This tendency, known as the familiarity heuristic, leads us to overvalue the things we know and undervalue things that are unfamiliar. And when we are under stress, we tend to rely on the familiarity heuristic even more. When our brains are tired, we resort to old habits and ways of doing things, even if they don’t work well. We are drawn to go with the familiar, even when a different option offers a clear advantage.

In one study, researchers asked subjects to do a complicated word puzzle. One group performed under time pressure, while the other was told to take as much time as they needed. After the puzzle was done, subjects were told they had to do another puzzle, but were given a choice between a longer puzzle invented by the same person who designed the first puzzle or a short puzzle designed by somebody they did not know. The group who performed under more stressful conditions (time pressure) were more likely to choose the longer puzzle, even though this would put them at a disadvantage. It’s as if their brains got confused trying to compare the advantages of length versus familiarity, and so they resorted to the “familiarity heuristic.”

It’s not always easy to tell when your brain is relying on a heuristic. Try to make important decisions when you’re not stressed and to consider the pros and cons of each choice, rather than just going with something that intuitively sounds like the best choice (but may not be).

2. Fear of intimacy or fear of rejection

We all know people who sabotage relationships when they reach a certain level of intimacy. Some people cheat, others pick fights or get controlling to push the person away, still others reveal all their insecurities or become too needy and clingy. These are all unconscious ways in which our brains fear getting trapped or rejected if we get too close. Many of these patterns are based on childhood relationships with caregivers. If you have “insecure attachment,” you may unconsciously fear repeating the past. Perhaps your parent was rejecting or neglectful, critical, inconsistent, or you had to be the “parentified child.” Parts of our brains remember this pain and begin to act in adult relationships as if we are with our parent (or perhaps do the complete opposite in an extreme way, which gets us into trouble as well).

If your fear of intimacy or rejection is strong, it is better to mindfully allow your insecure or fearful feelings to be there, while actively working to find healthy, mature ways of talking about them, rather than running away or pushing people away. You need to remind yourself that you are an adult now and have a much greater capacity to tolerate stress and rejection and to take care of yourself than you did as a child. Also remind yourself of what you have to gain by staying engaged. Try to be more self-aware and to notice the effects of your behavior patterns on your relationship happiness.

success

3. Procrastination and avoidance

A third way you may self-sabotage is by not dealing with problems until they get so big that you are forced to deal with them. Or not being able to discipline yourself to get work done on time. There are several potential reasons for procrastinating and avoiding. You may never have learned the skills to break tasks up into smaller pieces, or you may be too tired to plan out a schedule for doing the work. Alternatively, you may feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task or feel like an imposter who doesn’t have what it takes to succeed. Self-sabotaging by not getting started, staying up too late, or going out with friends or watching television instead of working is a very common pattern. In the short term, you manage to avoid the discomfort of an anxiety-provoking or boring and unrewarding task. But in the long term, the things you’ve put off come back to bite you.

You may also procrastinate and avoid because you are perfectionistic, overthink things, or can’t decide where to begin. All of these tendencies tend to have an anxiety component. You can counteract them by giving yourself a time limit to choose or by allowing yourself to make an imperfect choice. It helps to see yourself as being able to learn from experience and improve over time. This is what researcher Carol Dweck calls a “growth mindset.” A growth mindset makes the possibility of failure less scary, whereas if you see your abilities as fixed, you are more likely to avoid performance situations or sabotage  yourself so your weaknesses won’t be clearly exposed.

Procrastination and avoidance (as well as addictive behavior) can also be ways of not taking responsibility for your actions. These behaviors allow you to blame outside factors, like not having enough time, if you do poorly, rather than admitting your role in not using your time well. Some of us fear success, because we shun the limelight or fear that others will expect more from us than we can deliver. But rather than facing this fear head-on, we tend to set ourselves up for failure instead.

Take-Home Message

When it comes to self-sabotage, one size doesn’t fit all. You may be too tired and stressed to think through complex choices and instead rely on easy (but inaccurate) heuristics. You may sabotage relationships, because you fear closeness and intimacy or fear rejection. Or you may procrastinate and avoid, because you fear failure or lack planning and time management skills. The solution differs depending on the area of self-sabotage. Getting enough rest and not taking on too much can help you think more clearly and make better choices. Understanding the roots of your fears of intimacy and rejection and taking small steps towards more closeness can help in the relationship arena. And taking more responsibility for planning and motivating yourself and adopting a growth mindset can help with procrastination at work.

References
Boyes, Alice (2018). The Healthy Mind Toolkit. TarcherPerigree

Jun 11, 2018

Melanie Greenberg Ph.D.

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4 Scientifically Proven Tips to Improve Your Happiness

Everyone wants to be happy in their lives, but it isn’t always easy. You may take drastic measures — try to buy new things, meet new people, uproot your life, but nothing changes. But being happy starts in your mind, so you have to give your mind what it needs first. If you’re looking for some foolproof ways to improve your life, here are 4 scientific tips on how to boost happiness, starting in your brain.

EXPERIENCE GRATITUDE
Studies have shown time and time again that expressing gratitude and humility for the good qualities in your life can make you happier on a chemical level. Gratitude stimulates the brain to create dopamine and feel-good neurotransmitter, serotonin. By expressing your gratitude to people you are grateful for, you in turn create a positive social relationship with those around you that keeps on giving.

EXPRESS YOUR EMOTIONS
Whether it’s through verbal language, writing or some other form of art, expressing what your innermost feelings are can have an instant effect on your life outlook. Often, our deepest emotions can get blurred while they’re still whirling around in our minds. By putting your emotions out there, you can take a step back — look, read or watch — and begin to understand your feelings for what they really are. This allows your brain the space to analyze and process emotions, which often reveals that they are not as intense or dire as you may have previously thought. Expressing your emotions allows you to put everything into perspective.

GIVE UP PERFECTION
While worrying about your problems can seem productive — at least it’s on your mind, right? — it gets you nowhere in the long run. Instead of struggling and stressing over making the best decision possible, you are far better off making any decision rather than worrying over it. Making a decision moves you forward. Worrying does not. Once you’ve made a decision, your brain will immediately feel more at peace. While making a bad decision is not encouraged, making one that is good enough but not ideal is probably the best way to go in terms of reducing stress and increasing happiness. A good enough decision activates a different part of the brain than an ideally perfect decision. The former activates the prefrontal cortex, which controls logic, while the latter activates more emotional portions of the brain which can make us feel less in control. An active decision also increases dopamine production, meaning it actually makes you happier, regardless of what you have decided.

ENJOY HUMAN TOUCH
Human contact is a powerful force in the body. It can boost the immune system, increase trust, improve learning and — you guessed it — boost your happiness and wellbeing. Human touch like a hug releases oxytocin in the brain, which actually works to facilitate intimacy and social bonding. Feeling like you have a network of trustworthy people around you can do wonders to improve your happiness. Go for long hugs, if appropriate. Those stimulate the most oxytocin production.

Being happy starts in the brain. By being true to yourself and others, you can live a happier life, accompanied by other great side effects — like stronger social connections, stronger feelings of self-worth and a more positive outlook on life. Of course, listening to good music or drawing a hot bath are great mood quick fixes, too, but true happiness starts at your core.

 source: www.care2.com


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The 3 Most Common Causes of Insecurity and How to Beat Them

15 tools to help you bounce back when you’re feeling down about yourself.

Posted Dec 06, 2015   Melanie Greenberg Ph.D.     The Mindful Self-Express

Do you find yourself feeling filled with self-doubt and short on confidence? Despite your accomplishments, do you feel like a fraud destined to be exposed? Do you feel that you don’t deserve lasting love and that partners will inevitably leave you? Do you stay at home, afraid to venture out and meet new people because you don’t feel you have enough to offer? Do you feel overweight, boring, stupid, guilty, or ugly?

Most of us feel insecure sometimes, but some of us feel insecure most of the time. The kind of childhood you had, past traumas, recent experiences of failure or rejection, loneliness, social anxiety, negative beliefs about yourself, perfectionism, or having a critical parent or partner can all contribute to insecurity. Following are the 3 most common forms—and how to begin to cope with them.

Type 1: Insecurity Based on Recent Failure or Rejection

Recent events in our lives can greatly affect both our mood and the way we feel about ourselves. Research on happiness suggests that up to 40% of our “happiness quotient” is based on recent life events. The biggest negative contributor to happiness is the ending of a relationship, followed by the death of a spouse, job loss, and negative health events. Since unhappiness also influences your self-esteem, failure and rejection can deliver a double whammy to your confidence. In his book Emotional First Aid: Healing Rejection, Guilt, Failure and Other Everyday Hurts, Psychology Today blogger Guy Winch states that rejection inevitably leads us to see both ourselves and other people more negatively, at least for a time. And those of us who have lower self-esteem to begin with are more reactive to failure. It’s as if an experience like losing your job grabs old negative beliefs about your self-worth and activates them. It may help to understand that failure is a nearly ubiquitous experience: Before becoming president, Abraham Lincoln lost his job, was defeated for nomination to Congress, and failed at least twice in Senate bids. Persevering despite setbacks can lead to eventual successes—which raise your self-esteem.

Below are some tools you can use to overcome failure- or rejection-based insecurity:

  1. Give yourself time to heal and adapt to the new normal.
  2. Get out and engage with life, following your interests and curiosity.
  3. Reach out to friends and family for distraction and comfort.
  4. Get feedback from people you trust.
  5. Persevere and keep moving towards your goals.
  6. Be willing to try a different strategy if necessary.

Type 2: Lack of Confidence Because of Social Anxiety

Many of us experience a lack of confidence in social situations like parties, family gatherings, interviews, and dates. The fear of being evaluated by others—and found to be lacking—can lead you to feel anxious and self-conscious. As a result, you may avoid social situations, experience anxiety when you anticipate social events, or feel self-conscious and uncomfortable during them. Past experience can feed your sense of not belonging, not feeling important or interesting, or just not being good enough. Many of my clients describe how being bullied or excluded from a group of friends in middle school or high school continues to negatively affect their confidence as adults. If you grew up with critical parents, or parents who pressured you to be popular and successful, you may also be over-sensitized to how others perceive you. This type of insecurity is generally based on distorted beliefs about your self-worth—and about the extent to which other people are evaluating you. Most of the time, people are more focused on how they are coming across than on judging others. Those who do judge and exclude are often covering up insecurities of their own and so their opinions may be less than accurate; they may value superficial attributes instead of character and integrity.

girl-looking-in-the-mirror

Below are some tools to combat insecurity in social situations:

  1. Talk back to your inner critic. Remind yourself of all the reasons that you can be interesting and fun or would be a good friend or partner.
  2. Prepare in advance. Think of some things you can talk about—current events, movies you’ve seen, hobbies, your job, or your family.
  3. Avoiding social situation just makes things worse. So go to a party or on a date even if you’re nervous. Your anxiety should decrease once you get engaged with others—if not the first or second time, then once you get used to showing up.
  4. Set yourself a limited, realistic goal like talking to two new people or finding out more about one person’s work and hobbies.
  5. Deliberately focus on others to combat intense self-focus. Put on your observer hat and notice what other people seem to be feeling and doing. Do you notice any similarities or skills you can learn from them?

Type 3: Insecurity Driven by Perfectionism

Some of us have very high standards for everything we do. You may want the highest grades, the best job, the perfect figure, the most beautifully decorated apartment or house, neat and polite kids, or the ideal partner. Unfortunately, life doesn’t always turn out exactly the way we want, even if we work extra hard. There is a piece of the outcome that is at least to some degree out of our control. Bosses may be critical, jobs may be scarce, partners may resist commitment, or you may have genes that make it difficult to be skinny. If you are constantly disappointed and blaming yourself for being anything less than perfect, you will start to feel insecure and unworthy. While trying your best and working hard can give you an advantage, other aspects of perfectionism that are unhealthy. Beating up on yourself and constantly worrying about not being good enough can lead to depression and anxiety, eating disorders, or chronic fatigue.

Below are some ways to combat perfectionism:

  1. Try to evaluate yourself based on how much effort you put in, which is controllable, rather than on the outcome, which is dependent on external factors.
  2. Think about how much difference it would actually make if your work were 10 percent better. Would the time and energy spent in checking and re-checking or answering every email really be worth it?
  3. Perfectionism is often based on all- or nothing thinking, so try to find the grey areas. Is there a more compassionate or understanding way to view a situation? Are you taking your circumstances into account when you evaluate yourself? Is there something you learned or achieved even if the end result wasn’t perfect?
  4. Perfectionists often have conditional self-esteem: They like themselves when they are on top and dislike themselves when things don’t go their way. Can you learn to like yourself even when you are not doing well? Focus on inner qualities like your character, sincerity, or good values, rather than just on what grades you get, how much you get paid, or how many people like you.

Resources
Winch, Guy  Emotional First Aid: Healing Rejection, Guilt, Failure, and Other Everyday Hurts (Plume, 2014)
Greenberg M.  (2015) Six Mental Health Habits That Will Wear You Down 

Melanie Greenberg, Ph.D. is a practicing psychologist in Mill Valley, California, and and former Professor of Psychology at the California School of Professional Psychology. She is an expert on positive psychology, mindfulness, managing stress, and improving relationships . She provides workshops, speaking engagements and psychotherapy for individuals and couples. She regularly appears on radio shows, and as an expert in national media. She also does long-distance coaching via the internet. She is  the author of The Stress-Proof Brain (due out in January 2017 from New Harbinger).


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4 Strategies to Stick With Your Health Goals

How to outsmart your inner perfectionist to get in shape and start feeling better sooner

By Natalie Ruskin, CBC News       May 21, 2015

Want to make a change in your life around fitness, diet or lifestyle? These tips are designed to keep you on track.

CBC Health spoke with Toronto family physician Dr. Matt MacDonald, who works as a mental performance coach for athletes and marathoner-in-training Alex Neville who lives in Toronto.

Outsmart your inner perfectionist

Sometimes the desire to get in shape and start feeling better as soon as possible means we tend to be too extreme with our approach. You vow to stay away from all sugar forever and then find yourself with a bowl of ice cream on your lap later that day. Or you swear to yourself that you’ll work out four times a week and end up surfing the net instead. Sound familiar? The overcompensator in us strives for perfection and then burns out and goes into avoidance and neglect. The key is to outsmart it by choosing more moderate goals to start with, even though they may feel like a drop in the bucket. Know that there are years of sound psychology behind the power of moderate, manageable goals.

life-isnt-about-finding-yourself-life-is-about-creating-yourself-30

Have someone in your corner

It can feel isolating when we’re working towards a change in diet, fitness or lifestyle because we’re out of our comfort zone. Whether it’s a friend, your partner, a colleague or doctor, make it a point to have at least one champion in your corner who will be supportive when you doubt yourself or want to quit. We are a social species so share your quest with others. Hidden bonus: your support person(s) may choose to join you on your quest, which will only make your odds of achieving that goal even greater.

Become part of a community today

This is about making your goal bigger than you. Joining a community that shares your goal is like taking out an insurance plan for the dark days when that inner saboteur wants you to bail. Pursuing your goal alongside others helps you stay accountable and is a good way to connect with others on the same path. You might join a cycling club, a support group for a habit you want to break, or a meditation circle and then find yourself looking forward to seeing your new friends. And don’t wait until you’re completely “ready” before joining a community. Everyone needs to start somewhere and your new friends, just like you, were once beginners too.

Be compassionate with yourself

We can have lots of compassion for others but not as much for ourselves, especially when we’re struggling. Now that you have your champions and your community, it’s time to train your inner coach. When maintaining your goals is challenging, you’ll need to lean hard on it. This is a mind strategy that will aid you in recovering faster from low points and place you in a better position to succeed.  Although it may feel awkward at first, try reframing thoughts like, “I’m not doing enough, I’m a fraud, I’m a failure” with compassionate thoughts like, “You are doing enough, this too shall pass and be gentle with yourself today.”

source: www.cbc.ca


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7 Good Reasons to Cut Yourself Some Slack

May 4, 2015      By Andrea Schulman

Ever have the feeling that you’re just not good enough? Though it’s pretty normal for people to beat up on themselves, doing so can make life a lot more challenging as it can cause anxiety, depression and low self-esteem. To keep negative, self-critical thoughts from dragging you down, here are a few reasons to cut yourself some slack!

1. Repeat after me: There’s no such thing as perfect! 

What would perfect even be? What’s its age, IQ, religious preference, and blood type?  How tall is it?  Is it outgoing and funny or introspective and thoughtful? Is it a student, a CEO or a stay at home parent? There’s no perfect way to be, we simply are what we are.   We are unique, and there’s nothing specific that we are supposed to do, be or have.

2. Everyone has struggles, problems and flaws, and many of them are much more challenging to deal with than our own.

When you’re feeling down on yourself, take inventory of the people who are around you.  What are their flaws? What do they struggle with? Identifying the imperfections in other people can help you feel a little bit better about where you are in this moment.

3. Someone probably loves your flaws exactly as they are.

Sometimes the things we hate about ourselves are exactly what others love about us. Think about some of your favorite actors, comedians, teachers, friends, coworkers and family members-chances are their flaws are exactly what make them the special characters they are.

4. You’ll be looking back on today’s problems differently some day.  How you feel is temporary.  

For example, when you look in the mirror maybe you see signs of aging, and that stresses you out. However, ten years from now you’ll be looking at pictures of yourself thinking “Wow! I was so young!”   Likewise, you might have been completely devastated when you failed a math test in 7th grade but today the test seems completely insignificant and unimportant.

How we feel about ourselves in the present moment is simply our perspective from where we stand in this exact space. Someday our perspective will change and we will see things differently, so please realize that feelings of self-criticism are conditional and temporary.

girl-looking-in-the-mirror

5. No one else is ever going to be as critical of you as you are.

Sure, it might be embarrassing to say something inappropriate in a meeting, get fired or take a bad picture, but no one else is watching you as closely as you are yourself.  We are all a little narcissistic and self-absorbed, so trust that the people around you are more concerned with their own issues than they are with yours.  Although we might feel like there is a giant spotlight on our imperfections and they are being broadcasted around the world, no one’s really paying too much attention to them.

6. We’re all headed to the same place anyway.

Not to be too morbid, but all we really know for certain is that at some point, we are going to die.  It doesn’t matter who was the most attractive, the most accomplished, the smartest or made the least amount of mistakes.  We all share a similar fate no matter what we do, how we look or what we have.  Being hard on ourselves only makes the journey less pleasant.

7. You deserve love and acceptance, especially from the person you’re with all day, every day! 

We all need love to be our best selves.  Knowing this, please remember that you are the best person to love and accept yourself, because you are the only one you spend time with 24 hours a day.  If you want to be happy and have good self-esteem your best bet is to treat yourself with kindness and allow yourself to be exactly what you are, flaws and all.

So the next time you’re feeling down on yourself take a few minutes to get some perspective and cut yourself some slack.  Though feelings of self-criticism are normal and will pop up from time to time, there’s no reason to dwell on them and let them drag you down!