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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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5 Things To Give Up Right Now (Even If You Don’t Want To)

“Nothing is more intolerable than to have to admit to yourself your own errors.”

Ludwig van Beethoven

Giving up anything we’ve come to embrace (consciously or not) as part of ourselves is often a tough endeavor. Compiling a list of things that each one of us “shouldn’t do” is hard too, by the way. But we digress.

It is our sincere belief that giving up the 5 things on this list will lead to a happier, healthier, and more fulfilling life. Each item has the potential to eliminate a ton of stress and possible heartache while maybe even providing a renewed sense of freedom.

 HERE ARE 5 THINGS WE SHOULD ALL AIM TO GIVE UP:

1. THE NEED FOR CONTROL
Aside from positive self-control, we should each minimize the need to feel in control of things around you.

People tagged with the “control freak” label always need to feel in control of events, situations, and especially people; this last one strips the right of each individual to simply be themselves. Controlling others is a form of abuse; something nobody should have to experience.

Letting go of this need for control, no matter how hard at first, will feel like a tremendous weight has been lifted. It’s quite likely that your relationships will improve as well.

2. THE NEED TO BE RIGHT
For some of us, the idea of admitting a mistake – or conceding that someone else is right – produces a sense of dread. In this regard, we share the same sentiment as the great Bruce Lee, who once said:

“Mistakes are always forgivable, if one has the courage to admit them.”

Countless relationships and friendships have ended because one (or both) person ALWAYS had to be right; no matter any facts or evidence to the contrary.

Not only is this erroneous stubbornness a relationship-breaker; it’s a very unhealthy behavior – not just for the individual, but to those unfortunate enough to be exposed to it.

Ever had a boss with an insatiable need to be right? How terrible was it to work under the microscope of a borderline tyrant? These same feelings surface in others when we insist on being right.

3. THE NEED TO COMPLAIN
Totally giving up the act of complaining is similar to giving up the need to breathe. Inwardly or outwardly, we will all engage in a grumbling episode from time to time. We all possess enough self-awareness to admit whether or not we’re constant complainers – and whether or not a change in outlook is in order.

The uncomfortable (but freeing) reality is that external stressors are a matter of internal perception. Sir Charles Lyell, in 1863, wrote:

“It may be said that, so far from having a materialistic tendency, the supposed introduction into the earth at successive geological periods of life – sensation, instinct, the intelligence of the higher mammalia bordering on reason, and lastly, the improvable reason of Man himself – presents us with a picture of the ever-increasing dominion of mind over matter.“

In short, our improbable existence, and the indisputable superiority of our species’ innate intellect to adapt in spite of seemingly insurmountable challenges throughout the ages proves the natural power of man.

Complaining is a pointless act. Instead, use your mind and overcome the matter.

4. THE NEED TO MAKE EXCUSES
Excuse making is an act of self-limitation – a behavior that can stunt individual progress.

Instead of putting forth the necessary effort to achieve our goals, finish a task, or follow through on a commitment, many of us will instead take the easy way out. Allowing some baseless excuse to spew from our lips is the easiest way out possible.

Attribute constant excuse-making to ignorance, immaturity, or laziness; the effects are disruptive, even disastrous. But this can all change if we’re able to admit this shortcoming and drive forward.

George Washington Carver, an African-American born into slavery, received nationwide recognition (including in Time Magazine) for his breakthroughs in the areas of botany and biology throughout his lifetime. Despite living in a time of extreme racism, Mr. Carver once proclaimed

“Ninety-nine percent of the failures come from people who have the habit of making excuses.”

That’s an eye opener, indeed. Well put, Mr. Carver.

5. THE NEED TO LIMIT YOURSELF
As intelligent human beings, we are aware when something we’re doing is holding us back.

We couldn’t possibly list every single thing that is counterproductive to health, growth, and happiness. We’re all different, which only makes such any attempt to compartmentalize limiting behavior all the more impossible.

Are you a chronic procrastinator? Slowly work on disciplining yourself to get things done on time.

Are you engaging in habits you know to be harmful?

Maybe you drink a bit too much, watch too much television, spend too much money, hang out with the wrong crowd, (fill in the behavior here)…it’s never too late to commit to change.

Admit your shortcomings and work (however slowly) to finding a different way.

REFERENCES: 
BARTLETT, JOHN (2002). BARTLETT’S FAMILIAR QUOTATIONS: A COLLECTION OF PASSAGES, PHRASES, AND PROVERBS TRACED TO THEIR SOURCES IN ANCIENT AND MODERN LITERATURE (17. ED.). BOSTON: LITTLE, BROWN AND COMPANY. ISBN 978-0-316-08460-4.
WIKIPEDIA. (2017). GEORGE WASHINGTON CARVER. RETRIEVED MARCH 21, 2017, FROM
HTTPS://EN.WIKIPEDIA.ORG/WIKI/GEORGE_WASHINGTON_CARVER#RISE_TO_FAME


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Why We Procrastinate

Last minute taskers rejoice: psychological research proves that procrastinators are not necessarily lazy. Often, they are people who fear failure and rejection but don’t know the right strategies to reveal and conquer that fear.

Oh. Well that’s not much better than “lazy,” but at least we have a legitimate excuse.

One of the more obvious reasons why people procrastinate is to avoid doing something unpleasant. However, this is actually not as simple as it may sound. While some tasks are the embodiment of boredom, others may lead to procrastination because they scare you, on a subconscious level. Psychologists call this contributing factor to procrastination “fear of failure” and outline a few important dimensions. As a result, we can see that procrastination is not necessarily the product of laziness or lack of motivation. Deciphering the fear that lurks at the back of your mind is what really counts.

According to one of the most popular therapeutic approaches, called cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), we all have certain basic assumptions about ourselves, either positive or negative, known as core beliefs. Core beliefs are a part of the subconscious and start to form at a very young age, as soon as you are able to perceive yourself and the world. As you grow, your experiences and interactions with others, and how you internalize them all contribute to building and solidifying core beliefs. According to CBT, our thoughts, emotions and actions are the effect of these self-perceptions. Nonetheless, since they are buried deep in the subconscious mind, often we don’t realize what our core beliefs are unless we work toward understanding them.

Even when we know that fear of failure causes procrastination, that’s too broad of a concept. Apprehension may be brought about by a variety of core beliefs and so, in order to clean up the sticky mess that is procrastination, we need to look into some research-based triggers, behind that fear.

We Seek What We Believe

According to self-verification theory we behave in a way and connect to people who verify our own beliefs about ourselves. If those self-perceptions are positive, then we engage in productive behaviors and seek people who evaluate us positively. If, however, one’s self-beliefs are negative, then this becomes a steppingstone to procrastination. In short, we self-sabotage rather than engaging in productive work. That is why procrastinators tend to occupy themselves with meaningless tasks. Have you noticed how some people remember to clean out the fridge, binge-read all of their bookmarked articles and go on endless YouTube loops, just when they’ve got some less appealing chore to do? According to professor Joseph Ferrari, Ph.D., who has been studying procrastination for years, this self-handicap is the direct result of fear. Procrastinators swap out important tasks for futile activities because when you don’t engage in that something scary, there is no chance to fail at it. Thus, self-handicapping is a way to verify our own negative self-perceptions—we deprive ourselves of opportunities because of a deeply rooted belief that it is impossible to succeed.

Are You Good Enough?

How you perceive your own competence and ability to deal with a task on your own is also a contributing factor to fear of failure. Self-determination theory, which deals with people’s motivation, explains the importance of intrinsic incentives. When a person is keen to engage with a task because of internal stimuli, such as beliefs and needs, they become intensely invested. In contrast, motivation that comes from external sources is short-lived and inefficient. Feeling competent and autonomous builds intrinsic motivation and people are, therefore, less likely to procrastinate. On the other hand, when you doubt your own abilities and fear that you can’t handle the task on your own, you are more likely to put it off.

What Will Others Think?

Doubts about one’s self-worth may lead to an intensified need for the approval of others. If your core beliefs include a suspicion that you are not good enough and that you should continuously prove yourself to others, in order to feel deserving, this may contribute to fear of failure and therefore, procrastination. Fearing shame can lead to putting off a task, or even avoiding efforts to improve your skills. Often, the subconscious belief here is that the longer you dodge a task, the longer you’ll protect yourself from negative evaluations by others, as well as shame. On the other hand, procrastinators who fear shame, often strive for perfection, so that others view them as worthy and competent. In that way, if they feel they can achieve anything short of perfection, they put off a task for as long as possible.

What Can You Do About It?

As you can see, procrastination is not a simple behavioral problem. In fact, it can be viewed as a symptom of deeply rooted fear and self-doubt. Using CBT techniques on your own, or working with a therapist, can help you reveal your negative core beliefs and therefore understand what it is that you fear. Furthermore, you can benefit from the principles of self-regulation theory. Monitor your thoughts, emotions and behavior, see how they impact your tendency to procrastinate and experiment with different behavioral strategies to see what works best for your personal case.

Liya Panayotova is a clinical and counseling psychologist, 
with interests in the cognitive-behavioral sciences. 
Her experience includes working with anxiety, depression, difficult relationships, 
addiction, motivation, children, grief and many more.

 

By Liya Panayotova   March 24, 2017  
 


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Why You Shouldn’t Procrastinate Reading This Post

Don’t procrastinate reading this post … it’s bad for your health.

In a study published recently in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine, researchers had participants (some healthy and some with cardiovascular disease and hypertension) fill out questionnaires about their health and personalities, including their tendency to procrastinate. The results found that higher procrastination scores were associated with cardiovascular disease and hypertension.

The study didn’t explore the reason for the link, but previous research has found that students who procrastinated not only earned lower grades, but also reported higher stress and more illness. And it turns out a lot of us may be susceptible to the negative effects of the bad habit. A previous survey of over 24,000 people found that as many as 25 percent were chronic procrastinators, and that we spend a quarter of our days at work procrastinating.

So how do you overcome it … now, not later?

Think small. Researchers have found that when a deadline is too far into the future, we don’t see it as a “present” task. Instead of telling yourself you want to get in shape by summer, create goals for each week, like losing two pounds or taking three classes at the gym.

procrastinate

Schedule mini-goals. Take it a step further — instead of thinking “I need to finish this work project by Monday,” break it down into the steps you’ll take each day to stay on schedule.

Visualize your goal the right way. Sure, it sounds more fun to just dream about having a new amazing job rather than to dream about editing your resume, emailing your contacts, and polishing your cover letter, but research has found that the latter approach works.  Don’t just fantasize about the end-result — visualize the steps you’ll take to get there.

Raise the stakes. Put your money where your mouth is with a website like stikk.com, which has you place money on the line for your goal—fail to meet it and it’ll go to a friend, a charity of your choice, or an “anti-charity,” a cause that you’re against (those who choose the “anti-charity” option have higher rates of success).

Be nice to yourself. Slip up? Forgive yourself when you procrastinate — it’ll reduce the chance you’ll procrastinate on that same task in the future.

Diana Vilibert     April 1, 2015


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When Procrastination Is a Problem, and How to Fix It

By Paula Spencer Scott     WebMD Feature     Reviewed by Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH

Procrastination is a long word for this quick idea: later.  It’s telling yourself you’ll do things “tomorrow” or “when I feel more like it.”

When is putting things off a problem?

Everyone delays or puts things off sometimes, and that’s fine, says Timothy Pychyl, PhD, an associate professor of psychology at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. You might postpone a meeting because of a schedule conflict, or to give yourself time to prepare.
Procrastinating becomes a problem only when it hinders your relationships or getting your work done.
For about one in five adults, procrastination is a real, long-lasting problem.

Why we delay

The things people put off tend to be boring, hard,
time-consuming, or maybe they lack meaning to us. Or we worry that the results won’t be perfect. When you avoid doing what seems less than pleasant, you get a little mood boost. But this bump doesn’t last. The avoided thing still hangs over you, causing guilt and stress.
The real reasons we procrastinate lie deep within human behavior. We tend to view things in the future as less real or concrete. The later risks of not doing something (or the rewards of getting it done) seem less real, too.
Putting things off is a habit. We’re wired to do what’s easy – in this case, delaying doing something we don’t find
pleasant. And habits are hard to break.

How to get a move on

  • Be concrete. Don’t say, “I’ll start the report in the morning.” Say, “I’ll outline just the three main points of the report while I drink my morning coffee, before I look at mail.”
  • Be realistic about your time. We tend to be optimists about the future and think we’ll get more done than we do. Try jotting down all the things you have to do into your datebook. Include tasks like shopping for food, doing laundry, working out. That way when you make a plan to do something, you can get a true sense of what time you’ll have.
  • “Pre-empt that which tempts,” Pychyl says. Shut off all the things that are a click away from distracting you. Social media and texting require little effort, give you a lot of mood reward, and suck time. Make them a reward after you finish.
  • Know and accept that when the time comes to do the task, you won’t want to – and get past that.
    Just starting, even in the smallest way, creates progress. Then a sense of progress fuels well-being. “It’s an upward spiral,” Pychyl says.
  • Start with the hardest tasks. Willpower is a muscle. You’ll better resist things that distract when you first get started.
  • “Time travel” in your mind’s eye to when the task at hand is done. Think about how good you’ll feel.
  • Pace yourself. Set aside time to make a little progress every day. College students who had to complete small amounts of work before they could go to the next level did better on tests than those who were given all the study material at once, a 2011 University of Kansas study found.
  • Be kind to yourself.  Praise yourself for taking the first steps. Assure yourself that a “good enough” effort is great, and better than putting things off.