Have you ever been frustrated with yourself for failing to make the changes you want?
It happens to all of us. We get started on a positive path and begin to make progress, then – poof – we find a way to mess it up and return to the status quo.
Interestingly, in our moments of self-sabotage, we don't seem to care that much about our goals. In fact, we're so often driven in the opposite direction!
Why does this happen?
Call it a glitch in human nature if you want; yet through an intricate series of psychological events that begin the moment we are born, the mind learns to trick us into doing the opposite of what is healthy.
Edmund Bergler, MD called it the basic neurosis: The human tendency to find a strange, deeply unconscious satisfaction in displeasure. This is a very naughty thing to be up to, so we, of course, hide it from ourselves.
The mind tricks us into getting exactly what we don’t want so successfully that you’d think there's a slippery little devil in there with a goal to sabotage you at every turn.
Here are seven examples of the tricky mind in action:
1. It tells you that you can’t do it.
When you want to achieve something wonderful, your mind may tell you that you “can’t.” You’ll fail. You'll make a fool of yourself. There's typically little to no evidence for this, yet some people feel inadequacy in their bones.
If you dig a little deeper with typical questions such as, “What is the purpose of telling yourself this?” you get even deeper trickery. The most common answer is, “self-protection.”
The mind wants to protect you from failure by keeping you from attempting success? In fact, there is no surer way to fail than to tell yourself that you can't succeed, followed by doing nothing.
2. It claims you don't deserve.
Another deep deception of the mind is to tell yourself you don't deserve good things. With this one, you end up feeling more comfortable with mediocrity. You feel better not getting what you want because having what you want would be unjust, given you don’t “deserve” it.
Believing this one is a sure path to nowhere.
3. It tempts you with unhealthy things.
Give up unhealthy food and drink for a while, and soon enough you’ll be fighting luscious images of delectable delights in your mind and dealing with a seductive inner voice that says, “Ooh you know you want that chocolate cake…Wow, those potato chips look amazing.”
4. It gets bored and wants drama.
There you are, enjoying a nice little season of peace. Suddenly, you get bored and end up provoking drama somehow.
A friend of mine ended a nice little season of joy in his relationship by suddenly deciding to go to Las Vegas with his buddies without telling his wife. He called her from the road to let her know.
When I asked him why on Earth he would do such a thing he said, “I don't know. I was bored, I guess.”
5. It tells you happiness can’t last.
Nathaniel Branden called it happiness anxiety. When we become happy, we get anxious, as if something terrible were going to happen. The mind tells you that it can’t last. You are setting yourself up for disappointment if you begin to trust that life can be good.
At that point, we typically find a way to exit the happy state before something bad happens. Ouch.
6. It makes you feel guilty.
Need some time to yourself to relax and unwind?
7. It justifies all the wrong things.
Justifying things that make you unhappy is a far-reaching practice that many people find hard to give up.
When someone disappoints you, make an excuse for him (oh, he’s just so busy).
When someone cheats on you, blame yourself (I’m not a good partner).
When you need to get something done, justify laziness (I deserve a break).
When you want a fat chocolate chip cookie, find a reason (I’ve kept to my diet ALL day).
Justifying what makes you miserable is a great way to hang onto it. Deep down, we don’t really believe the justifications, but that doesn’t mean we don’t fall for them readily.
What to do?
The best remedy for mind trickery and self-sabotage is greater awareness of the issue. We need to learn so much more about how the mind works and why. We need to explore our psychological attachment to negativity so we can recognize it and let go.
To enjoy a more positive, successful and self-disciplined life, we need to learn how we fool ourselves into getting the opposite of what we want.