Have you ever really wanted to do something but didn’t follow through or even start? Do you have this feeling that you know you can be and do more than you are? Have you ever felt trapped in the roles that you play throughout life, never feeling as if you are fully expressing yourself, or truly bringing your whole self to the table? I was at a point where I couldn’t help but wonder, what happened to all the things that I was going to be, do and have in life. I could remember, as a child, being so excited about the possibilities of what was ahead. But somewhere along the way I got lost. I felt stuck, like I was in some kind of holding pattern, and I couldn’t work out what was holding me back. I kept stuffing down the frustration but it kept coming back. I was just not satisfied with where I was and I felt trapped in the stories and roles I had created for myself.
Do you have that sense too, that there’s more to life, but something is keeping you where you are? Maybe you find reasons why your work or your art isn’t good enough, why it’s not perfect yet, so nobody else gets to see it. Do you have a mind full of ideas for adding value at work, a business you want to create, a family, relationship or community you want to contribute to, but somehow there’s always a reason not to. For some people, this might show up as worrying about someone stealing their idea, or saying that they don’t have any good ideas. For others, it could show up in the fear of not being an expert, not having enough skill, talent or credentials and they end up reading book after book, doing course after course, relentlessly collating information and data that’s never enough to satisfy their fear.
Then there’s the people who are overly critical of others, which can un-realistically raise the bar for their own work or living standards. If they see someone else doing something different, that might make them feel uncomfortable because it would fly in the face of their fear and mean that they too, could be doing something different. Have you ever met someone who complains that their boss won’t let them step up, or that the reason they can’t do something is because of their partner, their children, their dog or their hundreds of unchecked emails? How about you? When have you noticed yourself holding back because of reasons like “I don’t know what to do” or “It’s not my job”?
Self-sabotage can show up in many forms and at different times in our lives, in different areas. In health for example, some people might restrict themselves to a challenging diet or exercise regime that is not sustainable and feels too hard, so that when they don’t live up to it’s rigid rules, they can give up completely. In relationships, sometimes people will do behaviours that push other people away, and stop them from getting close or sharing a genuine connection, when really what they want is to connect deeply with someone. Have you ever done that too? I know I have.
So how to change it?
For me, self sabotage showed up in many different ways, even when I was super passionate about what I was doing. In the beginning, when I started speaking to groups of people, I would feel that uncomfortable feeling and the little negative voice telling me not to do it. To hold back because it felt vulnerable to be up there in front of people. But I knew that my reason for doing it was more important than my reasons not to, so I wanted to find a way to push through the fear.
I remember reading an article about a nurse working in a hospital who actually recorded the most common regrets of the patients that she cared for. The kinds of things that they mentioned were things like, “I wish I had been brave enough to live a life true to myself and not the life that was expected of me.”, or “I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings and stayed in contact with my family.” Or things like, “I wish that I had not judged myself so much and was OK with being myself.” What struck me the most, was that the things people regretted, were not the things that they did in their life. It was the things that they did not do, that they regretted the most.
There might be certain things in your life that you want. It could be that you want the chance to experience what it feels like to be comfortable fully expressing your “true self” with your intimate partner, or the thrill of knowing what it means to be genuinely passionate about your work. Maybe it’s the sense of vitality that comes with knowing what it looks and feels like to live in a fit and healthy body, or the certainty that you’re capable of building your finances up. I didn’t want to get to the end of my life, seeing all my half hearted and unfinished attempts, and ask myself “What was I so scared of?”
Oftentimes motivation is not the problem. Many people are super motivated to get healthier, get a promotion or a raise, spend more time with loved ones or find a deep and meaningful relationship. But something gets in the way and the pattern repeats. May I suggest that it’s not that you’re lacking in motivation. Maybe it’s more about getting in touch with what’s really important to you. Making changes in life can be challenging at times, so knowing that, what is something so important to you, that it would make those challenges worth it? What would it mean to you if you could reach your goal and see it through? What reasons do you have, to achieve what you want, that are more important, more meaningful to you, than the reasons not to? Take a minute to really think about that. Brainstorm it. Write it down.
Do you want help with Sadness, Procrastination, Self-Sabotage, Confidence or Motivation?
Create a new future
The mind loves pictures! In fact, every time you have a thought or experience a feeling or emotion about something, it’s because long before you felt it, your mind had already created a picture for it. These pictures always happen before we start to feel any emotion, whether it’s negative or positive. We’re not always aware of these pictures, but we can be. Sometimes the simple act of paying more attention to the types of pictures that your mind is creating for you, can be all that you need to start making a change in your life.
Often times, when we’re feeling anxious, scared, uncertain or fearful about something, it’s because the pictures we’ve created surrounding it are negative and we’ve got them on repeat. These pictures may have come from previous experiences we’ve had in our lives or what people have told us, what we’ve read, or a combination of many things. The great part is, it doesn’t matter where they came from, because as soon as we’re aware of them that means we can change them.
As soon as I realised this, I got really passionate about becoming aware of, and choosing to adjust the pictures in my imagination. Instead of seeing myself fail or focusing on the scary and negative pictures of life, I changed those pictures to focus on what it could look like when I succeeded. What would the best case scenario look like? What does success look like for me? How would I be celebrating? Where would I be? How would I feel in that moment?
Choosing your pictures
You see, picturing the successful achievement or a situation going well, helps to remind you of why you’re doing what you’re doing. It helps you to stay focused on the part that’s meaningful to you, which can pull you through to the celebration at the end, even if it gets a little tough. What’s so awesome about this, is that all you need is your own imagination! The picture you create for yourself is limitless, as is whatever you define success to be for you.
Go ahead, give it a go right now. Just think of a place where you feel content or calm or happy. For me it’s usually a picture where I’m paddleboarding on the ocean or connecting with my family. Notice the feelings and sensations in your body. Can you feel your feet on the ground, the breath in your lungs and the air on your face? What can you hear around you? Now put your attention to your imagination. What do you notice about the picture in your mind? Are you in the picture or looking into it? Sitting or standing in the picture? Are you inside or outside? Are there sounds? Smells? How bright or dark is the picture? Is it big or small? Are you saying words to yourself or to someone else? What colours can you see?
The more you train your mind to get used to doing this, the easier it becomes to do in those moments where negative emotions, or less than helpful pictures might come up. You can do this in any area of life! Just remember to make your pictures as detailed as possible and really associate yourself with them. You can even choose to say some positive words to yourself in your pictures, or hear a song that pumps you up, feel the sun on your face or smell your mum’s cooking. Whatever it is for you that helps your positive pictures to feel real.
For example, if you’re about to go on a date, you could do the same thing and imagine how much fun you’re having, enjoying each other’s company. Maybe you’ve been feeling a certain way about trying out a new activity like dancing for example. So why not change those pictures so you’re seeing yourself laughing and smiling as you twirl around the room. The same goes for health and fitness. Maybe you’re feeling uncertain about stepping into the gym for the first time, or you’ve created some unhelpful pictures about exercise in general. You could choose some more helpful pictures of yourself such as your healthy, vibrant, energetic self completing a run with a massive smile on your face and cheering.
Stop feeding the fear
Sometimes what can happen if a person has got caught up in repeating a negative picture, is that it might feel so uncomfortable that they just want it to stop. It’s almost like having a mosquito bite that you really want to scratch because you know that as soon as you scratch it, it will feel a little better. The thing is, it will only feel better for a moment, while you’re scratching it. After that, the itch comes back again and you want to scratch it again. This keeps happening until it gets painful and sometimes, even then, some people keep scratching because they don’t know what else to do.
The mosquito bite in your life is usually something that triggers you emotionally. Something that feels uncomfortable. Some people might call in sick or show up late to work often, because that’s easier than changing their situation. Maybe you’re worried about awkward silences in conversation so you chatter on and on to make sure there are no silences, until it becomes awkward anyway. How about people who never switch off from work, constantly asking for reassurance and making sure everything is ok and always being available “just in case something goes wrong”?
Then there’s parents who might try to protect their children from everything, worrying about the worst case scenario all the time. For some people, it could simply be backing down from that thing you really want to do, because in the moment it feels safer to stay where you are. To scratch the itch and make it go away, even just for a moment. The key to noticing if this might be happening for you, is to be aware of when excuses and lots of justifications are coming up around something.
The thing about scratching the itch, is that every time you do this, you actually encourage the pattern to keep repeating. It’s feeding the fear and making it stronger. But you can train your brain to see that there’s a better, longer term solution. One that might stop the itch and weaken the fear. What I do is, I give myself only two options. Option one is that you just do the thing that you’ve been putting off, pushing away, making excuses about. Just go for it. Start it. Begin. It doesn’t have to be amazing, or even completed. You just have to start. Option two, is to do nothing. Nothing at all. Zilch. Nothing other than being. That means no writing, planning, organising , clearing your inbox or doing any “busy work”. It means no surfing the net, checking in on social media, calling your grandpa or eating food you’re not really hungry for. It means literally doing nothing, other than the thing that you have set out to do. If it’s not Option one, then it’s nothing.
Just sit with it
What this really means is that instead of scratching the itch, you get to work through the fear or just sit with it. Now of course you can give yourself breaks, just be mindful of whether those breaks are distractions, ways to scratch the itch, or if you actually really do need to hydrate yourself with another cup of tea. Just sitting with the uncomfortability, could literally look like sitting in front of your computer staring at a blank screen, or it could be taking a few deep breaths, readjusting the pictures in your mind, and then getting on with it. Some people use a three second rule, where they simply count to three and then go do the thing. You’ll find what works best for you over time. When I first tried this, it took me multiple times of going between doing the thing and doing nothing until I got back on task. The more that I kept doing this, the shorter amount of time I spent doing nothing, and the longer I was able to focus on doing the things that were really important to me.
The more often you can do this, the bigger your library of positive pictures will become. The bigger your library of positive pictures is, the easier it becomes to keep going and moving towards what you want, even if it gets challenging for a short while. You can have lots of fun with your imagination and you’ll be amazed at how quickly it will pick this up and run with it once you get going. By not feeding into your fears anymore, you might start to notice how much more quiet that sabotaging voice has become.
Moving through the fear could actually become your new comfort zone, just like it has for me.
I love that I have faced some uncomfortable moments to find out more about who I am and what I’m capable of. Now I live a life that I can look back on without regret of the things that I didn’t do out of fear. These days nothing much holds me back, let alone myself. There’s no reason why you couldn’t do the same, and every reason why you can. So go on, make a start today so that next time you’re asked what’s holding you back you can honestly answer, “Not me!”.