Brain: yes! / Heart: NOPE.
May 7, 2017 8:52 AM   Subscribe

[Inner conflict filter] How can I overcome psychological/emotional resistance to doing things that take me closer to my goals?

I have noticed that I have a self-sabotaging streak? I choose really unsuitable partners and reject ones that are likely to be kind, I lose weight but then I worry that I will be thinner than my mom, and then I binge eat... I actually love studying, but I procrastinate because I'm scared of having opportunities that take me out of my comfort zone... I read this immunity to change HBR article and it really rang true for me... And I want to develop into one of those people whose actions line up closely with their intentions? How do I stop this BS and start being a rational, self-actualized human being?

I'm planning to try and 'uncover those immunities' as suggested in the article, but do you guys have any similar experiences? Of changing your self-destructive / self-sabotaging patterns?

Thank you!
posted by Crookshanks_Meow to Human Relations (6 answers total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
I imagine the reasons that self-sabotaging-me has for doing what she does. Usually it's (in a backwards, ineffective way) self-protective. And then I have a conversation with self-sabotaging-me, thanking them for wanting to keep me safe and telling them that it's no longer necessary to be so protective, that we are going to be OK. I try to be grateful for the ways that s-s-m has kept me safe (particularly when I was a child) and then give them permission to step down from their protective post.

It takes a lot of repetition, but it has worked for me.
posted by mcduff at 9:24 AM on May 7, 2017 [24 favorites]

All I can say is that it is exactly as described in the article - any time I've faced a new role or task that I wanted and then suddenly went "ehhhhhh" about it, I had to sit down and have an honest conversation with myself about how I felt resistant to some aspect of the change, and unpack where that resistance came from. Some times I had to "do it anyway", and other times I was able to make peace with the old thing I was hanging on to, and that "ehhhh" feeling went away.

Eventually you realize: I either walk my talk, or I'm being inconsistent and neurotic. And the feeling of alignment is so much better than the "ehhhh" feeling. Eventually you live more in the aligned feeling, so the "ehhhh" feeling only shows up now and again, and it is much easier to sort out each time.

Be gentle with yourself. Listen to that "ehhhhh" feeling and understand what it is trying to protect you from. A big aspect of being aligned with yourself IS listening to that feeling... owning up to it and facing it directly... but likely not acting on it.

Sometimes putting it in direct words is helpful. "I'm ambivalent about losing weight because I want to look good but I think my mom might distance herself from me if I look too good and I don't want to lose that closeness." Then you can go about finding ways to feel close to your mom that don't involve binge eating.

Good luck!
posted by St. Peepsburg at 9:29 AM on May 7, 2017 [11 favorites]

It's been helpful to me to normalize the resistance, not freak out when it happens or when I engage in some degree of self-sabotage, and not to let slip-ups totally derail me (e.g., not say, "Welp, I made one small mistake, might as well give up totally!"). In general, treating setbacks (including self-manufactured setbacks) as a normal part of the process has made me way calmer when they happen and much quicker to move past them, because I don't get into a downward spiral of doing unhelpful thing --> feeling guilty about doing unhelpful thing --> doing more unhelpful things in order to mask the guilty feeling --> feeling even more guilty --> etc.
posted by lazuli at 8:08 PM on May 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

I wrote a comment about how the central nervous system responds here.
In general I love your question and I wish there were 40 answers given.
posted by andreapandrea at 9:41 PM on May 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

I have this problem. I'm in the midst of changing some very entrenched behaviors under quite a bit of pressure. I've flailed around with a lot of techniques until I found one that is working for me. The key insight is that behavior is governed by the things you believe about yourself. The practice is to uncover these beliefs, and then change them by telling yourself the new belief you want to adopt.

Example, you are preparing for a job interview and keep procrastinating. Trying to force yourself to do the work isn't working - you keep coming up with reasons why you can't. The key is to work through these and realize they aren't true - they are all excuses - until you come to the core belief - that you're going to fail no matter what you do so you might as well not try. Core beliefs tend to be concise and when you speak them they feel very true, like they come from a place deep inside. I have beliefs like "I'm going to fail whatever I do", "I can't do anything right". Look for messages like "I can't". Also things like "it's all over if I fail" - doom / catastrophic thinking. You probably have a complex web of self-reinforcing negative beliefs that are easily triggered.

Once you have found the belief, formulate the opposite. It's not true that you fail at everything you do; only that you fail sometimes, and often because you sabotage. Look for an example where you achieved something in your life and you will know it's false. The belief is something like "I work hard and achieve". "I can handle failure". "I'm capable". etc. It's important that these be equally concise, and also that they're framed positively, e.g. "I will succeed", rather than "I won't fail".

And once you have the positive belief, your task is to start repeating it to yourself, constantly, every ten seconds, all day every day. Speak it out loud with your deepest most true voice. Visualize the part of your mind where your core beliefs are written down (for me I pictured some kind of temple with beliefs hanging on the wall like stone tablets), imagine taking one down, throw it away, put the new one up. Keep repeating the belief. If this works for you the same way it does for me, you'll feel resistance to the belief, and then as you keep repeating it you will start to re-wire yourself. I can usually feel it flowing through myself. Eventually it will collide with something and when you push your new beliefs through, that something will give way. In this way you will create a new positive structure. As you add more positive beliefs about yourself they will begin to strengthen and reinforce one another, much like negative beliefs do now.

Every time you have spare time repeat the new beliefs. If you aren't doing it, make time. Do it on the bus, in the shower, before you go to bed... under your breath or in your mind at work. It's like lifting weights, you have to put in the reps. You have a lot of conditioning to overcome so you need to put a lot of energy into this. The good news is that once you start, you begin to change right away. I am not far enough in the process to tell you what happens when you do this for a while but I can say when I finally figured out this technique and started applying it, I began to change immediately.
posted by PercussivePaul at 1:19 AM on May 8, 2017 [7 favorites]

I'm not sure if you've seen the book this HBR article is based on : Immunity to Change

It goes into more detail and gives a lot of examples for both work and personal change.

There's also a worksheet that can help you breakdown what you need to do to reach your goal, what you are doing instead, and identify the assumptions that underpin your self-sabotaging behaviours.

I know a coach who uses this model and she says it can take 3 or 4 sessions before people uncover the true assumptions and limiting beliefs, so be patient with yourself. You might want to talk through the worksheet and your challenges with a friend, too.

Once you've identified the assumptions or beliefs which hold you back, you can plan small activities that test these.

So for example, if you do some soul searching and discover the reason you fear being thinner than your mother is that you believe on some level that her love for you is dependant on her being smaller, try to test that belief. Work on your relationship with her in ways that don't relate to weight. Confide your goal weight with her and see how she reacts. Try losing 5 lbs at a time and checking her reaction. If you can prove this belief isn't true, you can work on reminding yourself that when you're tempted to binge. If you do find she is upset or hostile as you lose weight, try to figure out why, or how to talk to her about it, or how to manage it so it doesn't control you.

The other thing that helps is choosing a goal that's really important to you (4 or 5 out of 5), and focusing on one or two goals at a time.

Good luck!
posted by Dwardles at 4:05 AM on May 8, 2017 [4 favorites]

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