8.19.19

Do you know how to get out of your own way? Whether most of us realize it or not, we all hold limiting beliefs that can block us from reaching our full potential. According to Dr. Judy Ho, certified clinical psychologist, learning to break the cycle of self-sabotage is simply a matter of noticing and then creating a new choice. Her new book Stop Self-Sabotage is a practical guide to conquering limiting beliefs that might be inhibiting your willpower, your motivation and possibly your dream life from coming to fruition. Find a comfortable spot and give these empowering exercises a try…

Ever tried to reach a goal like losing weight, getting a new job, curbing overspending or finding a satisfying relationship, only to be disappointed when your efforts didn’t bring you any closer to your dreams? Have you ever avoided getting close to people, or wanted to connect with someone so badly that your insecurity and neediness scared them off? Have you ever gotten in trouble for poor money management, or found it hard to do what it takes to take your career to the next level? Have you ever stopped and thought, Why did I do that? after you reached for the cookies instead of something healthy, or when a break from a work project turned into a binge-watching session that left you bleary-eyed and behind on deadlines?

If any of this sounds familiar, you may be stuck in a cycle of self- sabotage. Simply defined, self-sabotage shows up as thoughts and/or behaviors that undermine our best interests and conscious intentions. Have you ever thought, I can never do (fill in the blank), so then you give up and don’t try? That’s self-sabotage. Or do you act in ways that are counter to what’s good for you, for example, binge eating half a cake when you know the importance of a healthier lifestyle? That’s another example of self-sabotage.

11 Exercises To Fight Self-Sabotage

Even the most successful people may engage in self-sabotage in one or more areas of their life — maybe you have a rewarding career and solid marriage, but can’t seem to keep up an exercise routine, or maybe you’re a social butterfly and keep great company except when it comes to romantic partners. Below are 11 quick self-sabotage busters to try the next time you catch yourself about to self-sabotage…

ET-Squared
Helpful for: Noticing your self-sabotage triggers as they occur in the moment.
Time frame: 10 minutes
Quick instructions: If you notice you are feeling sadness, disappointment, anger, frustration or other negative emotions, name the emotion to yourself out loud or in your head (and write them down in your journal). Then do a mental rewind to see if you can identify the thought(s) that preceded the emotion. Then, rewind once more to the moments right before the thought — what was happening? Go ahead and jot down some details about the event in your journal. Finally, return your attention to the thought(s) and try to categorize them into one or more types of self-sabotage triggers, and write those down.

Thought Clouds
Helpful for:Noticing thoughts as mere mental events and not something you necessarily need to act on or be reactionary towards.
Time frame:
10 minutes
Quick instructions: Take a few deep breaths and notice the sensations of your breathing in and out. Be attentive to the thoughts that come into your mind, and observe them. As you notice your thoughts coming and going, try not to interpret, judge, or react to them. Don’t try to resist having a particular thought either. Instead, adopt an attitude of curiosity. Examine each thought as you would as though you were watching a play. You are paying attention, but you are not intricately involved with the performance as it unfolds. After a few minutes of setting your thoughts adrift, to bring yourself out of the meditation, count backward from 5 to 1, and gently bring your attention to your breathing. With each count, remember that your thoughts are like clouds in the sky. Each of them exists in their specific shape for a moment in time before they shift and become something different. Just like you can’t hold onto clouds, neither should you try to hold onto your thoughts, especially those that are negative and trigger self-sabotaging patterns.

Yes, But
Helpful for: Creating a modified thought that takes into account what’s difficult about a situation but also recognizes the positives amidst a challenging time.
Time frame:
5 minutes

Quick instructions: Whenever you notice a self-sabotage trigger, argue against that thought by creating an alternate thought. To do this, drum up a sentence that includes filling in the blank after the word yes (something that relates to the self-sabotage trigger and acknowledges the current stress), and then filling in the blank after the word but (something that acknowledges that you can do something to change it around or that you have been doing a great job).

Labeling Your Thoughts
Helpful for: Remembering that the thought is not in control, you are; and you are separate from your thoughts and don’t need to react to every single one of them.
Time frame: 1 minute
Quick instructions: The next time you notice a negative thought, try adding the phrase I’m having the thought that in front of it. For example, I will never be able to get another job becomes I am having the thought that… I will never get another job. Notice that adding this phrase helps to separate you from the thought and lessens its impact.

Notice what adding the simple phrase I am having the thought that does to the original thought. By adding this phrase in front of the thought, does it help to cement the idea that you are separate from the thoughts that you have? And does this separation help to lessen the impact of the original thought ever so slightly? You can take this exercise a step further by adding another short phrase: I notice that. Now the phrase now becomes: I notice that…I’m having the thought that…I will never get another job. This additional simple phrase brings to the forefront that you are the active agent doing the noticing of your thoughts. You are the one who is spotting a negative thought, and then labeling it as just that — a mental event and nothing more.

Navy Seal Box Breathing
Helpful for: Slowing you down and bringing calm and relaxation in a short amount of time.
Time frame: 1 minute
Quick instructions: Breathe in for a count of 4, hold your breath for a count of 4, exhale for a count of 4, stay empty (hold the exhale) for a count of 4. Repeat the sequence, if necessary, for as many times as you’d like to achieve a state of calm.

Physicalize the Emotion
Helpful for: Regaining control and feeling mastery over your circumstances when you experience intense and negative feelings
Time frame: 10 minutes
Quick instructions: Think of the emotion that is bothering you. Take a few deep breaths and get into a comfortable position. Then imagine reaching into your body for a physical representation of the emotion, gently pulling it out, and placing it in front of you. Next, I want you to examine this thought/emotion with your five senses by responding to these questions. How does it look, how does it feel, what sound does it make, does it have a scent, does it have a taste? After examining the emotion in this way, imagine taking hold of this object — this physical representation of your emotion — with both of your hands. Then, visualize being able to change its size, shape, weight, color, and so on by shaping and molding it. Make it smaller and more manageable. Push and squeeze it so that it shrinks down to about the size of a little pea. It’s still that same emotion, but now it’s tiny and compressed. Once you’ve transformed it, imagine putting this pea-sized emotion in your pocket, wallet, or purse. It is safe to keep with you now as a reminder of how you can take a large and amorphous troublesome thought and make it tangible and contained.

Opposite Action
Helpful for: Decreasing the intensity of a negative emotion so that you don’t react in self-sabotaging ways.
Time frame: 10 minutes
Quick instructions: Identify the feeling that is bothering you and give it a rating (from 1 to 10 with increasing numbers representing escalating intensity). Now, think of something you can do that would be associated with the opposite of your current feeling. Do it, and then re-rate the feeling you identified. You should find that the intensity of the feeling has decreased.

Increasing Positive Emotions
Helpful for: Increasing positive feelings and improve mood in the moment in order to re-set and prevent you from committing self-sabotaging acts.
Time frame: 10 minutes
Quick instructions: Rate your current mood on a scale of 1 to 10 (with 10 being the most positive). Pick a pleasant activity (for ideas, google “Pleasant Activity List”), do the activity, then re-rate your mood again. You should find that your mood has increased.

Phone a Friend
Helpful for: Bringing your negative thoughts out into the open and invites a different perspective that might help you to question or modify your thinking.
Time frame: 10 minutes
Quick instructions: Pick up your phone and call a friend or loved one whom you trust, and tell them your current thought and the situation or event that brought it on. Ask them if they feel like the thought accurately captures what’s truly going on and invite them to share with you what you might be missing in your self-assessment. Getting an outside perspective will help to distinguish thoughts that are reasonable from those that represent self-sabotage triggers, and offer a different vantage point on an ingrained pattern of negative thinking that may not be serving you in your goal pursuits.

A Quick Visualization + If/When…Then
Helpful for: Stopping self-sabotage when you are on the verge of doing something that will take you away from your objectives.
Time frame: 10 minutes
Quick instructions: Think of a wish. Now, for a few moments, imagine the wish coming true. Let your mind wander and drift, experiencing what it is like for this wish to come to fruition.
Then shift gears. Spend a few moments imagining specific obstacles that stand in the way of realizing your wish. Let your mind take in exactly what’s getting in the way. Now, get out a pen and paper, and write down a specific implementation intention — an If/When…Then statement that directly addresses at least one of the obstacles that stands in the way of realizing your wish.

Keeping Your Values Handy
Helpful for: Keeping your values active on a daily basis and building your motivation for living by important principles.
Time frame: 10 minutes
Quick instructions: Take a look at your current list of top eleven values and zero in on your top three. Then, create a sensory-based reminder for each of them (such as a photo, a scent, a particular song). Make contact with these reminders by viewing them throughout the day or having them nearby such as on your desk or in your notebook.

Do you self-sabotage? How do you get out of your own way?
Talk about it with the TCM community over on our Facebook group, The Chat.

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Leave A Comment

  1. There are many great ideas here, but it would be so helpful if the writer could also include examples for each scenario listed, so that it’s easier to understand how to implement these “tools” vs. just giving instructions. Thanks for sharing! I hope there will be a Part II that delves into that next step a bit : )

    Tanya | 08.19.2019 | Reply
  2. What a new refreshing way to get in check with yourself. Excited to try all 11.
    Thank you for your research and wonderful book.

    Sher | 08.19.2019 | Reply
  3. Tanya, I second that. I would love to see some examples. But this article couldn’t be more timely, thanks TCM!

    Lauren Williams | 08.19.2019 | Reply
  4. We’re looking into follow-up! Thanks ladies, we agree

    The Chalkboard | 08.19.2019 | Reply
  5. This arrived at such an appropriate time. I’ve been struggling with this for so long I drove myself nuts. Thank you for this list.

    A lady | 08.20.2019 | Reply


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