Breaking the Grip of Self-Sabotage

images-1In last week’s post, I was ruminating on JB Spears’ advice to scare ourselves in order to really live. (See his interview with Dave Aspry.) I want to continue this week by sharing his thoughts on self-sabotage. This is a topic I think about a lot, largely because I’m pretty much a master of self-sabotage.

Let’s just take today, a day supposedly devoted to putting a post on my blog. I got up early to begin the task. It is now 1:00 p.m. and I’m just now sitting down to write. In the last 5 hours, I’ve cooked a delicious, large breakfast; run two errands (neither of which was critical); organized stuff for a garage sale this Saturday (it’s 5 days away!); washed two loads of laundry; emptied the dishwasher (the glasses were still warm); paid some bills and even decorated the envelope of a check I am sending to my assistant. I’ve planned smoothie flavors for the week; reorganized my linen closet; and called Caladium World and placed an ordered 40 Miss Muffitt caladium bulbs.

Ya think I’m avoiding something??

In the work I’ve been doing with accountability groups over the past year, I’ve seen a lot of creatives using masterful avoidance tactics that come dangerously close to being a form of self-sabotage. So what is this all about?? Why do we do this??

According to Sears, “self-sabotage is typically a symptom of unresolved emotional pain and/or disempowering beliefs of ourselves.” Just what I was afraid of. In some cases, though, I think he’s right: when we find reasoning, excuses, or drama that take us away from the deep work we want to do, or the creative project we want to bring into the world, we may actually be avoiding  patterns of depression, sadness, anger, disconnection, or behaviors of unworthiness.   Spears suggests that self-sabotage is an “expression that validates a disempowering belief of self or a pain of self.”

And in fact, this is consistent with a lot of situations I’ve seen with clients who suffer from two conflicting beliefs. On the one hand, they desire to express themselves in some creative form; on the other hand, they hold a belief that they are not capable of doing it. And there they remain until clarity arrives about the nature of the hidden and self-sabotaging belief.

Are we doomed to stay locked in the grip of these two opposing beliefs? No, says Spears. And he offers a helpful line of questioning that can disarm self-sabotaging beliefs.

The first is simply, “Okay, what do you do?” In other words, recognize and then catch yourself in the very acts that allow you to avoid doing the thing you seemingly want to do but don’t do. When I start re-arranging the paint cans out in the garage, I’m pretty sure I’m avoiding doing something that scares the heck out of me. I am actually making fun of myself here, calling myself out, and labeling the exact actions (avoidance tactics) that I was pretending were so important to do.

Question two, Spears says, is “Why do you do what you do?” This can be tricky to figure out—and for some of us takes decades of therapy— but most of the time, if we get really still and really open, we can find the honesty to see our behavior as actually serving us in some way, and that’s why we do it! The behavior actually serves us by keeping at bay a fear we will have to face if we are successful in our intention.   In Field Training, this is called counter-intending. We say we want to write a book, but in actually we are afraid of all of the attention we’ll get if the book is a raging success, and so we self-sabotage the completing of the manuscript. Philosopher Philip Golabuck, founder and former director of the Field Project, offers a helpful question at this point in the process: “What bad thing happens if I actually achieve the goal I’m after?” There’s almost always an answer to this paradoxical question. And the answer to that question is the reason we are self-sabotaging.

So then, question three is “How does part of me benefit by doing this?” Spears says it is very important to get to the “story under the story of our self-sabotage, get beyond the symptoms to the root of why we do what we do.”   Early on in our lives, we might have constructed a story about who we are and we continue to carry it around, even after we’ve outgrown the story. These stories can keep us locked in unconscious reactions that are ultimately destructive to us, and that keep us in patterns of self-sabotage.

Hmmm. This might be too much psychology for you. I get it. But still, whether you analyze it or not, we’re left with the need to drop self-sabotaging behavior. Stay tuned for Part 3 of this series on fear & sabotage to learn some helpful ways to release the grip of a counter-intention.

In the meantime, I hope you find Spears’ three questions helpful as you address any version of self-sabotage you may be experiencing.

Until next week. . . I’ll be out in the garage, organizing the paint cans by color and size.

JB Sears on Fear

51Ra6evxOPL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_-1In a recent interview with Dave Aspry (the Bulletproof executive), comedian JP Spears said this:

In my opinion, an ingredient for a great life is being willing to scare ourselves to death in order to actually live, not survive, but live. I think when we’re not willing to scare ourselves to death. . .it’s the equivalent of saying, ‘I’m going to sit in this coffin of my comfort zone, stay with what’s familiar. I’ll repeat the same patterns of my relationships, same repetitive patterns of my health, same repetitive patterns of my thinking about who I am and what the world around me is.’ But if we can break out of that coffin and actually embrace the mystery, embrace the unknown, embrace what we fear the most, that’s when we really begin to develop more fully.

I’ve been thinking about that interview for days now, and looking at my own life and how unwilling I am to scare myself to death. I talk all the time about wanting to live fully, happily, productively, beneficially; but in truth, I have rarely considered scaring myself in order to do that. I like things tidy, comfy, and under control.

But as I ponder Spears’ words, I’m wondering if there might be some truth to the idea of consciously placing ourselves in circumstances of fear.

Like most sentient beings, I want to maintain as much comfort as possible, both physically and psychologically. But I also know that I’ve become stronger physically from doing some things that really did scare the hell out of me. Like rappelling into a cave. Like jumping off a ten-meter high diving board. Like doing almost anything my trainer, Anthony Espaillot, asks me to do. And the same goes for my emotional life: speaking my truth in certain conflict-ridden situations has been of hard for me. But every time I do it, I become more grounded, more confident, more liberated.

I’m running three accountability groups at LifeArt Studio this spring. And I’m asking my clients to think about this idea, too. I’ve asked them to do some writing around the project their pursuing to see if there are parts of this project that scare them. Sometimes we self-sabotage our creative efforts when we become fearful about our ability to handle an idea or a project. And as coach, I’ve thought the best thing I can do is to help the client disarm the fear she holds so she can move forward with her work.

But what if we re-framed the issue of fear about a creative endeavor and started looking at it as a nudge to our creative growth? The fear, if faced with some degree of equanimity, can be the catalyst that takes us to the next stage of creative development. When we recognize our fear, label it, and take action anyway, we actually become stronger, more confident, and more successful in our endeavors. It’s not the enemy to be dismissed. It’s the prod that takes us to our next level of achievement.

What do you think? Have you scared yourself lately?

Dancing with Urgency

images-1One of my favorite sayings is “Be bold, and mighty warriors will come to your aid.” But most of the time, we don’t  recognize our “warriors” when they actually appear. They may come in the form of a formal sermon; or a book; maybe a line from a song you hear as you’re driving to work; maybe advice from a wise friend. Warrior assistance is with us always; the trick is to be aware of it.

So today,  just home from a Gracious Living Lifestyle retreat in Nicaragua, Seth Godin showed up as my personal warrior. And now, I take up my extended ruminations on the value of retreat because Seth Godin’s blog offered me exactly what I most need to hear this morning:

The why of urgent vs. important

You know you should be focusing on the long-term journey, on building out the facility, signing up new customers or finishing your dissertation.

But instead, there’s a queue of urgent things, all justifiable, all requiring you and you alone to handle them. And so you do, pushing off the important in favor of the urgent.

Of course, everyone has this challenge, but some people manage to get past it. Even you, the last time you made a major move forward. Think about it–those urgencies from a few years ago: who’s handling them now?

The reason we go for urgent is that it makes us feel competent. We’re good at it. We didn’t used to be, but we are now.

Important, on the other hand, is fraught with fear, with uncertainty and with the risk of failure.

Now that you know why, you can dance with it.

I have done battle with urgency my entire life. It just may be the cause of virtually every form of suffering I’ve experienced. And there is no better time for my ego to give me an extra dose of urgency than right on the heels of a healing retreat. That’s the way growth works: first you experience what you need, then you get yet another dose of what you need to let go of. And so I feel the stickiness of urgency all around me this morning. This “stickiness” around habituated patterns is called shenpa in the Buddhist tradition. Shenpa is getting hooked into an old and familiar way of responding, even if that way has not proven to be useful.

A week on the Pacific coast of Nicaragua has happened to me. I rested deeply, moved mindfully, meditated often, ate well, listened to the ocean, watched astounding sunsets, conversed with fabulous people, and listened. I listened to the ocean’s constant roar; I listened to heart-felt stories; I listened every morning as the jungle came alive with bird songs I’ve never heard before. They began tuning their exotic instruments at 5:00 a.m., and by 5:30 the fowl orchestra reached peak performance. Loud, raucous, demanding, assertive—screaming their aliveness to the puny creatures who lay awakening beneath them. Tangled in dream-soaked sheets, I felt their visceral aliveness.

Seven days of retreat, and my heart is open, my mind is clear, my intentions ravenous. And still, stealthily, the urgency emerges: I want to be more, do more, have more, offer more. I want to align my heart and my head, my body with my spirit, my story with my soul. Yes, I want to gobble up life even more than before. . . and urgency sets in quickly when you want to gobble.

So I sit quietly, this first day home from a foreign world—foreign in so many ways, at so many levels—holding this urgency lightly. Just watch it, I tell myself. Do not resist.

This new behavior reveals evidence of small improvement: I am not perturbed by this shenpa, as I once would have been. I go easy on myself. I recall the Three Meditations on Dying that we pondered during our retreat, stated most succinctly by Pema Chödrön:

“Since death is certain, the time of death is uncertain, what is most important now?”

I make a list. What is most important now?

paint/draw/make marks
read/study more, learn more, understand more
be willing not to understand
take notes/remember what is happening
move mindfully
eat healthfully
clean the house
order the closets
get rid of stuff
work in the garden/plant colorful flowers
pay attention to friends
be kind
drop urgency
know that all is well/remember it always
accept the love that is all around me/ be deeply grateful for it
accept what is right in front of me
learn from what is right in front of me
drop grasping and clinging
embrace imperturbability
be of benefit
remember my divinity

It’s a start.  And there’s no rush.  All is well.

How about your list this glorious Sunday morning? Make one, then see what unique warriors come to your aid. Be assured they will arrive exactly when you need them.