If you were to go into my office, and look at my shelves, desk, and white board you would probably see a mess of papers. Scrap paper, sticky notes, large pages all filled with lists of goals, reminders, and dreams.
Yes- I am one of those people who make endless lists but never actually use them. My notes and reminders just seem to pile up, every time I accomplish one thing, three more are added. Similarly, I have a long list of negative traits that never seem to get smaller, only larger. A bucket-list of self-improvement goals, if you will.
Do you feel the same way I do? Do you have ideas and intentions that have fallen by the wayside throughout your life? Have you ever stopped to think that you and I may be sabotaging ourselves?
Whether it’s ending bad habits or forming good ones, we all face a struggle of change and growth. This takes time, effort, and planning. But there is someone who always seems to get in the way, someone we can blame many of our failures upon: ourselves!
You’ve probably heard the idiom ‘your greatest enemy is the one staring back at you in the mirror’, and this phrase can often be more true than not. Ask any individual trying to quit smoking, drinking, or another addictive behavior and they will tell you that it is their own thoughts and behavior that gets in the way of their success(1). So how can we recognize self-sabotage and get out of our own way?
1. Expose our Influences
I had a very close friend who I grew up with. We spent a lot of time together over the years,
Getting into mischief and experiencing what the world had to offer. But now as the years have gone by, I’ve moved on in my life. I’ve come to new moral understandings, and he is still doing the same things. We no longer have much in common, nor should we. If we still spent a lot of time together, one of us would have to become similar to the other; you and I both know it would be easier for me to slip back into bad habits than it would for my friend to suddenly become more interested in Jesus.
We all have friends that we used to do bad things with. Maybe we still have friends like this. Inappropriate things, sins, immoral, maybe just plain time wasters. They could be genuinely good people. But eventually through association they will bring us down(2). This doesn’t mean we should completely remove ourselves from those who think or believe differently with us, simply that we must be wary of those that we spend time with. We have to be on guard against the passive influence that company has on us.
It’s not just our friends who influence us either. Our workplace culture and coworkers, the blogs and internet articles we read, the movies and news that we watch; all of these influence us and weaken us over time to give in to old habits or pick up new ones.
By voluntarily staying or putting ourselves in these situations or with these associations, we are in fact sabotaging our future success!
2. Embrace Being Uncomfortable
I hear complaints from people nearly every week about their jobs and their organizations. Through my conversations, I have found that the main reason people do not leave their jobs is because they are comfortable. Even if something is bugging them, it’s outweighed in their mind by the fact that they are used to the job, they already know the ropes, and it doesn’t require the amount of effort it would take to do something different or go somewhere else. Their comfort perpetuates their own misery.
I hear complaints about relationships, houses, children, tasks, personal issues, everything under the sun. The same thing applies. People are comfortable and don’t want to make changes even when they recognize problems.
We are all like this. We want something but constantly make excuses(3). Just like my unending lists of goals and improvements, procrastination always is the first on the list, and it’s hard to get much farther than that. By the time an issue becomes too big to ignore or push aside, it is often too late to confront it.
This is a self-sabotage that we need to address, especially when it comes to our Christian walk with God. God doesn’t do excuses. “I’m too tired”, “I’ll do it later”, “I’m not sure”, “I don’t have the time”- would we really say that to God’s face? So why do we say them to ourselves?
I addition to prayer, overcoming our own comfort usually requires us to establish accountability with someone else (or multiple people). Getting a confidant, a friend, or a group to help us through the battle is essential. This is where coaching is so powerful, as it provides a bona-fide accountability buddy. Someone that will check up on us and ask questions.
3. Analyze the Environment
Many years ago, I had the opportunity to serve in a program as a behavioral counselor. During this time, I worked with a particular individual who had some intense struggles and additions. Through conversing with him and trying to help him through the issues, I came to the realization that many of the scenarios showed patterns. When he was alone, he struggled more. In the evenings, his temptations grew. And when he looked at certain items, he reacted in negative ways according to habits that were already engraved in his head.
What about you and me? Do we have certain scenarios that start off innocent, but then always seem to lead to a negative thing that we did not intend?
Take for example, a person struggling with pornography: what are the environmental patterns that could be seen in his or her struggle? The struggle always happens when alone, after dark, with a computer. This person could decide to spend more time with people at night time, lock the computer up at night, or even get rid of it all together.
Recognizing patterns in the when, where, and what of our struggles is the easy part. Where are we when we are failing or struggling? When do we struggle most? What physical tools do we use to sabotage ourselves? The hard part comes with dealing with your environment, because it often means sacrifice.
If we truly want to overcome self-sabotage, we must be willing to give things up. Is it extreme for the video-game addict to get rid of his video games? Is it extreme for the shopaholic to cut up her credit cards? I don’t think God would view it as extreme. He would see our devotion to Him and will and want to follow His ways. Our willing sacrifices to overcome our environmental hazards are pleasing to God(4).
Moving Beyond Self-Sabotage
We set ourselves up for failure when we pick the wrong people to be around. We set ourselves up for failure when we make excuses, becoming comfortable in our own misery, not wanting to put the effort into overcoming procrastination. And we set ourselves up for failure when we do not eliminate the places, time, and tools that we use for our own demise.
We need to be choosing our company wisely, become accountable to ourselves and others, and casting away the things, places, and free time that lead to failure.
I challenge you to look at your current struggles this week and ask yourself: Am I sabotaging myself?
(1) Romans 7:14-15, (2) 1Corinthians 15:33, (3) Proverbs 13:4, (4) Matthew 5:29-30