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Avoiding self-sabotage by conquering temptation

September 23rd 2017

Self-sabotage is caused by lack of motivation (what you want) and lack of belief (conviction that you can get what you want). This is why it is vital to recognise the importance of consistently and systematically reinforcing these two fundamental components of achieving any meaningful goals. If your motivation and belief are lacking, then you will fall victim to self-doubt, fear in its many forms (e.g. fear of failure, fear of success, fear of what others think etc); and you will be far more likely to take the path of least resistance. You’ll lack the necessary focus and drive to resist temptation and ignore distractions.

You can self-sabotage in many ways, as a means to avoiding strenuous and sometimes stressful or scary tasks. In other words, procrastination. You choose short term gratification over long term rewards, because the latter requires short term sacrifice and effort. You choose an evening drinking beer in front of the television over researching how best to promote yourself online. You choose to read a book or watch videos on the art of cold calling rather than pick up the telephone and start making calls. You choose to spend an extra hour or two in bed in the morning instead of making yourself get up when your alarm first goes off so that you can get a head-start on the to-do list you wrote the night before.

But temptations can be so hard to resist! How can you end the cycle of having the best intentions, making some headway on your goals, but giving in to temptation before really building up momentum and getting traction? This can be maddening, especially when you look back over the years and realise you still are no closer to achieving your goals than you were five years ago. You feel like a failure, your self-esteem suffers, and this perpetuates the vicious cycle of un-productivity. It’s a downward spiral, and it feels like a more and more gargantuan task to turn it all around.

But there are ways, because otherwise everyone would give in to temptation and self-sabotage, and no one would achieve anything meaningful. Life would feel like a tantalising tragedy: you have goals, you aspire to them, but temptation always gets the better of you and you keep falling short of the mark. Some people get angry enough at themselves and their futile situation and take massive action, committing to a course of action that they then have little choice but to follow through on (for example, committing to a course by paying a large, non-refundable fee). Others carry on as normal until something shocking happens to them, and they are shocked into change.

I don’t want to get to such a crisis stage before being able to resist temptation and distractions, because that’s not only disempowering, it’s downright stressful and scary. I prefer a more thoughtful, analytical approach, and I have recently found this a helpful way to see things from a new perspective. You see, when you struggle with temptation and fear, and end up self-sabotaging, you are caught up within the confines of your immediate experiences. What you need to do is take a step back and view things from a more detached, objective perspective.

Imagine this scenario: it’s Saturday afternoon and you are trying to decide how to spend Saturday evening. It’s going to be a quiet night in anyway, and you are seriously considering getting a four pack of beer to help you relax in front of the television. You’ve had a demanding day, and not much sleep the night before, so you feel like you deserve a rest. But you know that this is a form of self-sabotage, because you haven’t done anything meaningful towards your achieving your higher goals, and you are no closer to achieving them. And you know that you won’t do a shred of work towards your goals that evening because you’ll have had some beer and you won’t feel in the mood to do anything serious like planning for the future. And it’ll make everything seem that much more of an effort the next day, because alcohol takes away your energy. You know you’ll feel guilty the next day for squandering yet another evening. You know you should resist the urge to buy those four beers, but when you imagine settling down in front of the TV with a cold beer in your hand, the pull is very strong! You think what the hell, why shouldn’t I give myself a little time off? It’ll help me feel less stressed, and it’ll be a lot cheaper than going out for drinks. (I call this pseudo-logic, because it seems reasonable, but really it’s just an excuse not to do the right thing).

How can you resist this almost irresistible pull of temptation? Stop. Take a figurative step back. Talk to yourself, and say to yourself: “I want to drink beer tonight”. That’s true enough, so you may as well admit it. But this is your immediate, day-to-day perspective. Now say to yourself: “I want to drink beer tonight, but I don’t want to want to drink beer tonight.” Go one step further: “I want to not want to drink beer tonight.” Think about what this means: not only that the desire for alcohol is something you could live without, but that you actively wish you didn’t want to drink alcohol. Think about how this is also true, and you’ll notice something interesting happens: you’ll suddenly – subtly – feel a bit of distance from the idea of drinking alcohol that night. It’ll have lost it’s pull. After that you can go over how you know it would make you unproductive that evening and sluggish the next day, and regretful the following morning; and how giving in to the temptation to drink in the past has contributed to you not achieving your goals, and instead stagnating, and consequent feelings of low self worth. If you are like me, you’ll find it much much easier to keep walking, and you’ll arrive home beer-less.

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