Do you ever set your alarm, vow to wake up early and start that project you’ve been stalling for 6 months just to snooze it for the millionth time in a row? And for the millionth time, you almost convince yourself that you’re not really cut for this, that you were not meant to pursue anything beyond what your basic life is right now. Sucks, right?
One of the biggest challenges we all face is going against our initial impulses. That first thought that tells you sleeping in isn’t such a bad idea, that you actually deserve it. It’s what the yogis refer to as the monkey mind. The part of your brain that chatters on as long as there’s life in you. It’s how you clock your average 6,200 thoughts per day. Unfortunately, not getting lost in this tsunami of thoughts has proven to be elusive for most of us. We set goals then bully ourselves into abandoning them. Some of us numb the voices in our heads by overindulging in trivial pleasures, hoping to extract an ounce of relief from habits that are eating into us. This, my friends, is how self-sabotage manifests itself in our lives.
Self-sabotage takes many, different forms. But the basic premise is that you’re the one standing in your own way. That you motivate yourself to be the best version of yourself, to wake up and kick ass like the badman you are, only to open your eyes in the morning feeling worthless and defeated. And the more this happens, the more you convince yourself that you were not really meant for whatever goal you’re pursuing. Negative self-talk is the devil that sits on your shoulder every day, whispering how everyone around you is better and more deserving than you, how everyone else is so self-disciplined, yet you aren’t sure whether you want to get out of bed or not.
Being your own roadblock to your desired destination breaks you in ways you can’t articulate with words only. Every self-defeating behaviour you engage in withers a part of you and reinforces your feelings of worthlessness and incompetence. You learn not to trust yourself and in turn, anything that spells responsibility boils you from the inside out. This in part explains the extreme anxiety we experience right before engaging in meaningful activities that should be good for us. Like when you’re at an interview and all of a sudden your brain isn’t working anymore. You’re hearing the questions but you’re comprehending nothing, it’s like they’re speaking a language you understood when you were a 5-year-old but have never spoken again. Yet by your estimation, you prepared well enough. You researched the company, crammed your googled answers but somehow, you’re blank. You try speaking but your tongue feels heavier than a brick. The interviewers are confused, the air in the room is awkward. If you’d jump out the window and land in a swimming pool outside, you would. A few minutes after you’ve left and you’re okay again. Some answers you needed while in there are now streaming into your head on your way home. You’re disappointed in yourself but even more ashamed that you couldn’t step up when it mattered. If only your interview could’ve been in a matatu, maybe you wouldn’t have panicked.
It feels terrible knowing there’s something wrong within you but not wrong enough for you to single it out. It’s as if there’s a cloud hovering over your head waiting to sabotage anything meaningful you engage in. Your local preacher would tell you that it’s your lack of commitment to God that’s plaguing you. Why can’t you pursue the things you know are good for you? Why can’t you build the life you see for yourself? Maybe you are convinced that a certain level of success isn’t meant for you, that it’s meant for other people that are better than you. But how do you decide who’s better than you? Is it because you’ve not been working on yourself as much as you would have wanted? Is it because another hidden part of you wants something different for yourself? Or are the bad habits that you’ve swept under the rag filling you to the brim with shame? I believe this constant struggle in our lives unconsciously lowers our self-worth, making us believe that other people (whom we know nothing about) are more deserving of the things our conscious self wants for ourselves.
Self-sabotage manifests itself in a wide array of behaviours. Behaviours that we can’t really explain the root cause of but find ourselves acting out. And initially, these mechanisms might have protected us from unwanted pain and adversity. Some of these behaviours were tools we used to ensure our survival, be it psychologically or physically. Like when you learn to trust others more than you trust yourself because you’re a toddler. Maybe you put yourself in compromising situations as a child, or you just thought other people are deserve your trust more than you do. So you handed over the reins of control to someone you felt knew what was good for you better than you did. But now you’re an adult, and if you are still clinging to this pattern of behaviour, you are unconsciously teaching yourself to seek and rank other people’s opinions higher than yours. This by default creates conflict within you, as you consciously want to pursue want you know to be of value to yourself but can’t seem to get started because no one else has approved your ‘mission’. This discord between your mind and brain, the classic ‘my spirit is willing but my body is weak’, leaves you dejected and tired of life itself.
For a while, I used these two words interchangeably; mind and brain. You probably have too. But to give you a small overview of how different they are, think of it this way;
Your brain is your mind’s tool. Your brain is what a Gorilla would smash out of your skull if you tried taking a selfie with it at a zoo. Your mind would be the stream of consciousness that convinced you sneaking into the enclosed area was a good idea in the first place. Your brain is the car and your mind is the diesel. The mind is the puppet master that pulls all the strings, the brain just dances to the tune. In other words, the brain’s structures and neural connections are subject to choices made by your mind, the part of you the rest of us know as you.
This in part explains the brain’s amazing ability to form and reorganize neural connections in response to new learning experiences or sensory stimulation, what is also referred to as neuroplasticity. It’s how an alcoholic that has been drinking for years on end stops drinking. But it’s no easy fit, it might as well be the hardest they’ve done in their lives because he (or she) eventually harmonizes the chaos inside himself, aligning his brain and mind to serve him as he pleases. Of course it sounds mystical and vague, but it is because you understand what needs your undivided attention in your life way better than I do, or anyone else for that matter. Maybe you just needed someone else to point out that whatever self-loathing and defeating habits you entertain might be rooted in scars and behaviours you developed to protect yourself. But it’s time to get out of your survival mode if you are going to give yourself a chance to thrive. Sit yourself down and troubleshoot. Sit and examine yourself like you would a person you care about. Ask yourself why you can sit down for hours binging on everything else but the one thing that truly matters to you. Observe your thoughts impartially, because judging your own thoughts means you identify with them already. Recognize that you are the mind behind the brain, the life force dwelling inside this meat suit we walk around with.