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Episode 233: Self Sabotage


And hello to you, and welcome to the Richard Nicholls Podcast, the personal development podcast series that's here to help inspire, educate, and motivate you to be the best you can be. I'm psychotherapist Richard Nicholls, and this episode is titled Self Sabotage. And if you're ready, We'll start the show!

Hey there, everybody! Happy New Year! How's tricks? You had a good weekend? I'm recording this on the Friday, so I can't tell you how my weekend's gonna go yet. A bit busy, probably. The in laws are popping around for lunch on Saturday. Some friends are coming around for dinner. Uh, tomorrow night, Saturday night, and I'm supposed to be meeting up with some other friends for Sunday lunch in some pub and then visiting somebody else in the evening to wish them a Happy New Year!

And I've got to do a tip run as well. Got a load of cardboard Boxes and stuff that I dumped in my car boot. I'll do it a bit later on today, but I promised Fiona we'd record another Therapy Natters podcast, because I can't do it next week, because I've got to take my son back to university and stuff. Ah!

Life's a nightmare! Especially when I got talked into taking that CPD course as, well, even though I know full well I'm probably going to be at half strength for all of these things, because I'm stretching myself a bit thinly. But I know I'm not alone. If you've ever set a goal for yourself, and then you found yourself deliberately sticking a spanner in the works, knowing full well it'll cause you to fail, then welcome to the human race, because everyone does it at some point.

So I'm not gonna beat myself up over it. The problems come when it's not so much a one off, but a habit. An everyday occurrence that sabotages your goals, your self esteem, maybe even your relationship. If not your relationship with other people, definitely your relationship with yourself. If you're not where you want to be in life, for some reason, and you're not sure why, Are you guilty of self sabotage?

Do you want to become healthier, yet you hoover up peanut M& M's that you'd actually bought for the kids, straight from the bag, knowing full well that if you just tipped a few of them into a little ramekin with some raisins or something, took that to the sofa? Well, then you wouldn't be angry with yourself come the end of the night and give yourself a mental smack around the back of the head.

With so many things we might want to achieve in life, we know just what to do and just how to do it. But we so often shoot ourselves in the foot, accidentally on purpose. Why? Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we procrastinate and watch TV programs and YouTube clips with a self defeating voice in the back of our heads telling us how useless we are?

Well, if you do that, that's your first reason. That negative self talk creates a feedback loop. It's the whole CBT triangle of thoughts, emotions and behaviour all feeding each other. You call yourself a piece of crap, you'll feel like a piece of crap. And then you act like a piece of crap, which of course gives you evidence that you actually are a piece of crap.

So you call yourself a piece of crap, and it makes you feel like a piece of crap, and round and round and round it goes. Remember, even though there is a good 50 percent of our personality built into our genetics. The rest of it is down to that loop of feeding back and creating habits. And so, like some who have athletic genes, they might find it easier to build muscle or have hand to eye coordination, it doesn't mean somebody with different genes can't achieve similar or even the same things, it just means that they've got to work a little bit harder. Someone with dyspraxia can still learn to ride a bike, they just have to be okay with falling off it a lot more often than other people do. Imagine if someone had told Keira Knightley Or Daniel Radcliffe that they couldn't possibly learn to act, because of their dyspraxia.

Or David Bailey couldn't learn how to use a camera. Or Florence Welch from Florence and the Machine, the drums, because of their dyspraxia. How unfair would that be? Because yes, it's hard, but not impossible. So even if you're genetically coded to self sabotage, even if you've been programmed by 20 years or more of bad habit to expect no good from yourself, That doesn't mean you have to fulfil the prophecy.

It just means you have to work harder at challenging yourself. And I'm sorry about that. I wish there was some sort of magic spell. I think that's why I've always been so fascinated with hypnotic language. Because I've always wished that just saying the right thing was enough. And okay, it is better than nothing, and it's quite a lot better than nothing, actually.

The language that we use, especially if you combine that with hypnotherapy. But the action is more important, as well as the meaning behind it. Don't act a certain way only because it's the right way to act. Don't act healthier, or more productive, or kinder, or whatever, with a narration that runs alongside it that says you're a piece of crap because the actions you take will never feel natural that way.

Do those things because you know you're learning to make it second nature. That you're practicing, that's all. Do it with more kindness and respect towards yourself and you'll see some improvements, definitely. And those improvements will be to the foundations below all of this. To your self esteem, your sense of self worth.

That's often the biggest reason why we sabotage our goals. It boils down to what's called cognitive dissonance, which is the discomfort that we'd experience if we held two opposing opinions at the same time. Festinger and Carlsmith did some of my favorite studies into this. Google them. One was by paying people to do something that was dull, and they're able to make them enjoy it more by paying them less because of cognitive dissonance. One part of them thought it was dull, but another part of them said that because they were being paid for it, it was worthwhile. But the more that they were paid The more they would focus on the dullness of it, and the less that they were paid, the more they looked for other reasons to have enjoyed it.

And this is the same process that we go through if we've got low self esteem, but we achieve something. Or we start doing something that only somebody with any value would do. Instead of looking at the reasons to allow us to increase the self worth, we look for the ways to shoot ourselves in the foot instead.

We could be in a relationship that's going really, really well. They actually really like us. But if you don't like you, then seeing evidence that you're likeable will cause cognitive dissonance. So you either start liking you, or you find ways to spoil the relationship. And spoiling the relationship usually wins there, because it's much easier to have an argument over something petty than it is to start liking someone that you've hated for as long as you can remember.

If you throw imposter syndrome into the mix as well, you've got an extra explanation. You can have low self esteem without imposter syndrome, but not the other way around, though. And it will feed the sabotage. The higher up the chain you go, the further you have to fall. And if you can take control of the fall, then you'll feel safer.

Even though it's you that's making it happen, it will still feel better than everyone else bringing you down. So you either achieve nothing, even though you have the ability to. Because if people don't notice you, then they can't bring you down. Or you aim high, shoot the moon, but with a constant fraudulent feeling that you'll be found out at any time.

Which makes you take on more tasks, even though you can't cope with the stuff that you've got, and you end up juggling with so many balls that you drop the lot. And sometimes, in a way that's kind of indirect, and doesn't seem as if it's deliberate, we might take extra risks that could mean we get hurt.

Secretly, unconsciously, hoping that we do get hurt. And we've got an explanation then as to why all the balls were dropped. I remember meeting somebody once, many, many years ago. It was a potential client. Well, it was a client. They had to cancel their very first session because they had food poisoning.

And when they eventually started therapy, we talked about it a bit. And after a few sessions, they felt safe enough to tell me that they knew that the chicken that they were eating was undercooked. They could see that it was pink as soon as they cut into it. And this was at home. They had cooked it, and they looked at it before they put it into their mouth, and they thought, Eh, if I'm fine, I'm fine.

And if I'm not, well, then at least I don't have to go to work tomorrow. And that's self sabotage. And it serves a purpose, it always does. To have a running commentary that says things like of course I couldn't finish the project. I had food poisoning is easier than saying, Of course I couldn't finish the project, I'm useless. Saying, Of course the relationship ended, we argued all the time. Is easier to accept than, Of course the relationship ended, I'm unlovable. And being aware of it is always the first step. That's why this podcast exists. The more people that can go, Oh yeah, I do that. About anything that I speak about, the more chances we get of doing something about it.

When a client realises this, it's easier to explore alternatives then. Like working out if there's a way of building confidence by setting smaller goals, rather than aiming high and trying to shoot the moon and failing all the time, like I was talking about on Friday in the bonus episode. Especially with health goals, and especially with mental health goals.

Somebody with social anxiety can't just walk onto a stage in front of 200 people and expect everything to feel okay. They've got too much experience telling them that they can't do that. And that's why children always seem to have far more confidence than us scaredy cat adults. Because a two year old could stand in front of probably any crowd, and sing and dance and not give a flying frog what people think.

Because society hasn't taught them yet, that if people don't like them, then their world will end. And when they're quite young, they start learning, most of them anyway, and then they've got to unlearn it again later in life when they're forced out of their comfort zones. But when that's done naturally, it's done slowly.

When they're young, they go from being able to pay for a chocolate bar in the shop when they're, I don't know, nine or ten or whatever, and then it moves on to being okay with asking a teacher for help, and then asking a stranger for directions, and then ordering a Chinese takeaway on the phone, and so on, until eventually they work their way up and they're standing in front of 200 people expecting everything to go okay.

But it might take 20 years or more. Now that's not to say that an adult needs another 20 years to get to that point. Might take half that. Might take a fraction of that. Depending on existing experience and a good acceptance of the fight or flight , response might only take a couple of months.

There are no rules, not really, apart from one maybe. That if you do to change

Then nothing changes. It's like the famous quote, If you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you always got. And I know that sounds like I'm stating the obvious, and if you saw it on a t shirt, you'd probably shake your head at the banality of it.

But sometimes we don't see the obvious unless it is stated. Watch out for the if onlys as well. A wise man once said, If only it was so, these are the loneliest words I know. If only. Yeah, they can be the loneliest. They can also be the most useless. Because what can you do with an if only? If only the past didn't happen the way that it did.

And I'm sorry that it did, but it did. And there is nothing you can do about it other than accept it. Because without acceptance, you'll ruminate on those things. If only I'd gone to university, things would be different. Ruminating on that, sabotaging the now with the if onlys from the past, that's going to stop you from looking for a training course in the now that makes the change that you want for your future.

Because the future if onlys are the only ones that can be dealt with. If only I could just dot dot dot look for those things. The future, if onlys. It'll help you see the steps that take you to it. And if letting go of the past makes you uncomfortable, just sit with that for a bit. Don't ignore those feelings.

So often the reason people get stuck in stuff is because they try so hard to let things go, that they end up getting stuck. They push their feelings away without acknowledging them. Acknowledging how you feel to yourself and allowing yourself to feel them doesn't make you punch a co worker in the nose because you're angry at them.

Expressing your emotions doesn't mean crying on the bus. Well, I guess both of those things are, but they're not useful ways. If you feel sad, If you feel lonely, hurt, rejected, whatever, feel it so you can understand it. I think of emotions like boiling pasta. If your pot is too small or there's too much water and it starts to boil over, it makes a mess.

But if you just lift the lid, angle it so that a bit of steam escapes, you've got a gentle release that stops you needing to clean up after yourself. Let a bit out. Feel the emotion. Sit with it. It'll help you understand what it really means. I've had to do a lot of work on myself over the years this way, and believe me, ignoring how you feel, forcing yourself to feel a different way when inside you're screaming, that really makes a mess.

Through sabotage and procrastination and in many unhealthy coping strategies that ultimately leads you to having a a bit of a meltdown in a real ale pub in front of your mates, if recent experience of mine are anything to go by. So sit with it instead. Lift the lid off it a bit. Let some of the steam out.

And it'll help you to wipe the slate clean, and carry on with the steps that take you to your goals. And one thing I'll add here, actually, before I go, that's just made me think. Wiping the slate clean. A lot of people will sabotage in some way, and they think Okay, tomorrow's another day. I'll do better tomorrow.

I don't know why we think that going to bed and starting the day all over again is the only way of wiping the slate clean and starting again. Because it really isn't. It might be half past three, and you feel that you've wasted the day. It's quite defeatist to think that you've wasted the whole day and you now can't do anything until tomorrow to help you towards your goals.

Well, wipe the slate clean then, even if it is half past three. Let off some steam to wipe the slate clean. Watch a YouTube video, do some relaxation exercises. So what if it's then four o'clock? So what if you only end up working towards your goal for an hour because of family commitments? You don't have to wait until tomorrow.

You can still do something. Especially if you don't have any evening commitments. As with many things, there's a middle ground between doing too little and doing too much. Find it, and wipe the slate clean with some of my hypnotherapy tracks if you want. There's loads on Patreon. And today's is called The Habit Garden, all about breaking unhelpful habits to help make changes.

And if you're not a patron of mine on Patreon, then you can still find some of the shorter versions of my hypnotherapy tracks they're on my website. Subscribe to my email list at, if you haven't already subscribed, that is. And you'll be sent a little link with where to go to listen to the free ones.

But if you are a full on Patreon patron then you'll get the full tracks in your podcast feed. Either way, take some time to chill out, pause your thoughts, and I'll be back next time with another exciting installment, and I will speak to you then, you beauties. See ya!