“You know the greatest danger facing us is ourselves, an irrational fear of the unknown. But there’s no such thing as the unknown — only things temporarily hidden, temporarily not understood.”– Captain James Tiberius Kirk
I grew up watching Captain James T. Kirk on the original Star Trek series, and its German copy, Raumschiff Orion. I loved it! It was so much fun watching my favorite characters warp-speeding through the universe, saving planets and beating the alien bad guys. Captain Kirk, strong and confident, was more than a sexy man who attracted human and alien women alike. He was also a caring friend, sensitive, smart and always up for adventure. If he made the rare mistake, he moved on quickly.
Mr. Spock, another great character, was an amazing combination of intelligence and spirituality, driven by logic, highly confident, with an answer for pretty much everything. There were other characters – not too many women at the time – but when I think of it, all of them were confident in their own way. Each had a challenging job to do and they did their best to get it done.
It’s been a long time since I’ve watched Star Trek, but I’ll always remember Captain Kirk’s opening words: Space. The Final Frontier. I used to love those words. But I’m here to dispense with that myth and show you that the final frontier can in fact be found inside each one of us.
So let’s enter that inner space and explore one behavior that prevents us from feeling great, being productive, living in a state of inner harmony or simply getting the job done.
Many of my coaching clients come to me because they struggle with self-sabotage, repeated behaviors that keep them from reaching their goals. You know what these are. Are you constantly late for events when you know it’s important to be on time? Are you avoiding completing a task at work when you know the boss is waiting for it? Are you eating sweets if you are diabetic, knowing how harmful it is for your health?
Self-sabotage is not only ineffective, it erodes your self-confidence when you constantly prove to yourself that you are not capable.
How do you know whether you’re engaging in self-sabotaging behaviors? It’s usually pretty obvious, but here are five questions to ask yourself:
- Do I entertain self-defeating thoughts?
- Do I tend to overcommit myself?
- Is instant gratification a priority for me?
- Do I tend to procrastinate or avoid doing tasks altogether?
- Have I lost confidence in making commitments to myself or others?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, then I’m going to recommend a few simple techniques that will move you from procrastination to anticipation.
Awareness is often curative
If you’re reading this and answered the above questions, you’ve already taken the first step. Awareness is the key to any potential change. If I’m not aware that I’m sabotaging myself, I can’t do anything to stop it. Observe yourself and note the details of what you’re doing. Write it down. Take responsibility.
Here’s an example of how I recently sabotaged myself. I had stopped eating gluten for three weeks, until one evening when I visited a friend. I knew she wouldn’t have food I could eat and I was hungry. It had become increasingly difficult for me not to eat gluten. In a weak and hungry moment I told myself, “what’s one evening, I’ll be ok.” I gave in and ate gluten! I woke up feeling disappointed in myself and a little less self-confident. Why hadn’t I taken better care of myself?
This is a simple story, and if I wrote more about it I would give myself even more clues. If your issue is with eating, write about it; if it’s about getting projects finished, write about that. Whatever your issue, take a week and observe yourself.
Do you know what you want?
I have written about this so much! I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to know what we want – and that we state it in a positive way: I want to feel strong and vibrant, and I want to have a healthy digestive system. For me, that means eating differently. When I do, I feel better.
Perhaps you are clear about what you want, and you let yourself know with affirmations and by setting clear intentions. You MUST be crystal clear and think about every little detail about your wants. (What will it look like? How can I execute this so it can work for me, etc.) Procrastination happens when there is misalignment, when values/needs/wants don’t match, or when emotions get in the way. Perhaps I am afraid to be successful and therefore I will procrastinate.
Unconscious versus conscious wants
So you managed to do the first two steps, and if you’re lucky, that was all it took. Most of you will need to go further, but first we need to differentiate between two different kinds of wants: conscious and unconscious.
Conscious wants are things we know about but often forget to tie together. Conscious wants are reflected in our values, needs, goals , desires and dreams. Many people experience conflict because they haven’t thought about how hard it will be to change a behavior when one want is in conflict with another. I used to coach a man who wanted to start a business with his children because he thought it would be a nice way to spend time with them. His value was spending time, but in reality, he wanted to travel around the world and volunteer on archeological expeditions. Every time he tried to sign up for a trip, he got sick or felt the need to be with his children. When he came to me for coaching, we exposed his opposing needs and wants, and created a structure that allowed him to do both.
Take some time to identify your values and make sure they are in line with your wants.
What are unconscious wants?
It is fairly obvious that unconscious wants are connected to the unconscious part of our brain. What is not so obvious is that the unconscious makes up more than 80% of the brain and is hard to access and control. It’s where the “flight, fight or freeze” mechanism lives, and anything related to our survival. We generally refer to this as the reptilian brain, developed when man lived in caves and hunting was dangerous and difficult. It was eye opening for me when I understood that most of my behavior can be tied to this part of the brain.
Going back to my no-gluten example – let’s say I am really committed to my goal. I have a plan. But while I take steps to follow my plan, my unconscious is telling me “no, this is not what I want,” and instead of sacrificing, I want to nurture myself with tasty, gluten-based food. I find myself in a pickle, because my brain thinks that not eating gluten is a threat to my overall happiness and that I am not taking care of myself. I know it isn’t logical, but the survival part of the brain is not logical (it’s not Mr. Spock!) Since we no longer have to worry about physical survival, the response is more focused on emotional survival.
If I really want to get to the bottom of my self-sabotaging behavior, this is where I need to look. What are my unconscious wants or beliefs? What do I really want, and how do I align myself with it all?
Keep your word. Microscopic steps will get you moving
Most of my coaching clients make the mistake of wanting to change too quickly. If you are a serious self-sabotager, it’s important to start slowly and make sure you are able to keep your commitments. The self-sabotager is like a gremlin who wants to prove that he or she is right and that you simply can’t win. I know it’s not logical, but if we were logical human beings we wouldn’t self-sabotage to begin with! There is always a good reason why we do what we do, and as I mentioned above, most of the time the true reason is found in our unconscious.
If you want to unravel this mystery, call me for a coaching session and I show you how. In the meantime, start by making sure you keep every commitment, but if you’re unable to keep commitments, don’t make them. Don’t tell people you’ll be on time if you know you won’t be. Be honest, say you have an issue with being on time. Expose the self-sabotager even if it is uncomfortable and begin rebuilding your self-esteem and belief in yourself.
Remember, each time you keep a commitment, your self-belief gets stronger and vice versa: each time you break a commitment, your self-belief gets weaker.
This is true for lists as well. Write down only those things you’ll be able to get done. The rest go on a maybe list. It will make you feel good about the things you accomplished.
I hope that you understand why our “final frontier” lives on the inside, not on the outside. If you want to be successful, healthy, or have amazing relationships, you need to explore the space inside and see if you really are up for it. Do your values, wants, and beliefs support your goals – or is it something else? Our successes are sourced on the inside, and to the degree that they are clear and aligned, will manifest outwardly.
“You either believe in yourself or you don’t.”
Wise words from Captain Kirk. Perhaps you don’t believe in yourself now, but if you venture into the final frontier, your inner space, you eventually will.