This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Big Leap" by Gay Hendricks. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.
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Do you self-sabotage by engaging in behaviors you know are holding you back? What are some common self-sabotaging habits to watch out for?
Many common behaviors that we tend to think of as natural and normal can actually be signs that we are self-sabotaging in order to undermine our success and happiness. Take some time to reflect on whether any of these rings true for you: 1) you worry habitually, 2) you tend to be critical of others, 3) you can’t accept compliments, 4) you often get sick following positive experiences.
Here are four self-sabotaging habits to watch out for.
1. You Worry Habitually
Worry can be useful or not useful. If there’s a real and present issue that you can solve, then solve it, and move on. For example, if you’re worried that you may have forgotten to pay your phone bill this month, check your records to see if it’s been paid. If not, take care of it—then that worry is gone. However, if solving your present concern is not realistic and/or the issue isn’t something you can do anything about, then worrying about it is useless. For example, if you’re worried that you might not get a promotion you’ve applied for, but you’ve already done everything you can do to put that in motion, then there’s no reason to keep thinking about it.
Useless worry is a common self-sabotaging habit. It hinders your progress by undermining your confidence or keeping you from focusing on more productive positive things.
Since worry is a habitual thought pattern, Hendricks advises that addressing this behavior must involve learning to redirect your thoughts to get out of that habitual pattern. When you catch yourself worrying, stop and ask whether it’s useful or not. If it’s not, acknowledge that and redirect your thoughts toward something useful. But ceasing the worry habit isn’t sufficient in itself. Hendricks points out that you must also determine what positive energy or success you may be trying to block by engaging in this negative thought pattern. Therefore, rather than just redirecting your thoughts, also take the time to look for what triggered it.
Hendricks points out that worry and anxiety are fear-based, and he makes a connection between the feelings of fear and excitement. He points out that when faced with the unknown, humans experience either fear (a negative reaction) or excitement (a positive reaction). Therefore, he argues, these two emotions are just different ways of reacting to fear, and therefore we can learn to transform our fear into excitement by breathing through the fear. Consciously breathing deeply during fearful moments can release the negativity, and thus change the feeling into a more pleasant sensation of excitement or wonder.
(Shortform note: Hendricks takes this idea from the work of psychiatrist Fritz Perls. The idea is that both fear and excitement have similar physiological responses in the body, involving the release of adrenaline and a rapid heartbeat. Breath work can calm this response and make the feeling more positive.)
2. You Tend to Be Critical of Others
Being hyper-critical is another way we limit ourselves because it creates unnecessary negativity in our interactions with people. Hendricks also points out that criticism of others is usually as much, or more, about you as it is about the other person. It keeps you from being able to work harmoniously with others, and puts the blame for failures or problems onto others instead of taking responsibility for those yourself.
Start to observe any critical statements you make about others, and make note of whether those are productive or not. For example, if your co-worker isn’t meeting their obligations and it’s keeping you from accomplishing tasks, notice how you react to it: Are you addressing it in a productive way, or just hurling criticism? Are you placing all of the blame on them without examining your role in the dynamic?
Once you take notice of your tendency toward criticism, Hendricks suggests trying to refrain entirely from making any critical statements for one day—this should make you aware of how habitual the behavior is. Then, notice whether your criticisms are things you can do something about, and if so, just do what it takes to resolve it. He predicts, however, that you’ll notice that most of your criticisms are not productive, and when you realize this, you’ll become aware of how unnecessary they are and eventually stop the habit.
3. You Can’t Accept Compliments
Notice how you react when people compliment or praise you. If you tend to deflect or downplay compliments, Hendricks says that’s a sure sign that you have some limiting belief about yourself that could be holding you back. Notice what your reactions are when people compliment you, as that can reveal what the specific limiting belief is.
To address this behavior, simply pause any time someone compliments or praises you, take a moment to feel the positivity they’re giving you, and say “thank you.” You can use this positive energy to combat the negative beliefs about yourself. Hendricks reminds us that internalizing positive beliefs about ourselves is key to allowing ourselves to feel happiness, and thus helps combat the happiness threshold problem.
4. You Tend to Get Sick Following Positive Experiences
Our psychological state affects our body, and it can cause illness and make us accident-prone. Hendricks suggests that if you begin to take notice of when you get ill or injured, you may see a pattern emerge, wherein these misfortunes occur just after very positive or pleasurable experiences
in your life. If this is the case, it may be your mind affecting your body as a means of self-sabotage, or self-punishment. For example, if you get sick on your honeymoon, this may be a psychosomatic effect of nearing your happiness threshold.
Hendricks also points out that illness and injury could be a means of punishing yourself for pursuing pleasures that won’t lead you to your state of fulfillment. These activities, while enjoyable, may actually be compromising your principles, and holding you back from true fulfillment. For example, you may indulge in overconsumption of material items, such as expensive jewelry or a flashy car, as a means to boost your ego. But this won’t result in sustainable happiness, so you may have a pattern of becoming ill or injured after you indulge in a shopping spree. In this way, you’re actually punishing yourself for not pursuing your state of fulfillment.
Another pattern Hendricks advises looking for is whether illness or injury might be a means of trying to prevent or protect yourself from experiencing something you’re resistant to, or afraid of. You may be unconsciously attempting to avoid something that would put you out of your comfort level. For example, if you get sick the day of an interview for a new job that would move you toward greater success, but which also intimidates you, it could be your means of keeping yourself in your comfort zone.
To address this tendency, Hendricks advises that you take notice of patterns, and begin to think of your illnesses and injuries as something you’re doing to yourself rather than something out of your control that’s happening to you. Once you start to think of them this way, you may notice you have fewer of these kinds of incidents.
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Here's what you'll find in our full The Big Leap summary :
- How to overcome the psychological barriers to success and fulfillment
- Why most people have a self-imposed limit to happiness
- How to identify your own false beliefs and stop self-sabotaging