Most of our goals are aimed at finding some version of happiness. Whether it’s getting a kick-ass job, finding a loving partner, or making the perfect frittata, the end goal of every endeavor is happiness. The problem is that our best efforts to find it simply dig us deeper into the ditch.
When it comes to happiness, most of us self-sabotage. In fact, it’s part of our everyday lives. Are you ready to get out of your own way?
1. You listen to your inner critic
Your inner critic is that little nay-saying nag that lives in your head whose sole purpose is to convince you that you suck. If you’ve tried to ignore it, you probably know that it’s easier said than done. The truth is that your inner critic is a strength that’s dialed up too high. It existed at one point to help you feel safe, but as an adult, it no longer serves you. If you try to push it down, it will eventually rear its ugly head in an equally ugly way.
The Solution: Instead of rejecting your inner critic, get curious and listen to what it’s really trying to tell you. What fear is it projecting onto the situation? What do other parts of you have to say in response? No decision is one-sided, so why not go from monologue to dialogue? Allow each voice in your head to have a turn to speak: the angel, the devil, and everything in between.
2. You choose the certainty of where you are over the fear of the unknown
It’s easier to choose a painful certainty than risk the unknown. If you’re unhappy in your current situation, no amount of gratitude or affirmations will help if you don’t actively choose to make it better. And if you’re rationalizing not following your dreams as “being practical” or if you’re still thinking “things really aren’t that bad,” just remember most people only take action when the pain of their current situation becomes greater than their fear of the unknown.
The Solution: You can wait to hit rock-bottom, or you can cut to the part where you embrace change. If you aren’t happy, it’s not sustainable. Eventually, something will have to change. Why not make it on your timeline?
3. You procrastinate
After pulling an all-nighter, a friend in college said to me “Procrastination is a lot like masturbation, it’s great until you realize you’re f***ing yourself.” Though crass, she had a good point.
The Solution: Identify the limiting belief that’s preventing you from taking action. Then, act “as if”. Ask yourself “What would someone who isn’t afraid do?” Acknowledge your discomfort and act anyway. Building a track record will help to dispel the fear, making it easier to take action toward what you truly want.
4. You’re afraid of failure
The fear of failure is nothing more than a desire to feel safe. The problem is that it also keeps us stagnant. We tend to forget that making a mistake doesn’t make you a “failure”. Seen differently, it’s nothing more than a helpful, albeit unpleasant, learning experience.
The Solution: Ask yourself, “What did I learn? What worked? How can I fine-tune things next time?” And if you feel like you’re the only one who’s ever failed, look at every artist, entrepreneur, or virgin, and you’ll be in great company. Christopher Columbus “failed” and he got a holiday named after him. Not too shabby if you ask me.
5. You can’t forgive your past screw-ups
Sure, you’ve made mistakes. Lots of them. Hopefully, you learned from them. But if you’re still holding onto the pain and guilt instead of surrendering and forgiving yourself, it may be time to develop compassion. It can be painful and challenging, but it’s the first step to letting go of your old story and writing a new one.
The Solution: Release it. Beating yourself up simply ensures you’ll never move forward. Since you can’t go back in time, focus on who you want to be and what you want to create in the future.
6. You try to control everything
I used to jokingly say, “I’m not manipulative, I’m an outcome engineer.” While that deep need for control kept me safe, it also kept me stuck. Surrendering an outcome taught me that letting go of what I think I want (whether that be a guy or a job title) creates the space for bigger and better things to flow into my life. If you’re trying to control your partner rather than realizing it’s time to end things, you may be preventing yourself from meeting someone who’s right for you.
The Solution: Trying to control things blocks you from growth and acceptance. Change what you can, surrender what you can’t, and know the difference.
7. You’re codependent
If you rely on others for happiness, you’re blocking your ability to give it to yourself. Your relationships with others should mirror the happiness and love you have for yourself. Prioritizing yourself isn’t selfish. If you’ve ever put others first and then resented them for it, you only have yourself to blame. Sounds harsh, but sometimes setting a boundary is the best way to avoid an emotional hangover.
The Solution: Quit waiting to be saved; it’s time to save yourself. What steps can you take to empower yourself? Maybe it’s time to earn more money, find more friends, or take care of your own needs. And if you’re new to setting boundaries: compromise on little things, not on your values. You can repeat old patterns or choose what’s right for you. To do this, imagine fast-forwarding to the point when you’ll say “hindsight is 20/20.” Think about how you’ll feel an hour, a day, a year from now.
8. You’re exhausted from doing things you don’t want to do
If your social life is more exhausting than exciting, it may be time to re-evaluate your “obligations”. Sure, it may seem like you need to stop by your second cousin’s Christmas party, but if you aren’t making time for yourself, you’re likely to burn out faster than it takes you to down the eggnog. If you’re spending time with people you don’t really like, you may be settling for companionship rather than true friendship. An hour with a negative person is more physically and emotionally exhausting than an hour on the treadmill.
The Solution: Choose where to invest your energy. Still feel the pull of an obligation? Ask yourself, what would someone with self-compassion do in this situation? Sometimes we need to act “as if” until we build the “I deserve greatness” muscle.
9. You blame others
If there’s one thing I learned from my first 10 years in therapy, it’s that everything I blamed someone else for was my fault and everything I blamed myself for was someone else’s fault. Bluntly put, but accurate. This taught me two things:
- Culpability doesn’t change a situation
- No matter who’s at fault or who takes responsibility, you have the ability to change your situation
It’s easy to get caught in the “I wish things were different” cycle, but all that does is keep you stuck.
The Solution:Take responsibility, not simply for what happened, but for what you want to create. Self-awareness gives you the courage and humility to take personal responsibility.
10. You try to fix people
Even if you could change others, you still wouldn’t be happy. Why? Because it’s less about fixing and more about feeling safe. Accept others for who they are, not who you’d like them to be.
The Solution: Change what you can control: You. That means to adjust your expectations or let them go.
11. You’re a perfectionist
It’s great to do your best, but if your happiness is dependent on the outcome, you’ll set yourself up for disappointment. Nothing is perfect. This symptom of “black and white thinking” is often what holds us back from taking that initial step or being happy with the end result.
The Solution: Ask yourself “Why?” Sure, you want to conquer the world, but if you’re killing yourself in the process you may be achieving in order to feel validated and worthy. What can you do to give that to yourself instead?
12. You compare yourself to others
They often say “Comparison is the thief of joy.” In actuality, it’s an act of violence. You may choose to believe that you are in lack and that others are living amazingly abundant, kick-ass lives. But the truth is that you have no clue what’s going on behind their trendy Facebook check-ins and perfectly put-together outfits. The jealousy you feel is less about what the other person has and more about what you perceive you do not have.
The Solution: Realize that the comparison is not about the other person, but a tool to tell you what you want in life. Inspiration is the healthy byproduct of jealousy. If you’re hyper-focused on what you don’t have, you’ll never notice all the great things you do have. And if you still need to compare, do it with yourself. Aim to get happier, healthier, and stronger than you were the day before.
13. You worry too much about what others think
Most people determine how they’re doing by consciously or unconsciously soliciting other people’s opinions. And since you’re hardwired to try to impress people, you’re usually trying to please those who can’t be moved.
The Solution: Other people’s views are not more relevant than your own. It doesn’t matter if they are older, more successful, or better educated. Their opinion is simply that: an opinion, nothing more. Decide what’s right for you no matter who disagrees.
14. You’re afraid to ask for help
Nobody knows everything. Most people simply fake it. In a world that encourages self-sufficiency, most of us avoid being vulnerable at all costs. It’s a manifestation of fear, whether it’s a desire to seem perfect, a fear of abandonment, or the need to be liked.
The Solution: There’s no weakness in asking for help. Just be sure to ask the right people. Ask the person who has what you want. Your partner, friends, and parents, though convenient, aren’t necessarily the best sources.
15. You don’t savor the good stuff
It’s easy to focus on problems, what’s going wrong, and the crazy shit other people do. In fact, we overwhelm ourselves with it, making it nearly impossible to see the good stuff.
The Solution: Next time something good happens, stop and actually appreciate it. Slow down and savor it. Notice the nuances: the sights, sounds, and smells that make the moment amazing. You see what you look for. Practice savoring and you’ll be conditioned to notice the things that make you happy and not just the crap that brings you down.
Self-sabotage isn’t a one-time act. It’s a process. No one is happy all the time. But if you’re sabotaging your best efforts by judging yourself, avoiding responsibility, or controlling others, you’re ensuring that you’ll stay in this state forever. Ultimately, happiness isn’t just a mood. It’s a lifestyle and a choice.
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