Sometimes we ourselves get in the way of our own happiness. We put obstacles in the way of our goals and dreams, we ruin relationships with loved ones, we wallow in self-pity for years instead of moving on. Self-destructive behavior becomes a habit. And at the end of the day, we look back and realize with bitterness that life was not the way we wanted it to be.
To avoid the deepest regrets in the future, you have to stop hurting yourself now. In a book “Get Out of Your Own Way: Overcoming Self-Defeating Behavior” psychiatrist Mark Goulston discusses the different types of self-sabotage and how to change destructive behaviors.
Here’s what Goulston advises.
1. Don’t wait until it’s too late
If you continue to live your life the way it is now, what will you regret when you are eighty? Imagine that you have reached that age. What important things haven’t been completed? Let’s say you haven’t had time to reconcile with your father or renew an old friendship. Missed the highlights of your children’s lives. Didn’t travel enough. Never got to the books you wanted to read.
Ask yourself: what would it take for you to feel that you have lived a life worthy and meaningful?
Often people push out of their consciousness what is truly important to them, so as not to disturb the status quo. But know this: if you go down this path, you will later be hit by terrible regrets. And, most likely, it will be too late to change anything.
How do you solve this problem? Just think about what you can start doing differently from today to face your eightieth birthday the way you would like it to be. Start doing these things.
2. Don’t be afraid to take risks
Many people deliberately avoid taking risks in everything. Unfortunately, this is the best way to live life as a “gray mouses”.
So you have to take risks in life. Don’t take it as a call to be reckless. In some situations it is indeed better not to take risks, but that does not mean that you should always be cautious in all circumstances.
If, as you walk down the street, you keep looking under your feet, diligently avoiding every pothole and bump, you’ll end up going the wrong way. Sometimes you need to take your eyes off the ground so you don’t lose your direction.
And so it is in life. The safe way is not always the right way. No matter how scary it is, every now and then you have to take a risk and move forward at full speed, without losing sight of your main goals.
Move where your eyes go. You don’t have to look under your feet all the time. Yes, you will stumble and even fall, but at least you will try to realize your dreams and be able to taste life in all its diversity.
Think about whether you have any unrealized desires. For example, you want to change careers, move to another city, or start a family, but you can’t decide on such a serious step. Adequately and practically assess what you can do now to get closer to what you dream.
3. Avoid rebellion for the sake of rebellion
We don’t like to be pressured because we want to be in charge of our own lives. It is a natural desire. But rebellion for rebellion’s sake is a road to nowhere.
Fiercely asserting your independence, you can inadvertently harm yourself.
A typical example: parents insist that their daughter finish graduate school. Inside her, everything is screaming: “Don’t tell me what to do!” – and she drops out of university, even though deep down she wanted to continue her studies.
In rejecting someone else’s plan, consider whether you are also rebelling against yourself.
Such behavior is not only characteristic of children. There are times when husbands and wives rebel against their overbearing halves. Or business partners rebel against each other’s demands to the detriment of company profits.
In order not to find yourself in such a situation, you must understand that you choose your own way, and not just submit to the will of others. If someone puts pressure on you to do something, stop and ask yourself how fair and reasonable those demands are. Do your aspirations match the person’s expectations? If so, agree to do what they recommend.
4. Be realistic
There is nothing wrong with thinking big and setting yourself goals that are difficult to achieve. But your expectations should always be realistic.
When the chances of success are slim, you shouldn’t approach the case with the attitude “I absolutely must achieve it!”. It is better to think of it as just a wish that may not come true. In that case, failure will not knock you “out of the saddle”.
Don’t let thoughts of wishful thinking cloud your reasoning.
If you dream of achieving something grandiose (for example, becoming a Hollywood star), don’t turn what you want into something absolutely necessary. Otherwise, you risk spending too much time and energy on unrealistic fantasies, and then falling into depression.
How do you know if your life goal is realistic? It’s easy to do if you follow these recommendations:
- Ask yourself if what you want could ever really happen. What is the probability of that happening?
- Make a list of everything you need to achieve that goal;
- Rate your goal on a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is completely unrealistic and 10 is completely realistic. The lower the score, the more important it is to have a plan of action in case you fail;
- Set a bar of expectations: “I want to have it,” “I need it,” or “I absolutely must have it” according to the realism of the goal.
5. Use envy to your advantage
Envy can be very destructive. It is devastating and makes us feel deprived. In addition, it is always followed by shame: we hate to think that we are incapable of rejoicing in other people’s successes.
But envy can also be motivating. It will get you far ahead if you take constructive action instead of complaining about your lot. When you get to know the person better, you start thinking not “I wish I could do that”, but “I could do that, too”.
These simple steps will help to get rid of negative attitudes and direct envy in the right direction:
- Try to learn as much as you can about the person you envy. Try to communicate with that person more often. You may find that they do not deserve envy as much as you imagined. You may well find that even the lucky ones have flaws, faults, and weaknesses;
- Get rid of the hostility in your thoughts. Stop wishing the object of your envy didn’t have what you dream of. Then you can easily move on to the next level, admiration. Learn to admire the achievements of others without attributing it all to your own failures;
- You can go from admiration to imitation. Does the person you envy have skills, training, or personal qualities that you could acquire or develop? Should you adopt their values or copy their agenda?
- Go for it!
6. Stop feeling sorry for yourself
Tension in the family, loneliness, financial instability, poor living conditions, illness of a loved one, dissatisfaction with their looks – anything can be a reason to feel sorry for yourself.
Admittedly, things do not always work out the way we would like them to. But that doesn’t mean that you have to bemoan your fate all the time. Pitying yourself, you waste energy that could otherwise be used to turn your life around and change it for the better.
By reveling in the feeling of helplessness, you deprive yourself of hope.
So don’t give in to the “oh woe is me!” attitude. Instead, try to see the good in your life. Let the glass be half-full. Then think about what you can do to solve the problem you’re worried about and secure a better future for yourself.
How do you get rid of feelings sorry for yourself? Make a list of everything in your life for which you feel gratitude. If possible, join a support group made up of people with the same reasons to feel sorry for yourself as you do. Look for a solution-oriented community where members not only share their pain, but also discuss hopes and plans.
7. Don’t give up too fast
Some people eagerly take on every new task, but once it’s time for a chore, they get frustrated and quit. However, success rarely comes to those who are not willing to endure the tedious and boring part of the process. It is impossible to achieve anything worthwhile without perseverance.
Boredom is not the only reason why we give up too soon. Sometimes things in our lives, whether jobs or marriages, turn out to be harder than we expected, so some of us decide that “the game is not worth the candles”.
The habit of giving up too early is a type of self-destructive behavior. People who do this do not achieve their goals. In addition, they lose credibility in the eyes of others, and eventually in their own eyes as well.
Very often people refuse to go further and make the effort just a few steps away from success.
Of course, there are times when no amount of effort will save a business project or a relationship. Perhaps you really need to break up an unhappy marriage or quit an unpromising job. But it’s important to understand the difference between giving up too quickly and making a reasonable decision to prevent further losses.
To make the right choice, think about what kind of behavior is more characteristic of you: too soon to give up or, conversely, to persist in something that should have been stopped long ago? Then ask yourself if you have explored all available options, gathered all the information you need, and asked for all the help you need before giving anything up. If you haven’t, it’s probably still worth fighting for.
Finally, honestly assess the extent of your frustration and unhappiness. Too much and too long dissatisfaction, melancholy or depression indicate that change is long overdue. If things are not that bad, it may be too early to give up on the endeavor.
You can learn more about how to get rid of self-destructive behavior by reading the book “Get Out of Your Own Way: Overcoming Self-Defeating Behavior”.