Subconscious Sabotage

Also known as why can't I just get myself sorted and do the thing?

Ever thought to yourself, “How did I just feck that all up?”. Welcome to when the conscious mind is at odds with the subconscious. Half the time we don’t realize it’s happening. You start a new gym routine, your pumped and ready to make a change, you start getting brilliant results in the first few weeks, woohoo! So got this!!, then for some reason, you miss a day, then another, and another. Before you know you have gone from a gym-goer to a gym avoider.

Photo by Emma Simpson on Unsplash
Photo by Jen Theodore on Unsplash

So, What Happened?

Why did you go from motivated, and seeing awesome results to just, stopping?

Change can be scary, to do it you need to take a step out of your comfort zone. Your subconscious is not keen on this, it freaks out. It can’t safely determine what the wider impact of this change will be.  It wants you to stay as you are…it’s safer…it’s comfy…most importantly it’s predictable.

The subconscious mind thrives on repetition. It likes to autopilot in order to save you mental energy to get through work meetings, long drives home, parenting… and the like. A common autopilot example: have you ever driven your car from work to home and can’t even remember doing it? Nope, it’s not some voodoo magic, it’s your subconscious autopiloting. Freaky and yet amazing. Unfortunately, this autopiloting also get you into trouble as the subconscious likes to autopilot anything you do repetitively that it deems easy, hello bad habits. Can’t stop snacking before dinner even though you’re not hungry? Thank the subconscious autopilot for that one.  

Ok, but what does this have to do with self-sabotage?

Let’s say you meet up with your mates for drinks once a week on a Saturday night. Usually, during this time everyone takes turns moaning about being un-fit and getting older.

One day you’ve had enough of feeling un-fit, so you see an ad in the gym about a new class starting up, every Sunday morning. It’s perfect, it fits right into your schedule, your fully motivated and ready for change.

Let’s fast forward a bit, you’ve been going for a couple of weeks now and your feeling awesome and seeing fantastic results. The problem is every time you go for drinks with friends they always comment on your lack of drinking. They acknowledge how good your looking, but yeah no thanks we won’t be coming along with you to the class, it’s not our thing.

Photo by Karim MANJRA on Unsplash

Now every time you mention the gym and how much better you feel, they just roll their eyes and mock you for becoming a ‘fitness freak’. You kinda start to feel a bit deflated and bummed that your mates aren’t really that supportive. Worst still you start thinking if you actually have anything in common with them anymore.

Enter in the subconscious sabotage. It’s freaking out, I mean you’ve been going for drinks forever, you know what to expect, how the night plans out! This is your tribe, your comfort zone! If you continue to get healthier you may not drink as much as you did and could lose these friends, they might never want to hang out with you again. They’ll think you’re a total health nut. You would have to make new friends, which is way too hard. All of this is too hard you’ll lose too much!!

Now usually in the real world, this would likely not happen, your friends will not abandon you based on your non-drinking. (If they did, well, personally I would say those friends weren’t really your friends after all…but that’s a whole other topic…) Anywho your subconscious isn’t thinking straight, at this stage it’s trying to hold onto that bubble of comfort.

Suddenly you feel drained and too tired to show up to the gym class. Hey, no worries you’ll go next week. Next week rolls around, you accidentally sleep in… all good, try again. Rolls around again, you’re helping a friend buy a new car, your convinced the cat needs a walk…weeks keep rolling until months go by and you stop and realize you haven’t been to the gym-class. That’s when you start to wonder why you stopped. I mean, hey, you were enjoying that class.

Now it’s too late to go back because your critical inner voice has just chimed in to convince you of how embarrassing that would be to show up to the gym-class after months of missing out. ‘You’ll be totally unfit!!’

So, you give up proclaim to try again maybe in the New Year, then head back out drinking with your mates.

What Can We Do to Stop It?

First off you can’t stop it. I know that is not what you wanted to hear but the reality is nothing will make the subconscious saboteur disappear from your life, it’s a part of you. However, we can use tricks and tips to lessen the impact and recognize when you are doing it.

There are many ways that self-sabotage manifests:

  • Procrastination – I need to get this work done; ooh look the cat needs walking…
  • Overthinking things – what if this happens, what if that happens…
  • Perfectionism – A little bit more… just a little…nope! Start again…
  • Magnifying – Unhealthy coping strategies, where did I put that wine…
  • Disorganization – there is a desk under these papers somewhere…
  • Critical Inner Voice – ‘What am I doing! That cat is so judging you!’ (That annoying voice in your head that tells you constantly what you can’t do… It also happens to believe it’s psychic and knows all the outcomes…We will look at this one more closely another time).

Suffice to say self-sabotage covers a wide range.

So how do we get a handle on our sabotaging subconscious?

1. Identify when the sabotage happens

We do this by simply paying attention. Don’t change anything, for now, just pay attention.

Note what you do leading up to and after that point where you have sabotaged


2. Figured out how you're sabotaging yourself?

Think about why it’s happening?

What might change if I do the thing?

What am I worried will happen?

Lose friends? Change jobs? Relationship breakdown? Non-supportive family? Etc…

Like a pros and cons of why you should change and why you shouldn’t. Simple and yet very effective.

Gemma Correl

3. Sabotage the Saboteur

Knowing why you’re sabotaging yourself is pretty important, as you can now sort out how to break the pattern. Which unfortunately can be bloody hard to do.

What can you do instead to either stop or change it?

Think of it this way, ‘when this happens instead of …. I will do …. instead’.

For instance, I want to run the full 5k at the duathlon. However, every time I go for a scheduled run, I make an excuse. ‘I’m just too tired today. I don’t have time. It’s raining outside’, you get the gist.

Emma Mathews

So, let’s take the ‘I’m just too tired’ as an example and run with it.

Let say I’ve gone through and poked at it to determine I’m tired because I go to bed late and get less than 6hrs sleep. What I’m going to do plan against it:

Instead of going to bed at 12 pm, I am going to head to bed at 10 pm. Then I will be able to get up and put my running clothes on and head out the door.

I’ve made the above example super simple and in all honesty, it’s not as straight forward as that. You’ll find that the subconscious likes to sabotage things in a row. No doubt I would most likely go to bed at 10 pm then check Facebook on my phone. Therefore, I’d need to plan against checking my phone.

Then when I get up, if I’m not tripping over my running gear, I will most likely either sleep in or muck around with housework…this is why it can be frustrating, as you have to keep at it and tweak as you go. The more consistent you are though, the more likely it will be that your subconscious will accept it as the new norm and place it on autopilot.

Having struggles with your inner saboteur? Need some help taming it? Get in touch and let’s sabotage that saboteur:

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