If you've found yourself repeating self-defeating thoughts and behaviors, it's critical to understand the root causes of where these thoughts and behaviors are coming from. Self-defeat is something you can overcome. It takes recognizing the situations in your life and past struggles that caused such a down spiral of these self-defeating patterns.
Humans are creatures of habit and thrive on habits most of the time. Our brains actively try to keep us from changing our ways, from trying new things and leaving our comfort zones. However, habits do run their course. If you're engaging in healthy habits such as brushing your teeth each morning and night, your trips to the dentist will be less painful, if at all. And then, there's habits of self-defeat, the ones we might not recognize are hurting rather than helping us.
Have you found yourself in a situation where later, you've said: "I could have avoided all of that stress if I didn't do X, Y, or Z." After some reflection, you've maybe realized you have been there in the past.
It's easy to blame it on stress, as everybody often does. You tell yourself you were stressed, overloaded with work, or not completely with the program. Maybe you didn't get your nine hours of sleep the night before. Chances are, you've made costly mistakes as a result of these self-defeating thoughts and brain-engraved patterns. It might not be the first time you've acted impulsively because a distorted thought rang in your head along the lines of: "Who am I kidding? It's not happening. Why bother?"
Let's delve into self-defeating thoughts, first.
What Are Self-Defeating Thoughts?
Thoughts can be powerful, loud, undeniable and interfere in our quest for achieving greatness. We want to live our dreams, but deep down, there's an abundance of fears dictating our path as we trudge through life's obstacle course.
I've been in situations where I was so close to something monumental. But, my anxiety would trip me up. Anxiety has cost me a lot and also realized it stemmed from my continuous self-defeating patterns. Now that I recognize the patterns, I've learned valuable lessons about not pursuing huge goals until you are 100% prepared and ready to face the challenges.
Negative Inner Dialogue
Inner dialogue is another type of process which triggers a rabbit hole of negativity. We keep reaffirming in our minds how great and amazing we are until a voice begins shouting, "YEAH RIGHT," or, you've written those words in red crayon on your desk somewhere.
Whether you accept this or not, thoughts have a lot of power. Distorted thoughts play a major role in how you perceive and respond to situations or the world around you.
Distorted thoughts are false and derive from deep emotional or personal struggles and fears. Self-defeat may be an unforeseen cop-out or a way to avoid seemingly daunting challenges.
Fear of Failure
Another thing you might be subconsciously avoiding is failure. By this I mean, you could be afraid of success because you feel failure is the only realistic outcome. Once you got close to reaching a goal, you might have sabotaged something purposely and later kicked yourself hard. Fear is a funny (and ultimately destructive) thing. Our thoughts may act as blockers, to stop us from reaching a certain point in our careers or personal lives.
It's important to assess and problem solve what's causing such inner conflict and leading to sabotage and loss of opportunities. Author Elizabeth Gilbert wrote all about creating without fear. When I find myself worrying about projects before they're published or are sent off for the world to see, some days, I need affirmations. I used to psyche myself out and it stopped me in my tracks.
Every living human being has dealt with the same setbacks and failures. Without failures, you'll have a hard time navigating the path toward success.
Self-defeat correlates with self-doubt. Unforeseen self-sabotage is a result of deeply rooted insecurities. Therefore, they aren't unforeseen.
Our brains are programmed to protect us, to keep threats at bay. Success can feel threatening, terrifying and uncertain. To identify why you keep falling into thoughts of self-defeat, you might want to ask yourself, "What am I holding myself back from?"
Realizing that self-defeating thoughts are as unreal and futile as distorted thoughts, you'll be on the right path toward breaking the vicious cycle.
Distorted thoughts exist for the sole purpose of keeping you stuck in an unhealthy mindset. If not appropriately attended to and understood, these distorted thoughts run the risk of manifesting into core beliefs you bury inside of you that aren't at all accurate. In turn, those core beliefs you twisted up become predominant in your daily life, essentially forcing you to unconsciously slam on the brakes.
A pattern is deeply routed in the brain. Our brains want familiarity and rejects anything new, different or the unknown.
That's not always the case for everybody. However, mental down spirals, sudden lack of motivation, and overwhelming anxiety trigger self-defeating thoughts. Our thoughts turn into actions we might later regret. Awareness is only the first step toward self-improvement and emitting those destructive patterns of sabotage.
The old me, more than ten years ago, used to give up before trying or tell myself, "I failed at X, Y, or Z, so I shouldn't even bother doing anything else." If that was still my mindset today, I wouldn't have gone on to write books and publish health and wellness articles in national journals.
A strong, healthy and accurate mindset is critical for breaking the cycle and patterns of self-defeat. Without it, you're like a car trying to run without gas. You might be able to function in a poor mindset for a while. Eventually, a negative mindset will take its toll on you and prevent you from moving forward in your career and other areas of your life.
Examples of Self-Defeating Thoughts
"I am not good enough, so why bother?"
At one point or another, we've all been there, possibly. The compare and contrast game is a dangerous one to play. If you've said, "I am not good enough, so I won't," it means you've spent not enough time focusing on your uniqueness, qualities and abilities you have because you're looking at everybody else.
Don't bother looking at someone else in your respective industry who is not in the place you are professionally. We all have different paths and stories. You are good enough when you do your best work.
"I'd like to try this or that, but…"
Try is a failure word. Take it out of your vocabulary. In college, years ago, I once said to someone, "I could try to write a book, but…" Already, I gave up before starting.
Since I was a child, I was writing fiction and non-fiction books. It was that self-reflecting combined with visualization of the future that propelled me into writing novels. Sometimes, it takes some reminiscing and a vision to get the ball rolling.
"They believe I am not enough, so it must be true."
One of my favorite young actresses said:
"Don't worry about being someone else's definition of enough." — Sophia Bush
Really, it is a pointless thing to worry about. People will have their perceptions of you based on false first impressions or how they think you should be living. You know your truth and what you should be doing in your life.
If someone else isn't happy or feels you should be doing something else, or more, or greater, they're not worth your time or attention.
"There are so many things in my way, so I won't bother."
Success is not out of reach for any living being. I wish someone said this to me years ago: "Only you can stop you." In actuality, you are stopping you. Nobody else has your power, your influence, your skills, talents, abilities and knowledge.
Thoughts are only thoughts, and a healthy mindset recognizes the truth from the distorted ones.
Self-Defeating Behaviors and Where They May Originate
Long, long ago, back when I had the attention span of a fly, I learned a harsh lesson regarding impulsive behaviors. I was young and operating in fight or flight a lot, functioning in overdrive and many lost nights of sleep.
One morning, I was conversing with a colleague who made a joking statement toward the creative work I was doing and interpreted what she said as a direct insult.
I was seeing a message through bleary, rundown lenses. Truth be told, I responded to the email too quickly, overlooking her insightful and honest words. My eyes were seeing one thing, but my mind perceived another. Thankfully, she realized I was under tremendous stress at the time and knew what I was experiencing in my personal life. Even so, if I had slowed my thoughts and mind down, I wouldn't have nearly jeopardized a working relationship.
Impulsive behaviors may originate from numerous issues — insomnia, pressure to measure up, stress, lack of confidence in one's self or work, fear of failure. The email I sent back to my dear friend and colleague wasn't so, so bad. It was just defensive and a sign that my mindset wasn't right.
These days, I champion a slow-moving, meditative lifestyle. Had I been doing this ten years earlier, I wouldn't have been so defensive in my response and would have applied her words more thoughtfully.
Obsessive Compulsive Behavior
Perfection is a ridiculous thing to strive for, though I am guilty of this. I used to obsess and obsess over ensuring my work was error free until I was asleep at my keyboard.
Obsessive compulsive behavior is a form of self-defeat in the sense that you may have thought, "Until this is perfect, it's not going anywhere." Again, you're stopping yourself. The strive for perfection is as deadly and destructive as self-doubt.
Self-punishment and self-defeat go hand-in-hand. Behaviors of self-punishment may include starvation, overworking, losing nights of sleep, or not even going to the washroom and taking a break because, well, you have deadlines.
I've done all these things, too. It's common not to realize you are self-punishing and are believing you're dedicating to your craft or work.
Self-care, regardless, should always come before your work or anybody else. Without your health and vitality, success will feel like cruel and unusual punishment or torture.
I know someone who is well into his seventies and may work until he drops dead. He should be retired and is still traveling to faraway places for his company. He's not in the best health and disciplines himself to the point of deprivation. He enjoys his work, of course, but every time I see him, his eyes are blood shot and puffy or he hasn't eaten in hours.
Giving in to Distorted Thoughts and Making Them Your Core Beliefs
I want to emphasize distorted thoughts because they branch off self-defeat. I've fallen victim to the power of unrealistic and inaccurate thinking. Negative thoughts can be used as a way of protecting yourself from disappointment, heartbreak, and maybe even embarrassment as a result of fearing failure.
It takes effort to believe in yourself, especially if you've been in numerous situations that compromised these beliefs.
Self-Interventions to Conquer Self-Defeating Thoughts and Behaviors
Take it from someone who, for years, from the time I was a child, heard everyone determine my fate because I have health issues. I don't have health issues all the time. Nothing has kept me from achieving my goals, short term or long term. The inner dialogue with yourself reflects your current mindset.
Recently, I wrote about self-interventions which involved meditation, self-hypnosis, yoga, and daily practices geared towards strengthening not only the body, but also the mind.
Breathing intervenes in negative thinking. More so, it releases unnecessary tension that is stiffening your body and causing aches and maybe even physical pain. Diaphragmatic breathing slows your heart rate, eases anxiety, and slows the pace of your mind.
I'm not trying to blame anything on the digital era in which we live. But, I secretly have felt that I've been born in the wrong era. I would have loved to live in a time without the Internet, cell phones or social media. While I do use those social platforms regularly, I schedule set times each day for writing.
I unplug the Internet, quiet my cell phone, and work outside. This daily discipline keeps my mind engaged, enriched, moving slower, and calm.
Respond, Instead of React to Life
To clarify, when I speak about mindset, I'm not talking about being positive. What I'm talking about is ensuring your thoughts are in the right place, in wise mind.
Wise mind means you are mentally and emotionally neutral, balanced and mindfully navigating though situations in life. You're not acting out, acting impulsively or making decisions on the fly. You're calm, thinking thoroughly through things, and checking yourself before wrecking yourself.
Distorted or unrealistic thoughts should never morph into core beliefs about yourself. If you succumb to distorted thoughts, you're also self-sabotaging because you let these thoughts dictate your path in life.
Instead, rewire your brain using the self-interventions I listed above so you can recognize your fullest potential and live the life you deserve.