Posts Tagged ‘just say no’

How To Better Understand Self-Sabotage

Written by Kate • May 21, 2020 •
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The Ancient City in Gordes, France

In the past, I’ve been completely overwhelmed by the power of my self-sabotaging behavior. Why was I eating that food when I’m not hungry? Why am I still reading Facebook after two hours when I swore I’d only be on for 15 minutes? Why didn’t I do my yoga today? It was a total mystery to me and one that made me feel quite disempowered.

I thought that because I understand the brain’s reward system and some hacks about how to manage the system and do an end run around it, I had the keys to self sabotaging behavior. But I didn’t and still engaged in behavior that I didn’t intend to.

The Primitive Brain’s Motivational Triad

Then I read/listened to Brooke Castillo’s work about the primitive brain and how, as she puts it, it was created to pursue the live saving triad of motivating us to:

  1. seek pleasure
  2. avoid pain
  3. spend as little energy as possible

Our primitive brain is trying to keep us alive at all costs and as such, it drives us to prioritize short term pleasure, like eating sugar or other highly caloric food, in order to bolster the body’s resources. [This is a much larger discussion but I’m trying to hit the highlights. The brain drives us to seek pleasure to keep us alive, even when life is extremely hard, food is scarce, and the odds are high against our survival. We need a strong counterbalancing force to help us not give up when things get rough.]

Avoiding pain keeps us safe (but small).

And conserving energy is just smart if you never know when a bear might attack you. Rest until you need to get out there again, our brain urges.

Of course, for many of us in the developed world, this ancient way of preserving life against a nature that is red in tooth and claw is no longer necessary (except for the rare occasion) and is, in fact, keeping us living small and constrained lives.

You Can Just Say No

Here was the revelation for me.

When I’d make big plans to change or put myself out there or adopt a new expansive lifestyle change, soon enough I’d get this irresistible urge to stop changing and a lot of thoughts that would tell me in a variety of ways that it was too hard, I wasn’t good enough, I needed to have fun, I needed to rest, and on and on and on. These urges against change were so overwhelming that after using my will power to grit against them, I’d give in.

These thoughts and urges were tricky and I’d try to understand where they were coming from. I’d think they were important and something I needed to listen to because it felt so strong, so real.

Brooke Castillo says that she notices this voice rise up and start the old refrain trying to keep her small, she says something like, “Noted. But we won’t be doing that”.

And that’s all it takes. Noticing what your brain is saying and lovingly saying to the voice, “Noted. But we won’t be doing that”. You can just say No.

A Lesson from Yesterday’s Yoga Session

If you’ve been reading my blogs, you likely have gleaned that I’m a yoga addict. I really do love it although I’m not yet strong enough to do all the asanas I’d like to in a way I’d like to. Like I can’t float forward to a forward bend. I have to step forward. After some trial and error, like focusing on my upper body strength, I know I need to strengthen my core which I’m working on.

So Monday night into Tuesday, I had some GI issues that kept me up for a few hours. I assessed my physical situation early in the morning and realized I needed sleep more than I needed to make time for yoga. And that was a solid decision.

But Wednesday morning, as I started my yoga session, I noticed how tight I was, especially in my right shoulder/rotator cuff. And my brain went off on this riff that went something like “OMG, why do you even try? You didn’t do yoga yesterday and now you’re behind and you’ll never catch up. So just stop doing yoga”. And for a moment, before I shined some consciousness on these thought loops, I actually almost just quit doing yoga. Like my finger started to reach for the pause button.

I then thought to myself, how does quitting my session today help me catch up? And how can I be behind when I’m still practicing? What does being behind in yoga even mean? I don’t want to stop doing yoga. I love yoga.

But the pull to stop expending energy was briefly very strong. I realized it’s just my brain trying to get me to conserve energy even when it’s better that I do the work, to strengthen my body and my mind.

Also, my shoulder hurt so my primitive brain wanted to stop doing the thing that hurt.

The analogy to a toddler is probably way overused but it is accurate. That part of our brain really is so similar to a toddler. So I said to it, “noted, but we’re doing yoga”. And in an instant, when I put quitting off the table, affirmed it wasn’t an option, I felt a surge in energy and my yoga session deepened. Miraculously, my shoulder also felt better and by the end of the session, the pain and tightness had disappeared. And I felt deeply satisfied to have finished that session.

Later, after my yoga session, when I considered vacuuming and mopping my juice stained, food encrusted kitchen floors [do they throw food on the floor for the fun of it?] my primitive brain briefly tried to convince me that reading my book was more important (conserving energy) but I again said, ‘no, these floors are getting clean.” It took a lot longer than I intended. Dinner was late. But my floors are sparkling and I took pleasure in accomplishing what I set out to do. The primitive brain that didn’t want me to do it then took a lot of pride in getting this done. Go figure. And I still was able to read for a bit after the twins went to bed.

It Can Be That SimpleNo, we’re not doing that.

I really can be that simple, just a “no, we’re not doing that”. There are then no urges to resist or expend will power on. Focus on something different than what the toddler brain wants. No need to bargain with, try to understand, or analyze this part of your brain. It can be simply a case of saying, “no, not that. This”.