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Why Do We Self Sabotage?

What prevents us from making changes that we want in our lives?

What has stopped us making changes in the past, stops us today and will prevent us in the future from getting what we want in our lives?

This article is about what stops us from making changes, how to identify it in our lives and how we can learn to use it to uncover what we really want and how to get it in our lives using the 4 Steps To Change at the end of the piece.

Let's explore some of the changes first.

What Changes Am I Referring To?
  1. A pursuit of any calling especially in creativity.

  2. The launching of any entrepreneurial venture or project.

  3. Any diet or health endeavour.

  4. Any program of spiritual advancement.

  5. Any activity whose aim is tighter abdominals.

  6. Any course or program designed to overcome an unwholesome habit or addiction.

  7. Education of every kind.

  8. Any act of courage, including the decision to change to change our behaviours and habits.

  9. The undertaking of any enterprise or endeavour whose aim is to help others.

  10. Any act that entails commitment of the heart. The decision to get married, to have a child, to weather a rocky patch in a relationship.

Steven Pressfield

In summary it’s anything which requires sacrificing pleasure now in favour of long term growth or improvement in our lives or others.

The thing that prevents those changes from happening is called Resistance.

What is Resistance?

Resistance is the voice that pipes up anytime we are about looking to change one of the above.

Steven Pressfield coined the concept and above is his paraphrased list where Resistance shows up most frequently from his book, “The War Of Art” .

I highly recommend the book for anyone looking to make changes especially as it relates to exploring their creativity.

We have all faced Resistance before, there is not a person it hasn’t had it’s hands on.

Those hands covered our mouths when something needed to be said, they pinned us to the ground when we needed to move, they pointed a gun at us when we were about to act.

Resistance is what shows up when we are about to do something daring, brave or necessary in our lives.

It has one mission and that is to prevent change in our lives.

It does this by provoking enough fear and self sabotage in us so that we do nothing.

It is the biggest killer of human creativity.

What Does It Look Like And Sound Like In My Life?

Remember that time you were about to make that change in your life that you knew you needed to make?

You had made the decision, built up the courage, had everything in place to take the action.

You were finally going to be free from your current situation, you knew all the reasons why this had to happen and how now was the time.

Not taking action on this had drained you for years without you even realising, it had caused you and your family suffering, it had caused you to miss so many opportunities in your life and wasted so much time.

Then just when you were about to take the action to break free you were hit with this overwhelming feeling of panic, anxiety and self sabotage.

It keeled you over, stopped you in your tracks and when you were stationary it hit you with everything it had.

“This is the wrong thing to do”

"It’s not the right time”

“What are you thinking”

“Who do you think you are”

“Do not do this, you will be sorry if you do”

“You are going to make a show of yourself”

“Don’t even bother”

“You don’t deserve to change”

“You are a loser”

“You are pathetic”

Fuck, what is happening.

You thought everything was in order, all you had to do was take the action you had rehearsed in your head a thousand times, it was simple on paper.

You thought this was the right thing to do, the right time and this was was so important.

Why and where did this voice come from and why now?

That voice is Resistance.

Resistance by definition is self-sabotage. -Steven Pressfield

Why would we do that to ourselves?

Why would we self sabotage when we are about to embark on important and meaningful change in our lives?

Let's look at some facts about Resistance first.

Truths about Resistance:

  • Resistance lives in our heads.

  • It shows up before we do something important that requires change.

  • It’s invisible.

  • Resistance is Universal.

  • It is not us.

  • Resistance is based in fear.

  • Resistance has an enemy called creativity and vice versa.

  • Resistance gets it’s power from us.

  • Resistance can never be eliminated from our lives.

  • The more we try to get rid of it the more strength we give it.

  • Resistance does not care about us.

  • Resistance will do or say anything to prevent change.

  • Resistance is relentless.

  • Resistance is suffering.

We can use Resistance to our advantage.

So you are telling me that this Resistance that lives in my head but it’s not part of me. It has self sabotaged me into not making changes I wanted.

That I can’t get rid of it, my association with it has given it power, it doesn’t care about me and that it has caused me great suffering in the past and will do again if I don’t find it and use it.


The Main Purpose Of This Post:

To highlight Resistance exists and each one of us experiences it.

That has been the most important thing I have learned since I started a journey of self improvement.

That the same understanding has been the most powerful distinctions or learning many professional creatives or successful people have had.

Something which is not a new concept but is one of the most difficult concept to grasp and act on.

Once I listened long enough or heard this enough times it began to make a little sense.

That the voice which stopped me from doing things I wanted was not serving me, not me losing my mind, not me at all.

It’s freeing to understand that this is part of the human condition and not just me.

That most meditation and spiritual practises understand this concept.

They are all grounded in non attachment to our thoughts, to that inner voice.

That same voice that keeps us up at night, stops us from doing things we want, paralyses us with fear, makes us feel worthless and has caused us incredible suffering in our lives and the lives of the people around us.

That once we understand this once that we can use it to our advantage.

It doesn’t go away, in fact I face it right now as I write these words.

It’s telling me not to bother, that I shouldn’t write about this topic, that I don’t know enough to write about this, that I will be criticised for writing it or ignored.

Another day, another setting I would listen to those thoughts and associate them with me, enough so that I would not act.

That's enough about me, let's explore who can we learn from.

How Professionals Use Resistance:

The most successful people in the world face this Resistance on a daily basis.

These are the same people you admire, who have created massive changes in societies and whose work you follow.

It shows up when they are about to speak on stage, have a difficult conversation, perform in concert, write a book, paint a picture, tell people their ideas, ask for help, share their story or start a new business.

They note it as Resistance, they sit with it, trying not to associate with the messages it tells them, the thoughts it wants them to cling to.

They have been here before and will be here again.

In the brief space they get from understanding what’s happening they note that the fact that Resistance is here means they are onto something important.

It only shows up before doing something important or meaningful in our lives.

They use the Resistance as a compass to guide them to produce their best work.

If the Resistance says go east, they go west, if it says go north they pivot 180deg and move south.

Ask any person who is successful at what they do and they will tell you this is what happens, they might have a different label for it or a different technique but one thing is for sure, they feel the fear and do their work anyway.

If there is no fear when they are working then they are not stretching themselves enough, they are playing it too safe.

That they associate fear with important work, work which needs to be done regardless of the amount of self sabotage that it tries to cause.

Once they hit publish, show their work to the world or say what needs to be said they have done the most important thing they could do.

They have pushed through Resistance for now and are prepared to do it again tomorrow.

It’s an infinite game.

Why Do They Bother Exploring This In Their Lives?

They understand that their creation, that change they make when they push through Resistance is their job, it's the most important thing they will do in their lives and therefore the most meaningful.

That when they do they tap into their creativity which is far more powerful than the Resistance and gives them an experience and feelings which words cannot touch.

Once they have realised this then they must show up, produce their best work and share it with the world, it's their calling.

What separates the most successful from the least is working despite that fear.

How Can We Use Resistance To Our Benefit?

4 Steps To Change

1) Notice where and when Resistance surfaces in your life

  • Think back to a time in the past when you were about to do something creative and where this prevented you from taking action. (Referencing the list may help)

  • Think back to a time when you felt afraid of what you were about to do but did it anyway. How did that change things? What feeling did you get when you acted?

  • When do you face it on a daily basis, in what area of your life, what does it sound like, what has it stopped you from doing?

2) Label it as Resistance.

  • Anytime you successfully label it you have robbed Resistance of it’s power temporarily.

  • Meditation helps as it builds the habit of labelling thoughts and feelings as just that so we can begin to dissociate from them.

  • The key is to develop this into a stronger habit which you practise throughout the day, one which once you notice the benefits you will want to continue because it’s one of the most worthwhile things you can do.

3) Act Anyway

  • Try something small. Comfort zone challenges work best here.

  • It’s doing the opposite of what that voice, that self sabotage is telling you.

  • Find something in your day where you normally wouldn’t act because of Resistance and do it anyway.

  • E.g Start a conversation on a bus, compliment someone, join a club, ask a question or book a trial class you have wanted to do.

  • Each time we face change and Resistance shows up we have an opportunity to label it as Resistance and then do that thing anyway, starting small and then building will start to uncover capabilities you may not have realised you had.

4) Repeat:

  • With enough mini experiments, your confidence will grow and you will start to feel more in control.

  • Each time you act anyway despite Resistance you weaken it a bit more, when you do this enough times you will start to connect with a creative side of you which didn’t seem to exist before.

  • One where you are incredibly powerful and one which provides the link between what you have now and everything you want.

Why Bother?

Everything worth doing lies on the other side of fear, fear which is rooted in Resistance.

That Resistance shows up as Self Sabotage in our lives.

It does not go away if we ignore it and it will cause suffering so we may as well start now.

This will be some of the hardest work you will do and that’s why it’s the most rewarding.

The experience and feelings you get from tapping into your creativity is impossible explain in words.

When you have that experience, those feelings you will understand why it’s the most important thing you have ever done and why it is worth the effort.

Hitting Publish is my reminder today of why this is important and why I should keep going along this path.


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