Avoid Self-Sabotage: Feel the Discomfort and Do it Anyway

Consider times in your life when you feel helpless or unable to get things done. You don’t have to be held back by the prongs of self-sabotage. You can form a new habit and learn to focus on goals that not only make you feel better but allow you to enjoy life. Follow these detailed easy step-by-step instructions, also available as an audio podcast.

Feel the Discomfort and Do it Anyway
In a previous episode, I discussed how the fear of the unknown can prevent us from really experiencing life.
In another podcast, I discussed how misinformation, and even incomplete information can make you anxious and fearful of things. In this episode, I would like to stretch the concept beyond fear and suggest that you might consider looking at times in your life when you might feel helpless, or simply unable to get things done, perhaps even with routine tasks. In other words, times when you feel discomfort. You can form a new habit and instead learn to focus on goals that not only make you feel better but increasingly enjoy life. Listen and understand what I am talking about.
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In this episode, I would like to stretch the concept beyond fear and suggest that you might consider looking at times in your life when you might feel helpless, or simply unable to get things done, perhaps even with routine tasks. In other words, times when you feel discomfort.
The concept behind my thinking is that we sometimes don’t accomplish our goals in life because of the discomfort that can arise when we work on them. We don’t do these things because there are impediments to getting them done – that can immobilize us. However, our goals are the things that can actually make us feel better.

In case you are wondering, this concept is relevant for anxiety sufferers because there are prongs of sabotage, as I call them, which can not only take you off track in your recovery from anxiety but they can zap the joy of life. Your goals are the very things you could do to bring joy into your life, if you didn’t allow yourself to be a victim of the prongs of sabotage.

As I said, these prongs can take you off track. Once you go off into another direction, you may start to look for joy in another area, which has nothing to do with your original intention. This is often why so many people may find themselves starting things but never finishing them. Many people might feel like they are in a vicious circle and demotivated. It’s almost like you reach a point where you don’t know what to do with yourself. Feeling like you really don’t know what to do in the present moment can be very stressful for you.

So, you might be wondering what I consider to be the 3 prongs of self-sabotage:

1) The first prong involves distraction. In other words, the things that distract you while you are trying to work on your true goals.
Obviously distractions can be challenging to contend with in their own right. However, this category is very tricky because distractions sometimes mask as either your true goals or something more interesting or important. In other words, you might not even notice you are distracted from your goals. And if you do, you might justify to yourself that the interesting distraction relates to your goals, and therefore it is a legitimate activity. However, the only legitimate distractions are the ones that you cannot ignore because they are a higher priority. And regardless, if you allow things to take you off track, you are not going to get the task completed. This has become especially challenging over the years given the number of distractions we all have in our environment because of technological advances.

2) The second prong of sabotage involves times when we feel a lack of motivation / we procrastinate / and we feel lazy. When you feel this way, it is going to be incredibly difficult to get things done. Again, this class of experience is tricky because the more you allow yourself to feel this way, the more difficult it is to get something done. Some people feel that when they encounter this state that they should take a nap or do something pleasurable, like have a junk food snack. They attempt to find some other source of pleasure outside of their current experience. What happens is a big rebound effect. After they carry out this seemingly pleasurable activity, they feel even worse because the original goal has not been completed.

3) The third prong of sabotage involves emotional experiences, either past upsets or even worry about things in the future, often things that may never happen. These are probably the biggest challenges for many anxiety sufferers, especially if they suffer from social anxiety or are highly sensitive to the reactions of others.

Here are some examples. You might be working on a task, and all of a sudden, you might recall something upsetting that happened earlier in the day. You are then lost in thought.

Alternatively, you might begin worrying about something that you have to do tomorrow.

These thought processes are tricky because you might reason to yourself: If I don’t work out this situation now that I’ve just thought of, then I am going to be worse off later. Again, you justify the continued reflection on these thoughts as legitimate interruptions to your process that must be handled now. The problem is made worse because when one negative thought arises about a situation, you might find another negative thought or memory cropping up. This is because negative memories are linked in one’s overall memory, and once activated, another associated negative thought or memory is activated, so a whole series can be activated. So, I’m sure you can see the problem with pursuing this process?

There are at least three issues:
1. Obviously you are going to feel much worse as you carry on thinking about these negative things.
2. You will be taken away from the activity that you were working on before the negative thinking began.
3. You will feel much worse because you have not accomplished what you originally set out to complete.

These prongs of experience vary somewhat from individual to individual but everyone has them. As I say during my podcasts, please don’t get caught in the trap of the example. In other words, although you might not describe this information using the same terms as I do, you probably experience some or all of these impediments on a fairly regular basis.

However, you can free yourself of these impairments. You can learn to keep yourself productive, in a good way, and with a sense of purpose. This can make you feel motivated to do more. And, it can make you feel better in general.

This relates to a form of treatment known as Behavioral Activation.

According to an article on Behavioral Activation, from the Society of Clinical Psychology, a division of the American Psychological Association, when people get depressed, they may increasingly disengage from their routines and withdraw from their environment. Over time, this avoidance exacerbates depressed mood, as individuals lose opportunities to be positively reinforced through pleasant experiences, social activity, or experiences of mastery.

To simplify, Behavioral Activation aims to get one to become active and engage in these positive behaviors to improve their mood, outlook on life, and treat their depression.

I would also add that, it can be reassuring to know that this process can be used to treat something as serious as clinical depression. However, one certainly does need to have depression in order to apply and benefit from the concept. This information also illustrates the consequences whenever one withdraws from the activities that bring him or her joy (which I have framed as life goals in the podcast, but you could call them whatever you want).

However, none of these prongs of impediments in life have to immobilize you. Don’t worry, there doesn’t have to be a difficult solution in order for you to make improvements in life. That is, we can learn to put one foot in front of the other and keep working towards our true goals.

I would like to provide a personal example:

I was working on a project a recently, and trying to get some work done. However, due to my remote location at the time, my access to the computer and wifi was cut off. I could have given up but instead I took out a pen and paper and had a very productive time brainstorming, creating, and planning various work for my website. And once I got back online later, I had gotten much more organized. In fact, I was better off having had this time to work without any distractions such as emails, texts, and other notifications. The point is that I could have said I didn’t have any internet or wifi access and concluded that I couldn’t do anything. But I didn’t. I recognized the reality of no computer and wifi, but then thought: is there some way I can work on this broad goal in spite of this problem?

In such situations and other uncomfortable moments, the trick, as I said, is to put one foot in front of the other, by feeling the discomfort and doing it in anyway. We will feel better over the long term, but it doesn’t have to take long. This is really the trick with all of the prongs that I discussed earlier. The solution is simple. However the simplicity of the idea might make you think it is too simple to work.

You could probably look at your own experiences and list a number of other negative consequences that these prongs have on your life. This list could be a source of motivation for you not to engage in them. The bottom line is that these prongs and behaviours are counterproductive.

This is because in the large scheme of things, everyone has broad goals. They will depend on the person. For me, some of them are family, work, health, and hobbies. However, if you don’t focus on the goals and activities you truly enjoy, by default you focus on counterproductive activities. There is really no place in between counterproductive and productive activities. It’s one or the other. Some time ago, this realization helped me a great deal to become more aware of what I was doing each day. I was surprised how often I would fall into the trap of these prongs. When I thought about it long and hard, I realized that I could have a much better life.

One must be realistic about the concept of feeling the discomfort and doing it anyway so that they can be prepared for such times.
You’re going to be annoyed at times.  There will be distractions.

But you can simply get back on task with your goals, and shortly you’ll feel much better than if you had of allowed yourself to go off on a tangent or sit around and feel badly.

I find it really interesting because it is like standing up to your FEAR in order to move forward and enjoy life, but you are standing up to your discomfort presented in the form of distractions, ruminations, anticipatory anxiety, and feelings of demotivation and frustration.
These factors are inhibitors and they keep your from your true life goals. But you have a choice.

The key then is to remain focused on our goals, our larger objectives, as much as practical instead of those things which are not part of our goals. We do this by knowing and acting in a way that brings our focus back to the things that are really important to us. Intuitively, we know this is the right decision and we feel much better. That is, there is something inside of you, a feeling, that you are doing the right thing, in spite of your discomfort. This feeling can be a source of motivation and guide you to keep you moving forward.

I would recommend that you start by thinking about the activities you enjoy and why; and then forming a list of your goals and sub goals so that you can keep them in front of your mind to guide you. This does not have to be a complicated process.

Next, spend some time imagining what your life would be if you were goal oriented instead of being a victim of these prongs of impediments.

Then begin working on your goals, keeping in mind the information I am about to share. Here are some additional reflections and pointers.
Simply put, accepting your discomfort and persisting anyway, is how you get things done.

You are accepting in advance that there are going to discomforts and challenges.  You don’t deny that there are going to be times when you are upset, angry, lazy, and feel that you can’t focus. However, you’re deciding in advance that you are going to persist anyway. This can really be helpful with being prepared when challenges do arise.  Many times when you feel discomfort, the trick is to think small instead of big.

In other words, chunk the steps down

As long as the steps are focused on your broader goals, you are being productive.
When you are working on a task, if a distraction or idea keeps popping into your head, put it on a to-do-list for later, instead of now, and you can even schedule time for this later. You don’t pretend these things don’t exist but if you decide to follow up on them, you do so at a later time. Right now, however, you are going to keep going with the task at hand.

Here is something else to watch out for:

Sometimes we may put off certain steps because we think that they are too far ahead in the future. However, this is not a good reason.  For example, you might have a goal that you want to accomplish 2 weeks down the road from now. Start chipping away at it now. By doing so, you are engaging in behaviors that can make you feel better, and you are also pushing out these prongs of immobilization.

There are always some goal-oriented things that one can be doing to feel better and they do not need to involve elaborate activities in order for one to feel better. I remember as a child, sometimes I felt spontaneously elated. I certainly would not have used those terms but I knew and recognize the feeling now. What I didn’t know is that these spontaneous feelings resulted often from engaging in very simple and fun activities that I liked doing.

We all have good days, but we do have bad days. The trick is to stay on course when the challenging things arise.

Remember frustration doesn’t mean stop. It is often a sign that one is getting off task. We are starting to get distracted by our emotions and if we don’t get back on track then we may give up. It can be helpful to think of frustration like an alarm that goes off in your head warning you that you are likely getting off track because of your emotions. Again, I’m not suggesting you don’t feel your emotions. In fact, recognize them, but gently bring your attention back to your goal.

At first, the process is not going to feel natural. Remember, however, that by putting one foot in front of the other with your goals, those negative tendencies will fall away. It doesn’t mean they won’t come up again, but you now have a strategy, and over time, this new behaviour will become a habit.

The whole process will take some grit and resolve at first. Simply make the commitment that you will do your best. That is all you need to do to get started. Reassure yourself, that in the end, by placing one foot in front of the other, you can be happier, but you might not feel this way at the beginning of a task.

I feel that the true inspiration from this concept is that by feeling the discomfort and continuing with the intended activities anyway, you will be in the best position to lower your anxiety, and frustration and increase your focus and concentration on what’s truly important in your life.

This can have a huge benefit for you and others around you who can actually benefit from the contributions you make. I believe that this is truly a way for all of us to be most effective in our own life and in the world, and to feel better while doing so.

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