As this year draws to a close, some of you are already looking ahead to what you want to do in the year ahead. It’s the time of year we begin self-reflection in order to adjust our course for the upcoming year.
In my work coaching people, I find it interesting that many of my clients set very clear intentions for what they want to accomplish. They are passionate about it, they put in the required work for a period of time, but then something happens: self-sabotage.
Does this sound familiar? Have you ever vowed to lose ten pounds, speak nicer to your children, stop smoking, save money, pay off credit card debt, or maybe make a weekly date with your life partner? You mean it. You want to do it. You actually do it. And then you slack off. Do you know why?
There is evidence that our brain wires itself to perform repetitive tasks without conscious effort, explaining why we so easily drift back into old behaviors. If you do something in the same sequence enough times, the neurons that are required to perform the task will automatically fire together in the familiar sequence whenever you are confronted with a similar situation. This happens because you aren’t vigilantly aware of what your subconscious mind is programmed to do.
If you are accustomed to eating potato chips whenever you feel stressed, you may find yourself halfway through a bag of Ruffles before you even realize you’re eating.
Our brain is invested in maintaining the status quo. You weigh a certain amount. You aspire to a certain degree of happiness. You make a certain amount of money. Scientists have come to understand that our brains have set points, like how the thermostat in your home regulates the heat. Therefore, the subconscious part of your brain works against you in accomplishing the conscious goals you set.
There are two ways to successfully push past your subconscious set points. First, you can maintain a constant vigil of consciousness to your every move. This is extremely exhausting, but it can be done with great determination.
Secondly, you can bring whatever is subconsciously sabotaging you out into the light where you can consciously deal with it. In my work with coaching clients, I have found this to be a very effective question at getting to the root of the unconscious sabotage: What would you have to give up to get what you way you want? I’m not talking about the obvious—for instance, in order to lose weight, a person would have to give up chocolate and free time to exercise. I’m talking about really digging deep.
I asked a woman once what she would have to give up to meet her weight loss goal. She looked at me, dumbfounded, and replied, “My husband.” Upon further exploration, she subconsciously believed that if she got healthy enough emotionally to lose the weight she carried, then she would move beyond where her husband was and they would no longer be compatible.
Another woman I worked with was having difficulty breaking through her income barrier. She had her own business and just couldn’t move past the $50,000 mark. When I asked her what she would have to give up to be the successful business woman she truly wanted to be, she said she would lose her father’s love and approval. Her subconscious belief was that her father would love and approve of her as long as she wasn’t any more successful than he had been.
A final example is a man I was working with to develop his own coaching business. He had the skills, abilities, and resources but just wasn’t making progress. When I asked him the question, what would he have to give up to leave his job and go out on his own, and his answer was his dream. He was worried that if his dream wasn’t successful, then he would have nothing left. Better to have the dream intact than fail at the one thing he truly wanted.
So, this year, ask yourself this tough question. When you get the deepest answer you can find, examine it closely in the light of day. Is it valid? Is it important? Is it worth sacrificing your goal for? Only you can answer these questions, but you’ll never even get to these questions unless you dig and uncover that subconscious sabotage. It lurks in the background, waiting to derail your forward progress. Don’t let it happen again this year. Take control and make conscious, intentional decisions.
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Excellent article! Thank you!