We all do stupid things and mess up and go unconscious. In Buddhism, it has a name: unskillful. It simply means you didn’t have the skills yet.
Do You Self-Sabotage?
Do you do self-sabotage? Imagine you’re late for your party and all your guests are there waiting for you. Your phone is dead and you’re in an unfamiliar place. You turned right onto a street hoping that it will take you to the restaurant. It’s getting dark. You start to breath quickly. Your heartbeat quickens. Your palms are sweating on the steering wheel. You can hear a ringing starting in your ears. What if you don’t make it there in time? Everyone will be disappointed and it’s embarrassing for you. Maybe they don’t even want to be your friends anymore. Your entire life will be ruined because you forgot to check a map before you left. Stop. Do you know a part of your brain is responsible for the anxiety and panic you’re feeling right now? It’s called your reptile brain. It’s responsible for your basic instincts. It wants food, sex, and safety. It doesn’t want you to take risks or do anything that’s uncomfortable and it has allies. Your right prefrontal cortex is a part of your brain responsible for visualization. When those two parts of your brain team up, they make negative visualizations.
The negative visualizations will often convince you not to take action because of bad things that could happen. You won’t even know what you’re missing out. You’re missing out on financial opportunity, new friendships, relationships, experiences, and ideas. You’re missing out on the beautiful, delicious and pleasant parts of life you don’t even know to exist. It’s all because the reptile brain is playing these little horror movies of what could happen if you take a risk. Your reptile brain is speaking. My friend Pam had a dog that had been beaten and burned with a lighter. That’s how Pam found her. That’s how they began together. In a lot of love and training, she made leaps and strides over the first few years. Until one day, she had a setback. Her worker was at the house across the street. His pickup truck backfired loud. Pam sprinted outside because the dog had been lounging on the front porch. She was nowhere to be found so Pam began running through our neighborhood. Pam didn’t catch up to her until she was about a mile from her house. She was in a frenzied trance running for her life with no regard for anything around her.
Pam shouted her dog’s name. Hearing Pam’s voice broke the trance, the dog stopped. She looked at Pam panting and terrified. As Pam ran to her, she could see her dog come back into herself. She was shaking. Pam didn’t say, “What the hell? You’ve come so far. You keep getting triggered. What’s up with that head of yours?” This is what Pam did. With her arms tight around the dog, Pam said, “You’re totally fine and you’re totally safe. Let’s go home and begin again.” I remember this incident when I got a message from someone asking about intention. She wrote that she has a pattern of getting to a certain point in creating a vision and when things are going well, she’ll find a way to mess it up. Her words, “I sabotage my success,” and it struck me.
Sabotage is one of those words that seem to come with its own military units and artillery. It is big and heavy. Sabotage says, “Don’t question me. I’m scary.” It can be a challenge to see clearly. On one level, I get the idea of messing things up right when they’re going well and yet how scared you can feel when things are looking like they might be working. I get that being scared can make you go unconscious to escape the uncomfortable feeling of fear. Unconscious can equal anything from eating five pieces of cheesecake to endlessly scrolling through your Facebook feed to watching Netflix until 3:00 AM. I get that fear might make you do something dumb or something mean for a few months until you have alienated everyone. Until you find yourself back where you’re comfortable in the land of things are awful and I’m to blame, a pattern is just a pattern. You’ve never done this before.
The minute you realize you’re not unconscious or when you catch yourself in the midst of a trance, what stops you from picking yourself up, looking around, dusting off, cleaning up, putting down the cheesecake, apologizing with the stupid things you said and starting again? Let’s be clear. That is the issue here and not the sabotage itself. Nothing is ever done until you decide it’s done. We all do stupid things and mess up and go unconscious. In Buddhism, it has a name, unskillful. It simply means don’t have the skillsets yet. As far as I know, someone once used a phrase, “You totally screwed that one up.” The question is this, “How do you know you’ve ruined everything?”
Sabotage requires you give in to the belief that all is lost. It’s like you have your own entertainment industry executive in your head that says you, “You’ll never work in this town again.” The problem is not that he’s there, the problem is your believing. Sabotage is a teacher. You can never do anything new without making mistakes. It’s called learning, not sabotage. Part of that was to take the first few steps and falls and that’s not saying, “I sabotage myself.” Instead, he keeps getting up and moving until he learns to walk. It’s the same when you’re learning to ride a bicycle. You keep falling off until you get it. If you really decide to learn trick riding, you start falling again. It’s about how much you want to improve your skillsets and grow.
If you think you have a knack for sabotage, then this pattern is the greatest teacher. It might be teaching you persistence or commitment. I’ll be telling you, you’re growing. One of my biggest secrets is when I’m learning something new, I create a safe space for myself to make all the mistakes I need to learn and grow. It could be in the confines of a new class where everyone is a beginner or it could mean the privacy of my home. I could go to someplace where no one knows who I am so that when I screw up, they would say, “Crazy stranger.” You either beat yourself up in the confines of your mind when you think you have screwed up or some well-meaning person says that to you and you beat yourself up.
The reality is, I’ve never had a qualified expert come and tell me I screwed up because all of them have painted views. You will have the well-meaning by a relatively clueless individual who will provide you with unsolicited advice about how you screwed up. At regular intervals in my life, I learned something new. It could be a new business approach, a new martial art, or a new dance form. I gave myself permission to make mistakes and learn. I have been enriching my brain by creating new neural pathways. The key here is you can either sit back or say, “Look how awful I am. I’ve done it again,” or you can say, “I’m learning to commit. Now is another day and with eyes wide open, I begin imperfectly.” It will be painful. It will be uncomfortable. It will piss you off and it’ll grow you in ways you can’t imagine. I know from my own experience, it’s challenging to have an emotional temperament and go for your dreams. It’s much easier to sit back and say, “It’s all too hard,” or “I’m not cut out for this.” When you start engaging, you only elongate the story and continue to trance. Instead, take steps and take them in openness and stop using the word sabotage.
Be unbelievably kind to yourself. The opposite of the voices that say, “All is lost.” It’s reminding yourself that, “All has never been lost,” and remembering how far you’ve come in your process. Monitor how you talk to yourself. Stop and correct any negativity. It only serves to keep the path in our life. In your story, you have the opportunity to be the person who is kind and the one who pushes in knowing that you’re never going to give up on yourself or your life. Whenever you shift into that unconscious mode, gently walk yourself back home and start from there. Do that for you constantly and then do it again. We’ve spoken about how to declutter your life and how to be aware. This is putting it together so that you will never believe that you sabotage yourself ever again.
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