Balance & Beyond Podcast
#5: Breaking Free from Self-Sabotage: Rewiring Your Brain for a Happier Life
When the change you seek never comes...
Are you constantly battling the urge to sabotage your own progress? What’s even worse, is can you see yourself doing it and yet still don’t know how to stop? Break free from this vicious cycle and step into a life filled with joy by tuning in to our eye-opening discussion on the hidden forces behind self-sabotage. Discover why our brains are wired to repeat harmful behaviours and how we can rewire them for a healthier, happier existence.
Find out why your body clings to familiar emotions like guilt, shame and fear and why it can be so hard to leave your comfort zone, even when what you want is on the other side. Learn how to take control of your brain, unlock more empowering emotions and finally understand how to break the patterns of self-sabotage so you can build the life of your dreams.
Here’s what you’ll uncover in this episode:
- Why watching yourself self-sabotage is like watching a train crash again and again, with your own hands on the wheel
- What has to shift for you to break the addiction of your brain to fear, guilt and shame and stop behaviours like procrastination and beating yourself up
- How your brain works to keep you trapped in patterns that make you unhappy and what you have to do to finally take control
- How to avoid numbing your feelings through Netflix, food or wine and the simple way to get comfortable being uncomfortable
- The best and fastest way to stop the self-sabotage patterns
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INTRO: Welcome to Balance and Beyond, the podcast for ambitious women who refuse to accept burnout as the price of success. Here, we’re committed to empowering you with the tools and strategies you need to achieve true balance, where your career, relationships and health all thrive, and where you have the power to define success on your own terms. I honour the space you’ve created for yourself today, so take a breath, and let's dive right in…
Jo: Why is it that sometimes life feels like you are watching a train crash, only you're the one with your hands on the wheel, and you keep crashing into the same thing all the time? Every day, I hear from women who say to me “Jo, I can see what I'm doing, I can see that I need to exercise, I can see that I should go to bed, and yet I am not doing it.” So, on today's show, I want to give you some insight into what's really going on. What are these self-sabotage programs that are driving you and how can you, when you know what you need to do, what actually needs to shift so that you can get the life you want?
Now, tell me if this sounds a little bit like you: You know that you need to go to bed early or you need some sleep. And yet it gets to 10:30 at night and the house is really quiet and you think, “Oh, I've got a really busy day tomorrow. Let me just get one more email done, let me just finish that report.” And then. before you know it, it's midnight. And then you’re really tired and think, “Oh, I really need some wind down time.” So you grab your phone, you turn on Netflix, and suddenly it's one in the morning and “poof”, another hour has gone by. Does that sound familiar at all?
Or how about the: “I need to move my body, I'm going to go for a walk.” “Oh, but this meeting's come up, oh.” “But if I go for a walk now, then I'm not going to have time to do this, and I'm going to let somebody down. Or I know I'll go after work, but then a kid needs you, and you really need to help with homework. and life just keeps getting in the way. And yet, when you think about a colleague who comes to you, who's on the verge of burnout, you say, “Be kind to yourself. Just move your body, get to bed early, don't worry about that email, it can wait till tomorrow.”
Does this sound familiar at all? Are you finding that you're dishing out all the advice that you know you need to take for yourself? And yet, you're the one up at midnight, binging Netflix, or stuck on your phone or procrastinating, and you are not doing the things that you know are going to make a difference to how you feel. Whether it's exercise, whether it's meditation, whether it's eating well. Stop the procrastinating, actually be present with the family, do something for yourself, stop beating yourself up.
What tends to make this even worse, is when you can see what you're doing, you beat yourself up even more because you know you're doing it! And so you get stuck in this loop of frustration and guilt and shame. And I should be doing this, and I'm not, and you “should” yourself all the time. When you “should” yourself, you are really inflicting guilt and shame onto your own body. And guilt and shame, are two of the heaviest and most burdensome emotions to carry, and they're one of the big reasons why women who come to me as so exhausted. It’s because they are beating themselves up and just constantly adding more and more shame and guilt to their backpack.
So what's really going on here? And how do we stop life feeling like this train crash that is often in slow motion? Well, what is happening when you are procrastinating at midnight, or when you're saying just one more, or when you're not moving your body, you have actually become chemically addicted to certain emotional states. I know that sounds silly, why on earth would you be addicted to these things? But because you have been in fight or flight for so long, emotions like guilt and shame and fear become your emotional home.
And every time you get in those emotions they elicit certain neurological chemicals. And your body now believes that this state of guilt and shame and fear and frustration and disappointment that you live in: “This is safe. This is how I'm going to stay alive.” Because what's in between your ears? What is in 99% of your noggin?
Your brain was actually built for the savannah And so this thing is primarily the only thing really your brain is concerned with. It is to keep you alive. It doesn't really care how you feel about that. It doesn't care how you feel if it's guilt, if it's shame, if you're exhausted. It wants to keep you alive. And the way it does that is by doing today what you did yesterday. So if you, living in a cesspool of shame and guilt and fear and frustration, meant that you survived yesterday, your brain goes right, “That's going to work for me again. Let's do it again.”
And this is why, when you try to change, when you try to do something, let's say you know you do end up going for a walk, it's like “Awesome, that's what I need.” You then feel guilty for going for a walk because you've conditioned these emotional states, and your brain goes, “Hang on a second. It's eight o'clock. We're meant to feel guilty right about now and you're going for a walk. All right, I know, let's make you feel guilty about going for a walk.” Does this sound familiar at all? Where it often feels like, “Well, I'm trying to do something to get outside of myself. And yet, these emotions are like a bad smell, and they just keep following me around.” And this is because you've become neurologically and chemically addicted to them.
And that's why we have this thing called a comfort zone, because your brain says “Right, this is the range of emotions of guilt and shame, this is where I am safe.” What happens is any time you try to leave your comfort zone like, “I'm going to go for a walk and not feel guilty.” “I'm going to go to bed and not worry about what's going to happen tomorrow.” Your brain goes, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. This isn't how we operate.” “We are always guilty.”
So, as you start to change, it throws up fear. Now, your brain doesn't care that the emotion you're sitting in, isn't good for you. It doesn't care that it doesn't make you feel very nice, it makes you miserable, and grumpy, and all the other things. It just says “Well, no, you are changing.” And it puts up fear. It puts up discomfort. This is why it's called a “comfort zone,” because leaving it is uncomfortable.
But what's really interesting is, in order to get to the emotions that you want, what everybody tells me they want: Joy, peace, calm, contentment, fulfillment. You're actually going to have to break the habit of feeling guilty. And to do that you're going to have to work through this discomfort. So what happens is you say right, “I'm going to go for a walk, I'm not going to feel guilty.” Your brain puts up these gates. Up they come: “Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. No, no, no, no.” Here comes the fear.
What you have to do, is you have to be strong enough in that moment to go, “Fear, I see you, but what I want is on the other side of you.” Because when you turn around and go, “Oh you know what? Here comes the fear. You're right, I shouldn't go for a walk.” Your brain goes “Yes, she's staying in the comfort zone”, and the fear subsides.
Because, as a human, you're a meaning-making machine, what you do is you go, “That's right, that was the right decision. I shouldn't have gone for a walk.” Well, buh-buh-buh-buh, here comes the barrier, “I need to make a decision about this.” “Oh, no, no, no, no, it's very scary, what if it doesn't work for you?” “You shouldn't make that.” “What are they going to think of you?” “That's right, I'm going to stay where I am, I'm not going to do that thing.” Down goes the fear, and we tell ourselves a story that, “Actually, that was the right decision”, when all that happened was you stayed in your comfort zone.
And what's really interesting is, as you start to learn that you know what, as this fear is rising, you can make a meaning that this fear rising is an empowering thing, and it's actually a good sign. I know it sounds crazy, right? But bear with me here. I have conditioned in my body that when fear comes up, about a decision that I'm about to make, it's because I'm about to leave my comfort zone. And I know that what I want is on the other side of my comfort zone. What I want is more joy, more abundance, more challenge, more learning, and more growth. And to do that, I'm going to have to work through that fear that inevitably comes up.
I've now conditioned my body that when that fear comes up, I'm like, “Oh yes, this is awesome! I'm now pushing myself! I'm now going outside my comfort zone, which means I am expanding!” Can you see what happens, when we put in a different meaning of that fear? This is when we hack our biology. Because this is what our brain does to keep us safe! It's okay, there's nothing wrong with it. We don't shame our brain: It's simply running the program.
Bear in mind, this program was designed where: The lion's coming. We want to go to the left, hang on a second, no, no, no, tons of fear. Actually, “Let's go to the right because that's going to keep us safe.” Also there's a fire there, “I wonder what happens if I put my finger in it?” No, no, no, up comes the fear. “Don't put your finger in it.” “Okay, I didn't put my finger in it and I'm still safe.” It is a biological program that paralyzes us and it is designed to keep us trapped.
Brilliant when you're on the Savannah, surrounded by lions and saber-tooth tigers and warring tribes. But when you're about to hit send on that email and you haven't checked it four times, up comes the fear. “No, no, actually, I'm going to ignore you right now, fear, I'm going to breathe through it and it's going to go down.” Actually finding a way to break this addiction that you have, is the key to stopping the train wreck.
Bear in mind, every time you give in, you build the muscle, and you repeat the chemical addiction. Ah, guilt becomes safe. Literally, that's what your body says, “Ah, I know what guilt feels like. It's safe here.” And when you're in fight or flight, when you are stressed to the nines, and when you're full of cortisol and adrenaline, your body doesn't have the capacity to take anymore. It's like, “You know what? I'm in survival mode.” “We haven’t got any time for joy.” “There's no need to be happy here.”
Your body doesn't know the difference between being chased by a lion and fearing for your life, and waiting for a response to your email from your boss. It is the same neurological and biological response. What has to shift here? How can we stop the train wreck? How we can stop the addiction, is you need to decide that you are prepared to get uncomfortable.
You have to tell yourself that what you want is on the other side of discomfort, and that it's okay! You need to make a more empowering meaning out of it, and this usually has to happen when the pain of staying where you are now outweighs the fear of change. And I hear this all the time. The consequences of me no longer moving my body are: perimenopause, nausea, heart palpitations, cancer, relationship breakdown, kids not being around me, kids not wanting to talk to me, me being a grump. The consequences of staying stuck are now too great, and so this is what shifts us to move.
The key is understanding that this is gonna be uncomfortable. You're not going to numb your feelings anymore, because what you want lies on the other side of discomfort. What happens is, when we're in this fight or flight, our body will prefer to sit in guilt and shame and fear and emotions that make us feel like rubbish, rather than tolerate the uncertainty of what could be there. It doesn't care about joy. It's like “No, no, no, I don't know what joy feels like. I've been numb to joy, I haven't had any real fun in ages!” “Oh, that might kill us!” “That might be a little bit dicey, I'd better stay here where I am.”
So the key to stopping the train crash is you deciding, you stepping into your power, “I want joy, I want calm, I want fulfilment. And I'm going to do what it takes to get there.” Primarily, you're putting your hand up to say, “I am going to get uncomfortable.” One of the first things that you're gonna have to do with this, is to put your hand up and ask for some help, because these programs of yours that are running, they are hardwired into your brain. Literally, your brain cells have fired together and they have created these neural pathways that are very, very deep and very, very well established.
So you will get in your own way, which is a phrase I use all the time, you will get in your own way, and you will guilt and shame yourself for everything you do, because your body is literally trying to claw you back. It's like, “Oh my gosh, you're doing something different, no, no, no, feel guilty about that.” “You're not doing it properly. You might make a mistake!” It's just shoving all this stuff at you to try to pull you back to how you were.
But when you decide, “I am worth it.” “I don't wanna be numb to this anymore.” “I wanna get out of guilt.” When you know what sits on the other side, well then, the discomfort becomes worth it. The discomfort becomes something that we can throw ourselves into and say, “Yes, I sign up for this.” “I sign up for discomfort, because I know what I really want. The life that I wanna build is on the other side of this.”
Remember that this is really tricky to do by yourself. There are many different ways that you can get support to do this. Some people try books, but those programs are really, really difficult. You need to be in a very, very good emotional state, if a book is going to work for you. Some people try therapy, and that can help them, if these feelings of guilt and shame are deep rooted in trauma or childhood experiences, that can be a really good way to do this. Or, people like myself, there's coaches who can hold you through this.
Because part of the uncertainty is, “Well, I don't know how to get to joy! I don't have time to figure it out. Have you seen my diary?” So you need to find someone that can lay out for you the pathway through this, because when you're stepping in voluntarily to uncertainty, you've got to find as many things to cling onto as possible. Whether it's “Okay, you've got a process. There's something I can follow. There's a step-by-step piece.” When you understand that there's a framework, or there's something that you can hold on to, that makes throwing yourself into the abyss, feel a little less scary.
So how do you feel about the train crashing now? I would hope that after this conversation, you've got a better understanding of, “It's not your fault!” Don't add any more shame to how fast your train is crashing, or how often you're watching it, or how frustrating it is. But I want you to know that you can break this chemical addiction that you have. You can overcome your biology. You can take control of your brain, rather than let it control you. And know that once you do this, on the other side, there is so much joy, there is so much fun, there are memories and there is fulfillment. And if that's what you want, then my gosh, get uncomfortable. See what you can do today. Step into it, just one little piece. Say no! Go to bed early, sit in that discomfort, knowing the life you want exists on the other side.
OUTRO: Thank you for joining us today on the Balance and Beyond Podcast. We're so glad you carved out this time for yourself. If you enjoyed this episode, please share it with a friend who might need to hear this today. And if you're feeling extra generous, leaving us a review on your podcast platform of choice would mean the world. If you’re keen to dive deeper into our world, visit us at www.balanceinstitute.com to discover more about the toolkit that has helped thousands of women avoid burnout and create a life of balance, and beyond. Thanks again for tuning in, and we'll see you next time on the Balance & Beyond Podcast.
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