As I’m writing this, I haven’t seen another person, aside from the one I live with, in person socially for almost a year. Staying at home to ride out coronavirus has been like some kind of weird experiment on many levels. I’ve discovered a lot of things about myself. As I mentioned in a post 2 months ago, I’ve been surprised by how well my partner and I have gotten along.
I really thought there would be a lot more fighting, with us being stuck at home all the time. Especially since we tend to be very social folks.
But we’ve made the most of it and are doing well as far as “us.”
That said, there’s been a lot of obvious stress involved this past year. My father died about a month into the pandemic, and grieving him was incredibly hard. I’m sure it didn’t help that I couldn’t attend his funeral in person because of pandemic restrictions.
Still, that pain has been getting better as time goes on. I’m in the process of making my own peace and meaning with it (which can’t be rushed).
The other big problem of course is that so many people died of COVID-19 who didn’t have to, because reasonable public health measures were politicized, and financial relief packages were quite wanting in the country where I live (United States). Suicide risk has spiked among healthcare workers. There’s incredible political unrest at the moment.
It’s a hard time to be an empathetic person. So it’s easy to know why so many people have completely checked out. (And others didn’t have much empathy to start with anyway.)
I Stopped Self-Sabotaging
It’s a bleak time to be sure. And yet… I did manage to find some productive things to do in the interim. The depressing part is that they don’t save the world. I do what I can for others (trying to be safe myself and not overwhelm the hospitals or put my loved one at risk, donating to food banks to help families affected by the consequent economic crisis, voted, etc.), but there’s so much of this picture I can’t control.
But still, I have been working on what I can for others. And also in my personal life.
For the longest time, I’ve struggled with self-sabotage. During this time, I’ve worked very hard to stop that.
But here’s what I found: It wasn’t just a matter of stopping. You have to replace self-sabotaging behaviors with self-aiding ones.
At first, it was hard to figure out what those were. Unless you’ve had a lot of supportive people in your life modeling them for you, it’s not clear at first what self-aiding behaviors even are.
I had to ask myself the following questions a lot:
- What small steps can you take in order to make it easier for you to achieve your goals?
- What tweaks can you implement in order to make success more likely and failure less likely?
And once I had asked myself these questions, I had to try new things, see how it went, and then ask myself the same questions again. over and over.
Cool Story, But What Does This Look Like?
The inevitable question that results when I outline a process like that is this: What does this look like? Can I have some examples?
The trouble with the examples is that they will all be what works for me. They probably won’t make much sense to other people.
And to be honest, a great deal of my hardest work on turning self-sabotage into self-aid is quite personal. I don’t talk to anyone about it — let alone in public.
But I can think of a less-emotional domain that I can use for an example: And that’s when it comes to writing novels.
As I’m writing this post, I’m actually working on my fifth novel, although my first novel Psychic City has only been out for four months or so. Publishing often works that way. There’s typically a bit of a delay between when you write something and when it comes out.
Anyway, as I was working on my second novel, I noticed a very peculiar problem. I had self-organizational systems that were actually counterproductive. I had convinced myself for years that I needed to work that way. But I was finding that when I used my own systems that I was actually expending considerable time and energy to reorient myself to where I was in the work whenever I had to take a break from it and come back. It’s common for me to have to do this, since I write full time and do a bunch of different kinds of writing (novels, writing for this site, writing work for other clients to help pay the bills, etc.) and switch between them frequently.
I was wasting huge amounts of energy reorienting myself to fiction. I was slowing myself down. Self-sabotaging.
I had convinced myself that these systems were helpful — that I had special concerns and needed to work this way.
It was bullshit. It came crashing down on me like an anvil. I was getting myself lost on purpose (a small part of me was doing this, and the rest of me was going along with it).
At that point, I constructed a plan to get back on course. I sat down and wrote an easy to follow to-do list, basically a map to get me un-lost and help me stay there.
And as I moved through the rest of that second book, I continued to revise and reference the map.
This was a self-aiding behavior.
It worked so well that I completely changed the way I work over the course of four books. And my process in Book 5 is completely different. A lot faster and more sensible. It’s such a saner way to work.
I Continue to Look for New Self-Aiding Behaviors
It’s everywhere in my life, too, by the way. It isn’t just writing.
Slowly but surely, I’m making some headway. I’ve figured out some self-aiding behaviors. When I feel the urge to self-sabotage come in (a feeling I’ve learned to recognize with all this work), I not only abstain from doing so, I start doing new, more helpful things instead.
Anyway, it’s something that people who were born with excellent support systems might take for granted. And it’s simultaneously something that can be fiendishly difficult for people who didn’t have the benefit of such luck to learn.
Unfortunately, it’s not something that’s easy for one person to teach another. I don’t assume what worked for me will work for you. We don’t have the same problems, nor would we have the same solutions to our problems. I wish it were that easy, but it isn’t.
The First Step Is Paying Attention to Self-Sabotage
If I had any advice to give, it’s this: The first step is paying attention to the ways in which you self-sabotage. That’s the only way to start implementing systems that make it more difficult for you to revert to those behaviors.
That’s what I did — and after a while, these attempts to stop self-sabotaging blossomed into actively self-aiding measures.
Is it instantaneous? No.
Is it easy? No. It’s not easy.
But it’s worth every bit of effort you put into it. You’re worth putting that effort into yourself — even if your own brain (and learned maladaptive self-foiling habits) might try to convince you otherwise.
The hardest part for me was accepting that I had to work on self-sabotage. Seriously… I sometimes think I might never have done it if it weren’t for the absolute chaos of 2020-2021. I reached my stress limit and was forced to eliminate what I could. Really. I just didn’t have the bandwidth to let my normal self-sabotaging behaviors slide. They became obvious in a way they never were before — and had to go.