What’s really going on when you want more money, success, health, fulfillment, and it’s just not showing up? I mean, sure, it can be due to lack of focus or strategy or some bad habits, but, in my work, which is getting people to their physical, mental, and emotional best, I found very often it’s something so much more protective, primal and subconscious, which I’ll explain using three clients whose names I’ve changed.
Let’s start with Claire, CEO, top of her field. She’s been climbing the corporate ladder for 25 years, eats, lives, breathes her work. And, one day, she feels a restlessness. She can’t quite put her finger on it, so she decides to relieve some stress by going back to the gym. After a few weeks, she’s got lots more energy, lots more clarity, and this is when it hits her how unfulfilling it’s been to climb the corporate ladder in a field she chose just to please her parents. She starts dreading going to work.
Questions come up, like: Well, what else would I do? This is all I’ve ever known, I’ve given up everything for this. Now what? Too confronting, it’s too overwhelming. She doesn’t even realize she’s doing it, but she stops going to the gym, and sabotages her success.
Next, take Margo, who, for the last 10 years, has been balancing her job, her marriage, her kids. She’s exhausted. She gets up early to go to work, get everyone ready for their day, goes to work, comes home, makes dinner, cleans up, and passes by her husband to crash in bed, as he’s just sitting there watching TV on the living-room couch. She feels so empty, overweight, overwhelmed, exhausted, unhappy, unfulfilled, so she decides to start eating a little bit healthier to get her energy back up, get the weight off. She cuts out the sugar and her afternoon lattes. After a couple of weeks, her clothes are fitting much better, she’s got lots more energy. And this is when it hits her: that the lack of confidence she had with the extra weight on had her play small.
She settled for a job she never liked; she also realizes she’s grown apart from her husband. She’s feeling things like: Is this all there is? I feel so unloved, feel so unappreciated. She’s worried if she keeps feeling these things, will she want to leave her job, will she want to leave her husband. It’s too big of a risk, it’s too scary. So she doesn’t even realize why she’s doing it. She goes back to the sugar and the lattes, and sabotages her success.
And finally, take Greg, who for the last 20 years has been meeting up with his buddies every week, where they get together, grab a beer, and complain about their jobs and their wives. And one day it hits him: “You know, there’s got to be something more than this.” So Greg decides to do some personal development work. He starts watching a few TED Talks.
After a couple weeks, he’s becoming inspired. He’s learning how he’s growing, and he realizes it’s not fun to complain about his job anymore, especially without a plan to do something about it. When he sees his friends, of course, he wants to talk to them about it. He’s all lit up, he wants to share what he’s learning, secretly he’s hoping to inspire them too. Instead, they just make fun of him and his new ways.
As they do, this is when Greg realizes he’s outgrown them. He has less and less in common with them, and he feels torn. He’d have to explain way too much if he stops meeting up with them each week. So he doesn’t even realize why he’s doing it. But he stops with all the personal development work. And when he meets up with them now, he’s drinking more than he was before, sabotaging his success.
So why do we sabotage ourselves, and what could possibly be the benefit? Change is scary, creates a new awareness, new perspective, poses a huge threat to what’s been so comfortable and familiar, even if what’s been so comfortable and familiar stinks. You know, it can almost feel like you’re facing a death. No matter which way you turn, you either face the death of what you just learned you want, or you face the death of who you’ve been, now that you’re ready to become someone new. As if this weren’t bad enough, with all this stress, you’ve ignited the stress response, creating this cascade of stress-related symptoms and illnesses, conditions, even disease.
You know, it’s so much easier to sabotage yourself and just go numb through either drugs, alcohol, work, food, TV. You just want to keep the feelings down, but they just keep coming back up again. Going back to what you know, sabotaging your success, feels like and seems like the much better option. I mean, yes, it keeps you small, but you also feel it keeps you safe because your head is spinning with ideas like: Will these changes lead me to lose my friends, my job security? Will you hear how selfish or crazy you are? Will you have to deal with judgment or criticism at the same time you’re dealing with your own self-doubt about what you’re up to? These are good questions. Thinking is hard.
Being honest about what you want is hard. Change, that’s even harder. You heard change could be great and look something like this. But all you can picture is something like this. Because these changes could impact so much, create such a snowball, such a domino effect, you’d do everything you can to make the feelings go away.