The Great Underminer

There are generally a few people in our lives who passively sabotage our goals until we catch on and set boundaries, but the person who undermines us the most is not a family member or colleague. It’s us.

There are a great many ways that we sabotage ourselves. If we have have a dream, we assume it is not possible. If we are able to turn our dream into a goal, we undermine our progress. If we reach a milestone, we stop there.

Do we have suffer from a split personality with an evil half? No. It’s human nature. Humans are unique in our emotional and cognitive capacity. We can experience great happiness, elation, and excitement like no other creature. We can move beyond our origins and innovate; change the world around us.

The flip side is that we are more than capable of applying our emotional and intellectual abilities to the act of self-sabotage. Our primary weapon?

Rationalization

When we get stuck in our ways and refuse to change, we come up with an amazing array of justifications for our inability to act.

I don’t have the money. I don’t have the time. It’s not that important. I’ll do it tomorrow.

Why all of the excuses?

Emotional Dependence

Comfort. Until we are in significant pain, most of us will not make permanent changes that benefit our lives. We may not even get to the point of trying for a few days.

It’s our human weakness. In the moment, we desire comfort above growth. We live for the moment. Unfortunately, our lives happen in that same moment. Big dreams for the future mean nothing. Achieving those dreams requires uncomfortable action, in the moment.

You must forego the donut in exchange for a walk in order to be thin.

You must swap the $5 mocha in favor of Folgers and a travel mug in order to be wealthy.

You must stop and smile instead of ruminating on others’ mistakes in order to be happy.

You must reach out and give to others in order to feel loved.

The vast majority of people will opt for the satiation, waste, anger, and isolation that is somehow more comfortable in that brief second of time when they make their decision.

Don’t be most people.

Purposefully choose your vision over your present. Do whatever it takes to be weird. Do not go with the flow. Don’t make snap decisions, decide beforehand. Do I want the mocha? Oh, yes. A well-made mocha is heavenly.

But, unless you are a child, the decision is never, “Do I want the mocha?” The decision is, “Do I want the mocha more than I want financial freedom / a week in Greece / my kids’ education?” Fill in the blank.

Every decision involves an opportunity cost. I choose to forego $5 in exchange for the mocha. Big picture: I choose to forego the savings I need to fix my car when it inevitably breaks down, which will cause me great sadness, stress, and loss of sleep. I choose to be in pain later in exchange for immediate satiation. Who would do that?

It is a means of momentary escape. If I neglect to see the bigger picture, I can imagine for those 10 minutes that I am happy with my mocha. I can rationalize that I really needed a good pick-me-up today; I was having a bad day. It was only $3 more than the coffee. I don’t get mochas all the time. Everyone needs a treat now and then to keep going. I will just get a coffee next time. It’s Valentine’s tomorrow. Starbucks needs the money. I probably own some Starbucks stock, I am just benefiting my retirement fund in a different way…

Our justifications for behaving in ways that go against our beliefs, values, and goals are truly a web of lies that help us feel comfortable in choose the comfortable. The next time we need to make the same decision, we already have our reasoning, and to go against it would be, well, uncomfortable.

Faced with the choice of changing their mind and proving there’s no need to do so, most people start working on the proof.”
– John Kenneth Galbraith

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