Self-Sabotage: New Year, New You – do you start off well but break within days/weeks?

Do not fear to take the next step. Do not hold yourself back. This new year strive ahead, take control of your life

The beginning of a new year is the time to make a fresh start, set new goals and try to do things differently. Each year begins with a bang, with good intentions and honest efforts. But let’s face it! Most of the new year’s resolutions do not make it past January. Along the way, somehow, we sabotage ourselves.

Have you ever wondered what could be the reason for such self-sabotage? Why is it that we cannot follow our own guidelines and promises made to ourselves?

After much debate and discussion, it has been identified with neuroscience’s help that self-sabotage is often related to our brain. There are two parts of our brain called the limbic system and the pre-frontal cortex. While the terms may sound intriguing, they are profoundly related to the brain’s functioning and how we react to change.

The limbic system is responsible for our survival. It evaluates each stimulus and decides if it is a threat to our survival or not. The pre-frontal cortex is the region of the brain that stores our logical thinking, problem-solving skills, decision making power and much more. The coherent functioning of these two leads to human progress and development. The limbic system is a protection system. But sometimes, it fools us and keeps us from logical thinking. Let me tell you how.

If the limbic system determines that a stimulus (a light, a behaviour, a heat etc.) is a threat, it doesn’t deliver the message to the cortex, and we start acting/reacting from the limbic system. And there are only three responses from the limbic system: Fight, Flight or Freeze. I’m sure you have heard about these before. This is called amygdala highjack. Meaning we can’t use our problem-solving skills!

In an actual life-threatening situation, this is really helpful, but neuroscience has proven that we have an amygdala highjack in non-life-threatening situations as well. Uncertainty about the future is also considered a life-threatening situation by the brain. A study by David Rock has proved this.

When we face a change, willingly or unwillingly, it represents uncertainty about the future, leading us to a fight, flight or freeze response. And most of the time, we take no further action as our brain thinks making no change is safer (freeze) as the current situation is certain (whether we like it or not). This is one of the neuroscientific reasons for self-sabotage!

However, the reasons for self-sabotage may not always be about amygdala highjack. Simple developmental skills may become causes of self-sabotage.

Here are some typical obstacles in achieving desired goals:

  • Breaking old habits
  • Setting unrealistic goals
  • Lack of motivation
  • Lack of self-confidence
  • A loud inner critic voice

Watch out for our weekly newsletters to know more about behavioural issues that prevent self-development. Till then, stay well and think positive!