We all do stupid things and mess up and go unconscious. In Buddhism, it has a name: Unskillful. It simply means you didn’t have the skills yet.
Do you do self-sabotage?
Imagine you’re late for a party.
Your party. All your guests are there… waiting for you…
Your phone is dead, and you’re in an unfamiliar place. You turn right onto a street, hoping that it’ll take you to the restaurant.
It’s getting dark.
You start to breathe quickly…
Your heart beat quickens… Your palms are sweating on the steering wheel…
You can hear a ringing starting in your ears… What if you don’t make it there in time?
Everyone will be so disappointed… and it’s so embarrassing for you…
Maybe they won’t even want to be your friends anymore.
Your entire life will be ruined because you forgot to check a map before you left!
You know what part of your brain is responsible for the anxiety and panic you’re feeling right now? It’s called your reptile brain.
See, your reptile brain is responsible for your basic instincts. It wants food, sex and safety.
It doesn’t want you to take risks, or do anything that’s uncomfortable.
And… it has allies. Your right pre-frontal cortex is the part of your brain responsible for visualisation.
When those two parts of your brain team up, they make negative visualisations. The negative visualisations will often convince you to not take action, because of bad things that could happen.
You won’t even know what you’re missing out on. But you are missing out. Missing out on financial opportunity, new friendships, relationships, experiences and ideas.
You’re missing out on beautiful, delicious and pleasant parts of life that you don’t even know exist! All because your reptile brain is playing these little horror movies of “what could happen if you take a risk”. Your reptile brain is speaking.
My friend Pam had a dog that had been beaten and burned with a lighter. That's how Pam found her.
And that's how they began together.
With a lot of training and love, she made leaps and strides over the first few years.
Until one day, she had a setback.
A worker was at the house across the street. His pickup truck backfired. Loud.
Pam sprinted outside because her dog had been lounging on the front porch. She was nowhere to be found. So Pam began running through her neighbourhood.
Pam didn't catch up to her until she was about a mile from her house. She was in a frenzied trance. Running for her life with no regard for anything around her.
Pam shouted her dog's name.
Hearing Pam's voice broke the trance her dog stopped. She looked at Pam, panting and terrified. As Pam ran to her, she could see her dog come back into herself. She was shaking.
Pam didn't say, "What the hell? We've come so far! You keep on getting triggered! What's up with that head of yours?"
No. Here's what Pam did...
With her arms tight around her dog, Pam said, "You're totally fine. And you're totally safe. Let's go home and begin again..."
I remembered this incident when I get a message from someone asking about intention. She wrote that she has a pattern of getting to a certain point in creating her vision. And right when things are going well, she'll find a way to mess it up.
Her words: "I sabotage my success."
And it struck me. Sabotage is one of those words that seems to come with its own military units and artillery. It's big and heavy. Sabotage says, "Don't question me. I am scary." So it can be a challenge to see it clearly.
On the one level, I totally get the idea of messing things up right when they're going well. I get how scared you can feel when things are looking like they might just be working.
And I get that being scared can make you go unconscious just to escape the uncomfortable feeling of fear. (Going unconscious = anything from eating five pieces of cheesecake to endlessly scrolling through your Facebook feed to watching Netflix until 3am. Name your vice.)
And I get that fear might make you do something dumb. Or do something mean. Or do dumb and mean things for six months until you've alienated pretty much everyone.
Until you find yourself back where you're comfortable -- in the land of Things-are-Awful-and-I'm-to-Blame.
A Pattern's Just a Pattern. You're Never Done this before. Okay, but here's the thing:
The minute you realise you've gone unconscious, or when you catch yourself in the midst of that trance... what stops you from picking yourself up, looking around, dusting off, cleaning up, putting down the cheesecake, apologising for the stupid things you said and, yes, starting again?
Because let's be clear... that is the issue here. Not the sabotage itself. Because nothing is ever done until you decide it's done.
We all do stupid things and mess up and go unconscious. In Buddhism, it has a name: Unskillful. I love this. It simply means you didn't have the skills yet. (And as far as I know, Buddha never once used the phrase, "Wow, you totally screwed that one up.")
The question is this:
How do you know you've ruined everything?
See, a word like "sabotage" requires that you give in to the belief that "all is lost." It's like you have your very own entertainment industry executive in your head who says, "You'll never work in this town again!"
And the problem is not that he's there.
The problem is you believe him.
Sabotage As Your Teacher. You can never do anything new without, making mistakes. It’s called learning not sabotage. If a toddler was to take his first few steps and he falls, he does not say, "Oops I sabotaged myself".
Instead he keeps getting up and moving until he learns to walk. It's the same when you are learning to ride the bicycle. You keep falling off until you get it. Then if you really decide to learn trick riding, you start falling again. It’s really about how much you want to improve your skills sets and grow. If you think have a knack for sabotage, then guess what? This pattern is actually your greatest teacher.
And what it might be teaching you is persistence. Or commitment. Or be telling you, you are really growing.
One of my biggest secrets is when I am learning something totally new I create a safe space for myself to make all the mistakes I need to learn and grow. It could be in the confines of a new class where everyone is a beginner. Or it could be in the privacy of my home. Or I would go someplace where no one knows who I am so that when I screw up, they would say, "Crazy stranger".
Because here's the thing. You either beat yourself up in the confines of your mind when you think you have "screwed up" or some well-meaning person says that to you and then you beat yourself up.
The reality is I have never had a qualified expert come and tell me I have screwed up. Because all of them have paid their dues. You will have the well-meaning but relatively clueless individuals who will provide you with unsolicited advice about how you screwed up.
So just so you know. At regular intervals in my life, I learn something totally new. It could be a new business approach, a new martial art or a new dance form. And I give myself permission to make mistakes and learn. I have enriching my brain by creating new neural pathways.
This is the key here. You can either sit back and say, "Look how awful I am. I've done it again."
Or you can say, "I'm learning to commit. So, today is another day. And with eyes wide open, I begin imperfectly."
It will be painful. It will be uncomfortable. It will piss you off. And it will grow you in ways you can't imagine.
I know from my own experience, it's challenging to have an emotional temperament and go for your dreams. It's so much easier to sit back and say that it's all too hard, or that I'm not cut out for this.
But when you stop engaging, you only elongate the story, continue the trance.
Instead, take steps, and take them with openness. (And for God's sake, stop using the word "sabotage.")
Be unbelievably kind to yourself.
The opposite of the voices that say "All is lost!" is reminding yourself that all has never been lost. And remembering how far you've come in your process. Monitor how you talk to yourself. Stop and correct any negativity. It only serves to keep the pattern alive.
In your story, you have the opportunity to be the one who is kind and the one who persists in knowing that you're never going to give up on yourself or your life. Whenever you shift into that unconscious mode, just gently walk yourself back home and start from there.
Do that for yourself constantly.
And then do it again.
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