Practice

Self-Sabotage to Success

Last night I really wanted ice cream.

I’m talking the decadent, chocolatey-gooey-caramel-filled-brownie-chunkin’ Ben & Jerry’s kind of ice cream. They sell it right down the street, in those pint containers that just look at you and say “Just grab a spoon, boy, you’re not fooling anyone with that bowl.

But last night was also cold. The first snowstorm in Seattle, and while by midwestern standards that’s not much, for the city here it pretty much shuts things down. The temperature was right around freezing, and so even the shoveled walks were slick. I was sitting on a comfy couch, curled up in a nice book.

Ice cream vs. comfort. What a battle! I knew that ice cream would be bad for me on several levels – not just fat content, but also contributing to some dental problems. I also knew I’d eaten well already today – delicious homemade chicken mushroom stew with cornbread – and didn’t really need to have the ice cream. It was a craving. All I had to do was get up, walk to the store, and get it.

But the couch was so comfy…the inertial pull almost impossible. More than that, Mama Cleo, the housecat, decided to take up residence on my chest. I would be disturbing her wa if I moved!

Plus, I really didn’t feel like it. So the ice cream stayed safe at the store. Not because of any great self-discipline or force of will on my part. No, it was laziness.

“Progress is made by lazy people finding easier ways to do things.”
-Robert Heinlein

This is only the most recent example of a technique I’ve been experimenting with: leveraging my faults (yes, I know that’s a value judgement, bear with me here) against each other.

  • If I find myself with the urge to watch Netflix when I really should be doing some other chore? I procrastinate starting it up until there’s not enough time to watch whatever I wanted, and then find that in the remaining time I’m amazingly productive.
  • I really have a hard time motivating myself to journal in the morning – so I tied it to the “bad” habit of coffee, and now I eagerly pick up the journal, because it means I get caffeinated!
  • I have yet to be able to get myself back in the “habit” of daily exercise – but I use my desire to be polite as a motivation to do yoga whenever my housemate suggests it. She wouldn’t really be insulted if I said no, but by pretending she would be, I give myself the added impetus necessary to do what is good for my body.
  • I let my “scarcity” attitude about money (something that is definitely not healthy) rear up and tell myself that I can’t afford ice cream when I’m grocery shopping. So it doesn’t get purchased, it’s not there when the craving hits, and the couch and the book and the laziness win!

“What You Can’t Hide, You Feature!”


I believe this strategy of self-sabotaging to success is just a kind of corollary to a seduction tip I learned years ago from Arden Leigh, author of The New Rules of Attraction. The idea is that if there is some part of you that you feel you don’t like, but that you can’t do anything about…flaunt it! Wear clothes that emphasize the vast expanse of your belly, get the biggest, thickest frames for your glasses, dye your thinning hair brilliant purple. What that does is take away the necessity to try and ignore it or overlook it. It’s there. Deal with it.

Now that that’s out of the way, what else do we have?

The self-sabotaging path to success is kind of like that. It’s being too lazy to fail. It’s misplacing the bills on the counter instead of the desk so you just pay them to get rid of the clutter. It’s forgetting your power adapter when you go to the coffee shop, so you focus on the writing and keep the social networks at bay because they use up your precious battery. It’s deciding the book is too heavy to bring with you on the flight so you spend the time looking out the window and thinking all those thoughts you were distracted from by life…

Don’t Make a Habit of It

I don’t want you think I’m advocating laziness, greed, sloth, gluttony, or any other of those really fun sins. However, if you’re going to have to deal with them, might as well make use of them until that bright and shiny day when you reach enlightenment and no longer have to deal with them at all.

As a last example, my other housemate (not the yogini) was aware of my craving, and politely offered me the remainder of the pint of lemon sorbet she had in the fridge. I resisted, of course – that’s only marginally more healthy than Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey – but it was to no avail. Once she planted the idea in my mind, the walk to the fridge was inevitable. My healthful plans were somewhat foiled, again. My housemate had used her generosity to tempt me into removing that particular obstacle from her own dietary conniptions.

Deliciously foiled again.


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