TED Conversations

Marcus Cauchi

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Why do we repeatedly do what does us harm or doesn't serve us, even when we know by doing what we've done before we'll get the same result?

Self-sabotage is rife in life, in business, in sports and in families to name a few. Experience tells me that the starting point of self-sabotage comes from toxic beliefs that were never true, aren't true any more or aren't true in 100% of cases.

Can you tell me what causes you have observed for self-sabotage in your lives or the lives of those you engage with?

If you could structure your responses around the following framework:

1. Issue or presenting symptom
2. A specific example to give context
3. Impact

And if you have learned how to replace old patterns with good patterns of thinking or behaviour:

4. How did you replace your old pattern/script or work around your self-sabotaging behaviours?


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    Sep 5 2011: Thank you all for your interesting contributions. I've identified some patterns borne out in recent research that are consistent with my understanding and experience.

    I routinely catch myself making terrible choices, I know at a rational, logical level aren't good for me. Worse still, I, without exception know deep down how my choice will affect others or those I genuinely want to serve. Someone else will pay the negative price (deferred consequences) for my positive payoff (short term gratification). From flossing to paying by credit card for goods you don't want but the imagery or the offer was too shiny resist.

    Was it my amygdala being hijacked? Is my lack of self-control something I can learn to reprogram?

    Thomas, you're in good company. Aristotle's elegantly simple, “We become just by performing just actions, temperate by performing temperate actions, brave by performing brave actions." And as someone who has to swallow my own medicine I know how tough doing that is for me so I have a lot of empathy for others who don't share your resolve & get tempted.

    Being distracted by some sweeter treat or shinier muse goes some way to to helping resist temptation. Imminent proximity to the potential loss I might suffer seems to motivate me far more greatly than the potential gains I might enjoy. I act as the polar opposite of the rational consumer. I'm absolutely not a rational being. I'm usually a slave to my habits and my emotions. I'm drawn to what feel s familiar like a moth to the flame, confusing danger with succour, addiction for relief, deeper loss incurred by greater risk taking in the vain hope that my luck may overcome my increasingly blinkered bad choices. I know when I have my views disproved, I've found (irrational) reasons for my old (wrong) beliefs to be reinforced, as if letting go of them is too painful.

    I'm happy with who I am. I'm not happy with all my choices. I'm able but my choices are often mind-numbingly, earth shatteringly stupid. Just me?

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