Addressing Self-defeating Behaviors

One of my clients had put a great deal of time and effort into developing new habits to support productivity. At times, though, he found himself still caught up in feelings of anxiety and overwhelm. These feelings reminded him of the past when he didn’t have his new habits in place yet, and was not very successful following through with plans. Now, when the anxiety or overwhelm cropped up again, he found himself stopped in his tracks, and procrastinating again, despite the new approaches he had developed for his work.

Because this client was diagnosed with anxiety as well as ADHD – a very common combination of diagnoses – we discussed talking with his psychiatrist about the anxiety and overwhelm that continued to crop up around work. 

In addition, I wondered aloud with my client whether the anxiety and overwhelm triggering procrastination in the present was, in some part, a habit from the past when he was not able to follow through with plans, or an old feeling of overwhelm, just getting triggered in the present. And, consequently, whether more present-focused attention to these patterns might help in breaking those habits of thought leaving room for change.

Because my client felt he had made a lot of progress on how to handle his work differently, he through it was very likely that the anxiety and overwhelm were related to the past and not the present.

Since he was interested in how to handle these feelings so they did not interfere as much as he continued moving forward, I described an approach from the book Taming Your Gremlin that can be can often be useful when we are getting in our own way with self-defeating behaviors.

Here’s the approach, in brief:

    When you notice anxiety, overwhelm, procrastination or other self-defeating behaviors coming up for you, try acknowledging them.

      • For example: “Hello, here you are anxiety.” or “Hi, overwhelm, here you are again.” or “I see you are here again, procrastination.”

      Then you can reassure that part of yourself which is concerned:

      • “Anxiety, you’ve really helped protect me in the past. But, I am trying a new approach now.    You can relax now and give me some room to try this differently.”
      • “Overwhelm, you have really helped me in the past to avoid projects that have been more than I could manage. But I am trying a new approach now. I have some different strategies and am taking things a step at a time. So, you can relax for now while I try these. “
      • “Procrastination,  I know you’ve guarded me from feelings of overwhelm and confusion in the past. But I am trying a new way of dealing with things now. I am trying some strategies for getting things done a bit earlier. So, it’s OK for you to relax and let me work on these new approaches.”

        So, this approach involves accepting the feelings associated with self-defeating behavior while also acknowledging that you don’t need to have them in charge of your behavior anymore.

        What do you think about this approach? How might it work for you?

        Photo Credit: David Castillo Dominici,

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