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3 Self-Defeating Habits That Destroy Happiness

The top three energy-draining, ambition-killing traits to lose.

 Christian Erfurt/Unsplash
Source: Christian Erfurt/Unsplash

Everyone struggles with negative internal voices; those nagging, critical, confidence-destroying voices that pop up when you're feeling anxious or want to try something new:

“You can’t do that.”

“People will laugh at you”

“You’re not good enough.”

With the help of the right therapist, you can go to battle with self-defeating voices, unearth their origins, and evict them from your psychic. Even if they appear now and then (who doesn't suffer bouts of self-doubt or insecurity?), individual or group therapy can help you learn to manage self-defeating voices and keep them from undermining you.

But what about self-defeating habits? Those ingrained patterns that feel as comfortable as your favorite cozy blanket. What do you do about those?

(To hear the Martha Debayle podcast with the author CLICK HERE)

Self-Defeating Habits

Self-defeating habits generally fly just under the radar of your consciousness. You're aware of them, but not enough to challenge them. They've become so ingrained and habitual that you're quick to normalize them.

“I know I should exercise more, but …”

“I don’t make good decisions when I drink too much, but …”

“It should probably get out more, but …”

After every "but" is a reason not to justify poor choices and maintain your self-defeating patterns. To break free of them, let's take a closer look at the top three energy-draining, ambition-killing, and happiness-derailing traits that I've seen in my psychotherapy practice in the last 25 years. (See "3 Traits That Breed Hopelessness.")

Top Three Self-Defeating Habits

1. Complaining. Complaint is the enemy of happiness. Whatever satisfaction it delivers can be considered empty calories at best. There's nothing wrong with feeling disgruntled, especially when it inspires us to grow and self-challenge, a dynamic Buddhists call "Turning poison into medicine."

But chronic complaint without action forges patterns of negative thinking, pessimism, and hopelessness. It reinforces a sense of powerlessness in the face of frustration, saps your energy, and becomes a chronic source of discouragement for you and others around you. The result is an apathetic attitude that sucks the joy out of life.

2. Self-neglect. No matter how you justify it, self-neglect leads to illnesses of the body, mind, and spirit. You can't sustainably enjoy life or develop resilience if you're sleep-deprived, don't exercise, ignore healthy eating habits, or rely on substances. The mind craves stimulation, the body craves movement, and the spirit craves balance—people who chose to ignore all three and engage in self-neglect craft a lifestyle that is destined to result in depression or social anxiety.

3. Procrastination. Too often, we know what we should do, yet put off taking action. Procrastination leads to missed opportunities and regret. It feeds isolation, distrust, and emotional fragility. When we procrastinate, we deny ourselves a better way of being.

Challenging Self-Defeating Habits

Here are three simple ways you can start to undo self-defeating habits today:

  1. Write them down: List the habits you'd like to change, put them down on paper so you can begin to be more conscious of them.
  2. Make an action plan: what steps can you take today to address those habits.
  3. Seek out support: therapy, support groups, career coaching, continuing education classes, spiritual practices; there's are endless ways available to inspire yourself to action. Defeating self-defeating habits with support is always more successful than challenging them alone.

Interested in getting started? These other posts will help:

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