Happiness self-sabotage. We’ve all done it — probably more times than we can count. Unless you popped out of the womb as a self-loving Buddha, you probably have a habit or two (or ten, or a hundred) that are keeping you from achieving your full potential of joy and emotional well-being.
Thankfully, our self-sabotage habits tend to be so common that it can be fairly straightforward to identify some of the big ones. If you can tackle these and learn how to have a different mindset, you’ll be a long way down the path of avoiding happiness self-sabotage.
1. Getting too attached to certain outcomes
One of the biggest guarantees of disappointment down the road is getting extremely attached to a certain desired outcome. Life is messy. It’s sloppy, unpredictable, and uncontrollable. When we decide in advance upon an outcome that we absolutely require in order to hang on to happiness, we’re setting ourselves up for devastation.
Remind yourself that you can control a certain amount of your life, but after that, it’s up to chance, the decisions and desires of others, and any other factors that might play a role. If you take any lesson from 2020, take the lesson that anything can happen at any time, and use that as a reminder to not get too attached to your predictions and wants.
Self-doubt and self-criticism are some of the most natural negative cycles for our human brains to end up in. The majority of us (if not all of us) have those little voices in the back of our heads whispering our shortcomings or failures or the mean things others must be saying behind our backs. Sometimes, those little voices go from a whisper to a scream, and we become overwhelmed with negative self-perception.
In either case—whether quiet or loud in our heads—self-criticism is just a barrier to happiness and success. Yes, it’s good to maintain a realistic, grounded perception of self. Yes, it’s good to check the ego once in a while. But that’s different from unnecessary self-criticism that only brings us down.
When you launch into a cycle, bring awareness to what your brain is telling you—and flip the script. You are your best friend and closest ally, so treat yourself as such.
3. Forgetting to be grateful
Gratitude. It’s such a commonly used suggestion by self-help “gurus” that we tend to kind of drown it out and move on with our day. But there’s a reason why so many people suggest it: it really works. Being grateful allows us to step back and take stock of the things we love about our lives, instead of getting stuck in the common pattern of just thinking about the bad things.
Commit to a regular acknowledgment of gratitude — maybe it’s once a day or once a week. Maybe make a list in your head while you walk your dog or while you wash the dishes. Maybe write down a list at the end of each month. Gratitude isn’t a one-size-fits-all practice, so use it in a way that works for you.
4. Comparing ourselves to others
Comparing is near impossible in a world consumed by social media. One step in the right direction is to try cutting down on social media, where possible. But if that’s not possible—or if you’ve already cut way back—try bringing more mindfulness into your scrolling.
When you find yourself getting envious or comparing your life to the influencer, friend, or celebrity whose photo and obscenely cheery caption you’re staring at, remind yourself that this only represents one tiny fraction of their life. Remind yourself that, if you invested enough time, you could also create a convincingly cheery caption and glamorous photo that would lure others into believing that your life is perfect.
Life isn’t perfect for anyone—even Instagrammers. So stop comparing.
5. Living in the past or the future
Thousands of years of human wisdom has told us that living in the present is the key to happiness. That’s some pretty good evidence that the present holds at least part of the “secret” to fulfillment.
The majority of us tend to live in either the past or the future — or both.
Some of us dwell on heartaches or tragedies or failures from the past, reliving them again and again so that it always feels like they’re still happening to us. This keeps us from fully living right now, with all that we are capable of doing and achieving.
Others of us imagine our futures. Sometimes, it’s the dream future that we can picture, that’s so exciting that we get lost in it. Other times, it’s fears of what could happen, anxieties about failing or letting people down. But this makes us forget that our lives are happening right now, at this moment. It makes us put off living. It makes us fill our days with anxiety instead of calm.
Stay right here, right now, and you’ll do a much better job of staying happy too.
6. Being too risk-averse
Risk is scary, presents us with unknowns, and brings up the possibility of falling flat on our face. But a life well-lived is a life that involves risk.
That doesn’t mean we all need to ride motorcycles or go skydiving, but it does mean that, when life presents us with opportunities to chase after the challenging or the near-impossible, we need to have the courage to leap.
If you know you’re someone who is cautious, risk-averse, and prone to avoiding opportunities for fear of failure, practice saying yes to things. Practice challenging yourself. Practice trying the thing that isn’t guaranteed to succeed.
Risk is often the first step toward the most meaningful things that happen to us. Don’t let that pass you by just because of fear.
Like being risk-averse, perfectionism often involves a fear of failure, and the two frequently go hand in hand. Many of us simply cannot stand the idea of failing at something—or even just not doing something completely and totally perfectly.
While striving for greatness is, well, great, it should not come with a side order of perfectionism. We have to be willing to learn, to try things we’re bad at, to make a fool of ourselves, to be less than perfect.
Don’t give yourself roadblocks by always expecting anything other than perfection. It won’t do any good in the long run.
Almost everyone is guilty of at least one of these habits, and most of us are probably guilty of several (if not all) of them. And, while they might at times seem insurmountable, these self-sabotaging habits are changeable.
We can get better at taking healthy risks, diminishing self-criticizing thoughts, living in the present, or practicing regular gratitude. We just have to do the work and let happiness seep in, as it’s bound to do.