Why do people sabotage themselves when things get too good? Over the years, all kinds of people have postulated about the reason this happens. My favorite explanation comes from psychologist Marc Schoen, Ph.D., author of the book Your Survival Instinct is Killing You. He writes “Scientists have found that we each have our own happiness “set point,” the genetic and learned tendency to maintain a certain level of happiness, similar to thermostat for your mental well-being. We can say the same is true of our discomfort set point – the genetic and learned tendency to tolerate a certain level of discomfort, before our survival instinct ignites and takes command.” In other words, we self-sabotage when our happiness is outside our comfort zone. Sounds crazy, doesn’t it?
Think about the last time you had the opportunity to meet someone significantly more successful, but never followed through. Perhaps it was the chance to take a new job outside of your comfort zone, but you screwed up the interview. Maybe you were introduced to someone you found attractive, but stumbled over your words and looked like a dork.
In simple terms, the brain’s limbic system, which controls emotions, dominates our cerebral functions around logic. So even though we “know” we should grasp for more happiness, the transitional discomfort we will feel discourages us from doing so. This is why so many of us squander opportunities easily within our reach. For many, this becomes a lifetime challenge.
Do I have a magic bullet for overcoming this phenomenon? No, but after interviewing more than 2500 successful decision makers over the years, here’s what I’ve observed:
They logically commit to opportunities before thinking about it too much. Successful decision makers learn to balance with intuition with folly. They take a few seconds to consider the possible risk versus the possible reward. But then they act if it feels right. Everyone fails at times, but successful decision makers succeed more simply because they take more risks.
They acknowledge the discomfort they will feel in stretching. Anything worth doing involves some discomfort. Rather than shrinking from it, they embrace the opportunity to grow. They repeat mantras to maintain a positive state of mind. They find ways to distract themselves during emotional challenges. They team up with others and talk through the irrationality of their fears.
They surround themselves with others who will support them. It’s been said that no one succeeds without the help of others. At the same time, many of us fail to take advantage of opportunities because loved ones and others counsel safety. Most have the best intentions, but what you’re attempting to do might be outside of their comfort zone.
These practices are not complicated. In fact they don’t require much thought. What they do require is action. Are you up to it?