The mind is razor sharp, the water glass is refilled, and I am ready to unfurl my latest thought-providing Psych Central article.
Sitting down in my favorite chair, I fire up the trusty laptop and within minutes am listening to a belting Michelle, Missy, and James Corden in Carpool Karaoke. I am chuckling at Chris Martin’s delicious irony (stopping at a lemonade stand in a clever Coldplay reference). And, of course, I had to see if Jennifer Lopez had graduated from full-fledged diva into semi-relatable starlet. The answer: she was surprisingly likable.
But, truth be told, I was singin’ the blues, even as I smiled at the good-natured banter between Corden and the music celebrities.
While I had a laundry list of items on my to-do list, Corden’s video offered a music-filled balm. When filled with dread or apprehension at an expanding to-do list, procrastination is the fallback response. As one cheeky music video turned into a night’s worth of YouTube searches, self-care morphed into self-sabotage.
Here’s the difference: Self-care is a conscious decision to make purposeful, healthy choices. It is driven action; I am exercising to improve my mental well-being. Self-sabotage, meanwhile, is the conscious decision to distract yourself from your current predicament. It is mind-numbing escapism — from gobbling Funyuns to scouring Ebay to, yes, watching all 24 Carpool Karaoke videos.
Self-sabotage and escapism are intertwined. Divorcing ourselves from life’s dilemmas, we escape to our own comfortable reality. For some, this means saddling up to the nearest beer. For others, this means streaming pornography.
In my case, I extensively research a topic to eliminate any niggling uncertainty. On the surface, this characteristic seems beneficial, even admirable. Analyzing a decision’s benefits and costs, I presume that I can deduce the “right” decision. But research is interminable, and my deep-dig research excavations are inefficient.
Self-sabotagers are a big, inclusive tent. We are your charismatic gamblers; your underachieving idealists. But there is one commonality: We self-sabotage because we are uncertain if we deserve success.
Success is manifold: relationships, stability, adventure, employment, health. When we doubt our self-worth, we question our worthiness. Do I really deserve this fulfilling relationship or this promising employment opportunity?
When I was a little boy, I sprinted home, either elated or forlorn. Why? Starting in elementary school, my academic performance determined my self-worth. If a professor glowed about my essay, I beamed. If I received, god forbid, a mediocre grade, I stewed about my perceived academic limitations. Growing up, external factors determined self-worth. The result: an unhealthy need for reassurance. Success turned into meeting others’ expectations.
Now in my 30s, I still vacillate before making a decision. I hesitate, complete my Ph.D quality research, and then hesitate some more. But as forehead wrinkles crease my brow, I have learned two valuable lessons:
Pretty good is the new perfect. And life is a chalkboard: you can erase and chart a new part.
All while listening to Carpool Karaoke in the background.