December is almost over, and some of you are already contemplating what you want to accomplish in the year ahead and reflecting about how you’ll need to adjust your course to do so. Throughout my experience as a coach, many of my clients set very clear intentions for what they want to accomplish. They are passionate about it, they put in the required work for a period of time, but then something happens: self-sabotage.

Have you ever vowed to lose ten pounds, speak nicer to your children, stop smoking, save money, pay off credit card debt, or make a weekly date with your life partner? You mean it, you want to do it, you actually do it, and then you slack off. Do you know why?

Evidence shows that the human brain wires itself to perform repetitive tasks without conscious effort. If you do something in the same sequence enough times, the neurons that are required to perform the task will automatically fire together in the familiar sequence whenever you are confronted with a similar situation. This explains why we so easily drift back into old behaviors; you aren’t vigilantly aware of what your subconscious mind is programmed to do.  For example, if you are accustomed to eating potato chips whenever you feel stressed, you may find yourself halfway through a bag of Ruffles before you even realize you’re eating.

Our brain is invested in maintaining the status quo. You weigh a certain amount. You aspire to a certain degree of happiness. You make a certain amount of money. Scientists have come to understand that our brains have set points, like how the thermostat in your home regulates the heat. Therefore, the subconscious part of your brain works against you in accomplishing the goals you set.

There are two ways to successfully push past your subconscious set points. First, you can maintain a constant vigil of consciousness to your every move. This is extremely exhausting, but, with great determination, it can be done.

Secondly, you can bring whatever is subconsciously sabotaging you out into the light where you can consciously deal with it. In my work with coaching clients, I have found this to be a very effective question for getting to the root of the unconscious sabotage: What would you have to give up to get what you way you want? I’m not talking about the obvious—for instance, in order to lose weight, a person would have to give up chocolate and free time to exercise. I’m talking about digging deeper.

I asked a client what she would have to give up to meet her weight loss goal. Dumbfounded, she looked at me and replied, “My husband.” Upon further exploration, she subconsciously believed that if she got healthy enough emotionally to lose the weight she carried, then she and her husband would no longer be compatible.

Another woman I worked with was having difficulty breaking through her income barrier. She had her own business and couldn’t break past the $50,000 mark. After asking the question, she realized the subconscious belief holding her back: she would lose her father’s love and approval if she became more successful than him.

A final example is a man I was working with to develop his own coaching business. He had the skills, abilities, and resources, but just wasn’t making progress toward starting his own coaching business. When I asked what would he have to give up to leave his job and go out on his own, his answer was his dream. He was worried that if his dream wasn’t successful, then he would have nothing left. Better to have the dream intact than fail at the one thing he truly wanted.

So, this year, ask yourself this tough question. When you get the deepest answer you can find, examine it closely in the light of day. Is it valid? Is it important? Is it worth sacrificing your goal for? Only you can answer these questions, but only after you dig and uncover that subconscious sabotage lurking in the background, waiting to derail your progress. Don’t let it happen again this year. Take control and make conscious, intentional decisions.

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