Even the most successful people get in their own way—often without realizing it. For anyone who has found themselves seemingly up against a brick wall more than once, this is a must listen episode. Clinical and Forensic Psychologist Dr. Judy Ho shows us step-by-step how to break the habit of self-sabotage.
Psychologist & Author
Dr. Judy Ho is a Licensed and Triple-Board Certified Clinical and Forensic Psychologist, and Neuropsychologist, with a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology. She is an award-winning researcher, Tenured Associate Professor of Psychology at Pepperdine University and Co-Host of the TV show Face the Truth. She is the author of Stop Self-Sabotage: Six Steps to Unlock Your True Motivation, Harness Your Willpower, and Get Out of Your Own Way
Maria Marlowe: [00:00:34] Welcome back to the Happier and Healthier Podcast. Today, we’re talking all things self-sabotage and how to stop self-sabotaging yourself, whether it’s getting ahead at work or starting a new career or even just getting healthier and losing weight. Often times we’re our own worst enemies. So today I’ve brought on a top expert to help each of you, and me, stop self-sabotaging. Her name is Dr. Judy Ho and she’s a licensed and triple board certified clinical and forensic psychologist and a neuropsychologist with a p_h_d_ in clinical psychology. She’s also the author of the book Stop Self-Sabotage: Six Steps to Unlock Your True Motivation, Harness Your Willpower and Get Out of your Own Way. So she’s on the show today to share some tips from this book.
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Welcome back to the Happier and Healthier podcast. Today’s guest is Dr. Judy Ho, a license and triple board certified clinical and forensic psychologist. She’s also a neuropsychologist with a PHD in Clinical Psychology. She’s here today to talk to us about self sabotage. This is something I think we could all use a little bit of help in. So she’s going to be sharing some of her top tips from her forthcoming book, Stop Self-sabotage, which is coming out in August. So, Dr. Judy, thank you so much for being here. Let’s just jump right in and start talking about self-sabotage. Why do we get in our own way?
Dr. Judy Ho: [00:04:16] Well, we get in our own way oftentimes. Not because we want to. Not because we like the outcomes, but because we’re creatures of habit. And I think that oftentimes it feels unconscious to us. And that’s why it’s so important to bring it to the forefront so that we can actually deal with the problem once we recognize it for what it is. So most of the time people will say things. I hear people saying all the time, colloquially all man, I mess that up or oh, I sabotaged myself. Sometimes that’s even in their vocabulary. But once they say that, they don’t actually do anything about it. And it kind of doesn’t seem like a lot of people know exactly what the core of the issue is. And that’s what my book is really about, is getting to the core issue and then using practical strategies to overcome it.
Dr. Judy Ho: [00:05:00] It’s so true. I think a lot of times we don’t even realize that we’re self-sabotaging. We have these ideas and thoughts in our head that we believe are the truth. But if you were to really question those beliefs, we can start poking some holes in them. So let’s talk in the book. You have six different steps that are going to help us overcome self-sabotage. So let’s start with the first step. How do we identify that we are self-sabotaging?
Dr. Judy Ho: [00:05:31] So I think the first thing that we want to do is just take a look at our lives. Take a quick inventory and see what areas are going well and what areas are maybe not going so well. And usually people who are self-sabotaging are actually quite great at various aspects of their life. There’s just one little area that they just can’t make happen and they don’t know what that is. And so I have examples of friends and colleagues and patients that I’ve worked with who actually are great at their career. They may actually have their fitness or health in check, but they just can’t get their romantic relationship together or the romantic relationship is great. They just can’t get the fitness together.
Dr. Judy Ho: [00:06:09] So usually there’s one area, maybe two areas of life where things aren’t going quite as well as everything else, but they obviously have the skills to make things happen somewhere else. And so this is part of the reason of why we really want to kind of take that self inventory and see exactly what it is that we need the most help with. So the first step is actually to really focus not only on this inventory, but to identify what your triggers for self-sabotage are. So everybody’s triggers are different. Some people’s triggers have to do with certain thoughts and beliefs about themselves. And sometimes they don’t even realize that they’re having those thoughts, but they could be things that are very self-defeating. So, for example, they may have a belief that they are not going to be able to overcome something. They may have a belief that everything is going to be just as it was in the past. And so there’s a lot of different types of belief that people can kind of get in their heads. And the problem with that is our brains are extremely desensitized to things that have happened over and over again. So once you put a thought a few times, your brain kind of just ignores it. It doesn’t even process it as a thought. But you see the consequences and how you feel and what the actions are. And that’s how self-sabotage really does wreak havoc, because it’s really underlying a number of things that you may not even recognize anymore, because your brain has already completely desensitize itself to this thought that you have over and over again, for example, that you’re just not good enough.
Maria Marlowe: [00:07:36] Right. That’s that whole broken record thing where it just becomes this playlist that’s in your head and you can’t get it out of your head until you replace it with something else. So you talk about basically life, this acronym for four different types of triggers that we could have that are going to trigger our self sabotage. So can you just briefly explain what each of these four are to help us really start to identify what is our trigger?
Dr. Judy Ho: [00:08:03] Absolutely. And I think kind of to start at the beginning of that, the reason why life even gets triggered is because we have these two opposing and oftentimes also complementary drives that move a human being fought. And part of it is getting rewards, you know, things that are good for us. And then part of it is avoiding threat, making sure that we stay away from anything that could be bad for us physically and emotionally and self sabatoge happens very simplistically when that balance is off.
Dr. Judy Ho: [00:08:33] So, for example, when your threat estimation is higher than your drive for rewards and you’re going to keep avoiding things that might actually be good for you and move your life forward. And for various different people, the different parts of life will be what activates that sort of threat switch where they start to think about the threat much more than about what the positive outcomes can be in any situation. So the four parts of life are L is low or Saiki self-concept. Some people have developed at some point in their life that, you know, no matter how much they do, no matter how much they accomplish, how many friends they acquire, but they’re just not good enough. They just have the feeling that they’re not good enough, that their self-concept is just a little bit lower or shape. And that can be a trigger. So whenever that gets activated, they’re much more likely to say, stay away. I’m going to avoid trying for something because what if I don’t get it? What if I fail and what people might think of me as a result? I stands for internalized belief. So these are beliefs that you may have learned from childhood. These are things that perhaps maybe even saw in a parent that a parent said, well, don’t do that because that’s scary or don’t step too far outside of the house. And those types of beliefs, even though as a child, you recognize that it’s your parents beliefs. That’s when you’re picking everything up.
Dr. Judy Ho: [00:09:47] And so when you see your parents being afraid of the world, you may develop that same kind of belief about what to do when you’re an adult as well. F is for fear of change or the unknown. So F is really kind of standing for the kind of idea where you want to stay in your safe little box. You know how things work and you want to just make sure that you don’t step outside your comfort zone. And while that’s nice and it probably doesn’t make you feel less anxious on a daily basis, you also have a harder time really reinventing yourself and moving forward and achieving goals that might feel really big at first. But if you start to go on the path for it, you might actually be able to achieve it very easily if people just don’t step out of their comfort zone. And E stands for excessive need for control. So this means that kind of person who, you know, really wants to make sure they have control over all aspects of life and in general, when you’re going for a goal reaching for the next step, you’re not going to have control of the whole process. You don’t know how it’s going to turn out. You’re not going to be able to see the end result right away. And that can cripple individuals who have the success of need for control and won’t move forward because of that.
Maria Marlowe: [00:10:53] And do you find that someone will usually have a dominant one of these triggers or a mix of them?
Dr. Judy Ho: [00:11:00] I think most people have a mix of triggers, although one or two tend to be dominant. So I’ve done this exercise with many people and some of them will say, I think I’m all for this. And yet even when they say that, there’s usually one or two that they lead with. So I kind of challenge and think a little bit about which one do they actually see happening more often. And so there’s a couple of exercises in the book that takes them through this. But individuals who will say, for example, that they’re maybe having problems moving their career forward. Once you get them to focus on one area of their life, most people can actually appreciate that they have one or two of the life factors that dominates in that particular area.
Maria Marlowe: [00:11:39] Ok. And so it sounds like step one in stopping self-sabotage is really to identify where our shortcomings are, where our issues are.
Dr. Judy Ho: [00:11:49] Right. Exactly. And I think a big part of this is that everybody has some semblance of these issues, not pathological. It’s normal. And in some ways, all of these things are a little bit adaptive when they’re done moderately. It’s that when they’re done excessively, that’s when it becomes an issue. And that’s what we’re trying to resolve. So, yes, first step is really to identify the self sabatoge triggers. And step two naturally follows from step one. Because once you identify the triggers, then you have to deactivate the triggers and reset your thermostat. So to deactivate your triggers. It’s really important that once you’ve identified them, that you know how to stop them. And oftentimes where people kind of get caught up. So maybe they’ve even gotten to this level. When you go through life with them, they say, oh, yeah, that all makes sense. Actually, I’m pretty sure I knew that already in some way, but I just haven’t figured out exactly what to do. Now I know what it is. And this is sort of the biggest important thing here is that you have to make the next step really practical. And so the way that we want to try to deactivate the triggers, there’s kind of a couple of different ways that I talk about this in the book. But one of the most important things is to try to question your thoughts. So take them out of your unconscious of the part of you that has shut it away, because again, it’s like on a loop and your brain stopped recognizing it. So once you actually put it out into the sunlight, let’s question it. Let’s see if it’s even valid, because oftentimes we rehearse these things over and over and they’re not even valid anymore. There’s some kind of old belief that happened at maybe one time in your life and you don’t even apply anymore. And sometimes people still continue to utilize that going forward.
Maria Marlowe: [00:13:29] Right. I think self reflection is so, so important. And it’s something that most of us don’t take any time to do. And if we don’t recognize what the problem is, it’s just going to get bigger and bigger and bigger. So that accepting it and then questioning it is so important.
Dr. Judy Ho: [00:13:47] Absolutely. I think that it’s so important to not just take your thoughts as what they are. I think that that’s one way of humanizing, too, is that we kind of have a thought and we sort of just take it as a fact. You know, whenever we have a concern, for example, of worry about something and you have the worry and you all of a sudden start to think about all the things that could happen if that was to come true, as opposed to just thinking, well, I just had a worry in my mind. Doesn’t mean anything. Does it mean that it’s going to happen? But people tend to sort of spiral after that. And so a big part of the next step here is really getting people to routinely question their thoughts. It’s just the mental event. It’s not something that definitely has to be true. And you have to ask yourself the question, does this even apply in my life anymore?
Maria Marlowe: [00:14:31] Right. And you had something I really like in that chapter. You said when having a negative thought, simply add the statement: “I’m having the negative thought that”. Just doing that actually encourages you to question the validity of it.
Dr. Judy Ho: [00:14:45] Absolutely. Because what you’re doing there is a technique called labeling. You’re just labeling the thought as a thought. Like I’m having a thought that as opposed to just I’m never going to make anything of myself. You know, think about how damaging a thought like that would be. I’m never gonna make them be like this. All this sounds so true. It sounds like it’s happening or medi-. But if you just add on having the negative thoughts that I’m never going to make anything of myself, all of a sudden there’s a little bit of a distance where you can really appreciate that. It’s just a thought that popped up in your head and it doesn’t have to be anything more than that.
Maria Marlowe: [00:15:15] Exactly. OK. So what’s step three?
Dr. Judy Ho: [00:15:19] So after going through a few more exercises here where we really tried to activate the trigger and again, you know, sort of trying to just take it out, making sure that you’re questioning it, making sure that you’re not just taking things as is, because I think that that’s that’s a big part of what all of us do with thoughts. And I think that this is why this chapter is so full of different exercises, because I feel like it just takes a lot of time before you can kind of like unprogrammed yourself from it. It’s just a lot. So it’s step 1 and 2, I think are just so foundational because you really need to focus on not only changing the content, but getting used to this new idea that your thoughts aren’t everything. So step three is to try to break the cycle. So I call this the release, the rut, rinse and repeat the basic a._b._c.s. So Step 3 is really about breaking the chain. We know that there’s a behavioral chain that if you have a thought, then there’s an action that follows and then there’s a consequence and the whole thing repeats itself again and again and again. And so this step is really about breaking that chain.
Dr. Judy Ho: [00:16:25] So even if you do have the thought and even if you entertain it, you don’t have to then act on it. So one example would be maybe, you know, you’re on a diet, you’re trying to make improvements towards your health and you make a bad decision and you eat like a whole brownie. When you were hoping that you weren’t going to eat a brownie at all today and you have the thought, well, what’s the point? I might as well just on my book, diets already blown and I might as well just eat all the brownies that are here. And then you end up eating two or three more brownies. The idea is that you don’t have to then act on that. Right. So just eat it just because you had the thought that, oh, my gosh, I blew my diet. There’s no point anymore. How do we make sure that it stops right there, that you can change your behavior and move it towards a way where you can actually feel better about yourself? And so this chapter is really all about breaking the cycle before it gets to a behavior that can be harmful for you.
Maria Marlowe: [00:17:15] Right. So it’s basically stopping what I call the snowball effect. And I talk about this with my clients. Just because you had an unhealthy lunch or you eat the brownie. That doesn’t mean that you could let it snowball into you. Okay. Now I’m just gonna eat crappy food all week long. I did it. You had the brownie. It’s OK. Just move on and make an effort to be a little bit more mindful or to stay on your diet a little bit better for the rest of the day and the rest of the week.
Dr. Judy Ho: [00:17:44] I love the way that you said that, that you want to try to stop the snowball effect, right? I think people picture that and they think, well, there’s no stopping this training now. But obviously, there is you can still make a decision in that moment and not let it go.
Maria Marlowe: [00:17:56] Exactly. Every second we have the chance and ability to make a new choice. Absolutely. And so and you talk about the ABC’s in this chapter. So what are the ABCs?
Dr. Judy Ho: [00:18:09] So ABC, these is really kind of a foundation of behavioral modification, which is a very important theory in psychology. And ABC stands for a antecedence, B behaviors and C, consequences. So A, as the antecedent can be all different kinds of things that lead you into doing the behavior. And it’s a chain that happens. And so the antecedents could be self sabatoge triggers the ones that we just talked about like low self-concept and things like that. But antecedence can also be other things that could be like environmental things that happen to that day. So, for example, you get into a fight with your partner before you go to work to put you in a bad mood. And it might lead you to do certain things that you might otherwise not would have done. If you start off as a better, it could even be things like poor sleep. It could be things like you have an exercise in 20 days. It could be all kinds of things that basically lead you into unhealthy behaviors. And so antecedence kind of are the whole universe of things that could be changed or linked to a behavior that might be self-sabotaging or not. So good for you.
Dr. Judy Ho: [00:19:12] And so B, where behavior is just any action that happens as a result of the antecedent and the consequence is the result of that behavior. So, for example, if the antecedent is you go to a party and there’s desserts everywhere and in your mind, just like why can’t resist then B is you eat all of the desserts and see the consequences. Maybe you just feel horrible about yourself. You beat yourself up when you go home. You swear up and down that you’re gonna make a better choice, you know. But you feel so bad about yourself at the end, and that’s the consequence. And the sad thing, of course, is that when you have a consequence like that, that’s negative. It’s more likely to reinforce a self-sabotaging behavior again, because when we don’t feel good about ourselves and we don’t think we deserve any better, we’re more likely to self-sabotage.
Maria Marlowe: [00:19:57] So any tips or words of advice to someone who maybe sees himself in that example where they find themselves out and they can’t resist and then they get home and then they’re beating themselves up? How do they make the change in the moment? Is there a thought, is there a practice, a technique, something they can do in that moment?
Dr. Judy Ho: [00:20:16] Yeah, there’s a really great technique that I cover in the next step. Replacement, not repetition, which means, OK, how do we replace those behaviors when we recognize it? And it’s really all about acting in the moment, right? Because oftentimes it’s already happening. And if you don’t have a plan ahead of time, then that’s when you can go. People get lost. So the technique has a fancy name, but it’s actually a very simple technique. The name of technique is called N C ie. It stands for multiple implementations and implementation intentions, but that’s not really important. The most important thing is that you’re making if then statements. So if I walk into a party with a ton of desserts, then I’m going to have a seltzer water instead.
Dr. Judy Ho: [00:20:59] You know, you make these statements ahead of time before you get into a situation that could be potentially triggering. And for most of my clients, I talk just to write it down somewhere. It could be in the notes section of their phone. It could be like a little index card somewhere because you want to have that at the ready when you have those antecedents pop up. And so then once you’re in the situation, instead of having to wrap your brain in the moment or having to find that willpower in that moment, you just read your card, you read the thing on your notes and you just do what it says. If this happens, then do that. So it’s extremely specific you planted ahead of time, but then in the moment you can use it in like just a few seconds.
Maria Marlowe: [00:21:31] So you’re sort of reprogramming yourself. Yeah. Yeah. Your take, you know, because I do feel like we are these creatures of habit and we go on autopilot for so many different things, not even just physical things, but our thoughts go on autopilot. And we do feel like, OK, when, you know, at the second that I get home from work, I’m going straight to the fridge to eat something. So you can, you know, first I’ll check if you’re hungry. You’re not hungry. You don’t need to do that. And you can replace it when I come home. I read a book or I meditate or I go for a walk around the block. Like you can just replace it. But you have to first be cognizant that you’re doing something on autopilot. Then figure out how you want to reprogram it. What do you want to do instead of having that plan is just so important to making that change.
Dr. Judy Ho: [00:22:20] Yeah, that’s absolutely right. I think that oftentimes you’re on autopilot and we don’t even realize it. And sometimes when I’m working with my clients and I ask them what just happened before that behavior. So we’re still staying with this example. What happened before you pick up the brownie? I don’t know what happened. I was just at home. Well, I mean, I think it just that they haven’t thought about it. They haven’t been cognizant of. It’s not just that you were at home. There was something that happened. Whether it’s, you know, we’re bored. That’s an interesting antecedent. People don’t think about that. Boredom could be something that triggers bad behaviors first or first year.
Maria Marlowe: [00:22:49] I’d talk about that all the time. And I even remember what I used to work in office. It was around three o’clock and I know everyone has this like three o’clock like snack attack thing happen where? Whereas three o’clock. And I was just in need of a distraction.
Maria Marlowe: [00:23:05] And that that was the reason that was prompting me to have to go buy a brownie or whatever it was. It was either that or it could be boredom. When I’m home, boredom. It could be loneliness. It could be any of these emotions or these feelings that are triggering an action.
Dr. Judy Ho: [00:23:20] Absolutely. That’s such a good point. And I totally feel you on that sort of office thing. You know, if I walk into the office and there’s like snaps and like, I guess I’ll just have some because it’s there right at all. And maybe there’s a time where everybody just goes there. And I totally understand that. And I think sometimes people aren’t really in touch also with their emotional experiences and that that can drive a behavior just to kind of get rid of it or distract themselves from it. But there’s other ways to deal with that. You can either process that emotion or distract yourself in a more positive manner. And so I think that the Step 4 is really all about that. Like how do we find good replacement behaviors and not only how do you find them, but like how do you have them planned ahead of time at the ready? So when something happens, you can do the thing that you planned instead of the thing that you know is going to take you down the self-sabotage spiral, right?
Maria Marlowe: [00:24:06] Yeah. I mean, that’s something that I have my clients do for sure because it’s having that plan, having five or 10 things that you could do instead. So when you’re lonely, instead of digging into a pint of ice cream, why do you call a friend or write a note to someone or call a friend over for dinner? Right. There’s all these other non-food ways that you can fulfill that emotion, like in a positive way.
Maria Marlowe: [00:24:30] Yeah, absolutely. And I like the way that you said about deprogramming because or reprogram me because that’s really what it is. You know, you find a different way to program yourself. And pretty soon this becomes a new normal and it doesn’t have to be sort of the oh, I just get home, I get bored and I start eating snacks. It’s just your new normal is I get bored and I start going for a walk or I clean or I call a friend.
Maria Marlowe: [00:24:49] And that’s your new normal right now. So what’s step five?
Dr. Judy Ho: [00:24:55] Step five is one of my favorite steps because we get to talk about values. And I feel like when we first started with kind of behavioral therapy, it really was all about changing your thoughts in your behaviors. And they were making it very scientific. And it has to be practical and tangible. And I think all that’s beautiful. But values are not as tangible. They’re so crucial in our lives. So you can’t touch a value quite as. But almost all of us have values if we haven’t thought about them for a while, and values are probably defined for me as the ways that you want your life to be, about the ways that you want yourself to be remembered, the things that you want to stand for in life. These are the things that make up our values and they’re the core of who we are and who we aspire to be. And sometimes people will make a goal. And then once they achieve the goal, they’ll tell me that they feel really empty inside, like they finally ran that marathon. It’s been six months in the making and then they finish it and they’re just like, now what? And they kind of feel strangely unsatisfied and almost anticlimactic about it. And I think part of that is that most of us make goals because we think maybe we should, maybe because we base it on society and what other people want for us. But it’s not actually rooted in what we want and what we want to stand for. And so in this particular step, I talk a lot about how you create value space goals. So you start with identifying your values first and then you make goals based on that. So perhaps if you’re self-sabotaging in the area of your life, it’s because whatever goal you’ve been making in that area hasn’t been rooted in your values. And there’s not a lot of motivation for you to go after it because why bother going through the challenging times if it’s not really something that is truly important to you?
Maria Marlowe: [00:26:36] Yeah. And I do think it can be very confusing for people because we are constantly bombarded with messages from our family and friends and just TV and media society on what we should want. Again, it doesn’t always align exactly with what we actually want. So how do we really dig deep and figure out our values?
Dr. Judy Ho: [00:27:01] So I have a really favorite activity that I do all the time. It’s called the values card sort. And because we talk about values being not as tangible as certain other things. This is a way to make values tangible so you can really connect with them. So in my book, I have thirty three common values. Of course there are thousands of values in the world. But it’s a good place to start. There are 33 very common values that most people can kind of understand and relate to. And you kind of have these little values are kind of like on mini index cards. And you sort them and you sort them by order of importance based on how you’re feeling today. And then I have people focus on like their top 10. So after they’ve sorted all this, like what is their top 10 values, then? How much are they actually nurturing these top 10 values on a given day? And when people take that inventory, oftentimes they have some surprises. They may find that, oh, a couple of values if we get touched on every day and then some other values, they haven’t touched on them for a long time yet. They are saying it’s in their top 10.
Dr. Judy Ho: [00:27:58] And so that’s really kind of a start to examining, OK, how do I kind of start to focus on the things that I say are important to me? And then how do I make goals that will help support that? And a lot of times people will say, well, that’s really overwhelming. What if I have a value that I want to be more giving, that I want to do more for society. I want to. I want to give back more. And it’s just overwhelming. What am I supposed to do? Puts together a charity event that’s too much. And I tell them no. You know, obviously, that’s a great goal for sometime down the line if you want. But giving back can be so little. You can just do one thing in the moment. You can let somebody have your seat on the bus. You can donate $5 to your favorite charity today at the market. There’s so many little ways that you can extend something for your value without having to think so much on the grandiose level and that they should be things that you can kind of contact every day so you don’t feel like it’s overwhelming to do something that’s important to you.
Maria Marlowe: [00:28:54] And I love that because staying really focused on our values also helps us become that person that we want to become, right. If we want to be kind and generous and X, Y and Z. By putting it in front of our face, it actually forces us to start acting in those ways because it’s very easy to be like, oh yeah, I’m a kind of generous person and then be on the bus and be like, oh, hell no, I’m not getting up here. So I love that.
Dr. Judy Ho: [00:29:24] Yeah. It forces you to put your money where your mouth is. Basically, like you say, this is important to you. What have you done today, though, to nurture that? Right.
Maria Marlowe: [00:29:31] Exactly. And and then that leads us to the last step, which is step 6.
Dr. Judy Ho: [00:29:37] Yeah. So step 6 is create a blueprint for change. So this is where you kind of put everything that you’ve learned together into one big worksheet that really kind of like your go to guide for solving self-sabotage. So it really starts at the top with your values. Start with your top five values on this particular footprint and then make sure that your goal is going to be coming from those values that those values are feeding into your goals specifically. And so usually this is where people start to rewrite their goal a little bit because they realize that the goal that they had before that led them to pick up this book wasn’t really rooted that well in their values. And so they tried to connect it much more and make the goal much more specific so that it does touch on the top five values from their.
Dr. Judy Ho: [00:30:18] We revisit sort of these ideas of the old ABCs. What were your old ABCs? What was your old pattern that we’re trying to break? What were the antecedents, those triggers that are leading you to unhealthy behaviors and then leading to consequences that start the cycle all over again? And then how do we actually make a new ABC? How do we start a new behavioral change to that reprogramming? Make that really specific on the page. And this is where they have to write down all of those, if then statements that’ll help prepare them in these moments of crises. And from there, we really kind of focus on making sure that they have time to look at this blueprint at least once a day, just that it’s in the forefront of their minds. And knowing that this is kind of their go to tool in case of an emergency, in case of something that comes up, that they can kind of boil down everything that they’ve learned from this book into one page that can be easily referenced anytime on their phones, on their tablets and a notebook. And that way, they always have these skills with them. And the idea is that maybe you’re not going to not have triggers, not have situations come up where it can be troubling for you, but you’re always going to be able to take a different action. And before you know it, it becomes so commonplace that it doesn’t have to be so deliberate anymore. And so this is sort of like that gateway for the change to happen is using this balloon as a jumping off point so they can start creating those new behaviors on a consistent basis.
Maria Marlowe: [00:31:44] So a question that I’m sure people are thinking in their heads right now is let’s say they notice that they do have some behavior that is causing them to self-sabotage. How long is it going to take them to get rid of that behavior and replace it with something new?
Dr. Judy Ho: [00:32:00] So that’s a great question, and I had told my patients when they kind of get they need to know like the finish line. Come on. Like, when is this going to happen? And I say, you know, things change will happen right away. But for the behavior to consistently stop depends on what the behavior is. It could take maybe a few weeks, up to a few months, but you’re going to see change right away, because as soon as you start to identify those triggers, it’s going to open your mind to the fact that while I haven’t looked at it in this way and now that I know knowledge is the first step. And so even just knowing sometimes will curb people’s self-sabotage behaviors, at least in terms of its frequency. But of course, going through the rest, the steps of what guarantees that it’s going to be a consistent and lasting behavioral change. And for that, it does sometimes take time. And I ask them how long it take you to develop the self-sabotage behavior. Did it take weeks to take months to take years? So if that’s the case, you have to expect that there might be a little bit of a growing period where you’re going to be able to curb it sometimes. Then you might have a little bit of a setback, but you’re always going to know how to get back on the train. And so I just tell them that don’t don’t give up if you’re able to actually acknowledge what happened and revisit what happened and make a different choice next time than you’re making consistent progress and you’re totally making the program work for you, for sure.
Maria Marlowe: [00:33:18] Just being aware of the issue when you weren’t before. Just changing your mindset around it. I think will shift it immediately to get the habit down. One hundred percent, might take a little bit longer. But really, that first step of changing your mind and being aware of the issue I think will dramatically change it just instantly.
Dr. Judy Ho: [00:33:40] Yeah, absolutely. And I think a lot of people will say, well, just knowing it is not going to do anything for you when you know it and you’re conscious of it, it’s much harder to go down that path again because you know what’s at the end of that and you know why you’re doing it.
Dr. Judy Ho: [00:33:52] And so it creates this cognitive dissonance and you don’t want to go down that path because it feels very incompatible with the fact that you know this and you know, it’s bad for you, yet you’re still doing it. You know, most people say, no, I’m not gonna do that anymore.
Maria Marlowe: [00:34:05] Right. Let’s actually break down cognitive dissonance a little bit more. So what exactly is that?
Dr. Judy Ho: [00:34:12] So cognitive dissonance is an internal sense of conflict that people may have when a thought and a behavior doesn’t match or if a thought and a thought doesn’t match the what the classic example like is, is, you know, a doctor who knows he’s like a public colleges. He knows how bad smoking is. And yet he’s the smoking person and he smokes every day. So that’s cognitive dissonance right there, because his knowledge and what he tells his patients is don’t smoke cigarettes and yet he smoke cigarettes. He’s a chain smoker every day. And so eventually you have to resolve that cognitive dissonance because human beings don’t like that. So that can go on for a little while. But eventually you’re gonna have to do something to kind of even the playing field. And there’s a couple of ways people resolve that, right? I mean, you can resolve it by justifying that the smoking isn’t a problem. Like, oh, well, my patients are so unhealthy, I’m really healthy. Otherwise my only bad habits, nothing bad will happen to me. And that way it resolves dissonance. Or the other way to resolve the dissonance is to say, wow, it’s was really unhealthy. I guess I’m going to have to try and quit. Right. So people can kind of go down two ways to resolve that cognitive dissonance. And I think in general, people who pick up this book, their motivation is I want to change more positively. So in general, I sense that, you know, for a lot of people and this has certain happen and with my patients and as soon as they have that knowledge and that dissonance is there, it’s just harder for them to do that. Self-sabotaging behavior over and over and over again.
Maria Marlowe: [00:35:31] Right. So I’m very curious. You are very, very accomplished and very well studied in the field of psychology. What got you interested in going down this path?
Dr. Judy Ho: [00:35:45] So I have been really interested in self-sabotaging for a very long time because I just saw it like coming up in so many ways for so many people and I saw it as a universal problem. I don’t think any of us can escape it at any point for some of us. I think it’s a more serious problem. But for many of us, it’s, you know, a problem that I think all of us have experienced to some level that maybe can wreck our lives, but certainly made our lives more difficult. And for me, when I was younger, I was a chronic procrastinator because I kept telling myself that the procrastination would like allow me to get really motivated, the end to do my best work.
Dr. Judy Ho: [00:36:22] And I think it worked that way, or at least I believe to work that way for a little while. But then in grad school, I was again in this belief that, OK, I’m going to wait for the last minute and that’s when I’m going to have the best energy to really focus. And the assignment was way too hard for me to do in twenty four hours. It was in my doctoral program. I was writing a paper. And actually, you know, the setup of this is that my very first paper for the class, my professor said, this is a great paper, gave me all these accolades and I was thinking, OK, like this is we’re going to do the next I’m going to procrastinate again. Well, the second time I barely finished the paper, I knew it was a mess. And her feedback for me was, I can’t even grade this. Come see me after class. How could you write that first paper and then write this one? And, you know, it was just so interesting. I mean, that was the first time that I had like a really significantly negative consequence for my procrastination. And I realized that that was a form of self sabotage, that in my mind I was thinking that this was actually giving me more energy and motivation when really I was setting myself up for messing up. And I actually talk about procrastination a lot because it’s such a common problem. I talk about it in one of the chapters in my book that, you know, oftentimes we have these beliefs that make us think that the self-sabotaging behaviors is actually being good to us for some reason, but it’s actually not.
Dr. Judy Ho: [00:37:40] And so now I’m like the opposite. I think I really learned my lesson since then. It took a little while for me to adjust from there. But like now I’m always like doing things way ahead of the time. I don’t want to get into that state where I’m scrambling at the end to try to put something together. And I just noticed that it affects everybody. It’s not just a problem that some people have. It’s a problem that all of us have. But it’s just that some of us, it can really derail us and take us off of the path that we want to be on. And I find this very commonly in relationships. So among some of my friends and my family members, their lives are really together. But their relationship life is not. And they keep making excuses for that. Oh, I’m just too busy to, like, care about my relationship. But it’s obviously not true because they love being in a relationship and they’re not putting their best foot forward there. And for some reason, they can do it for everything else, but not the relationship side. And so that was what motivated me to write the book. I was like, I’ve experienced it myself from time to time. My friends and family members have and my patients have. And it’s a universal problem that we can all agree on. That is something that we should all try to put some attention to and find a way for a good solution.
Maria Marlowe: [00:38:46] Right? Yeah. It is interesting that very often we’re self-sabotaging in one area, but we’ve got it down and we’re good and all the other areas.
Maria Marlowe: [00:38:57] And I think it sometimes comes to worthiness too. If someone doesn’t feel worthy in a specific area, maybe they feel in their career, they’re totally worthy, they’re crushing it. That’s great. But maybe in their relationships, they have some thoughts, some fear or just some belief that maybe they’re not worthy of a relationship. Whatever the case may be. And I feel like that very often is what takes us down that path.
Dr. Judy Ho: [00:39:21] Yeah. And I definitely see that self-sabotage occurs more so for people in intimate relationships than it does in, you know, another aspect of their life, because again, that’s sort of where the things really kind of come to a fork because, you know, people can sort of think, OK, I deserve goodness, I deserve positive outcomes in my career, but maybe not when it comes to an intimate relationship where like their own beliefs about who they are and whether or not they’re lovable like you comes to the forefront. And that’s a serious and most vocal phrase for something, you know, in fact, a lot of people who have more of those fears, they do tend to do pretty well in work because they’ve connected that. If I work hard or something, then I can deserve it. I’m doing something. And and that gives me my self-worth as my achievements. But when I’m in a relationship, it’s not about achievements, just about who I am. And am I lovable or not? That’s a very scary question for a lot of people.
Maria Marlowe: [00:40:10] Yeah, for sure. And for anyone listening who maybe has never been to a psychologist, never talk to anyone, maybe thought that like it.
Maria Marlowe: [00:40:22] You know, I don’t need one or something like that. Like, what do you have to say? Can we all benefit or. Yeah. What do you have to say to someone who maybe has never worked with someone one on one? And why does everyone need you or when do we need to?
Dr. Judy Ho: [00:40:35] Yeah. You know, I think that this is a big part of trying to destigmatize mental health wellness for people. I think we talked about mental health treatment. Like it just sounds like, oh, you’d have Samaritans. Treated and there’s nothing wrong with you. Really? No. I mean, the idea is that we want to try to create wellness. Right. It’s really about, you know, prevention and maintenance and trying to our best selves. And that’s really a big part of what this book is about. It’s like, how do you want to be your self? And there’s obviously different ways to do that. I never tell anybody that therapy has to be the way. But therapy is certainly a really safe place for most people for self exploration. Now, if you’re not that comfortable with that, then self-help books that are based on research like minus is maybe another way to go about it. It’s like maybe that’s a way to start looking at some of these things and trying to find a way around it. Of course, if you have a severe mental health concern, like you’ve been chronically depressed most of your life or you have PTSD, that’s when I would really strongly advocate that you need to go see a professional. But I think with issues of self-sabotage, there’s various different ways that we can deal with it. And I think that this book is one way, especially if you feel kind of caught up like I’m not quite ready to go in and talk to a therapist, but I kind of want to be the beneficiary of like what the science says and what we know will work. And I think that this is maybe like a little like wading into the water for people who might be a little shy about working with them.
Maria Marlowe: [00:41:58] And so one question that I like to ask all of my guests is if you can leave just one tip or one piece of advice with our listeners on how they can live a happier and healthier life. What would that be?
Dr. Judy Ho: [00:42:11] I think the first thing that I always think of when I think about how to live a well balanced and happy life is to always be in touch with your values. And I think that that’s something that, of course, my book talks about. But even for myself, I didn’t really recognize that as such an important and crucial part until maybe the last few years. And it’s becomes values-based work wasn’t quite as discussed. You know, even 20 years ago, 10 years ago. But more, more and more, we’re talking about that. And it’s because all of us want our lives to stand for something. We all want our lives to be meaningful in some way. And what’s going to bring us meaning is not necessarily all the accomplishments and achievements that we make throughout our lives, but it’s going to be what makes us who we are at our core. And that’s what values are all about. So I feel like to be able to have a happy and healthy life. Connect with your values every day. And this is easy to do. You can, you know, just think about what your top five values are. And when you wake up in the morning, just make a commitment. In the next 24 hours, what will I do to nurture one of my top values and leave enough to be all five? Because sometimes that feels overwhelmingly for people. But if you wake up and you make an intention. One of my top five values in social connectedness. So today I’m gonna make sure I call my college friend. Just click. Right. It doesn’t have to be anything big. But if you start out your day thinking about that and you also end your day thinking about what you’ve done to nurture values and what you’d like to do differently the next day, then I think it comes full circle and your life to feel a lot more meaningful that way on a daily basis.
Maria Marlowe: [00:43:43] I love that. That’s a great tip.
Maria Marlowe: [00:43:45] Well, thank you so much for being here. Dr. Judy. And for anyone who is interested in stopping self-sabotage, definitely check out her book called Stop Self-sabotage.
[00:43:55] It’s coming out in August. And you can also find her on Instagram and her Web site. Thank you so much for having me.