10 Self-Sabotaging Games We Subconsciously Play In Our Lives

Barney Wee

A Guru lectured the same sermon for 6 weeks consecutively. By the fifth week, a special group gathered to challenge the Guru about his irritating repetitions. He replied “I’m glad you finally noticed it! I’m going to keep on preaching the same sermon every week until you get it!”

Sometimes we simply choose to ignore life’s important messages, yet we wonder why the same events “keep happening to us”—”Why me?”

That which you resist, persists.

The harder we fight or avoid it, the stronger it comes back to us. Problems are presented to us as a gift, and rather than attacking the “lessons” or avoiding the “relentless reminders”, we should pause. Embrace the “knocking” and be willing to explore the learning. By cutting through our barricade of resistance and denial, we dig into what is on the other side ~ the awaiting gift to our greatest growth.

Escaping Accountability is probably one of the greatest causes of our problems.

Being at cause (accountable) means claiming our birthright to using the inherent inner resources to improve our lives. Accountability empowers you with the choice to take charge of your feelings, thoughts and actions, regardless of what other people’s actions are.

Avoiding accountability happens consciously or unconsciously. By not making a decision about something is a choice in itself. Listed below are some of our convenient ‘defences’, which I call the ‘10 Lethal Snowballs‘. If we fight or avoid it long enough, it will give us a rude awakening in life.

1. “I DON’T KNOW”

There are two kinds of “I don’t know.” One is a matter of fact, the other is nonaccountable. If you don’t know how to speak German, you don’t. The second one is the one in question. We sometimes say we don’t know something when, in cutting truth, we do. We find it too difficult to deal with the real issue and so we put forth the “I don’t know” excuse, to let ourselves off the difficult situation.

For example, I’ve worked with a client who told me of his shock in Indonesia. He is a foreigner and has successfully run a business there for 15 years. And one traumatic day in 1998, his shop cum home was ransacked and torn apart, literally shredded by the racial conflict there. He narrowly escaped that ordeal and lost everything including his little daughter, which he only got to know of her safety after 6 months. After hours of consultation, he finally admitted on hindsight that he knew for more than 9 months that the political situation in Indonesia was deteriorating and the signs were clear that he should think of other options. But he didn’t because he was very comfortable there and chose to ignore it.

I often ask those people who frequently use ‘I don’t know’ this interesting question – “I know you don’t know what happened, but if you did know, just if, what would that be?” And quite frequently they respond with one or more possibilities which moments before seemed not available to them. Choosing not to know has its repercussions. If you don’t like to be in a hole, stop digging.

2. “I HAD NO CHOICE!”

On the surface, certain situations in our lives seem that way. Especially when the consequences are threatening. In a school enrichment programme that I had facilitated, a teenager retorted, “I have no choice but to be here, or I’ll be expelled!” I ushered him gently to the door and said, “Thank you for being so honest, having no choice robs away your power. And I only want to teach those grown ups that have the courage to face their choices. I’ll tell your principal that you have attended my class.” He gave me a menacing stare and walked back to his seat. Over the weeks I taught there, he became one of the positive role models that others have come to identify with.

In a school enrichment programme that I had facilitated, a teenager retorted, “I have no choice but to be here, or I’ll be expelled!” I ushered him gently to the door and said, “Thank you for being so honest, having no choice robs away your power. And I only want to teach those grown ups that have the courage to face their choices. I’ll tell your principal that you have attended my class.” He gave me a menacing stare and walked back to his seat. Over the weeks I taught there, he became one of the positive role models that others have come to identify with.

When people say they don’t have a choice, what they really are saying is that they can’t accept the consequences. Choice and consequences are flip sides of the same coin. What most people don’t realise is by claiming they had no choice, they have completely surrendered themselves to the perceived inevitable.

You probably have heard this story or perhaps witnessed one yourself. Twins brought up in a dysfunctional family. Father is a workaholic and derives pleasure from inflicting pain onto others. Both brothers have bruises and cane marks when they go to school. Mother is an incorrigible gambler, hardly at home and finally runs away with another man. Father becomes alcoholic and suicidal. Finally, the Children Services removes the children from their violent home. Both go separate ways to different foster homes.

30 years went by before they met each other again. As one brother left his own hardware retail store with his loving wife and two beautiful kids, a filthily clothed beggar approached him. While the retail owner reached into his wallet for a donation, their eyes met and a strange sense of familiarity came over both of them. The conversation that followed finally revealed their relationship.

Same womb and same dysfunctional family but now worlds apart. One brother gave a long story of ‘no choice’ circumstances, very much told from a victim’s reality. The other chose to do everything that is the opposite of their circumstances. One settled for the obvious thing to do, ‘survive’. The other chose to ‘live’ and faced the uphill challenge. We are a product of our choices not our circumstance. Saying we have no choice disempowers us.

3. “I’LL TRY”

In some of my workshops, I asked participants to ‘try’ to change their seats. They lifted their bottoms up and sat down in a new seat. I then said “No, you’ve changed seats. I asked you to ‘try’ to change your seat.” After a few seconds of blinking they understood and a few of them wrestled and grunted as they ‘tried’ unsuccessfully to lift their bottoms up. You see, we either lift up our butts to a new location or we don’t. ‘Sit, walk or run, don’t wobble.’ When we have no intention of following through, we wobble, and it becomes an agonizing attempt.

How do you feel when someone says “I’ll try to make it”? Would you count on them? Similarly, when we hold back on life, life holds back on us. Or how about when someone says “I’ll try to give it to you tomorrow.” Are they intending to finish the work or are they uncertain about their agendas? The next time you hear these words, or catch yourself about to say it – pause and clarify. Most, if not all people, would really appreciate hearing a definite “No” rather than a flimsy “I’ll try.” A nonaccountable answer, in addition to discounting your credibility, might sometimes create disasters. Just imagine when your new nanny says “I’ll try to look after your baby in the pool.” Would you go out with peace of mind?

4. “I HAD NO CONTROL”

Another form of “I have no choice.” “Satan made me do it!” Maybe it’s true, however, Satan still needed the evil in you to work.

I was once in a merger discussion between two parties. Halfway through, they went into a sensitive area and things got out of hand. Highly charged emotional words were exchanged. Both leaders were shouting at each other, very much out of control. Being caught in the middle, I asked them whether it was necessary to raise their voices, and then suddenly, there was a ring from the phone nearby. It was one of the leader’s major clients. In a very calm and cheerful voice he handled the call like a professional. And as soon as the phone was put down, the shouting and screaming continued.

“No control?” No one can make you angry until you give him the power to do so. If you say you don’t have control, then your emotional buttons are placed on the external surface of your body. That means whenever someone wants to make you ‘Angry, Sad or Happy’, they can just simply walk over to you and press those buttons, and you’ll display those emotions for them.

5. “IF…., THEN….!”

I recalled a statement made by one of my participants “If my husband gives me more respect then I will listen to him.” I wonder what is the chance of that participant getting more respect? Would someone respect someone else if they don’t listen to what they have got to say? Another person shared with me, “If my wife loves me for who I am, then I would be happy.” Who wants to be in love with an unhappy person?

A more effective approach would be to become a happy person first, then the chance of developing a loving relationship improves.

The “If…., then….!” approach puts conditions between our outcome and us. More often than not, the conditions become more important than the outcome. Maybe we don’t really want our so called outcome; we want something that will keep us within our comfort zone. If we are serious about our goals, drop the conditions and go straight for it. Conditions are often self-deceiving tactics to escape accountability.

6. “IT’S NOT MY FAULT”

Yes, there are times when some things are honestly not our fault. Transferring the cause to others keeps us in a stuck state and it damages our self-esteem in the long run. What do you think the answer would be when you ask a convict how they ended up in jail? They would tell you “It’s not my fault.” We are all accountable towards our affairs.

And collectively we are all accountable for what’s happening in our community, state, country and our planet. It starts with the individual. Most people see a tumour as the problem, but what happens most of the time when you surgically remove it? It comes back. Why? Because we did not work on the ecology of the individual cell. If everyone single one of us starts transforming ourselves (the individual cell) first, we would immediately impact the people that we come in contact everyday. Collectively over time, we will remove the ‘tumour’ in our society. That’s accountability at the micro level that changes the macro scene forever.

When we blame others, we prevent ourselves from learning. Instead of focusing on transferring the fault, ask “What is the learning for me, so that I could apply it in the future?” This restores accountability.

7. “IT’S NOT MY JOB”

Not too long ago, I had dinner in a struggling hotel. The service there was ‘incredible’. I saw a bowl of sliced chillies without the accompanying soya sauce and ladle. I politely asked one of the waiters to take care of the situation. Fifteen minutes later, nothing happened. I then asked an assisting cook at the buffet table for the items. With a nonchalant look in his eyes, he said, “It’s not my job.” He doesn’t do the buffet table setting, he just refills it. Three months later, the hotel name was changed as it was sold to a more prestigious hotel management group. When it comes to guaranteeing business continuity, quality customer service is everybody’s business. In fact, nothing seems to be outside a job description for top companies like Citibank, Federal Express, Hewlett Packard, Honda and many more.

What is ‘outside’ of our job description at work and at home? Are we placing limits on ourselves and others by stating “It’s not my job”? Are we placing boundaries on our role so that we could stay in our comfort zone? When we refuse to stretch, and stay in our comfort zone, over time just like our muscles it atrophies. What if we remove the limits at work and at home and did whatever it takes to make things flow?

8. “I CAN’T”

Whether we think we can or we cannot, we are right. Life is a self-fulfilling prophecy. We very often ascertain our outcome in advance, then we behave in ways that support that outcome. We might hear someone say “I can’t” when in truth they are saying “I won’t.” One of the reasons that contribute to someone saying a disguised “I can’t” is because they are not comfortable with the difficulty of the commitment. Before you say that to yourself or others, pause. Is it true that you can’t or you won’t? “I just can’t get along with him.” “I can’t exercise three times a week.” “I can’t take on this assignment.” Be clear and truthful to yourself. Rather than claiming our personal power and taking prudent risks, we substitute it with a smokescreen, and that robs us of the opportunity to reach our potential.

9. “THAT’S JUST THE WAY I AM!”

I’m reminded of a coaching session with one of my clients. After ninety minutes of consultation, we were still going around in circles. I asked her “Is there anything preventing you from doing what I’ve suggested?” She said “No.”

After a series of creative probing, at almost my wit’s end, she finally said, “It’s just not me to do those sorts of things and that’s just the way I am.”

And I said, “That’s right, so what is not you?”

She stared at me with her mouth open as if I’ve just uttered a Martian language. After pausing for quite awhile she said “Everything else!” I then told her “That’s right again, what is you then?”

She replied after a short pause “Everything I am made up of.” For which I then said “Everything, including your problems?” She replied, “Yes, I guess it’s only fair to admit it.” Then I finally asked, “So let me ask again, what is not you then?”

She finally understood and whispered “The solution.”

Doing the same thing everyday while hoping to get a different result; people in the mental institutions still think that way. This non-accountable behaviour justifies an unwillingness to move off our position and puts the responsibility on others to make a change. The person or thing with the most flexibility has the greatest chance of succeeding. And once you stretch your boundaries you can only continue to grow; you cannot regain your original dimension. That’s the wonder of our nervous system, one of the greatest creations of the universe.

10. “I’LL WAIT AND SEE”

I have come across a few attendees in my workshops who sit in the back row or corner with their arms folded, transmitting this message “I’ll wait and see if this is going to be a good workshop.” The responsibility is clearly up to someone else. Are they at cause in their own learning evolution? No. They are waiting for me to present a good workshop.

Similarly in the other areas of life, “I’ll wait and see” has also been applied, probably by the same people. “I’ll wait and see how the meeting goes.” “I’ll wait and see how things go next week.” “I’ll wait and see if she really loves me.” As self-appointed skeptical observers of life, they look for and find the flaws and hold back their involvement. Again if you hold back on life, life holds back on you. These people fail to see that their ‘lukewarm’ outcome is a result of their ‘lukewarm’ involvement.

Life is a ‘do it to yourself’ programme.

The learning is in the doing. A famous Chinese philosopher once said “Show me and I will forget. Tell me and I may remember. But if you involve me I will understand.”

A very close friend of mine always gets her outcome in her learning. She makes the best of her experience by being fully involved and by believing that everyone is unique and therefore she has something to benefit from it. Some people get transformed after a workshop. And in the same workshop, some people remain unchanged. So who ultimately determines the quality of our experience? We are what we think. What we see is who we are. Our beliefs structure our perception. We cannot see beyond our own projection. Perception is projection. Nothing is good or bad, it’s the thinking that makes it so.

ACCOUNTABILITY = POWER TO CHANGE

Are we placing the responsibility on others to create the results we want? While there are many ways to avoid accountability, the 10 Lethal Snowballs lists the common ones. Which ones are you most familiar with? Be honest, you probably have used more than one of them.

Maybe you can add some non-accountabilities to the list, such as “I don’t have time.” No, we have twenty-four hours a day, don’t we? The issue, therefore, is how we choose to spend the hours. We always have enough time so long as we choose to spend it on things that are most important to us. What about this one – “Nobody told me!” When someone says that, they are saying they don’t listen very well.

Let me share this story with you.

A kid came back from school and said, “Mom, we had an important history test today, and nobody told me about it!”

Mom asked, “Did anyone else in the class not know about the test?”

Kid replied, “No, they all knew except me, nobody told me!”

Another familiar one, “I forgot!” Sometimes we really forget and other times we choose not to remember, because we don’t know how to turn down an engagement or it’s something we don’t particularly enjoy doing. A variation of this includes becoming so caught up in doing things we like to do that we ‘forget’ to do those things that are highly important to others.

When we claim accountability in our lives, we regain control.

Remember, being at cause means accepting the choice and its consequences. Strangely, as soon as you gain ownership of the cause, you begin to transform the effects. Most of all, when you embrace accountability in your life, the ‘Snowballs’ of rude awakening may just simply slow down and eventually melt away. At the same time, another kind of ‘Snowball’ is beginning to roll towards your future, helping you create the life that you truly deserve.


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About Barney Wee
Barney Wee
Barney Wee is the founder & Principal Trainer of Mind Transformations. He practises the philosophy of Kaizen—continuous improvement, and simple daily routines that lead to an avalanche of change.