What Would Your Life Look Like If Nothing Held You Back?

Recognise your ways of self-sabotage

Photo by Nowshad Arefin on Unsplash

I’m a huge fan of thought experiments and provocative questions that make you think and reconsider. I like musing about them and discuss them and I am ever so grateful that sometimes my kids come up with such absurd questions — with childish innocence and nonchalance — that I can’t but marvel at how their amazing brains work.

At the end of an exceptionally long day — which I have plenty of with a full-time job, a few extra projects and three kids — we got into an argument with my youngest daughter about staying up late. To make my point, I found myself explaining to a 5-year-old that life can be really difficult and people can’t always do whatever they want.

“I thought adults can do whatever they want…”
“Well not really.”
“But why? You are an adult. What stops you from doing whatever you want?”

I stopped to think of what really stopped me from doing whatever I want — and I almost started a speech about expectations and society and obligations and time and Covid-fatigue, but then I didn’t. Moreover, after we somehow resolved the conflict — involving a tiny bribe for the next morning — I started to think hard about what she asked.

Really, what stops me?

And I realised that it’s me. I am the one stopping myself. I am the one holding myself back.

Of course, there are external factors — but they are like gravity, it would be stupid to fight them. But within the limits of external limitations which could be questioned more and pushed more — I admit — the biggest obstacle in my own progress and happiness is usually me.

And in most cases, I don’t even realise that I am sabotaging myself in numerous obnoxious ways. All I know is that I am stuck. All I feel that I am less successful than I should be (according to who and what and who gets to decide by the way?). All I know that I am held back.

It takes some self-reflection and accepting a couple of harsh truths to be able to snap out of the state of self-sabotage. And the first step is to understand how you are doing it to yourself. What everyday habits and mishaps are holding you back from living a fuller, more accomplished life — whatever it means for you?

You don’t dream big enough

The first mistake you can make and that definitely counts as self-sabotage is to control your own dreams and to water them down. You are entitled to dream big, even unrealistically huge — for dreams are nothing but to set your direction towards a self that you really would like to become. If you tone them down because you convince yourself that you would never get there anyway, it’s like giving up the idea of having a North Star to guide you and light your path. Societal expectations, negative self-talk, limiting beliefs and the limitations you bring from your childhood might hinder you from dreaming big.

Just let it all go and give in to dreaming. Make your dreams big and scary and let them guide you — it’s the journey that counts not the fact whether you achieve them or not.

You plan with unrealistic deadlines

Once you have dreams, it’s important to break them down into bite-sized plans that can give you the daily push and motivation to do more and be more. It is believed that goals only work if you give yourself a deadline to achieve them — fair enough. But setting unrealistically tight deadlines for yourself will only bring you frustration and you will give up before you could get where you want to.

Set a time for yourself, but give yourself enough time to realistically achieve your goals. Life-long changes don’t happen overnight, you need to be patient and persistent but you also need to understand that time is on your side and no matter how long it takes, progress is progress.

You don’t belong to the right tribe

If you are fed up with always having to be a bigger person, maybe you should stop surrounding yourself with small people. — Unknown

The people around you shape your reality, your opinions and most importantly your habits. If you are not with the right people, holist you up, who motivate you, who show you good examples that you would like to follow, you will always struggle and question yourself.

If you are with people where no one motivates or challenges you, you will never move from your comfort zone. If you don’t feel safe to be yourself, then it’s time to change your tribe instead of changing yourself.

You mistreat yourself with abusive self-talk

What do you hear when you listen to your self-talk? Are you ashamed? Are you bullied? Are you hurting? Would you talk to a friend the way you talk to yourself? Would you treat your child with the same comments you are beating yourself up? Are you supportive enough of your own self?

If you are used to putting yourself down, you need to find a way to treat yourself better. You need to understand that your thoughts define your actions and your actions define your mood — so you’d better think well of yourself and treat yourself accordingly. Don’t hold yourself back with abusive self-talk, you need to have your own back and you need to become your own biggest fan — above all.

You don’t trust your instincts

Survivors of trauma or negative experiences usually claim that they have lost their instincts. It’s because they have been conditioned by external negative forces to question their own judgment, probably for a very long time.

You can’t lose your instincts, they are always there to guide you and warn you. All you need to do is to listen to them. Trust your gut, trust your anxiety, trust your feelings. If something feels off, it probably is. If someone is creepy, they probably are. If something makes you feel anxious, you need to dig deeper and figure out what was triggered — and act on it.

Don’t ignore red flags and warnings. Don’t ignore anxiety or an “off” sensation. Learn to pay attention to yourself again and stop holding yourself back by explaining, rationalising and ignoring signs.

You have no idea what would make you happy

We all want to be happy yet we struggle with finding ways how to become happier. We know what we don’t want, we might even assertively communicate our boundaries, but if you don’t quite know what would make you happy or happier than you are always on the defensive.

Setting boundaries is about rejecting what you don’t tolerate — and it’s inherently passive. Defining what would make you happy is about actively seeking ways to make you feel good — in small or bigger doses.

Figure out what would make you happy — what circumstances, what people, what situations — and go out and get it. If you don’t go for it, if you don’t ask for it, no one is bringing it to you on a silver platter.

My daughter's words made me think about who and what is holding me back. I realised that most of my complaints are coming from a place of indifference — that I don’t really care about what would make me happy, yet I complain that I am not as happy as I would want to be. We are all adults, even if we can’t always do what we want or get what we want, we can still make decisions not to hold ourselves back and go after the things that would make us feel better and more accomplished.

So now, I’m working very hard on figuring out what my life would look like if nothing — not even me — held me back from turning it into the life I really want. I will let you know when I figured it all out.

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Writer. Dreamer. Hopeless romantic. Newsletter: zita.substack.com Email me: zitafontaine (at) gmail

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