2 Self-Defeating Attitudes to Leave Behind

by Mark Travers Ph.D.


With the new year, many of us can pick out at least a few unhealthy thought processes, feelings, and behaviors that held us back in 2022. But it’s never too late to untangle an unhealthy cognitive loop or behavioral cycle.

Here, I’ll talk about two ways to leave your self-defeating patterns where they belong—in the past.

#1. Stop sabotaging your happiness by chasing after things that are out of reach. Be happy with what you have.

Many of us sabotage ourselves when we think we must have material things to be happy. For instance, if we already have a fully functioning iPhone 12, why do we feel the need to own the latest edition?

Part of this has to do with the “scarcity bias.” Scarcity bias is the tendency to overvalue things we have limited access to and devalue the things that are easily accessible and available to us.

While the scarcity bias played an important role in keeping us safe and secure in our evolutionary past, it serves little purpose in today’s era of consumerism and choice overload.

According to a study published in Psychological and Cognitive Sciences, a certain amount of money is required to live a happy, fulfilled life (e.g., having access to education, healthcare, and basic standards of living). But, beyond that, higher incomes do not necessarily correlate to happier lives nor do they guarantee happiness. Chasing scarce goods, at best, can only lead to fleeting moments of happiness.

Here’s a better path to uncover a deeper level of contentment with the life you have:

  • Schedule time for simple pleasures. Try taking a break from the competitive aspects of life and follow some simple pleasures, such as gardening on a sunny day followed by lunch or dinner with a close friend.
  • Spend time with people who make you happy. While “me time” is important, isolating yourself is not. Spending long hours by yourself can lead to negative thought spirals. Instead, find people to hang out with who are at ease with themselves. Take part in shared activities to open new avenues of joy. It can be as easy as going for an evening walk with a new or old friend.
  • Schedule a daily “happy hour.” Happy hours do not always have to mean drinks and appetizers. You can simply note down a happy hour in your daily calendar where you do whatever you need to do to destress and unwind. For instance, you could take your dog out for a walk while mindfully steering clear of technology.
#2. Let go of people-pleasing tendencies and move past your need to be liked by others.

A lot of us drive ourselves crazy worrying about other people’s expectations of us. We end up going the extra mile to make others satisfied while compromising our own needs and desires.

If you have a tendency to pedestalize people at the expense of your own well-being, try some of these tactics to break the cycle:

  • Recalibrate others’ expectations of you. Learn to be okay with pushing back on people’s unrealistic expectations of you. While this may seem daunting at first, it is important to develop this skill to let people know the value of your time.
  • Learn to say no. If you want to have healthy relationships where you are valued just as much as you value the other person, you have to know when to say no. Make time for yourself and your hobbies and do not flake on yourself by giving in to pressure from others. If you ignore your need to occasionally say no, even to people you love and respect, it will hurt your self-esteem and it will make you resent those people for obstructing your personal time.
  • Manage your need for constant validation from others. We tend to think of people-pleasing behavior as a selfless act. However, in reality, the motivation to constantly please others comes from a need to be perceived as perfect. While validation from others is a good ego boost, it is necessary to understand that it is only temporary and can often cause more harm than good. It is important to be okay with giving yourself some slack and reflecting on whether being there for a certain person is the only thing that makes you feel good about yourself.

Breaking unhealthy patterns of thinking and acting is easier said than done. But there’s no time like the present. Make the new year your time to finally let go of the things that have been stunting your personal growth.