Step Two: Release Yourself from the Cage

Once you're aware of your self-sabotaging triggers, it's time to deploy your brilliant computer mind—not to stifle your animal self, but to let the pair work together to create a life that feels freer and more nourishing. Considering each self-sabotage-inducing item on your list, ask:

1. In a perfect life, would I do this thing at all?

2. If so, what would I change to make it more enjoyable?

3. If not, what would I rather do?

Let your imagination roam as you consider the last two questions. Think of alternative activities that aren't just concepts but images, pictures that make your animal self perk up, relax or both. Don't limit yourself to what's logical, doable or even possible. Dreaming it doesn't mean you have to do it, but guess what—if you never dream it, you'll never do it.

Step Three: Build Your Rat Park

Now, starting with the wildest-dream scenario from step two, begin making changes—even tiny ones—that allow your life to more closely resemble your animal self's ideal environment. Your personal Rat Park doesn't need to be built in a day. Just envisioning it will give your animal self hope and reduce its need to sabotage your agendas.

For example, overscheduled Rose noticed that she went nuts with the sweets whenever she tried to keep up with stay-at-home moms at neighborhood parties. She finally decided to skip social events she didn't like and immediately felt less compulsion toward Krispy Kremes. Anya wasn't prepared to quit her onerous job, but she asked her boss whether she could do more work outside the office and found that she had much less trouble keeping appointments. Cissy addressed her loneliness by joining a Wednesday night knitting circle, and soon her need to shop dwindled. Give the animal self a little love, and incredible things occur.

Bruce Alexander helped a few would-be hard-core addict rodents avoid a life of dependency by guiding them out of a miserable situation and putting them in an environment that felt normal and natural to them. All it took was a bit of time and compassion to give those animals the type of sanctuary that nature designed them to thrive in.

That's all you have to do to ease your own self-sabotaging tendencies. Begin caring compassionately for your animal self. Even before you've made much headway toward creating your own Rat Park, you'll feel bad habits begin to lose their compulsive pull. If you keep working your way toward more enjoyable days, deep self-betrayal will begin to diminish, and those bad habits may cease entirely. In hindsight, what you once called self-sabotage may appear as wisdom—the unlikely spark that led the way to a happier life.

If you cease to betray yourself, the self-sabotage in your life simply stops.

Martha Beck's latest book is The Martha Beck Collection: Essays for Creating Your Right Life, Volume One (Martha Beck Inc.).

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