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The Healthy Mind Toolkit

Quit Sabotaging Your Success and Become Your Best Self

Alice Boyes

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  • The Healthy Mind Toolkit: Simple Strategies to Get Out of Your Own Way and Enjoy Your Life

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An empowering guide to overcoming self-defeating behaviors

I can't believe I just did that!
Why does this always happen to me?
I really should stop myself from . . .

Sound familiar? Whether we're aware of it or not, most of us are guilty of self-sabotage. These behaviors can manifest in seemingly innocuous ways, but if left unchecked can create stress and cause problems in all areas of your life.

In The Healthy Mind Toolkit, Dr. Alice Boyes provides easy, practical solutions that will help you identify how you're holding yourself back and how to reverse your self-sabotaging behaviors. Blending scientific research with techniques from cognitive behavioral therapy, this engaging book will take you through the steps to address this overarching problem, including how to:

• Identify the specific ways you're hurting your success in all aspects of your life
• Capitalize on the positive aspects of your extreme traits instead of the negatives
• Find creative solutions to curb your self-defeating patterns
• Practice self-care as a problem-solving strategy

Filled with quizzes and insightful exercises to personalize your journey from harmful behaviors to healthy habits, The Healthy Mind Toolkit is the essential guide to get out of your own way and get on the path to success.

Alice Boyes, PhD, is a former clinical psychologist turned writer and is the author of The Anxiety Toolkit. She is a popular blogger for Psychology Today, where her articles have more than ten million views, and she contributes to various magazines and blogs. Her research has been published by The American Psychological Association.


Einband Taschenbuch
Seitenzahl 304
Erscheinungsdatum 01.05.2018
Sprache Englisch, Französisch
ISBN 978-0-14-313070-3
Verlag Cerf
Maße (L/B/H) 20.8/13.9/2.5 cm
Gewicht 251 g


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  • Chapter 1

    How to Use This Book


    Have you ever experienced that feeling of exasperation when you realize you've created a problem for yourself? Maybe you stress yourself out over a request from your boss that turns out to be nothing, or you eat an entire family-size bag of popcorn because you didn't plan ahead while at the grocery store, or you turn down an opportunity because you're just not sure you can handle it. Whatever your situation, there's a common theme-you're getting in your own way.

    In The Healthy Mind Toolkit, you'll discover the ways in which you're holding yourself back and how to leave that behavior behind. I'll help you escape from self-defeating traps so you can enjoy a clear, calm mind and more productivity, freedom, and resilience.

    Together, we'll identify where you go wrong with your decision making. Then I'll help you put together a personalized toolkit of the skills you'll need for optimizing your thoughts and actions, which we'll tailor to your nature, lifestyle, and preferences. The result will be that you'll feel more relaxed, you'll sense your life is on the right track, and you'll have enough mental energy to withstand everyday stress and take on meaningful personal challenges.

    The book is divided into five sections: understanding yourself, foundation skills, correcting thinking errors, relationships psychology, and finally, work and money. In modern life, most of us don't have any spare time or willpower for implementing ideas that are excessively complicated and exhausting. You need easy, practical solutions, which is exactly what you'll learn here. We'll work on both knowing what to do to achieve more of what you want and how to do what you know, so that you can successfully implement your insights and the book's tools.

    Self-defeating behaviors are quite common, so you're certainly not alone in having this problem. And while each person's unique thought patterns and habits will be their own, there's a lot of overlap across people too. I can personally relate to many of the problem patterns we'll work through. In many cases, I've found simple solutions that work for me consistently. I've got strategies that prevent me from experiencing self-generated stress, or I can easily spot self-sabotage when I'm doing it and correct it on the fly. For example, I'm much better than I used to be at taking breaks, switching off my phone, prioritizing what I work on, seeing and implementing the simplest solutions to challenges, maintaining a balance between being cautious and carefree (preventing excessive worrying and ruminating), and not being penny wise but pound foolish.

    In some cases, I find my self-sabotaging actions are harder to consistently prevent. I tend to react to change and surprises with anxiety-driven defensiveness. For example, a friend recently suggested she coordinate her vacation with my family's existing plans to visit a mutual friend of ours. My initial (internal) reaction was "Accommodating three sets of babies' nap schedules is going to be such a pain." However, I know myself well enough to spot this negative thinking as my typical first reaction to virtually any proposed change of plans. Sure enough, within a few minutes of thinking it over I realized the positives of all three of us getting together would far outweigh any minor scheduling and planning issues. My knee-jerk hesitation quickly shifted to feeling really excited about seeing both friends. Likewise, if someone makes an unexpected request of me, I often overestimate what the person is asking me to do. It's only later when I've stepped back and gotten perspective that whatever has been asked of me seems achievable and not a big deal (or even positive). When it comes to handling trickier requests (for example, being asked to do something I don't want to do), an easy compromise or alternative solution frequently seems obvious once I've had time to digest and process what has been asked. Although I have good insight into my patterns in this area, I don't always manage to hide my initial defensiveness at the time, and I sometimes need to go back and "clean up," apologize, or correct my attitude after the fact.

    Ideally, using what you'll read here, you'll discover strategies for preventing your self-sabotaging behaviors from occurring. Realistically, you'll probably find yourself doing a mixture of prevention and treating the wound, as I do. You'll permanently solve some problem habits, but a few will remain works in progress. I'll help you learn how to respond constructively when these types of ongoing patterns occur, so you don't go spiraling into harsh self-criticism and rumination or blaming others unfairly. That way you can limit (or even reverse) any negative impact of your tendencies on yourself and your relationships.

    Interestingly, many self-sabotaging patterns that look unrelated on the surface are actually two sides of the same coin. Here are some common examples. Can you relate to any of the following?


    Have too much chaos in your life, and not enough structure and routine.        Stick too rigidly to self-imposed rules and routines.

    Give up too soon.        Persist too much.

    Get excited and rush into action, without enough thought.        Overthink and delay action because you never feel 100 percent sure.

    Have a thinking style that's too optimistic. You focus mainly on the potential upside of actions and don't pay enough attention to potential problems.        Have a thinking style that's too pessimistic. You shoot down good ideas, sweat the small stuff, and hold back from potentially wonderful opportunities.

    Fail to reflect on and learn from past mistakes.        Ruminate about the past and are prone to feeling excessive guilt and shame.

    Have a "now" focus. You prioritize current wants at the expense of future well-being.        Have a future focus. You deny yourself pleasure now in the hope of reaping rewards later.

    Take too little responsibility. You have a tendency to blame others. You underestimate your control over your life. You hand responsibility over to others.        Take too much responsibility. You overestimate your control over events and other people. You resist delegating.

    Don't assert your preferences.        Tend to dictate that others fit in with your terms, schedule, and preferences.

    Have too little understanding of yourself and your nature. You do too little self-reflection.        Have too rigid a view of your own nature. You do too much navel gazing.

    Tend to underestimate how hard or time-consuming tasks will be.        Tend to overestimate how hard or time-consuming tasks will be and fear them unnecessarily.

    Underwork.        Overwork.

    Don't utilize small scraps of time effectively.        Cram productive activity into any spare second, without giving yourself any true, guilt-free downtime.

    Think too big.        Think too small.

    Don't care what other people think or the impact you have on others.        Ruminate about what other people think.

    Are prone to narcissism and overconfidence.        Are prone to self-doubt and imposter syndrome.

    Are too trusting of others.        Are distrusting and suspicious. You have a negative expectation of others.

    You avoid conflict.        Never hold back from nagging or picking a fight.

    Believe rules don't apply to you.        Are too rule abiding. You don't recognize that rules often have hidden flexibility or gray areas.

    Are too self-sacrificing.        Are too self-centered and self-serving.

    As you can see from the examples, there are many, many different self-defeating processes (some related to each other, some not). Even very widespread patterns don't manifest in exactly the same way for every individual. Rather than attempting to include every type of self-sabotage (which would fill a library rather than a single book), I'll provide simple, actionable tips for how to tackle the most common self-defeating patterns and teach you the principles behind these suggestions so you can adapt them for your precise needs. The more you customize the material from the book to address your specific habits, the better you'll understand it. And if anything you read here doesn't gel for you, feel free to ignore it. I'll give you plenty of options so you can choose what suits you best. By the end of the book, you'll have a set of specific solutions to apply in your life and a general toolkit for understanding your problem tendencies and successfully working through them.

    The explanations and tips you'll read here are based mainly on cognitive behavioral theories and research. The term cognitive behavioral sounds formal, but it just means tweaking both your thinking and your behavior to have maximum positive impact. The dual emphasis is important because changing your behavior tends to be one of the quickest and most effective ways to change your thinking. A healthy mind starts with healthy behaviors, which is why this book includes many strategies that are focused on behavior, and why we'll concentrate in depth on the links between actions and thoughts. To truly declutter your mind, you'll need to streamline your behavior and switch out unconscious problem habits for more deliberate choices.

    Cognitive behavioral approaches have been extensively studied, mostly as treatments for mental health difficulties. Decades of research have shown that cognitive behavioral strategies are a very effective approach for making emotional and behavioral changes. Many common mental health problems, like anxiety and depression, include significant amounts of self-defeating behaviors, and these contribute to how people can get sucked into spirals of rumination (overthinking about the past), worry (overthinking about the future), and low mood. So although the book isn't specifically focused on alleviating mental health problems, if you have depression or anxiety, you can expect that the strategies I've included will be also helpful for those issues.

    You Don't Need to Completely Eliminate Self-Sabotage

    Your goal for using this book doesn't need to be to completely eliminate self-sabotage. In reality, that probably wouldn't be useful because life is so full of competing demands and wants and limited time and energy. A better goal is to identify and eliminate the patterns that are the most damaging to your health, happiness, and relationships. For example, putting off calling a friend isn't the same as putting off making a doctor's appointment after you've noticed a misshapen mole that could be a skin cancer. I'll help you figure out what's important to focus on minimizing and what's okay to leave as is. It's more critical to concentrate on the self-defeating behaviors that have the most harmful effects on you, rather than the frequency or number you do. By prioritizing the patterns that have the most significant potential consequences for you, you'll eliminate the majority of the negative impact that self-sabotage has in your life.

    Goal Setting

    A Catch-22 you may encounter as you progress through this book is that many self-sabotaging patterns also get in the way of overcoming self-sabotage. Great, right? Not prioritizing and trying to do it all is one example of this. To prevent this from happening, let's look at several different approaches you could take to prioritize the material in the book. Picking one of these options now will prevent you from trying to change all your self-defeating ways at once, becoming overwhelmed, and giving up.

    Option 1: Calculate what a good return would be from your investment in this book and set a specific, achievable goal to obtain that. For example, for the money you paid for it and the hours you spent reading it and absorbing the advice and suggestions, you'd like to identify and improve five self-defeating patterns.

    Option 2: If self-defeating patterns are having a big impact in only one domain of your life (for example, relationships or your career), you might choose to work through the material that relates to that domain thoroughly and read the rest of the book for interest, without the expectation of action.

    Option 3: If you're more motivated by taking a well-rounded approach, you might decide to implement one change in each of five life domains-general self-regulation, organization, relationships, work, and money. Or you might choose to implement one positive change from each chapter of the book.


    From the suggestions just given, identify your initial goal for reading The Healthy Mind Toolkit. What would you like to gain from applying the tips and strategies in your life? You can always pick further goals after you've achieved your primary objectives. If you set the bar too high initially, you'll end up feeling overloaded.

    If you're worried you may not have the willpower to get through this book and then go back and start implementing the advice you like best, you can always pause when you reach an insight you want to apply in your life. Practice it until it's routine and then pick up where you left off in the book. This approach is likely to be particularly useful if you tend to be an "all research, no action" type of person.

    Expect Your Insight into Your Patterns to Fluctuate

    Before I became an author, I worked as a clinical psychologist in private practice in my country of birth, New Zealand. A pattern I observed was this: A client and I would spend a session untangling a specific problem. The client would seem to have gained insight into their pattern, and would leave the session feeling satisfied they'd acquired new understanding and tools. Fast-forward a few weeks, a month, or even the very next week, and the client would report a situation that was fundamentally the same issue that we'd worked through previously. However, to the client the situations seemed different. Therefore, it didn't occur to them to use the strategies they'd already learned in the new situation.

    If you notice this happening to you, be aware that it's a known problem. It's not you, it's everyone. Frequently, it doesn't occur to us to translate insights and skills we've learned from one specific situation to other settings where they would be equally effective. In the moment, similar situations often seem completely distinct and unrelated to us. Sometimes it takes a while to get a really good handle on your repetitive patterns, but with patience, self-compassion, and perseverance, you'll get there. Expect the occasional face-palm moment when you recognize you've slipped into a familiar pattern you thought you'd resolved. You probably won't truly understand a pattern until you can think of at least ten different examples of how that pattern manifests in your life.

    Even when your insights into your self-sabotaging patterns become ingrained, and you have a variety of strategies that work for you, you'll still have at least a few instances of falling into your old traps. The good news is once you're at this point, understanding what has happened and course correcting won't seem nearly as difficult or energy sapping as it felt initially. Using your strategies will become what you do automatically. When you notice you've repeated a familiar pattern it can even feel quite satisfying to whip out a solution you know works for you or simply realize you've identified the pattern and can react differently next time.

    A Note on Ditching Harsh Self-Criticism

    If you find yourself thinking, "That's me" in response to many of the patterns described, remember that we all have self-defeating behaviors. The patterns in this book are extremely common. Many of us, including me, have been there, done that, got the T-shirt when it comes to these issues. Shame and self-criticism are counterproductive to moving forward and are not warranted. Also keep in mind that a book like this will attract readers who lean toward perfectionism and taking excessive responsibility. You may feel as if you are making a complete mess of managing your life, happiness, and relationships. If you think that, pay attention to what you're doing right as well as what you're doing wrong. There's a saying from the mindfulness tradition that goes, "If you're breathing, there's more right with you than there is wrong with you." If you found your way to this book, you clearly have good problem-solving instincts and the capacity to execute a strategy for helping yourself. Paying attention to only what you perceive you're doing wrong is itself a self-sabotaging pattern. How so? It strips you of the confidence and sense of self-command you need to implement change. When people intellectually understand cognitive behavioral skills but struggle to feel and act better, it's often lack of self-compassion and the ongoing presence of shame and self-criticism that are holding them back.

    In addition, if, as you read, you find that you have difficulty prioritizing which patterns to target, there's a good chance it's because you're a self-critical perfectionist. When you have extremely high standards for yourself, small imperfections, errors, and inefficiencies can feel just as intolerable as large ones. The perfectionist is as likely to unload a barrage of self-criticism in response to the small missteps as to the large ones. Self-critical perfectionists ruminate over small mistakes, which causes the pain to linger well past the event and turns molehills into mountains. Perfectionists often don't see themselves as self-critical, even though everyone else does. Because they expect themselves to be flawless, they see the self-criticism as justified and don't recognize how severe it is. I'll help you address this issue as we proceed together.