Self-Sabotage – The Dark Side of the Ten Year Game

Written by on October 21st, 2016 // Filed under Encouragement & Philosophy, Erika Viktor, Writing Advice


On Wednesday, we discussed the Ten Year Game, a little exercise in perspective that helps us realize how unimportant our day to day problems really are, and how we can take greater risks through that realization.

But sometimes the Ten Year Game reveals something different . . . something deeply troubling.

A dear friend of mine played the Ten Year Game last year while we sat and ate sushi at our favorite dive. Since she is in her 40’s she was able to go back much further in time than I could. We went through each and every category of her life and tried to remember the problems of each era.

Smack dab in the middle of dinner, she looked up from her chopsticks and solemnly said, “I’ve had problems with money my whole life.”

Going all the way back to her childhood in the 70’s, she had trouble holding on to money. Her single mother, who had many kids and worked two jobs, couldn’t afford most luxuries her peers enjoyed. When my friend got married, money got steadily better, but through successive divorces and relationship upsets, not to mention job hiccups, she was never able to save money. Now, she was in excessive debt and her salary would not come close to digging her out of the mire.

This woman had worked her entire life. She was never out of a job. Sometimes she had several jobs at once! She is completely put together in every other way, having conquered health goals and creative goals alike. I aspire to be like her in many ways and draw a lot of wisdom through my association with her. But money problems . . . that is her dragon, her demon that has shadowed her endlessly.

When you play the Ten Year Game, and really think of all your problems in every category, if you have the SAME problem that you had ten years ago, then you are in a cycle of self-sabotage.


In his excellent book, The Big Leap, author Gay Hendricks speaks of the “Upper Limit Problem” an invisible ceiling of happiness inherent in all of us. It can also be called our hedonic adaption.

The gist goes like this: we hit the ceiling when we accomplish something big, achieve some level of success, and so we unconsciously sabotage our growth by committing acts, small and large, of destruction. We are then brought back to our comfortable level of happiness and success, which is usually pretty low.

We do this over and over and over again, over the course of our entire lives, preventing us from growing.

Growth implies not an absence of problems, but that the problems are different and escalate rather than contract or stay in stasis.

A young writer may have problems getting to the page every day. A seasoned writer will have problems with making deadlines. An expert writer will have problems coming up with game-changing material to transform their career.

It’s funny how you never see a seasoned writer having problems getting to the page (except for in B-movies about finding oneself). That’s because “getting to the page” was a lesser problem that they eventually overcame. Maybe it took them years, maybe it took them decades, but they got past it through concentrated, repeated, focused effort.

They did not assume the problem was insurmountable and then gave in to the struggle. They used everything they had to get past it. They rearranged their entire lives, read book shelves filled with advice, threatened and bribed themselves. But somehow, some way, they got past that problem.

Have you ever met somebody who is in their 50’s or 60’s and they are still having troubles with relationships? I once know a man who is close to 70 years old and has the exact same problems as my teenage daughter in on the relationship category, mainly that he wonders if a woman at his work has a crush on him, stalks her Facebook, getting Woody Allen jealous at each photo post of her with other men. It would be adorably amusing if he hadn’t been playing this game for fifty odd years with fifty other women. Just when this guy would find happiness, in a Seinfeld-like gesture, he would sabotage it. Decade after decade after decade the universe offered up nice women and he found reasons to drive them away.

He kept hitting his ceiling.

The first step is to recognize the daily forms of self-sabotage we engage in and slowly, carefully, refuse to play the game.

My friend who realized that her trouble with money was holding her back from achieving success finally decided to do something about it. Last spring she became a follower of David Ramsey, the financial guru that has helped millions of people get out of debt and take control of their financial future. She is getting her financial life back on track. She has a plan and is following it. As a consequence, she has made huge progress toward paying off her debt.

On Monday I will share a story of my personal form of self-sabotage and how I’ve learned to recognize the signs that it is creeping up on me. I will also share numerous other Self-Sabotage breeds and how we can spot them and stop them in their tracks before they stop us.



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