By John Sonmez September 8, 2014

Your Worst Enemy Is Yourself

Here's the thing…

You could have been exactly where you want to be right now.

You could have gotten the perfect job.

You could have started that business you always wanted to start.

You could have gotten those 6-pack abs.

You could have even met the love of your life.

There has only been one thing standing in your way, and there will always be one thing standing in your way–you!

You are constantly at war with yourself

Ask most people what they need to do to solve their problems and they can give you a definitive answer.

Most people know how reach their fitness goals, their financial goals, and any other goals they have. Knowledge is rarely the problem.

Right now, I guarantee you that there is at least one goal that you'd like to achieve, that you know how to achieve, but you still haven't been able to do–why?

It's not lack of knowledge that is holding you back, it is a war within yourself–a fierce battle that is raging between different parts of your conscious mind. One side is telling you what you need to do, the other side is justifying all kinds of short-term excuses in order to hold you back.

One of my favorite authors, Steven Pressfield, calls this mysterious force that is fighting you resistance, in his excellent book, The War of Art.

But, I'm going to level with you here and tell you that the truth is that the enemy you are fighting is actually yourself. As humans we are constantly involved in a self-sabotage that holds us back from achieving what we desire.

That is one of the reasons that you'll notice, if you follow this blog regularly or my YouTube videos or other productions, that I focus on the mental aspect of software development.

I can give you all the knowledge in the world about how to write good code and how to succeed at your career, but ultimately it won't do you any good if you can't learn to conquer yourself.

Conquering yourself

How do you beat an enemy that knows everything about you?

How can you possibly defeat an adversary that has the power to undermine any defense you prepare against him?

Let me tell you a little story that might help to illustrate the answer.

Yesterday, I took my family on a drive to the northern part of west Maui. We hadn't gone around the northern part of Maui, but we knew that the road was a bit dangerous and scary.

My wife and I discussed whether we should try and make the trip all the way around the north side of the island. We heard there was some killer banana bread at a little stand about halfway around.

After some deliberation, we finally decided to do it. We got on the road and drove past a sign that said “end of state highway.” From there on out it was a single lane road–actually less than a single lane road for many parts–that wrapped around steep mountains and sheer cliffs with no guard-rails in sight.

highway

In all honesty, the road itself wasn't all that scary. The biggest fear was that someone would be coming the other way and we'd have to drive backwards down the road until we could find a turn-out to let them pass. After about an hour and a half, we made it to the other side, world's best banana bread in hand.

Now, here is the interesting thing about that trip; for the scary parts of the road, there was no place to turn around. Once you were winding around the golf-cart sized lane going around the mountains, you had to keep going forward, because you didn't have the option of going back.

Had there been places to turn around, I might have chickened out and turned around, but because I didn't have the option, I had to keep going forward.

That is the key in conquering yourself–leaving no quarter.

Pre-make decisions and commit to them

If you want to be victorious in this battle with yourself, you have to realize that you can't win.

That's right, you can't win, so don't even try… at least not in a battle of the wills.

If you constantly put yourself in positions where you have to make judgement calls, you'll constantly find yourself making the wrong calls and being defeated time and time again.

When you are at the decision-making point of a judgement call, you'll find your enemy has all kinds of tricks up its sleeve.

You'll suddenly feel hopeless. You'll convince yourself that you don't really want what you are seeking. You'll tell yourself that one piece of cake won't hurt anything. You'll promise yourself to get back on the wagon tomorrow. There is no end to the excuses and the justifications you'll come up with to stop yourself from achieving success.

So, here is the trick: eliminate as many of the judgement calls as possible.

When you want to to do something, spend time to carefully form a plan, take time to think things through, then commit to the plan and don't allow yourself the opportunity to question the plan until after it has been executed.

Basically, take the part of your brain that always defeats you hostage. Tie him up, throw him in the backseat of your car, and drive forward down that one-lane mountain road. Even if he ends up breaking free, he won't be able to convince you to turn around, since you can't.

Rules, rules, rules…

The key is to set up rules for yourself that will govern your actions in certain situations.

If you want to lose weight, eating healthy is not a good plan. You need an actual diet that is planned out in advance. Making judgement calls every time you need to eat will eventually wear down your resolve and you'll find yourself stuffing your face with foods that definitely aren't healthy.

If you want to write a blog post every week, you need to make a rule about it. Don't give yourself the option of not doing it. Don't write only when you feel like it.

Want to improve your programming skills by practicing solving problems or reading technical books? Come up with a certain amount of time you have to devote to the task each day and don't allow yourself to question whether or not you should do it, instead make it a rule you must obey every single day.

This concept of applying so many rules to your life may not seem very appealing, but the truth is we all hate freedom. We just can't handle it. We think we want freedom, but when we have it all we do is sit on the couch and do nothing all day.

True freedom is doing exactly what you want to do and in order to do that you need discipline and discipline comes from following rules. The difference here is who the master is. Is someone else setting the rules for you to follow or are you setting the rules?

If you can't set and obey your own rules, you will always be subject to the rules of others. If you can't learn to be your own master, you'll always have another person as a master over you.

The level of true, actual freedom you are afforded is directly related to your ability to obey the rules you set for yourself.

Think of it another way: If you can't control yourself to do what you intend to do then you don't have any freedom at all. Paradoxically, the most free person is the person who is able to constrain themself the most, because they always do exactly what they intend to do.

Sticking to the plan

Now, just because you make rules and follow them, doesn't mean that you can't ever break those rules, or change your mind, but it is critical you stay the course long enough to achieve the results you are trying to achieve or to at least be sure you aren't giving up prematurely.

I have a standing rule that I would suggest you apply to your life right now.

The rule is that I can't ever quit anything at the time of making a decision of whether or not to do it.

What this means is that if I set some rules for myself, like going for a run three times a week, I can't break that rule or rewrite that rule when I wake up in the morning and don't feel like running. I also can't break or change that rule in the middle of the week. I could decide this week that next week I will drop the running down to two times a week or quit it all together, but this week, I'll carry forward with the plan.

By having this master “no quitters” rule in place, you protect yourself from the nasty self-sabotage of changing course midstream. It's not that you can never change course–you can–you just have to limit how often you change courses–if you ever want to get anywhere–and you need to make sure you are not changing courses for the wrong reason.

By making sure you never quit midstream, by making sure you always follow through with at least the current leg of the journey, you prevent yourself from making critical mistakes due to just having a bad day or having the wrong mental attitude.

Some final advice

So, if you want to defeat your worst enemy–yourself–here is my advice:

  • Plan as many things in advance as possible. Always have some plan that will take you forward towards your goal.
  • Set rules for yourself around your plan. Make these rules as strict as possible and obey them at all costs. Once you go down the slippery slope of breaking your own rules, they'll have less and less power, so take these rules seriously.
  • Implement the “no quitters rules.” Don't quit or change your rules at the time of making a decision. Plan ahead when you'll change the rules or break them.
  • Don't give up. You'll fail and that is ok. But don't ever accept failure or defeat. Get back on the horse, and keep fighting the battle.

So, set some rules, strap your brain into the backseat and drive right right through those one-lane mountain roads of life. Who knows, there might even be some tasty banana bread waiting for you on the other side.

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About the author

John Sonmez

John Sonmez is the founder of Simple Programmer and a life coach for software developers. He is the best selling author of the book "Soft Skills: The Software Developer's Life Manual."