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Four Mind Games To Stop Playing with Yourself


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You’ll probably recognize the following mind games that all of us tend to play.

What might be new for you is why these are, in fact, self-sabotaging mind games. You may also find the remedies provided to be helpful.

1.  Telling yourself that you can’t

Using words like can’t: I’m not here to tell you what you have the ability to do. You either have the ability to do something or you don’t. Of course, when you legitimately do NOT have the skills or capacity, it doesn’t really bother you that much, right?

For example, if you ask me to coach a baseball team, I will gladly tell you that I can’t do it. I’ve never played baseball on a team. I don’t know the skill-building drills and am not even certain of the rules of the game.

I’m not baseball coach material. I’m ok with that. It makes perfect sense.

If you ask me to coach a tennis team, that’s a different story. I do have those skills. Telling myself I can’t do it is a lie. Now, I might be anxious about coaching. I might fear disapproval or failure.

In this case, a less mind-gamey way to characterize the situation is as follows: I have the skills to coach a tennis team, but I am afraid that people will not like me as a coach.

This is something to go on. You can address a specific fear. You can work with it.

A generic, “I can’t” leaves you stuck. Don’t play that game. Get specific.

2.Telling yourself that you don’t fit in

Often we use this as a generic excuse to avoid people and social situations. Let’s go a couple of steps further with this one.

Of course you will not fit in everywhere. In fact, you may not fit in more places than you do fit in. This is normal. The problem lies in telling ourselves that we don’t fit in before we give ourselves a chance to, in fact, fit in or not.

Fitting in is a socially constructed process. It depends on you. It depends on others. So, when you interact with people and share your thoughts and feelings honestly, they will either appreciate your contribution, or not.

If they do, you are on your way to fitting in. If they don’t, then it is on to the next group of people.

Deciding ahead of time, before you’ve given yourself and others a chance, is a mind game you should quit playing.

3. Catastrophizing

Catastrophizing works like this:

1.    Think of the worst possible outcome.
2.    Worry on it as if it were absolutely going to happen.
3.    Stress out.

There is a minute possibility that the worst will happen. And we should be minutely concerned with that. So, when my daughter goes out on a date, I acknowledge that she might get into a car wreck. There is an extremely small chance that I might find myself at midnight, sitting over her bed in the intensive care unit.

Now, if I spend the evening with those images flashing through my mind….not a fun evening.

It’s better to ask her to be very careful, make sure she understands that she needs to pay attention while driving and avoid alcohol, etc…

Then, when the catastrophic thoughts come, to acknowledge them as a remote possibility and move on. If those thoughts keep coming, then you should admit that you are playing mind games with yourself.

If you still can’t stop, seeking help from a friend or professional might be a good idea.

4. Telling yourself that it’s not your fault

I agreed to do the dishes before going out to play tennis with a friend. I didn’t do them. The phone rang and I got caught up in a business call. To be on time for my tennis date, I had to leave the dishes undone.

When my wife, Hope, got home, she was upset. She called while I was on the way to the court and gave me a piece of her mind.

There are two ways to respond to that:

“Hey! Hold up! It’s not my fault, so before you go off on your false assumptions, you should ask me what happened! You’re really rude. Do you even know that?”
You can imagine where that one was headed. The second way looks like this:

“You’re right. I agreed to do the dishes and didn’t do them. I’m sorry. I put it off all morning because I thought I had time. Just before I was about to go clean the kitchen, I got a business call that messed up my plan. I shouldn’t have put it off.”

The second response paints a different picture, doesn’t it? If the dishes were a high priority for me that morning, they would have been done.

Given that I screwed up, what’s the best way to protect my relationship with Hope? Honesty.

In many instances, when you have to tell yourself that something isn’t your fault, then you might want to take another look at yourself.

Why do we play mind games with ourselves?

It’s self-sabotage. Playing mind games doesn’t result in greater mental or emotional health. It won’t make you more successful or happier in life.

It’s a way to stay stuck. Perhaps being stuck – for you and for me – is more familiar than being mature and free. When we fear to do the healthy thing, self-sabotage is usually in the mix somewhere.

To learn more about how self-sabotage works and how to stop it, watch this free and enlightening video.

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Four Mind Games To Stop Playing with Yourself

Mike Bundrant

Mike Bundrant is the author of Your Achilles Eel: Discover and Overcome the Hidden Cause of Negative Emotions, Bad Decisions and Self-Sabotage and co-founder at The iNLP Center which offers online certification in Neuro-Linguistic Programming and life coaching.

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APA Reference
Bundrant, M. (2015). Four Mind Games To Stop Playing with Yourself. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 13, 2020, from


Last updated: 30 Mar 2015
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