Our Wise Guide: This is a book about self-sabotage. Why we do it, when we do it, and how to stop doing it—for good. Coexisting but conflicting needs create self-sabotaging behaviors. This is why we resist efforts to change, often until they feel completely futile. But by extracting crucial insight from our most damaging habits, building emotional intelligence by better understanding our brains and bodies, releasing past experiences at a cellular level, and learning to act as our highest potential future selves, we can step out of our own way and into our potential. For centuries, the mountain has been used as a metaphor for the big challenges we face, especially ones that seem impossible to overcome. To scale our mountains, we actually have to do the deep internal work of excavating trauma, building resilience, and adjusting how we show up for the climb. In the end, it is not the mountain we master, but ourselves.
The Mountain Is You (2020) can help you recognize the negative patterns in your life and what they are really telling you. Changing those patterns will be like climbing a mountain and the reward will be unlocking your own potential.
About the author
Brianna Wiest is an American writer. Her books have sold over one million copies worldwide and have been translated into more than 20 languages. Her other titles include 101 Essays That Will Change the Way You Think, This Is How You Heal, The Truth About Everything, and Salt Water, a book of poetry.
Understand your subconscious behavior and reach your greatest potential.
Your fears and bad habits can prevent you from living your best life, but they can also show you how to get there.
The path will be tough – like climbing a mountain. You’ll have to sit with your discomfort and be honest about your actions. Change is never easy but you can transform your negative patterns and reinvent yourself as the person you were meant to be.
In this Shortform to Brianna Wiest’s The Mountain is You, you’ll discover the many ways habits and worries can hold you back. And in doing so, you’ll find that there are also many ways you can learn from those negative behaviors, and use that knowledge to point you in a positive direction.
While reading, you’re sure to find a familiar trait or feeling from your own life. Good. It’s all part of the process when you finally get honest and face your most challenging obstacle – yourself. That’s what the mountain symbolizes, the inner struggles that are holding you back.
Wiest provides multiple routes over the mountain, explaining where they start and end, warning of their various twists, and describing the scenery along the way. This Shortform won’t go down all those paths, but it will show you how to start climbing that mountain and change your life in the process.
Key idea 1
What is self-sabotage?
Self-sabotage might sound like something you’d be forced to do under hypnosis. Everyone’s laughing while you’re on stage unaware and flailing about. It’s clearly nothing you’d do consciously. But the truth is that self-sabotage is much more subtle than a hypnotist’s show. And it’s incredibly common.
Self-sabotage is a coping mechanism you use to meet a need or emotion that’s being neglected. It protects you and soothes the discomfort you feel from that neglect. But like all coping mechanisms, self-sabotage only provides temporary relief. It doesn’t truly fulfill your needs.
The way you self-sabotage can take many shapes. There’s perfectionism, which protects you from failing by sabotaging your efforts to try new things because you can’t stand to do them imperfectly, so you don’t do them at all. Or uprooting, which protects you from facing the real problems in your life by diverting your attention to the next relationship, job, home, or whatever other new project you’ve just started. Or pride, which protects you from judgment by keeping you in situations that no longer work, like not ending a bad marriage because you’re too ashamed of what others will think of your divorce.
There are several ways to tell if you’re stuck in a spiral of self-sabotage. If you care more about appearing happy than actually being happy, for example. Or if you’re more scared of your feelings than you are of anything else. Or if you’re waiting for someone else to lift you out of your current situation and into a better one.
Escaping the spiral isn’t easy. The first step is recognizing your self-sabotaging acts for what they are – coping mechanisms that feel good in the moment but are actually holding you back. Or to put it another way, they are the mountain.
To help recognize your own coping mechanisms and see them for the saboteurs they really are, make a list of all your problems. Write down every single one. Be specific, clear, and honest. Admit what’s really wrong and then promise yourself you won’t accept it anymore.
Key idea 2
Listen to your behaviors.
Once you’ve identified your self-sabotaging behaviors, you can discover what they’re really saying about you. Uncovering the hard truths about bad habits can reveal your true needs.
Let’s take overworking, for instance. Yes, you can be passionately committed to your career but neglecting the rest of your life to be in the office isn’t healthy. If that’s what you’re doing, it could mean you’re uncomfortable being with your own feelings. Be honest about what you’re hiding from and deal with that instead of working another late night.
Or if you’re overly concerned with other people’s opinions, you might not be as happy as you believe. If you were truly happy with yourself, your family, your home, your career, anything, you wouldn’t need approval from others. But if you do find yourself needing outside approval in any of those areas, that’s your subconscious mind telling you to fix that part of your life.
Maybe you’re spending too much money. If so, it’s probably filling a void. Figure out what that void is – love, a hobby, exercise – and find a way to fill it that doesn’t involve shopping bags or credit cards.
Remember, these self-sabotaging behaviors are hiding. They camouflage themselves by giving you instant gratification or a false sense of security. They’re also hard to find because the voice inside your head that identifies them is actually quiet. It speaks in a gentle tone that can be too low to hear if you’re not listening closely. But have no doubt, everyone has that tiny voice inside them. You can identify your self-sabotaging behaviors and learn what they have to teach you, but only if you’re willing to be completely honest with yourself.
You also have to ignore the other, false sounds in your head, and that’s exactly what you’ll learn about in the next section.
Key idea 3
Filter out the noise.
Gut instinct is more than a saying. It’s real.
Your gastrointestinal system, or your gut, can actually store information. The vagus nerve delivers this information to your brain faster than your conscious mind can recall it, and voilà, you have gut instinct.
It’s a valuable tool, but it can’t be used for everything. Your gut instinct can only be used in the present. Like when you meet someone for the first time and get an immediate impression without really thinking about it, that’s your gut instinct being used the right way. But if you try to use your gut instinct to decipher a future event, it won’t work. You’ll only be projecting your assumptions about that event and what might or might not happen. Your gut could have something to say about it, but that instinct won’t be based on reality, it will be based on the maybes and biases of your assumptions.
You should approach your feelings in a similar way. Yes, they can provide you with helpful insights, but they can also show you a false reality. Everyone’s been there. That place where your mood distorts everything around you. Feelings don’t lead you to the right way to act, it’s right actions that lead to positive feelings.
But choosing between the quiet voice of true instinct and the pull of feelings can be tricky. They seem similar at times, and sometimes you’d probably rather listen to your emotions than to reason. When in doubt, here are some clues to help you differentiate: Listen to the voice that’s calm, not the one that’s fearful. Listen to the voice that’s solving problems, not the one creating them. Listen to the voice that’s loving, not the one that sounds scared.
Now that you have the tools, the trick is using them in real time. You know your feelings can distort reality, but can you remember that and put it into practice in a moment of anger? You know your gut can’t predict the future, but can you tell yourself that when you’re full of anxiety?
If you’re tired of acting impulsively on emotions, and the apologies that usually follow, you’ll have to disconnect feelings from your behaviors and learn to process your emotions in real time.
Key idea 4
Manage your discomfort by making small changes.
Just because you can recognize your self-sabotaging behaviors doesn’t mean you can stop them. Humans are resistant to change.
Your brain regulates thousands of bodily functions without you even knowing it – from big, muscular movements like breathing and heartbeat, to the release of thousands of chemicals into your billions of cells. As your brain controls all these moving parts, it’s also keeping them in balance. This creates a physical comfort zone which is good for your body. Your brain also tries to maintain a balance but staying in your mental comfort zone isn’t always good for you.
Your brain creates mental balance by seeking out information and stimuli that are familiar. This is how you can get stuck in bad habits – they keep you in your comfort zone, which feels good, so you continue doing them even though you know they’re ultimately bad for you.
The subconscious pursuit of mental comfort also leads to problems like confirmation bias, where you only see the evidence that supports your preexisting ideas. Or extrapolation, where you take one small issue that’s happening in the moment and turn it into a prediction for your entire future. Or spotlighting, where you assume everyone is thinking about you as much as you do when the truth is everyone is thinking about themselves.
When you finally decide to change your negative behavior, you need to do it slowly. Jumping too far out of your comfort zone will shock you, and you’ll crawl right back to your old habits. Instead, you should change in small steps.
So, if you want to work less, start by leaving 10 minutes earlier than normal and not 2 hours. If you want to exercise more, start by walking for 10 minutes instead of buying a year-long gym membership.
Even these small changes will lead to some distress, but you can’t truly transform until you become willing to do what makes you uncomfortable. Your discomfort will be manageable if you take it slowly. And the changes you want will follow.
Key idea 5
Become the best version of yourself.
Don’t think about pink elephants.
You just thought about a pink elephant, didn’t you? That’s okay, it’s only natural. That’s why it doesn’t work to just not think about the bad habits and negative feelings that you’ve been using as coping mechanisms. If you can’t not think about something silly like a pink elephant, how are you going to not think about your deeply rooted behaviors?
Instead of dwelling on the things you don’t want anymore, focus on the things you do want and the person you want to be. Better yet, invite that person over for a talk.
Seriously, ask your future self to sit down at the table with you. If something scary happens at first, ignore that, it’s just your fear. After you’re both seated comfortably, take note of what your future self looks like. Notice what they’re wearing, their body language, their mannerisms. If you’re going to become this person, you should know exactly what you’re aiming for.
Next, ask them for guidance. Their message should be thoughtful and kind, even if they’re telling you to do something difficult, like leaving a job or a relationship. Finally, picture them giving you exactly what you want in physical form – like keys to a new house, a wedding ring, or a password to a bank account.
You can also think about this as becoming the best version of yourself. You already operate with multiple selves – the person you are with your friends is different from the person you are with your family, and that person is different from the one you are at work.
Here’s how to find the best version of yourself. Start by asking what your best self would do right now. This doesn’t mean imagining yourself with everything you’ve ever wanted and describing that person’s ideal day or vacation. It means what would your best self do in your current situation? What steps would they take if they were really in your shoes?
To find your best self, you’ll also need to admit your weaknesses and outsource what you don’t do well. You’ll have to be willing to be disliked because there’s always someone out there who will judge. And you’ll have to plan and act with purpose because haphazard efforts lead to haphazard results.
Key idea 6
Find your inner peace.
Nice job, you’ve made it. You’ve identified your self-sabotaging behaviors, learned from them, ignored the false realities of feeling, faced your faults honestly, and made incremental changes until you’ve become the best version of yourself. You’ve climbed the mountain. It should be all easygoing from here, right?
Well, not so much. Life doesn’t suddenly become easy for successful people. They don’t stop having needs. They don’t stop having emotions that can distort reality. But they know how to satisfy their needs in healthy ways. They know how to sit with their emotions, how to feel them without reacting impulsively, and how to interpret their messages. They also know they need to continue the inner work of studying their habits and being honest about what they see, or else they’ll fall back into negative patterns.
In addition to that inner work, there are other ways to help yourself get the most out of life. For instance, take the time to enjoy the little things that happen every day like your first cup of coffee in the morning. Or cultivate positive relationships, since you take on the traits of the people you spend the most time with. See every situation as a learning experience, even if it’s just sitting at home.
When you keep up with your inner work and nurture your life in positive ways, you can eventually find inner peace. This is different from happiness, which comes and goes, and leaves you wanting more. Inner peace is knowing that no matter what is happening around you – chaos, pain, excitement, joy – you can remain calm and in control. Not just for a moment, but in every moment of your life.
You’re your own worst enemy and your greatest teacher. You sabotage yourself with behaviors meant to satisfy your unmet needs, but those behaviors also hold the key to reaching your fullest potential, if you can learn from their messages. They’re deceptive and can take many shapes, so look carefully.
These self-sabotaging behaviors that block your way are your own personal mountain. Climbing that mountain and changing your pattern of behavior takes hard, honest work. The going will be slow and the footing can get treacherous. It won’t be comfortable, but it will help you change your life.