Fighting yourself?

Have you ever started a project and found that for some reason you’re not moving ahead?Fighting yourself: Harvey Keitel as Mr. White and Tim Roth as Mr. Orange in Reservoir Dogs

Maybe you’re trying to write a book and not getting round to it. Making sales speeches that just don’t seem to convince. Or working with colleagues you somehow find yourself sabotaging your own contributions.

The issue may be one of Secondary Gain.

Secondary gain often lies hidden, pulling you down without you even knowing it. However, the good thing is that if you bring it out into the open, it can often be dealt with remarkably easily.

And once you’ve learned how to deal with secondary gain, you can find yourself releasing unexpected amounts of energy – moving on to achieve things you might have never thought possible.

What is secondary gain?

We often think that procrastination, lack of energy, self-sabotage, and similar problems, are failings that need to be attacked head on. We try to fight them, like we would a lazy child who won’t do the right thing.

But very often there are very good reasons why our unconscious mind is leading us to do what we don’t like – or avoiding taking actions we want.

Secondary gain arises when we gain something important from not doing the thing we consciously want to do – or alternatively we gain from doing the very thing we are trying hard not to do.

How you find yourself fighting yourself?

Suppose you are trying to write a book that you know will offend some people. Not writing it brings the secondary gain of not having to face all the criticism and aggression you fear might arise.

You may not be conscious of the anxiety at all, but your unconscious will always do its best to keep you happy and safe. Every time you think about writing, it may distract you or otherwise ensure you never get into that dangerous position that it fears.

The sales person who keeps under-performing may be unconsciously afraid of resentment from others in the company if she does better than they do.

The person who self-sabotages when collaborating with others, may be afraid of letting other people down. If his ideas are accepted, they may not work. Safer, then, to ensure nobody ever accepts them.

Very often this inner conflict will be one you aren’t even aware of until you start to look for it.

How to stop yourself fighting yourself?

The first step is to ask yourself how committed you are to what you are trying to do? (If you’re working with someone you feel may be suffering from secondary gain, ask them how committed they are to their goal).

Do you feel even the smallest scintilla of doubt?

If you get less than a resounding 100% – that’s a sign of secondary gain.

Next, ask yourself (or your colleague) what you might possibly gain from not achieving your goal. Be totally honest – there’s no point in lying to yourself.

Everything we do involves losing something. The very word “decision” comes from the Latin de-caedere – to “cut off.”

So make a list of all the things you gain by failing. Examine them, one by one. Are there any secondary gains there that you feel might be getting in the way.

Let me give a concrete example. A little while ago, I was trying to raise finance for a film set abroad. If I’d been successful, it could have made a great movie, but it would have involved being away from my family for many months, filming mostly at night and in the middle of winter.

And I’m not good with dark and cold!

I realised that part of me was rather relieved that I wasn’t getting far with the project. I gained being at home, working by day and in the warmth.

What to do about it?

Once you’ve found the secondary gain, you can start to negotiate.

1. You may well find that the gain is not as important as you thought. Or is even out-of-date – a throwback to old habits you’ve grown out of.

For example, a man who learned as a child to avoid annoying his father, may realise he’s still avoiding annoying his father, even though he’s now an adult and quite capable of dealing with it.

2,. You may find you can change the terms of the project.

For example, for the movie I mentioned above, I changed the schedules so that we could film much of it nearer to home, and partly in studios where we could shoot by day at any time of year.

3. You may have to steel yourself to face your fears.

The woman who’s afraid of the resentment of her colleagues may need to speak to them – or just say to herself, so be it!

Dealing with secondary gain can demand honesty, bravery and commitment, but once you’ve found the answer, you’ll discover an entirely new energy that can’t be found any other way.