Stop getting in your own way - how to become a good self-manager

Who hasn't experienced this - unpleasant behaviour or thought patterns that we would like to get rid of or at least change. Because often - despite all appearances of total helplessness - we secretly know exactly what makes us unhappy and what we should theoretically do for more satisfaction. Nevertheless, we often do not dare to take the important first step out of our supposed comfort zone. Why? Because we tell ourselves that it can be done that way and we lack the courage to stand up for our needs and tend to play them down.

But this has lasting consequences. If we permanently suppress our own needs and our thoughts are not followed by the appropriate action, this triggers dissatisfaction, listlessness, frustration, helplessness and helplessness. Behavioural or avoidance patterns develop, which can manifest themselves. Access to what we actually want is thus pushed more and more into the background and becomes less accessible.

  • I would like to, but ...
  • I am much too ...
  • I can't do it, because that's not who I am.

Do these statements sound familiar to you?

For the moment, these "excuses" are certainly conclusive and satisfying. But only until you are prevented by supposed personality traits from the next opportunity - from an open, honest conversation, from standing up for yourself, from a "courageous outburst".

The good news is that this can be changed, because anyone can become a good self-manager.  Thinking patterns are often equated with personality traits, but there is an important difference here: while personality traits are stable and we don't want to change them, the thinking patterns of a good self-manager can be learned.

What it means to be a good self-manager:

What it certainly does NOT mean: to always have to give 120%, to work at your performance maximum and not to allow yourself to make any mistakes or to be afraid anymore. Rather, it means being more self-confident, being aware of destructive views and finding a different way of dealing with them. As a good self-manager you are able to look at your own contradictory thoughts and feelings with distance. You question long-held "that's just the way I am" views and are willing to reflect on your behaviours in a disciplined way.


Understanding your thoughts - the autopilot

We can distinguish between two mental states that play a significant role in how clear we are in our thoughts and thus in our behaviour. On the one hand, there is the subconscious, automated state, which on the one hand makes our everyday life a lot easier, but on the other hand is also decisive for our lack of advice and drive. The processes in this mode - we call it the autopilot mode - do not need our conscious attention.
It is estimated that we make around 20,000 decisions a day; if we had to make all of them consciously, this would be a full-time job and we would not be able to stop deciding. Our brain therefore deals with less complex issues in the background and thus saves us a lot of additional mental conflict.  

Since the brain dislikes any kind of ambiguity and contradictions, there are two mechanisms in this autopilot. Habit and rationalisation make the decisions made subconsciously seem plausible to us.



You should know: our brain strives in principle for unhappiness avoidance rather than the strategy of seeking a happy, meaningful life. Why? Because everything unfamiliar and strange first means danger and we have to actively confront it in order to get out of our comfort zone. Some people find it easier to see new things as a challenge and not to let insecurities grow, while for many fear dominates and thus a stronger orientation towards the familiar.

If there are no negative consequences to our actions or rather to doing nothing, this is interpreted as pleasant and the next time the thought arises, it is very likely to be automatically processed in a similar way. At least if we do not actively deal with the problem and thus prevent it from manifesting itself as a behaviour. A habit guides our actions and it takes practice to break it and regain access to our own will.



Another automatism is rationalisation. Our brain tends to find a logical explanation for everything that happens and therefore also for all our decisions. In autopilot mode, decisions are made subconsciously, so we usually don't question our behaviour. But if we do, our brain always has a rational justification ready, which makes our actions seem plausible. That is why our behaviour, at least in retrospect, always seems conclusive and well thought out.

The problem with this rationalisation, however, is that feelings such as fear are not rational and therefore, in retrospect, seem never to have had any influence on our actions. This means that our brain forms a construct that appears coherent, but does not always reveal the true motives. Thus, we tend to deceive ourselves and find justifications for why it is important to act outside our comfort zone or face our fears.

Therefore, in order to change something, we need to become active and aware of the second mental mode:

The Captain's Mode

The Captain's Mode - In this mode, we are able to look at our thoughts and actions clearly and with the necessary distance. We know that there is not only good or bad and helpless, but can assess situations without black and white thinking. We are able to see ourselves and our strengths and weaknesses and to communicate them. This means that we are actively at the helm of our self and thus automatically appear more self-confident. You have certainly experienced moments in Captain's Mode and may have been surprised by yourself afterwards what you are capable of if you can muster the necessary courage.

In Captain's Mode we are masters of ourselves and not the fears above us.


Why should we know these two states?

Why should we know these two states?
Our goal is to be able to consciously evoke the appropriate mode at the right time. To do this, we must first be aware of both states.

Major conflicts or challenges are not immediately dealt with automatically by our brain, but require our active engagement. Therefore, we have to intervene at the appropriate time, namely before the autopilot kicks in and we tend towards the usual avoidance behaviour or "I'd like to, but" behaviour. With practice, we are able to actively control which mode we are in and not get caught up in the quick, over-hasty autopilot. Instead, we learn to stand up for what we really want and what is good for us in the long run.

Why don't you try to reflect on your behaviour and see in which moments you are in captain's mode and when you slip into autopilot?


Why do we cling to thought patterns that we actually know are inappropriate?

We allow ourselves to be directed by our autopilot for tasks for which it is simply not competent. The autopilot is fast, always has a solution ready and is therefore involuntarily so dominant in our thinking. For example, when the boss asks us for a favour, we say yes, even though we know full well that this will cause us additional stress, and afterwards we get angry about our impulse to say "yes". To get out of this "it's not me" mindset, we need to switch into captain mode and question the decisions we make on autopilot.

Take a breath, sit up straight, and take a moment before making an important decision next time.


Mental self-management seems difficult because...

... we cultivate distorted self-images that do not do us justice

... we lurch back and forth between two mental states

... although we have the potential for differentiated thinking, we use it too seldom. Especially when we are under stress


So if you work on these three points, nothing will stand in the way of your self-management - not even yourself.


Tom Diesbrock (2016). Stop getting in your own way: Mental self-management in everyday life and on the job. Herder Publishers.


famPLUS - Together for your personal PLUS!

If you find it difficult to develop positive perspectives on your own, please do not hesitate to contact us. We will be happy to advise you on your individual situation on 089/8099027-00. Our advice is available to all employees of our cooperation partners



Further articles


Labour law issues around holidays in times of pandemic

Trixi Hoferichter is a lawyer for labour law and business mediator. Specialises in management conflicts.


Podcast between KKH Health Insurance & famPlus Topic Multiple Sclerosis

In a new joint podcast episode with the KKH, we talk about the disease multiple sclerosis.


famPlus Podcast - Burnout: How does it feel to be "burnt out"?

The term burnout has become more familiar in recent years and people are being diagnosed with it more and more often.