You Are Your Own Worst Enemy

hand reflection

Dr. NerdLove wonders if you’re truly ready to get out of your own way to finding love. 

I’m going to let you in on a little secret.

You are your own worst enemy.

Nine times out of ten, you are the biggest single obstacle standing in the way of self-improvement.

Now don’t get me wrong: this isn’t because there is something inherently wrong with you. You’re not having a harder time than other people because you’re scum or because you are somehow more flawed than everybody else or that you have offended the gods and they have decided to amuse themselves by fucking with you personally. You have the same problem that all of us have: you’ve got that little voice in the back of your head that wants to sabotage everything you do. It’s the voice of your jerkbrain that tells you that you can never accomplish your dreams, that nobody could possibly find you attractive, that you’re simply doomed to fail.

These are your self-limiting beliefs – and they’re making it impossible for you to improve. We’ve talked about the most common ones and why they’re bullshit. Now it’s time to learn what’s really behind these beliefs and how to break through your limits.

Negativity Is The Easy Way Out

Luke: Vader… Is the dark side stronger?
Yoda: No, no, no. Quicker, easier, more seductive.

One of the hardest parts of breaking your self-limiting beliefs  is that negativity is seductive. It makes you “special”. That belief tells you that you’re not having a hard time dating because you have a lousy attitude towards others, you’re having a hard time dating because you’re unique in your misery and the universe is aligned against you specifically. It makes you a martyr to the forces of the universe. You may be miserable, but your misery makes you noble. You’re like Jesus only better because he probably tapped Mary Magdalane before getting nailed to a tree.

And it’s a self-reinforcing belief. You will almost never find a pessimist who calls themselves a pessimist; they almost always will call themselves a realist, because they’re seeing the world as it really is, man. They’ve taken the red pill and now they’re not stuck believing in the illusions that everybody else buys into without question. They’re iconoclasts… which of course makes them even more special in their suffering; they’re poor Cassandra, telling everybody the TRVTH, but doomed never to have anyone believe them.

Confirmation bias ensures that we give greater mental bandwidth to the “evidence” because it corresponds with what you already believe. Evidence to the contrary can be discarded or disqualified because it can’t possibly be right.

We hold on to the negative beliefs because they’re simpler. There’s a comforting certainty to them. Believe that you can do something… maybe you can and maybe you can’t. Believe that you can’t do something and you’re guaranteed to be right. It absolves us from taking responsibility for our existence. And to be perfectly honest: it’s easier to hold onto because if we give up that negative belief… well, we’re no longer special. We’re just another average joe, another anonymous face in a red jumpsuit, not the hero who suffers the injustices of the universe. And if we’re not that person, then who are we? The idea of starting over from the beginning, of reforming our identity to be more than The One Who Is Not Good With Girls or The One Who Is Too Ugly/Too Unpleasant/Too Whatever To Be Loved can be terrifying.

Now, does this mean that pessimism is automatically inferior to optimism?

Actually… no.

But we’ll get to that in a moment.

Because before you can start figuring out how to break your self-limiting beliefs, you have to understand where they came from.

The Secret Origin of “I Can’t”

One of the most important parts of overcoming the beliefs that hold you back is to understand where they come from. Nobody is born believing that they’re awful, that they’re deficient or flawed – there is always some starting point that brings us there. Somewhere along the way,we internalized this belief and held onto it for so long that it’s become part of us. Sometimes the cause is obvious – if you’ve been abused by a parent, a partner, even your so-called “friends”, it’s easy to believe that you’re worthless or undeserving of love or success. Other times, it can be more subtle;  it may be a reaction to fear or to rejection or even to failure. It may be a break-up you never quite recovered from, even a nasty case of Oneitis.

So you need to be willing to ask yourself some hard questions. Most self-limiting beliefs are rooted either in fear or in frustration – you’re afraid of being judged, or dealing with the pain of having banged your head against the wall so long that you can’t remember what it’s like to have hope. If you’re going to find the causes, you need to be willing to do some digging. So you’re going to write answers to two questions:

What is it about dating that scares you?
What do you struggle with the most?

And when I say “write”, I mean “write”, not type. You want to write these out in long-hand; writing by hand accesses a completely different part of the brain – especially ones involving memory and thought – than typing does. It fosters a deeper and more intimate connection with your subconscious than punching letters into a keyboard. Don’t just stick to one word or short answers; you want to get deep. If you’re afraid of rejection, for example, then write out just how you see it happening when you imagine approaching somebody. Focus on how you feel and why it bothers you – do you picture other people laughing at you? Do you see them reacting with disgust? What do your struggles look like? Do you freeze up when talking to somebody you’re attracted to? Do you want to do something but keep flashing through worst-case scenarios? Do you just find yourself thinking that there’s no way that person could find you attractive? OK, why? Go into detail.

The reason for this exercise in self-flagellation is that most of your self-limiting beliefs are based on feelings, not facts. It’s a reaction to fear or to pain or humiliation, not empirical evidence collected over time. The facts that you use to justify them tend to be post-hoc rationalizations that conform to what you already believe. Your beliefs don’t come from careful study, they’re borne out of  that time Becky Kartheiser laughed at you when you told her you liked Manasa in Pre-Algebra and told you there was no way she would ever like a ginger like you. Er, not that this happened…


When you know the true reason for those beliefs, then it’s easier to learn how to handle them and overcome them.

Deeds, Not Words

The thing to keep in mind is that emotions are just that: feelings. You can overcome feelings, if  you’re willing to challenge yourself. And that means actually going out and confronting those beliefs head-on.

It’s easy to say “What’s the point? I already know what the outcome is going to be.” And yeah, you do: you’ve bought into a self-fulfilling prophecy. You don’t think it’s going to work, so it won’t. If you do try, you’ll be half-assing it, making a token showing just to shut people up and reinforce those beliefs. And you’ll know you’re half-assing it. You’ll protest that no, you tried, you really did. And the instant the word “try” escapes your lips is when you’ll know that you sabotaged yourself in the name of holding on to a belief that makes you miserable. There is success and there is failure. There is no “try”.

Look at this this way: Luke tries. Han does. Which one of them goes home and bangs the princess?

If you really want to change, then you have to commit to the challenge. Half-assing it only wastes your time. “Trying” is just how you protect your ego from the responsibility of not actually doing anything. It’s the way tell yourself that your failure didn’t count because you tried.

I’ve talked before about my past identity as The One Who Was Not Good With Girls. That, more than anything else, was my strongest self-limiting belief; I believed that I was doomed to being single because no woman could love somebody who was as awkward and weird as me. I could point to any number of girls I’d tried and failed to hook up with as proof. I could quote you chapter and verse from the Nice Guy’s Handbook about why only certain guys got girls and how I simply wasn’t ever going to be one of them.

Many years and many, many sex partners later… well, needless to say I was wrong. But I had to force myself to actually start approaching women, over and over again. Not just “try” to – every time I said I was going to “try” was another time when I was excusing my failure in advance. I had to give it my full commitment. Either I was going to succeed or I was going to fail, but I wasn’t going to try. If I failed, then either I could accept that I failed or I could challenge myself again. And that time either I would succeed, or I would fail.

Now, while you’re thinking about this, let’s talk about what this is supposed to accomplish.

“Absorb What Is Useful. Discard What Is Not.”

There are two things in this world when it comes to self-improvement: that which is useful and that which is not. This is an area where a lot of people get tripped up, especially when they’re trying to challenge those self-limiting beliefs; that cognitive bias gets in the way, making you discard evidence to the contrary because it doesn’t conform to what you believe already. So you have to ask yourself: does this help me? Or does it not? Something that moves you forward is useful. Something that holds you in place is not. If you’re not happy with your dating life, then you need to always be focused on  moving forward.

For example: blaming others isn’t useful. Insisting, for example, that all women only date X guys is not only demonstrably untrue, but it doesn’t move you forward. It just becomes a reason to not do anything. There is nothing to be gained from that. Discard that. Whining about the supposed unfairness of it all isn’t useful; it doesn’t get you anywhere, and it only makes you look childish. Nobody is going to date you out of “fairness”; either they’re going to be attracted to you, or they aren’t. So discard it.

Recognizing that perhaps you missed the signs that the woman who shot you down had a boyfriend, or that she wasn’t receptive to being hit on is useful because it’s something you can work towards. It moves you forward. An abundance mentality, recognizing that here are millions of women in the world, is useful; it prompts you to approach more, to take more chances because each rejection is ultimately meaningless. A scarcity mentality – believing that women are a dwindling resource – isn’t useful; it makes you freeze in place rather than risk rejection.

Remember earlier when I said that pessimism isn’t automatically bad or inferior to optimism? This is where it makes a difference. If you’re imagining all the ways things could go wrong and using it as an excuse not to do something, then it’s holding you in place. Discard it. However, if you take those possible problems and transform it into action by preparing for them, then it isuseful. That preparation helps you avoid issues that might cause you to fail… thus moving you forward.

This is why you need to be willing to accept when you fail, rather than weaseling your way out of it by insisting that you tried. Failure can be useful… provided you learn from it, even if it’s learning that the world didn’t end just because you failed. That alone makes you stronger and more resilient… and thus moves you forward. Failure that you don’t learn from or that doesn’t make you stronger is useless.

This is why self-limiting beliefs aren’t useful: because they prevent you from learning. You blame your failure on your preconceived limitation rather than the actual issue.

If You Want It, You have To Work For It

Here’s the thing about limiting beliefs: they’re an excuse. They’re lies. They are why you say you “can’t” when what you really mean is that you choose not to. You may believe that you’re too short or too fat or too whatever for women to find you attractive, therefore you don’t bother approaching women – but you frame it as “you can’t”  find a girlfriend because you’re too whatever. The truth is that you don’t want to risk rejection therefore you choose not to. That belief that women don’t like guys who are shorter than X or who are fat or who don’t make six-figure salaries is how you explain that you don’t want to do something potentially unpleasant.

Hey, fair’s fair. Nobody likes getting rejected. It hurts! If you don’t want to get rejected, nobody says you have to. But you have to be honest enough to admit the truth: you can’t find a relationship not because you’re X, but because you don’t want to risk rejection. If you wanted it badly enough, you’d be out there taking it on the chin.

And therein lies the key. If you want something, you have to work towards it. If you want a relationship, then you have to work at it. You have to accept the pain and the stress, the emotional ups and downs, the disappointments, the frustrations and the time and that means choosing to improve. You have to embrace that it may be harder for you than for others. To pick a semi-random example, taller guys have an advantage over shorter guys when it comes to finding relationships, but short guys do find them. They may get lucky off the bat and find somebody who digs them for who they are – or even digs short guys – or  have to work a bit more than taller guys. It sucks, but it’s life. Either you accept that it’s part of the price of entry or you get off the ride. Both are equally valid options, but you have to admit that either the rewards are worth the risks or that you’re not willing to put the work in.

There’s no shame in choosing to not pursue a relationship. You may be afraid of rejection. That’s fine. You may have issues that you need to address before you can be a good relationship partner. OK, that’s also perfectly reasonable! Go take time off and work on your issues. You may feel that to work on your physical appearance. Great! Go for it!

But you’re choosing not to pursue dating.

If you want to have a better dating life, then you have to choose to work at it, with everything that means. Are you willing to get out of your own way? Are you willing to break through the beliefs that hold you back? Are you wiling to confront your fears? Are you willing to admit when your beliefs are just masking fears?

Then let’s get started.


Originally appeared at Paging Dr. NerdLove 

Photo: Flickr/EmsiProduction


About Harris O'Malley

Harris O'Malley provides geek dating advice at his blog Paging Dr. NerdLove, as well as writing the occasional guest review for and appearing on the podcast The League of Extremely Ordinary Gentlemen. He can be found dispensing snark and advice on Facebook and Twitter (@DrNerdLove.)

Dr. NerdLove is not really a doctor.


  1. I think one of the most important ways this plays out is in terms of confidence. If you are down on yourself you won’t come across very well. For instance, the guy who plays “Adam” on “Girls” is not conventionally attractive. But he has a lot of confidence, which is appealing. (I’m looking at how the actor comports himself, not the ins-and-outs of the character he plays, which can be quite negative.) But I’ve also known that people who are down on themselves can be hostile to others. Also a turn-off.


  1. […] Dr. NerdLove wonders if you're truly ready to get out of your own way to finding love.  […]

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