Steven Mundahl on How To Avoid Self-Destruction



Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Steven Mundahl on how to help protect yourself from risky, self-sabotaging, and addictive behaviors.

Steven is the author of The Alchemy of Authentic Leadership.  Steven is also the president and CEO of Goodwill Industries in western Massachusetts.

He teaches leadership and personal effectiveness in the graduate school of Baypath College.

Leadership is a Personal Journey

Steven believes that leadership is a personal journey:

“While the demand and responsibilities are somewhat universal, we all come from positions of authority with different unhealed aspects of our personalities.  Our dramas play out in a myriad of ways … If power does one thing to leaders, it heightens our insecurities and accentuates our personal unhealed wounds.”

Steven also says that healing is one of our great missions in life and it’s the key to our relationships: 

“Since I’ve spent my life in my inner rooms, I have come to understand that one of life’s great missions is to find healing.  For me, these acts of correcting moral flaws and childhood insecurities have become the prime focus of my life because these human flaws affect every action and relationship in our lives.”

Bad things can happen to any of us, but Steven’s guidance is really to help us avoid doing bad things to ourselves.

Without further ado, here’s Steven on how to protect yourself from self-destructive and addictive behaviors …

Leaders that Self-Destruct

Lots of leaders who are at the summit of success—in sports, politics, religion, entertainment, and business—are inexplicably drawn to risky behaviors that cause them to self-destruct. Their actions typically leave a trail of ruined companies, organizations, and people in their wake.

It seems that once influential people have a lot of power and influence, they are especially drawn to the short-term high that having an affair, for example, or taking an ethical shortcut sometimes delivers.

When the Primitive Brain Takes Over

Psychologist Daniel Goleman calls this “amygdala hijack.”

It’s when the amygdala, the primitive part of our brain that rules the fight, flight, or freeze responses of the parasympathetic nervous system, takes over for the parts of our brain, in the neocortex, that are responsible for rational decision making.

Besides the biological process, there’s also a psychological reason. Leaders often develop an inflated self-image that makes them think that widely accepted rules of conduct simply don’t apply to them.

6 Ways to Avoid Behaviors that Could Lead to Your Downfall

If you find yourself teetering on the brink of making a poor decision, you can stop yourself before it’s too late.

Here are six ways to take a detour around risky, self-sabotaging behaviors.

1. Manage Stress by Keeping Your Body Healthy.

Neuroscientists, behaviorists, and psychologists all agree that different types of stress can lead to poor decision making. When we’re hungry, sleepy, fatigued, nutritionally depleted, and overworked, our brains become vulnerable to various processes that interfere with rational thought and impulse control. Keep your brain and body in optimal shape by eating healthy food regularly, sleeping 7-8 hours per night, exercising every day if you can, getting outdoors in the fresh air and sunshine, and learning ways to cope with everyday stress, whether it’s with a nap, a stroll outside, or meditation.

2. Be Your Own Stern Master.

If you’ve engaged in impulsive or destructive behavior, you’re more likely to do it again. Psychologists call this the domino effect. Don’t let repetitive, negative behavior patterns bring down your personal or company life. Even if you think you’re keeping it secret, you can’t keep it a secret forever. Once others find out that you’ve broken their trust, it takes a long time to heal those relationships. As you would with a disobedient dog that you’re trying to retrain out of a bad habit, jerk your short leash and say: “Once is enough!”

3. Be Aware of Your Drivers.

What’s driving your behavior? If you dig deeply enough, you’ll usually find the answer. Attempt to link your behaviors to an event earlier in your life, usually in childhood. Take a hard look at your emotional wounds springing from anger, sadness, and fear, which lead to risky behaviors such as revenge, self-loathing, jealous actions, avoidance, and addictions. Be compassionate with yourself. If the wounds are highly emotionally charged, engage the comfort and support of a psychotherapist trained to help you heal them. Try not to react, but to examine, understand, and be patient and kind with yourself.

4. Find Positive Ways to Counteract Negative Emotions.

There are dozens of self-help books and websites that offer coping strategies for dealing with negative emotions. Figure out what works best for you, and stick with it until you’re able to regain control of your emotions. You might try seeking a better perspective, taking a deep breath or a drink of water, writing down things for which you’re grateful, meditating, praying, or practicing mindfulness–the state of being fully aware in the present moment. All of these tools can counteract the quick rise of emotion most of us feel when triggered to risky behavior.

5. Give Yourself Some “Shock Therapy.”

Think of those you love and what your repeated, risky behaviors would do to them if you were found out. One way to give yourself a heavy dose of reality is to conjure up an imaginary headline in your local paper. “Well-known Local Leader and Father of Four Found Committed Serial Adultery.” Imagine your loved ones reading that headline and learning about your unethical or risky acts! Would you want your worst qualities splashed across the evening news?

6. Get in Touch with Your Spiritual Side.

Some people get in touch with their spiritual side at church. Others find wisdom in inspirational books or by spending time in nature. Quiet meditation and prayer will naturally align you with higher values, and help you hear your inner spiritual or intuitive voice. When we can view ourselves as being part of a greater whole, we neither feel so alone, nor so apt to engage in risky behaviors.

Steven Mundahl, president and CEO of Goodwill Industries in Western Massachusetts, is a leadership scholar and professor of leadership effectiveness at Baypath College. He’s just written a new book that explores the behaviors that cause leaders to fall from grace, called The Alchemy of Authentic Leadership (2013).


  1. Thanks for this great article! I just found your site and love it already! I am becoming very interested in the laws of attraction, deliberate receiving and manifesting our own realities. Now that I am becoming more aware and experienced, I realize how our choices (no matter how trivial) can impact our lives in either a positive or negative manner, based on our underlying emotions. I also have a blog of my own, but am “in-training” so to speak- for the time being. When I do get back at it, I will be a whole new ME thanks to great writers and contributors such as yourself!

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