L’Appel Du Vide: Why We Self Sabotage

L’appel du vide is a French term meaning “the call of the void”. It describes the appeal of self-sabotage. Learn what it is and how to avoid it.

The Call Of The Void

Have you ever stood at the top of a cliff, or tall building, and thought “what if I jumped”? Or had an urge to switch into oncoming traffic? Or thought about what would happen if you jumped onto the tracks, as a train approaches?

The French recognized this phenomenon and called it l’appel du vide – ‘the call of the void’.

The examples of causing our own death are the most dramatic, and where you’re most likely to have felt this. But the phenomenon is everywhere. The call of the void is the call of self-sabotage. It is unavoidable in any endeavor.

Self-Sabotage

The urge to sabotage ourselves is human. It is ingrained in the mind. Human beings are adapted for comfort – homeostasis – and we are naturally resistant to change.

When you’re making progress, the ‘void’ is regression, and the call is no less strong. Anybody who’s given themselves the mission of improving their fitness will know the urge to skip workouts, indulge in shitty foods, or give up completely. Ask any entrepreneur if they’ve felt the urge to give it all up – only a liar will deny that. Sometimes, a new mother will even resent the newborn and want them gone.

Why do we do this to ourselves?

Why You Hear The Call

L’appel du vide is a phenomenon of mind memetics. Thoughts – memes – occur naturally. Your awareness of and reaction to your thoughts strengthens – or weakens – the call.

Let’s take the cliff example. As you stand at the cliff edge, your nervous system gives you a warning that you’re in danger. Adrenaline pumps, your heart rate increases, your pupils dilate. The thought of your destruction is formed in the mind.

This is the first call of the void – your body recognized the danger. But how you react to this determines whether or not the call is strong.

Do you become anxious at the thought, replaying scenarios over and over in your head? If you do, your obsession replicates the thought – the call of the void – over and over. It acquires memetic strength in your mind. It ‘goes viral’ in your head. The call gets stronger, and you might start to feel vertigo. In the most extreme cases, this effect will involuntarily drive people to fall off the edge.

How To Ignore The Void’s Call

You have the power to ignore the call of the void. But you cannot do it through resistance, for resistance to a thought just repeats the meme and makes it stronger. The path to avoiding self-sabotage is in:

  1. Awareness of the call
  2. Redirection of your mental energy

Mindfulness is awareness of your thoughts. Recognize the call, and treat it dispassionately. The call is natural, and human. There is no need to freak out about one’s urges, because we can’t control the fact they’re there.

What we can do is control our response. Once you’ve recognized the thought, let it pass. Redirect your mental energies elsewhere – find something else to occupy your mind. Step away from the ledge and do something productive.

Here’s an example from my own life. I speak for a living, but I wasn’t born a public speaker. I used to imagine ‘choking’ before giving a speech, replaying scenarios in my mind where I’d somehow fuck it up. As the time to speak approached, my heart rate would increase, my palms would sweat, and my voice would crack when I started speaking. The void called, and I fell right into it.

Today, I still get that feeling from time to time. But I recognize how ridiculous it is. Why self-sabotage? The call is natural – fear of public speaking is the most common fear in surveys. But my reaction is my own. I hear the call, acknowledge it, but don’t let it control me. I set my mind on something else – like what I’m going to do after delivering a great presentation. And then I knock the room dead.

The call is natural, but you control the volume.


I’m interested in how information controls our minds, bodies, and behaviors. If that sounds like you, come follow me on Twitter, where I also post daily.

One comment Add yours
  1. I’d have to say this is completely wrong. What you’re talking about sounds like pure nervousness. Truly experiencing the call often involves actually urning for the self-destructive thing. In the case of the cliff, if I were there, I would image myself falling off over and over-yes-but I’d also wonder about what I would see on the way down. I wonder what others would see or do to try to save me. Feeling The Call is distressing specifically because we’re afraid of why we seem to have these perverse and macabre urges. Not desires, but disturbing ideas that we give longer attention to that one would think a person should. THAT is the call of the void.

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