Are you a self-saboteur? In essence, self-sabotage refers to when one element of your personality behaves in conflict with another. This conflict ultimately results in the achievement of the goal and the efforts leading up to it, being sabotaged. This isn’t a reflection on our desire to achieve the goal – but rather our fears, our opinion of ourselves and entrenched habits built up over time. We sometimes can be our own worst enemy.
Self – improvement and achievement of goals always necessitates some sort of change in behaviour, practice and mindset. Change is a scary concept for many people, even those who are driven, ambitious, seemingly successful and inspirational to others. Fear of change, potential failure and the consequences of success are often at the heart of self-sabotaging behaviour.
The psychology behind different people’s reasons for self-sabotage is incredibly varied and complex- with each individual often not even being aware of the reasons for their behaviour. We generally know when we have sabotaged ourselves, by which point it’s likely to result in frustration, disappointment and feelings of failure. We may feel like we are caught in a cycle of self-sabotage.
A very simple (and common) example of this is the concept of weight loss. We may be gearing up for a big event and placing pressure on ourselves to exercise and eat healthily to lose those last 5kg. We do very well at it for the first 5 days. Then we have a really bad day at work. On the way home get yelled at by an angry driver, we fight with a friend or partner. We have our period. We don’t exercise that day because we’re tired and upset and the world isn’t being that supportive. We also have a pizza. And an ice cream. We go to bed disappointed, frustrated and angry with ourselves. We were doing so well and then we had to go and ruin it. Now we have to start at the beginning again…on Monday. Typical. Sound familiar?
Are you a self-saboteur?
The more ‘well-known’ forms of self-sabotage tend to be the physical behaviours, such as over-eating, under eating and excessive consumption of alcohol. Below however are some of the more subtle but common ways that people self-sabotage, often without even realising it. By recognising and acknowledging these when they occur, it can be helpful towards understanding and breaking the self – sabotage cycle:
1-Planning, in favour of actually starting
Planning is associated with consideration, due diligence, calculated risk, intended outcomes and eventual success. Whilst this may all be true, no plan ever materialises without actually taking action. Too much time spent planning often renders the plan outdated and obsolete. Plans are important but it’s important to get started once the plan is formulated, rather than continually tinkering with a plan that may well need to change once the activity starts. Flexibility is key. Confidence to start is imperative.
2- The inability to make a decision
This could also be described as decision paralysis, where self – doubt renders you unable to make any decision for fear of making the wrong one. There are often many paths to get to a desired outcome. It’s often our fear of failure that causes us to mentally freeze. We try to predict every possible outcome and then get overwhelmed, usually because we’re trying to control the uncontrollable.
3- Giving up too soon and too easily
Overnight success is incredibly rare. The glamorous online world of entrepreneurship paints a rosy picture of highly regarded self-made gurus, lavish holidays and huge social media followings. The reality of this is very different. It’s so important not to let our impatience and fear of failure overwhelm what should be considered a reasonable time frame for seeing progress. Determine reasonable goals (perhaps with the help of an experienced mentor) and refer to these regularly.
4- Unclear boundaries meaning that we are too selfless with our time
Your time on this planet is something that you’ll never get back. I know that’s a very obvious statement but it’s important to remember. Daily we get bombarded with people wanting our time and attention. Guard your time and attention carefully as this is linked to your productivity. It can be incredibly easy to trick yourself into thinking others need you or you’re indispensable as it provides a perfect escape from those things that you want to achieve but are perhaps apprehensive about. Avoidance is self-sabotage my friends! Learning when to switch off from work is vital too – in order to spend mindful time with loved ones. You also need time for you – for adequate sleep, exercise and relaxation. It’s a hard juggle and it’s something that will constantly be a work in progress, but it’s one of the most worthwhile investments you’ll ever make.
5- Putting off harder tasks in favour of easier more menial tasks
Also known as task procrastination – this will give a false sense of being productive. It’s a method that we often use with ourselves to assuage the guilt at not tackling the more complex, risky and daunting task that are actually a higher priority.
6- Deferring accountability and responsibility
Responsibility is a scary concept. It means that if something goes wrong, it’s up to you to make it right. With this comes the fear of failure, judgment, negative opinion and self-doubt. Also comes the potential for incredible success, liberated decision-making, an improved self-confidence and sense of achievement and accountability. To get that however, you have to be prepared to put yourself out there and give it a crack.
7- Negative conversations with ourselves
Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.” This encapsulates the power of our mindset and our own internal conversations. Negative internal story-telling is damaging to our self-worth and it chips away at our self-esteem. Recognise these conversations and take measures to change your internal conversations. Your positivity and self-esteem needs to have your mindset on board for great things to happen.
8- Being too hard on ourselves
This is relevant to driven people in particular. It’s when we place unrealistic expectations on ourselves, become impatient when we don’t see results as quickly as we would like and then beat ourselves up for not achieving it perfectly. High achievers hold themselves to exceptional standards and find it hard to tolerate anything other than complete achievement (which is often a preconception, too!)
Often we can lose our way or hold ourselves back because we don’t understand what it is that we truly want and what is important to us. Getting you connected to what is at the very core of your being and understanding what drives you and where you really want to go is the foundation for everything you do. It will help carve out a clear and meaningful path, keep you on track and motivated, and give you the mental space and clarity you need to make decisions and move forward, both personally and professionally.
Can you relate to these self-sabotaging behaviours?