Have you ever told yourself you were going to do something, but then turned around and made sure it wasn’t going to happen?
Wait a minute, why would you intentionally do that? Well, good news, this sabotage is rarely intentional. We subconsciously do and say things that make our own success much less likely. Self-sabotage guarantees that you maintain the status quo, whether that status quo is good or bad.
We, as humans, are naturally resistant to change. Self-sabotage is a defense mechanism. Sabotaging yourself keeps you safe and in control, at the expense of making any real progress forward in your life. Stopping this pattern of behavior requires reflection, honesty, and a little courage.
There are a variety of ways you sabotage yourself. You procrastinate, think negatively, and have other harmful habits. As Walt Kelly once said, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”
1. Self-sabotage is a form of control. When an outcome is uncertain, we can create certainty by failing intentionally. You can ensure the lack of a job offer by not submitting your portfolio, rather than suffer from the lack of control that comes from submitting and waiting for a response (either positive or negative).
2. You can avoid change by sabotaging yourself. You might not like your current situation, and swear you want out of it, but familiarity is a form of comfort. Taking a leap and making a big change is scary, so sometimes we find even unconscious ways to stay where we are.
3. You might believe that you deserve to fail, or that you aren’t good enough. If those beliefs are strong enough, they will lead you to self-sabotage and missing opportunities.
The good news is that since your biggest obstacle to success is yourself, you can take steps to address the situation and change it for the better.
Be honest with yourself and look at the times in your life when success slipped through your fingers. Can you identify any patterns or behaviors that put at least part of the blame with you? Ways in which you managed to stop yourself, by not attending something, not submitting for something, not finishing a project you started?
Use these strategies to put an end to self-sabotage and move forward:
1. Be clear regarding what you want. One way to sabotage yourself is to keep changing your mind. You might spend months working toward one goal, only to change your mind. Indecisiveness is a success killer. Stop jumping from project to project and goal to goal, see things through to completion. Be clear about what you want and be consistent.
2. Notice how you waste time. What do you do when you procrastinate? Do you like to watch TV? YouTube videos? Go shopping? Have a snack? You can’t stop yourself from wasting time unless you can recognize that you’re wasting time. Make a list of your time-wasting behaviors and pay attention when they happen. I’m not saying don’t do them at all, but be aware of when you’re using them as avoidance techniques.
Understand the repercussions of your behavior. Time-wasting behaviors feel good in the short-term (hello dopamine!). That’s probably all you’re considering. Turn your attention to the bigger picture. What will happen down the road if you continue to waste time? Consider the consequences.
3. Stop negative self-talk. Life is challenging enough already, and there’s enough negativity out in the world. You don’t have to make things even more difficult by getting in your own way. Monitor yourself. If you catch yourself speaking poorly to yourself, stop and say something positive instead. I’ve heard people say “if you wouldn’t say it to your 5-year-old self, don’t say it to yourself now”.
4. Hang out with positive, supportive people. The people around you can sabotage your efforts. This is really a form of self-sabotage because you chose your friends. If everyone you spend time with is constantly negative about your work or complaining, guess what traits you pick up? Make the necessary adjustments to spend time with those who support your success.
5. Learn to deal with discomfort. Self-sabotage is a strategy for dealing with discomfort. If you weren’t uncomfortable at all, you’d never sabotage yourself in the first place. Understand that discomfort is necessary if you want to change your life in a meaningful way. All roads to success lead through discomfort. Get out of that comfort zone.
6. Visualize success. The idea of success might be more stressful than you think, especially if you’ve gotten used to failing. Part of you might believe it’s better to deal with the “devil you know.”
Take a few minutes each day and visualize yourself being successful. Notice how it feels. Keep up this routine until success feels completely natural.
Think about why you might find failure appealing. What are the advantages to you of failing? (See again: staying in your comfort zone and being scared of the unknown).
If you’re thinking “What if I fail?”, instead ask yourself “What if I DON’T?”
7. Avoid comparing yourself to others. We compare ourselves to the most talented people we know. Everyone is better than you at something. But we compare our weaknesses to the strengths of others. Focus instead on comparing your own improvements. Go back and look at last years work, or the year before – see how you’ve changed, improved, and grown.
It’s not always easy to notice how you get in your own way. Examine your habits and your past failures. Do you expect to succeed, or do you start searching for excuses to fail before you’ve even gotten started on things?
Success can be just as scary as failure. Even though success is good, it’s still an unknown, and our animal brains are scared of what they don’t know.