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The Art of Self-Sabotage (5 min read)

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“I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination” – Jimmy Dean

Every day of my coaching career, I encounter and foil strategies of self-sabotage.

Self-sabotage does not follow rules of common sense or logic. Often it passes under our radar, because we are more aware of when others put sticks in our wheels, and less aware of when we do it to ourselves. Self-sabotage is resilient and sticky. Like tax loopholes, when one self-sabotage strategy is closed down, another one will almost immediately take its place.

It is also highly destructive. Because you intimately know your target (YOU), you can hit your weakest spots and cause the greatest damage. Whether you are a city professional, an entrepreneur or a busy parent, it is crucial to become aware and thwart self-sabotage at its earliest stages – before it grows into a habit.

Here are 10 common self-sabotage strategies. Which ones are you harbouring?

1. Unrealistic expectations. Setting goals that are too general, unachievable or unquantifiable. Sometimes the goal is so overwhelming and nebulous it prevents us from starting. Doing the same thing expecting different results also falls within this category. The main issue with unrealistic expectations is that they destroy self-belief and motivation. Fear of failure becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. When your actions are not producing the results you want, stop and choose different actions. Ensure that your goals are specific, achievable and measurable. Ask yourself: How will I know when I reach my goal?

2. Spreading yourself too thinly. Juggling is part of life. However, pick up one ball too many and all the balls are likely to fall to the ground. Taking on another client matter when you are already swamped, not taking vacations, saying yes to looking after the neighbour’s dog or offering to host Christmas may all tip the balance. Prioritise. Identify what is important to you right now. Learn to say no. Sometimes saying yes to your sanity and wellbeing means saying no to requests of others. Look after your health and fitness, and carve out pockets of time just for yourself. Juggling is easier when you are on top form.

“We are what we repeatedly do” – Aristotle

3. Indecision and over-analysis. Sitting on the fence uses up your energy, focus and time. Analysing the same options multiple times does not create new possibilities. It creates a loop of analysis-paralysis. Step back to get some perspective. Obtain an impartial opinion. Ask yourself: What is missing? What would help me make the decision? What would I do if I weren’t afraid? (See Should I Change My Job?)

4. Ruminating on past failures. There is much to be gained from past failures. Such as learning what to do differently next time, honing your coping strategies and simply knowing that you can get over obstacles. What is not useful is churning events over and over. You risk creating a habit out of failure. Regret and resentment are like anchors, they do not help us to move forward, but simply spin us round as the tide comes in and out.

“Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping that it will kill your enemies” – Nelson Mandela

5. Avoiding challenges. Often during times of imposed change clients bemoan to me that they like “security” and “stability”. Yet when I ask them when they last felt fulfilled and motivated, it is generally when they were problem-solving or working on a challenging goal. Living and working in our comfort zone does not stretch our capabilities or fulfil our potential. There is a risk of becoming bored and unmotivated. Do not settle for stumbling from day to day. Strive for a bigger life experience. (See Time for Change)

6. Neglecting relationships. Building authentic relationships takes time and effort, but it is hugely rewarding. Businesses, families and communities are built on relationships between people. Have you noticed how unfriendly atmosphere at work can transform the perfect job into the worst job? Generally, people leave people rather than jobs. Take time to cultivate your relationships. Small things really matter – a smile, a “Good Morning”, remembering your colleague’s birthday, or booking a surprise dinner for your partner. If this feels like a chore, ask yourself, what makes that relationship important to me? (See Authentic Relationships)

7. Downgrading your self-development. Keeping up with industry knowhow and technological advancements is not a bonus it is a must. Own your career, become an expert in your field. Do not forget your personal self-development. Stagnation results in boredom and lack of motivation. Lifelong learning adds breadth to our life experience, and keeps us healthy and active into the old age. (See Teaching Old Dog New Tricks)

“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving” – Einstein

8. Poor time management. Feeling rushed and overwhelmed? Time management is in reality about managing ourselves. Dedicating time to planning will save you time and stress in the future. Often we focus on fire fighting – dealing with what is urgent; rather than working on important tasks that really contribute to our productivity. Prioritise what is important, organise your day and week around those priorities, streamline activities, remove distractions. Remember to make your plan realistic and work in some flexibility.

9. Passively waiting for belief and motivation. Motivation will not come until you engage with your goal and commit to the challenge. Ask yourself: What are the benefits of pursuing this goal? What will happen if I do nothing? Belief is born through action, by overcoming obstacles and pushing into your stretch zone. Aligning your goals with what is genuinely important to you helps to cultivate motivation and passion. Belief and motivation exist through choice not through chance. (See Time for Change)

10. Being your own worst critic. Learning from your mistakes is valuable. Reprimanding yourself endlessly is counter-productive. Would you give the same barrage of criticism to a friend or a colleague caught in the same circumstances? How you see and treat yourself directly impacts on how others see and treat you. Nurture your self-esteem and self-image. They are your sturdiest tools.

Would you like help thwarting your self-sabotage strategies? Contact Natalia

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