The Seven Self-Sabotages to Your Success

The act of self-sabotage occurs when the logical, conscious part of you (the part that says eating healthy is important and saving money is smart) is at odds with the subconscious mind (the part that eats stress-eating chocolate and goes on online shopping binges). This is your anti-self — the critical voice in your head that holds you back and sabotages your efforts.

As a way to keep yourself from achieving what you most desire in life, you may engage in self-sabotage. We are gnawing at that inner voice that says, “This can’t be done.”.

The subconscious is trying to protect you, prevent pain, and alleviate deep-seated fears. But self-sabotage results in us hesitating to take on new challenges. We abandon our goals and dreams. At the end of the day, we know we didn’t make it, but we don’t understand why.

Self Sabotage #1: “It’s Just Too Difficult”

Why Action is So Hard

Even after you have created a vision statement and action plan, one of the greatest roadblocks to success remains the lack of sustained, concerted effort.

Most people are somewhat lazy; our natural tendency is to avoid stress and dedication (however, I know this doesn’t apply to you). Most of us prefer to do what is fun, easy, and immediate. As previously mentioned, we are constantly pulled back to our “comfort zone.”

As an example, the American Dietary Association completed a survey in which they reported that two-thirds of American adults do not eat a nutritious diet. The three main reasons people gave for not eating nutritiously were:

  • They do not want to give up their taste.
  • They do not want to take the extra time.
  • It’s too difficult in general.

When considering your goals and action plan, it is also critical to remember to create goals that are realistic, healthy and attainable. You might have already learned how to choose your goals, how to assess the healthiness of your goals, and how to have “optimally challenging” goals, those that are not too difficult and not too easy. 

It is important to note that most of us, particularly women, tend to reach too low rather than too high. Obviously, reaching too high can lead to chronic self-defeat. However, reaching too low can lead to chronic underachieving. 

Underachievers always seem to feel unsettled because there is a part of them that “knows” they are not living up to their potential. They tend to make life choices far beneath their capabilities, desires and dreams. They often “settle” when it comes to choosing mates, friends, co-workers, etc. 

This “settling” is major self-sabotage, causing problems and setbacks with long term ramifications. Take a minute to contemplate this. Are you typically happy with the choices you make in life, or do you find you tend to reach too low or too high?

You may also become frustrated by thinking, “This is just taking too long.” This is probably the number one reason people do not stick with their goals. By nature, we want instant gratification, particularly in the Western culture. We want what we want and we want it NOW! Often, the payoff simply does not come quickly enough to satisfy us. The fact is that most things of value in life do take time to achieve.

Make stepping stones out of stumbling blocks.

— Unknown

How to “Just Do It”

You will find that changing self-statements from negative to positive can be very beneficial during this struggle. Try to look at the change process as a long road or journey. Describe the path you are on, and where it leads. 

Describe where you are tempted to veer off, and where that “veered off” path is likely to take you. Remind yourself of the value of staying true to your path, if in fact, your desired success is somewhere along with it, even if it takes a long time. Just know that you don’t have to want to do it, or feel like doing it — just DO it! 

As a success quote says, “Success is simple. Do what’s right, the right way at the right time.”

The saying “When the going gets tough, the tough get going,” describes the inner strength you may need to summons in order to continue. It takes tremendous courage, determination and tenacity to continue, or get back up after a fall, during rough times. Support, validation and encouragement from others are especially important here.

The most difficult thing to do is to discipline ourselves to focus and concentrate, especially when a more immediately gratifying activity beckons.

As I write this article, I am thinking about how nice it would be to be lying on the beach reading a good book. However, I write instead because I keep the vision of my reward foremost in my mind.

Great works are performed not by strength, but by perseverance.

— Samuel Johnson

Self-Sabotage #2: “I Don’t Deserve It”

Pump Up Your Self Worth

“I don’t deserve it” is often an underlying, unconscious thought. It has a great deal to do with one’s self-esteem, feelings of competency and self-worth.

Self-esteem is an extremely important part of achieving your goals. You can only pursue and keep what you think you deserve. Consequently, a lack of self-esteem will sabotage your attempts at success. When you lack self-esteem, an internalized critical inner voice will attempt to cancel your ambitions through self-doubt and disbelief. 

In Taming the Inner Critic, Ernest Isaacs argues that if your “inner critic” is brought to your attention, then this critical voice can be consciously rebuffed and refuted. With this insight, you can arm yourself with ammunition to stop the process of self-sabotage.

Positive affirmations can replace former negative ones. Avoid making statements to yourself such as, “My father was right, I’ll never succeed at anything.” When a statement like that comes into your head, try to dispel it by immediately reminding yourself of something you have recently succeeded at.

Wayne Dyer, the popular self-help author, says that by working through self-defeating labels and behaviours, people can build confidence and self-esteem so that there are no limits to what they can achieve. 

Come up with your own positive statements about yourself. A negative statement should be immediately replaced with a positive one. Another technique for changing negative self-talk to positive is known as “Stop-Think.” 

As soon as a negative thought comes into your head, immediately think “STOP!” and change over to a positive thought that has been prepared to replace the negative one.

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frighten us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?’ 

Actually, who are you NOT to be? You are a child of God. Your ‘playing small’ does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. 

We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us. It’s in everyone. And as you let your light shine, you unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As you are liberated from your own fears, your presence automatically liberates others.

— Nelson Mandela

Shame and Guilt – The Ultimate Destroyers

Another possible problem is unconscious guilt about your own success or “havingness.” Many people describe a feeling of shame, or “awaiting punishment” when their lives are going well. 

Often, we hear things like, “Things are going too well. I’m just looking over my shoulder waiting for something bad to happen.” It is as if every good thing must be followed by a bad thing. People talk about going through a “lucky streak” followed by a “streak of bad luck.” These kinds of statements need to be recognized as self-sabotage. 

They should be replaced with positive statements and affirmations.

The world is not out to get you!

Wayne Dyer, in his book The Sky’s the Limit, does an excellent job of dealing with unhealthy guilt. He discusses the “guilt myth,” wherein a person might believe “If I’m prospering, other people may be starving.” 

The truth is, he explains, that the more you prosper, the better position you are in to help others in need. People will starve whether or not you prosper — your “having more” does not take something away from someone else (unless of course, you’ve stolen it!). In fact, Dyer states, you can create better lives for others when you improve your own life. When you earn more money you either save it or spend it, and pay taxes on it. Any way you use your money you are helping the national (and global) economy.

The maxim ‘Nothing avails but perfection’ may be spelt ‘Paralysis.’

— Sir Winston Churchill

Talk Back to Your Inner Critic

If you feel shame and guilt you probably have a very strong tendency to “parent” yourself. Freud described the three parts of our mind as the “id” (child), the “ego” (adult) and the “superego” (parent). 

A mentally healthy person relies mostly on his/her “adult” to modify his/her “child” and “parent.” It is the “parent” part of us that is the “judge” and “critic.” We tend to be far worse punishers of ourselves than anyone else has ever been.

Our “inner critic” says things to us like “You stupid idiot! How could you have said/done something like that? You screwed it all up and everything is ruined and it’s all your fault!” Each time this happens our self-esteem goes down a notch and we feel less adequate and more inferior. 

At these times it is up to our “adult” to step in and give some reality to our situation. For example, our “adult” might respond to our “parent” by saying “You know, it was just a mistake. Everyone makes mistakes sometimes. Not everything is ruined, it’s just a setback.” You can take responsibility by owning up to your mistake, apologizing if appropriate, accepting the consequences with dignity, then moving on.

A helpful exercise is called “the empty chair.” Sit in a chair and place an empty chair in front of you. Imagine this empty chair is your “parent” and you are your “adult.” Talk to “the parent” and tell it that while it is sometimes helpful to keep you in line, this time it has gone too far. Let your parent know the limits you will accept. 

Let your parent know it is not okay to be harshly critical and judgmental. It is not okay to make you feel worthless. It is not okay to “catastrophize” the situation by making it out to be much worse than it really is. It is not okay to “should all over you.”

The “parent’s” place is to keep us from going too far in any direction, remind us of right and wrong, and keep us safe. It is to support, guide and encourage us. It is not to condemn us, make us wrong, inadequate, insecure, afraid, incompetent or inferior. Sometimes I have to get really mad at my “parent” and yell at it! I’ve been known to yell at my empty chair, “I will not allow you to shame me. 

I will not allow you to cause me to be depressed or fearful! How dare you rob me of my self-worth! How dare you rob me of my happiness and joy! Back off and do your job of supporting, validating and encouraging!” I always feel a lot better afterwards!

You will succeed best when you put the restless, anxious side of affairs out of mind, and allow the restful side to live in your thoughts.

— Margaret Stowe

Turn “Learned Helplessness” into “Learned Empowerment”

Martin Seligman, past president of the American Psychological Association wrote a book called Learned Helplessness. Learned helplessness is the theory that one develops feelings of helplessness when one feels that the consequences of his/her behaviour occur independently of their action and are thus beyond their control. 

In other words, the reason I did well in this swim meet was that the top two swimmers were ill, or the reason I did poorly on this test was that the teacher only asked questions that weren’t on the study guide. Therefore, we do not take any personal responsibility (credit or blame) for what happens to us. This is a major hindrance to one’s motivation.

People who are in a state of “learned helplessness” often see themselves as victims. They see someone or something else controlling them and feel helpless to stop it. An example would be a woman who discovers an ex-boyfriend is stalking her, yet she continues to talk with him on the phone. 

She gives her stalker “hope” rather than demanding he stop his behaviour and/or get help from others to make it stop and get protection for herself.

When you notice a feeling of helplessness or powerlessness in a particular area, you should practice new self-statements regarding your personal strength and confidence. An example of a new pro-active self-statement would be, “It is my decisions, not my conditions, that determine my destiny.” 

If you think you’re too small to make a difference, you haven’t been in bed with a mosquito.

— Unknown

Exercise: Your 10 Signature Strengths

One way to overcome “learned helplessness” is to identify your 5 greatest strengths and stop obsessing over your weaknesses. Signature strengths are the positive traits you feel have brought you the most success and happiness in life. They are qualities you possess that you are proud of and that others have complimented you on.

Examples of signature strengths are; 1) I’m generous, 2) My life is balanced and functional, 3) I’m debt-free, 4) I’m a caring, loving friend and relative, 5) I’m a high achiever, 6) I’m determined to get what I want, 7) I’m powerful and influential, 8) I care about others and they know it, 9) I’m a good mother, and 10) I keep my word.

If you are not sure of your greatest strengths, ask several trusted people in your life to tell you what they think they are. You’ll be amazed at what they say!

List your 10 signature (greatest) strengths:

It takes time to succeed because success is merely the natural reward for taking time to do anything well.

— Joseph Ross

Self-Sabotage #3: “I Don’t Have the Time”

It’s Not About Time – It’s About Goal Conflict

Time. There is only so much time in a day, and only so much time in a lifetime. One of the most widespread problems in dealing with the “time” issue is goal conflict. This means having multiple, conflicting goals, such as a teenager’s desire for both total independence and a safe, nurturing home environment. 

Another example would be the adult who wants career success but wants to avoid having to work extra hours. These conflicts tend to lead to inaction since the pursuit of one goal entails the betrayal of another goal. 

It is important to first clarify your values and then prioritize your goals accordingly. 

Now, determine which goal is more in line with your true values. Once you have done that, look at what you really want. Draw up a list of the pros and cons of possible paths and then come up with the best action to take at the current time.

To be what we are, and to become what we are capable of becoming is the only end of life.

— Robert Louis Stevenson

Work Smarter — Not Harder or Longer

Sometimes goals are not inherently contradictory, and in this case, you can simply concentrate on achieving one goal at a time. If the goals are concurrent ones, such as being a top employee of a law firm, spending time with one’s children, and becoming an expert rock-climber, you can often delegate aspects of these various goals: Perhaps some of your duties at work can be delegated. 

Even if this means a slight cut in pay, it might be worth it if it allows you to continue a job while simultaneously being a good parent and pursuing an interest in rock climbing. As you can see, values clarification is a vitally important step towards reaching your goals. 

It may seem initially that taking a possible cut in pay is not a logical option, but if you value the time off to pursue your rock climbing interest and you can live more or less comfortably on less money, it may be worth it to you – only you can make that determination.

Finding time to work on your goals (or anything else for that matter) is simply a matter of organization and planning. You can “work smarter” by spending 15 to 30 minutes in the morning to plan your day. 

You will need to discipline yourself to stick to your plan. Allow time in between for interruptions that may be necessary to deal with, but do the best you can at sticking to your plan. I make a list of all the things I want to accomplish each day, then I cross each item off my list as it is completed. Because I was a single, working mother, getting my PhD took me five years. I put one-half hour a day into my program and in five years I was finished!

Anything worth doing is worth doing badly until you get it right.

— Les Brown

See the Bigger Picture

Goal conflict can also serve as an excuse for abandoning goals before they are complete. Exercises such as time management and creating a “life timeline” can be very helpful. Also, remember that you can do almost anything you want, but you cannot do everything you want, and certainly not all at the same time! You will need to prioritize and take things one at a time.

Think of your life as a bigger picture. While most people live to 80 years old now, it is predicted that soon most of us will live to 100 or more. There are many, many successful people who achieved great things after 90 years of age!

Next time the thought, “I wish I had….but I’m too old now,” comes into your head, just remember that age is not a deterrent as evidenced by many people who accomplished amazing things later in life. Add to this list some role models of your own.

At 99, David Eugene Ray of Tennessee learned to read.

At 91, Hulda Crooks climbed Mount Whitney, the highest mountain in the continental U.S.

At 97, Martin Miller of Indiana was working full time as a lobbyist for older citizens.

At age 51, when most people are planning their retirements, Ray Crock made his first hamburger. He grew this one stand into the world’s largest food chain.

At 99, the twin sisters Kin Narita and Gin Kanie recorded a hit single in Japan and starred in a TV commercial.

At 96, Kathrine Robinson Everett was practising law in North Carolina.

At 95, the choreographer Martha Graham prepared her modern dance troupe for its latest performance.

At 94, George Burns performed at Proctor’s Theater in Schenectady, NY– 63 years after he first played there.

At 93, Dame Judith Anderson, the actress, gave a one-hour benefit performance.

At 92, Paul Spangler completed his 14th marathon.

You have powers you never dreamed of.

You can do things you never thought you could do.

There are no limitations in what you can do except the limitations of your own mind.

— Darwin P. Kingsley

The Simple Reason Why Change is So Hard

There is an old saying, “The only guarantees in life are change, death and taxes.” The book Who Moved My Cheese? is about mice whose cheese has been moved to a new place in their maze. How the different mice go about finding their cheese demonstrates healthy vs. unhealthy coping styles. 

As we hurdle along at breakneck speed, we are now caught up in the most rapidly changing society in the history of mankind. We need to be able to cope with the changes – better yet – foresee the changes – and prepare for them before they come. 

While change can be frustrating, staying up with the changes is rewarding because, as the book says, “Having cheese makes you happy.”

What is your cheese? It may be more money, a new car, a new house, more time with your family, more time for your hobbies, more peace and balance, college education for your kids, etc. Whatever your cheese is, I want you to have it.

The simple reason why change is so hard is that we resist it. The definition of homeostasis is That which works to keep things the same, even when things aren’t very good. We are creatures of habit and prefer to stay in our routines. We are more comfortable when in our “comfort zone.” 

The only way to make your life better is to accept that it will require change and allow the change to come. You can choose to flow through the changes rather than fight them.

Sometimes life throws changes at us, and we are forced off course for a while. Setbacks and delays are to be expected and accepted as a part of life.

There may be times when you simply do not have the energy, stamina, or motivation to continue on your path. Some days you just won’t feel like exercising. Some days you just won’t feel like dieting. 

Some days you just won’t feel like studying, working, writing, whatever it is. Take care of yourself by giving yourself permission for some time off. You may even use “time off” as a reward for accomplishing an especially difficult task. You need to trust your instincts, and when your instincts are telling you it’s too much right now, then take a rest. This poem exemplifies this point.

Self Sabotage #4: “I Don’t Have the Resources”

Nice But Not Necessary

Tony Robbins says, “More than anything else, I believe it’s our decisions, not the conditions of our lives that determine our destiny.” Most of us can give lots of excuses as to why we cannot achieve our true goals. 

Most of these excuses centre on not having certain resources or advantages. Having resources is nice, but not necessary. We all know of people who had tremendous opportunity and resources to do whatever they wanted in life and chose not to take advantage of it. We also know of people who had very little opportunity and resources yet ended up achieving great things.

It is true that some people do have unfair advantages; be they genetic, educational, environmental, monetary, or familial. But in Simple Steps to Impossible Dreams, Steven Scott insists that people who achieve “impossible dreams” are generally not very different in resources from the average person:

  • They don’t have higher IQs;
  • They have not been better educated;
  • They do not have better backgrounds than you do.
  • They simply learned and utilized some specific techniques that enabled them to ‘dream big’ and then to achieve those dreams.

When you find yourself thinking about how others were blessed with advantages and you were not, remind yourself about the many people who, by making decisions about their lives and pursuing their goals, overcame the odds and achieved the extraordinary success that far exceeded their conditions.

Biography Magazine is filled with examples of people who have done great things with few resources and poor conditions.

How Role Models and Mentors Zoom You to the Top

Another great strategy is to go to a library or bookstore and research people who have succeeded at goals similar to your own. Read biographies, watch movies, listen to audio tapes, etc. Take notes on obstacles that they successfully overcame and on their strategies for achieving their goals. 

There are countless biographies and stories on famous and not so famous people who have achieved great things with very little.

A famous line from a poem states, “I grew taller today from walking through the trees.” In the same way, we can become like our role models just by learning about them, watching them, studying them, and listening to them. 

We can put ourselves in their shoes, so to speak, and try out what it would be like to walk in them. This also helps us to “de-pedastalize” them. We often put certain people up on a pedestal, thinking they are way above us, beyond our reach, superhuman – in another world. The reality is, they are just human beings like us. If you are interested in people for whom faith and belief were integral to success, a useful book to consider is One Who Believed: True Stories of Faith, by Robert B. Pamplin.

Hearing the personal histories of people who overcame hardship and proved wrong those who had given up on them can be an inspiring experience for many. The reason this strategy works so well is that people learn from imitation. It is helpful to have a model of a person (or several people) with whom one can identify — someone who has had similar struggles and has overcome them. 

One is thus led to think, if so-and-so could do it, why can’t I? The stories have the effect of making one identify with a community of survivors, of confident people who believed in themselves and achieved success because of their determination.

Personally, I have made a point to go see and hear at least one person each quarter who is doing what I want to be doing. I want to share their space. I want to share molecules with them. 

This way I feel I’m getting to know them on a more personal level. Seeing, hearing, and touching my mentors causes me to feel more connected to them, and decreases the imagined “distance” between us.

It makes me realize that I am not very different from them. When I visit my mentors I ask myself, “What kind of person would he/she have to be in order to do what he/she is doing?” I write down those attributes and ask myself if I could be that kind of person. If I feel I could, I try to step into their shoes.

Extraordinary People Who Have Done More With Less

Here are some examples to get you started. If you are intrigued by these anecdotes, you can do further research on the people whose lives and successes they recount.

Motivational author and speaker Tony Robbins contend that his own rags-to-riches story proves that success “requires internal commitment, not external credentials.” Robbins, who earns up to $60,000 a day conducting corporate seminars and $12 million or more a year selling motivational books and tapes, is a high school graduate with no formal training, no professional license, and no academic degree. For Robbins, confidence and determination are the crucial elements that enable success.

Albert Einstein was born with a misshapen head and an abnormally large body. He learned to talk so late that his parents feared he was mentally retarded. He was also so withdrawn that one governess named him “Father Bore.” Because he found schoolwork (especially memorization) tedious, he paid little attention. 

As a result, many of his teachers dismissed him as dimwitted. He dropped out of high school and failed a technical college entrance exam. When his interest was piqued by a home tutor, however, he proved to be a genius. His calling just happened to be higher mathematics. No one is successful at everything. A critical component of motivation and success is finding one’s niche, one’s gifts, one’s passion.

Michael Jordan, one of the best basketball players of all time, amazed us by breaking his own personal records over and over. He has said that what motivates him is the challenge. When Jordan hears a sportscaster (or a competitor), express doubts that he can rise to the occasion, or state that his team is not favoured to win, he simply hears it as a challenge, which serves to increase his motivation to prove himself capable and to prove his challengers wrong.

You may have encountered similar criticism from others: someone in your past told you that you couldn’t do it. Someone may have told you that you were a failure. You may have had negative labels placed on you by significant adults during your childhood. 

Jordan’s determination exemplifies the way in which these negative statements can be used as a positive motivational force if they are viewed as a challenge rather than as confirmation of unavoidable failure.

J.K. Rowling, a divorced mom with a young daughter, scribbled Harry Potter’s story in Edinburgh cafes while getting by on public assistance. When her first book was published in 1997, it was an almost instant success – and from there, Rowling’s fame and influence grew exponentially, her fortune now estimated at over $150 million. 

Her dream, she once said, was to “drive children back to reading books,” and she has succeeded in magical fashion.

Nothing in the world will take the place of persistence. Talent will not, genius will not, education will not. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. Press on.

— Calvin Coolidge

Exercise: I’m Confident I Can and Will Do It!

Fantasy Exercise: Imagine you are going to be honoured for an achievement you made in your chosen field. You will be given an award of “Successful Achievement” at a national convention. The convention hosts will introduce you and speak about you prior to your acceptance of your award.

Write their introduction and speech honouring you. Include all your prior accomplishments, training and experience. Write out all the qualities and attributes you would like them to mention. 

Write exactly what you did that you are being honoured for. What are your stars? What would you like them to be? What would you like to be remembered for? Just for a few minutes, be as great as you can be!

Those who are victorious plan effectively and change decisively. They are like a great river that maintains its course but adjusts its flow.

— Sun Tzu

Self-Sabotage #5: “I Have To Do It My Way”

Why Smart People Do Dumb Things

Why do smart/talented people sometimes do dumb things that cause them to self-destruct? Researchers have found some commonalities in people who have achieved a high level of success in a particular area of their lives, and who subsequently self-destructed or “crashed and burned” – failed school, got fired, got arrested, lost their families, went bankrupt, were impeached or otherwise fell from grace. 

It appears that the attitude of “having to do it my way” without regard for the impact on other people or allowing feedback or advice from others, often results in damaging consequences. 

Most of the problem seems to have to do with people who are over-determined to do things their own way.

This can arise out of selfishness, rebellion, elitism, extreme self-reliance or a more deep-seated emotional or psychological problem. Some experts believe that it has to do with the personal character of the person him/herself.

Some of the personal characteristics researchers have found that often lead to self-sabotage have to do with the following:

  • Self-centeredness
  • Arrogance
  • Denial
  • Isolation
  • Feeling “above reproach”
  • Impatience
  • Rebellion
  • Anger with aggression
  • Recklessness
  • Over-reaching
  • Over-risk taking
  • Impulsivity
  • Inability to ask for advice
  • Inability to ask for feedback
  • Inability to ask questions and listen
  • Lack of caring about others’ feelings
  • Insistence on doing everything themselves
  • Stubbornness

“Sir, what is the secret of your success?” a reporter asked a bank president.

“Two words.”

“And, sir, what are they?”

“Right decisions.”

“And how do you make the right decisions?”

“One word.”

“And, sir, what is it?”

“Experience.”

“And how do you get experience?”

“Two words.”

“And, sir, what are they?”

“Wrong decisions.”

Why People Kick a Gift Horse in the Mouth

Common self-sabotage for high achievers is “kicking a gift horse in the mouth.” An example of this was displayed on an episode of the popular television reality show, The Apprentice. 

The prize for the Project Manager on the winning team would be an exemption from being fired after the next task. One winning Project Manager decided to forfeit his “prize.” The result was that he was on the losing team on the next task, was brought into the board room and subsequently fired. 

One of the main reasons Donald Trump gave for firing this person was that “he shot himself in the foot by giving away his prize.”

Sometimes not being able to accept the “gifts and goodies” that are offered to us is a result of deep-seated guilt, insecurity and unworthiness. It goes back to the feeling of “I don’t deserve it.” Other times this behaviour is a result of arrogance and/or poor judgment. 

Sometimes it is a result of stubbornness and independence. Some people do not want anyone to “give” them anything; they want to do everything “on their own.” They do not want to “owe” anyone anything, or share the credit for their “winnings” with anyone. 

Sometimes it is a matter of rebellion. People who repeatedly “kick a gift horse in the mouth” or “shoot themselves in the foot” are in a great deal of denial. They can benefit from getting assistance in confronting their deeper emotional issues. The frustrating thing is, many of these people are even too rebellious to ask for help. 

People seldom improve when they have no other model but themselves to copy.

— Oliver Goldsmith

How Addictions and Compulsions Destroy You

Another very common self-sabotage among those who have risen to a high level of success is addictive/compulsive behaviours. It seems that high achievers and hard drivers have a high correlation to “taking a good thing too far.” 

This often shows up as alcoholism, drug addiction, addictive gambling, extreme sports, etc. The definition of addiction is anything that you do that you cannot stop on your own. Addictions lead to failure and destruction. 

If you feel addiction may be hindering your ability to achieve your goals, ask yourself these questions developed by John Knight, MD, Director of the Center for Adolescent Substance Abuse Research (and colleagues) at Children’s Hospital in Boston, MA.

Exercise: Rate Your Ability to Remain Successful

Rate the following 1 – 4. One means seldom, two means occasionally, three means often and four means frequently.

  • I ask others what they think before I make a major change in my life/business.
  • I think before I speak about the effect my words may have on others.
  • I am aware of what I am feeling.
  • I am flexible and can modify my plans when needed.
  • I know my strengths and weaknesses.
  • I often get information and/or advice from others more knowledgeable or skilled than I am.
  • I deal calmly with stress.
  • I believe other people can usually be counted on to get the job done.
  • Others say I understand and am sensitive to them.
  • Others say they feel they can be honest with me.
  • I deal effectively with last-minute changes.
  • I set measurable goals and complete tasks on time.
  • I resolve conflicts with others rather quickly.

I ask for feedback and evaluation from others about my work/skills. God gave us two ears but only one mouth. Some people say that’s because He wanted us to spend twice as much time listening as talking. Others claim it’s because He knew that listening was twice as hard.

— Anonymous

Self-Sabotage #6: “They Don’t Want Me To”

Validators vs. Invalidators

I cannot emphasize enough the power of role models, partners, mentors, sponsors, teachers and coaches. You need to surround yourself with a “team” of supporters. The word “team” represents a group of people who work together on one common goal. Your team is supporting your goal. Ask your teammates for support, validation and encouragement. If they aren’t giving that to you, ask why.

The social context in which goals are pursued has a direct effect on motivation. Failure to handle this one aspect can sabotage all your best efforts!

The presence of other people can either increase or decrease your desire to perform well. An example of how others can decrease motivation would be an employee who is constantly being watched and criticized by a boss while performing a task. 

This type of social feedback actually suppresses your ability to perform well, and will in fact cause you to err. Conversely, working on a project in a group with supportive people who all have the same goal and are depending upon each member of the group to do their part, can increase your ability to perform well.

BEWARE OF NEGATORS. The reason you don’t need to put a lid on a bucket of live crabs is that they pull each other back down into the pot. There are two types of people to hang out with. Supporters of negators.

Encouragers or suppressors. Validators or invalidators. Sometimes you don’t have a choice, if this person is a family member who is living with you, or if they are a boss or co-worker. When you are around an invalidator and don’t have a choice, you will need to at least confront it. Being around judgmental and critical people is not only exhausting but also anxiety-provoking.

Sometimes it is hard to recognize an invalidator because a truly good one can be very covert and underhanded. Sometimes they can trick you by giving you what I call a “slap-hug.” This is when they give you a compliment and a criticism at the same time. Often it is masked by humour and if confronted they will say “Oh, I was just kidding!”

The way you know if you are being invalidated is by how you feel. Have you ever felt bad around someone without knowing why? Have you ever felt confused by something someone said to you? Have you ever felt like you were walking on eggshells around a particular person? This is probably because this person has been overtly or covertly judgmental of you. You need to get away from judgmental people as much as possible.

They will suppress you and cause you a great deal of anxiety. This anxiety will block your motivation. Not only that, but if it goes too far, it will make you physically ill or cause you to get into accidents. Challenge the people in your life who are often critical. Ask them exactly what they mean. 

Usually, there is an element of truth in the criticism. Find the element of truth, agree to make necessary changes, then ask the person to let it go. Let people know that criticism is blocking your movement rather than furthering your action forward.

The people close to you are either bringing you up or bringing you down. You need to love yourself and value yourself enough that you will only allow positives into your life. We’ve all heard of “tough love” and how it relates to our relationships with people who are dragging us down. Yes, you need to get “tough love” with others on this issue. However, you also need to get used “tough love” with yourself, and follow these steps:

  1. Determine who is bringing you up and who is bringing you down
  2. Talk to those who often bring you down and ask for changes
  3. If changes are not being made after several requests, detach from this person as much as possible

No one can make you feel inferior without your permission.

— Eleanor Roosevelt

Why Others Sabotage Us and How to Handle Them

Are you living the life YOU really want, or the life OTHERS want for you? This is a question you must ask yourself often. Your failure to handle this one issue — sabotage by others — can sabotage your entire achievement process!

Being too accommodating to others will impede your motivation. You give your power over to others when your effort toward your goals is contingent upon the participation and acceptance of other important people in your life.

Moreover, it can be tempting to blame others for your own lack of movement, claiming that they will be jealous, angry, upset or overly needy if you succeed.

It deprives you of your own power and autonomy. If it is others who are to blame for your failures, then these same others control your successes. This is giving away your power to others, and it is completely self-sabotaging.

One of the greatest needs of human beings is that of approval from others. Fear of disapproval is one of the greatest self-sabotages. When you are blocked because of fear of what others will think, focusing on the goal of “developing my true self” becomes a compelling replacement for the fear of “others’ approval.” According to Wayne Dyer, a truly self-actualized person is one who is not controlled by the opinions of others.

A well-known marketing and business consultant says, “Run, don’t walk, I repeat RUN, DON’T WALK, from negative people!” But what if you cannot leave (or it is not in your overall best interest to leave) the people who are your greatest source of discouragement? 

 

James Prochaska discusses the idea of “enlisting” or “eliciting” helping relationships. He believes that helping relationships are of primary value to self-changers. He says most people in your life do want to help you but do not know how to help you! 

It is up to you to teach your family, friends, co-workers, roommates, etc. how they can be the most helpful. It is also helpful to find a good support person or support system aside from friends and family. Examples are personal coaches, counsellors, support groups, sponsors, mentors, teachers, pastors, etc.

On the other hand, you may have “supporters” who exude tremendous pressure on you to achieve a particular goal, which may or may not be your goal. For example, the well-meaning mother tells her daughter, “You know you really should go into interior design. You’re very artistic. You have a gift. You shouldn’t let it go to waste,” and so on. Pressure creates resistance. 

The more one is pressured to do something, the more difficult it seems to become. You need to set limits with people who pressure you, and again, teach them how to be supportive.

Now, here’s one thing you can definitely count on. Once you’ve made the decision to go after your dreams, you WILL get RESISTANCE from certain people in your life! This is because you going after your dreams (or making big changes) makes certain people feel uncomfortable. Why? One reason is that it reminds them that they have given up on their own dreams. They’ve joined the “I’ve given up on the club of my dreams,” and they want you to be in their club. You’ve heard that old saying, “Misery loves company.” 

They want to be where you are and want you to be where they are. They are afraid of separation from you.

Another reason certain people are uncomfortable with you pursuing your goals is that they are afraid of what it might do to you. They are afraid it might change you. They are afraid you might fail. They are afraid you might succeed.

Either way, some changes are going to happen, and they will have an effect on them. They do not want their “comfort zone” disturbed. This is the way they know you, and this is what is familiar, and this is what they want to continue to count on. Most people are afraid of change.

Having some empathy for others around us who will feel the effects of our changes is important. We need to enlist their support. We need to understand what they are feeling. We need to ask them what they are feeling.

We need to ask for their support. It may just be the extra push that gets us through our difficult times and keeps us on our path to success.

There is something about your success that even your best friend despises.

— Mark Twain

How to Handle Criticism Without Anguish

One thing is certain. The more successful you get the more people are going to criticize you. You need to be prepared for this criticism. Some criticism (constructive criticism) is good for us. It needs to be heeded for us to improve and grow. But what about criticism that is unwarranted? Some people just have a critical personality. 

It is important to be able to distinguish between warranted and unwarranted criticism. The best way to do this is to use evaluations and statistics.

Whenever I speak I always have at least one person give me critical comments on my evaluations. I honestly ask myself if this criticism was important, warranted, genuine, worth listening to. If I’m not sure, I will ask a trusted colleague who knows my work and I know will be honest with me. 

I may ask several people their opinion so I can get an idea of what a “consensus” would think. Sometimes I learn something and make appropriate changes and am grateful someone took the risk to criticize me. 

Other times, I determine that this person may have been competitive, jealous, angry, in a bad mood, overly irritable, or simply coming from a different reality. Either way, I don’t spend much time thinking about it. I get what I need to get, then move on.

I have learned that I cannot please all people all the time. I can please most people most of the time. This is my goal. Not perfection – but simply to have a positive effect on as many people as I can. I used to be very sensitive to criticism. I have learned to deal with my sensitivity by what psychologists call “individuating.” 

This is the realization that I am a separate person. I have independent thoughts, feelings, beliefs, opinions and ideas.

Sometimes I have to detach, deflect, de-personalize, de-sensitize. While I realize that as human beings, we are all connected and have powerful effects on each other, I have learned that sometimes I just have to be me.

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.

— Annie Dillard

Choose Your People Well

The power of a support system cannot be emphasized enough. One only has to watch the “Academy Awards” and the celebrities who have climbed to the top of their profession (no easy feat!), and listen to their acceptance speeches.

Rarely will they mention the difficulties, the processes, how they overcame their own sabotages and adversities — rather they spend their few moments thanking the people who supported them — and they all have them. Thanking people in advance for their support, validation and encouragement go a long way in helping you achieve your goals.

When highly successful people are asked how they achieved their success they will almost always say something like, “I couldn’t have done it without so-and-so.” Do not underestimate the power of role models, coaches and mentors. 

This is why it is so important to choose your people well. The people in your life are either lifting you up or bringing you down. People can help make you or break you. You cannot afford the luxury of negative, counter, or limiting people around you. You must do everything you can to find people who are “possibility thinkers” to surround yourself with. 

The people around you must support you, validate you and encourage you. I recently heard Angelina Jolie on a talk show say how important it is to her to have people in her life who “elevate” her. Find people with an attitude of “abundance” rather than an attitude of “deficit.”

Do not allow anyone to cause you to lower your reach.

— Lyn Kelley

Exercise: Who Supports Me? Your Personal Support Network!

  • List the people that form the core of your social environment:
  • Next to each of their names, write how much time you generally spend with them per week, and then next to that, rate them on how much they support you and contribute to your well-being (rate them on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the most supportive).
  • Sometimes, people give mixed messages. If this is the case with any of the people you listed above, write down how they do this.
  • Describe the ways in which your social network is lacking and then describe ways to improve it.

Exercise: Promote Your Dream

On a separate piece of paper, write a promotional ad (or story) for the completion of one of your mission statements. List all of the benefits your idea has to offer, how the completion of this mission will help others, who it will help, why it will help better than any other mission. Last, ask for assistance, help, support for the achievement of your goals.

Share this promo with three people you trust. Write down their responses.

Keep your mind on the great and splendid thing you would like to do; and then, as the days go gliding by, you will find yourself unconsciously seizing the opportunities that are required for the fulfilment of your desire. 

Picture in your mind the able, earnest, useful person you desire to be, and the thought that you hold is hourly transforming you into that particular individual you so admire.

— Elbert Hubbard

Self-Sabotage #7: “I’m Afraid”

Fear – The Biggest Obstacle

Fear. It is by far the number one saboteur of success. Most people fear the unknown. They fear change. They fear failure, success, disapproval, criticism, pain and struggle. Fear keeps people persisting in unhappy and dysfunctional situations because they know that changing the situation will lead to the unknown, which may be even more painful than what they are currently experiencing. 

Your fears may be rational or irrational. They need to be examined in the context of reality to determine how great the risk really is. You need to determine whether the changes you are considering are likely to increase your likelihood of a more satisfying, happier life.

Most fears that inhibit motivation stem from low self-esteem. In this regard, the fear of failure and the fear of success are integrally connected.

Atkinson’s Michigan Studies of Fear and Failure states that the tendency to avoid failure seems to dampen the effort to perform well. Consequently, fearing failure is counter-productive, since it essentially furthers the likelihood of failure. 

For some, the fear of failure is so great that it seems safer not to attempt anything at all. Often such people have experienced a failure that felt devastating and that they haven’t worked through. 

Attempting something new is thus viewed as taking the risk of repeating such a crushing disappointment. We should not let our fears hold us back from pursuing our hopes.

— John F. Kennedy

The One Change You Need to Make in Your Head

There are ways of mentally restructuring your thoughts to put fears into a new perspective. Try substituting the phrase “learning experience” for “failure.” For example, instead of saying, “I failed to win the tennis match,” try, “I learned that when playing this opponent, I should hit the ball to her backhand more often.” 

This will give you a new goal for the next time you play, rather than making you anxious and fearful of defeat before you even begin the match.

Another rephrasing technique is to look at “failure” as a particular event in which you did not achieve your desired outcome. Often, the danger of believing in failure is that people tend to generalize: “I failed, therefore I’m a failure.” If you put the failure into perspective as a single event, rather than a life sentence, you will not sabotage your future attempts to reach the goal.

Likewise, the purpose of using the phrase “learning experience” is to realize that what seems like a failure is not an end to everything, but part of a larger growth process. This concept can be similarly applied to success since ideally successes are not ending points but milestones en route to other successes. 

In a competitive society we can be brainwashed into thinking that everything is either a win or a loss. Right vs. wrong. One up vs. one down. Good vs. bad. We need to refrain from this type of good-bad “splitting” and transfer to more positive thoughts.

Rational or Irrational?

Fear is with us for a reason. It protects us from danger. However, many times our fears are overly intense and not based on reality. If you want to deal with an irrational fear, you may want to do research on the goals at which you fear you will fail. 

Through research, you can to some extent, determine the likelihood of success and assess whether your fears are founded. For instance, if you are afraid of applying to a particular graduate school, you can look at statistics on what percentage of applicants are accepted into the program, what percentage of those accepted complete the program, and what percentage of those that complete the program successfully find jobs.

Another way to assess your likelihood of success or failure is to ask ten people who know you well what they think of your ability to achieve a particular goal. If all or most of them say they think it is an unrealistic goal, this should tell you something. 

On the other hand, if all or most of them feel strongly that you could achieve this goal, it is likely they are correct. Having supportive, caring, familiar people help us to analyze our risk is a more objective method than determining our risk all by ourselves.

Like the fear of failure, the fear of criticism and the fear of change lead to inaction, since that is the safer route. Fear of success occurs when a person has such self-doubt that success brings with it overwhelming anxiety — a sense that the success is not deserved, that it cannot last, and that disaster is imminent.

Often in such cases, people will purposefully destroy the success so as to end the anxiety that accompanies it. This is about the feeling that known failure is better than the prolonged anticipation of failure. We know too well the scenario of those who rose to the top so rapidly, and so unprepared, that they self-medicated their anxiety with drugs and/or alcohol (often to their own demise).

The fears of failure and success are blocks that, with patience and time, can be confronted and overcome. Once success has been proven with respect to small, simple tasks, the individual’s confidence increases and the fear of failure diminishes because success has been proven. 

Take for example the reclusive, awkwardly shy teenage boy who gets his first job and suddenly begins to express himself more freely. The act of undertaking the pursuit of a goal can in itself build self-esteem, whether or not the goal itself is eventually achieved. 

You may be pleasantly surprised to see that as you become increasingly confident about your abilities, you become ready to take on larger challenges.

Psychological studies have shown that people may regret actions more than inactions at first, but over a longer period of time, they come to regret inactions more than actions. One study found that when elderly people were asked about their greatest lifetime regrets, 63 percent of the regrets were about inaction. 

Just knowing this statistic can help you overcome fears and doubts about your own action and feel more ready to take risks and pursue your goals.

At this point in my life, I’m very self-assured about what I want and where I’m going. I have this quote in my diary that I stick to: ‘I do not intend to tiptoe through life only to arrive safely at death.’

— Christina Aguilera

How Worry and Anxiety are Self-Sabotaging

Worry is self-defeating behaviour. It will take years off your life, will wreak havoc with your emotional health, and won’t solve your problems. In fact, it interferes with your ability to make good decisions. 

Change the word WORRIER to WARRIOR. Change the words “I’m a worrier” to “I’m a warrior!” Change the thought “I worry too much” to “I used to worry; now I give it over to my higher power.” Change the thought “I’m so worried that…” to “It’s so unlikely to happen, and I have no control over it anyway, that I’m choosing to let it go.”

Awfulizing and catastrophizing are the supreme self-sabotages. The great French philosopher Montaigne once wrote, “My life has been full of terrible misfortunes, most of which never happened.” Anxiety distorts normal worries and magnifies them. 

Anxiety can be a terrible curse or an enormous blessing. It can propel us into action or it can paralyze us from movement. It can save our lives or it can cause our demise. So, assess your anxiety level and use the following techniques to reduce your anxiety.

Tips for Handling Anxiety

  • Keep a journal. Each day, before going to sleep, write down 5 to 10 things for which you are grateful for that day.
  • Practice random anonymous acts of kindness.
  • Face your fears – they are not as terrible as you imagine.
  • Recognize how the anxiety keeps you immobilized.
  • Acknowledge your amazing potential and strive to maximize it every day.
  • Intend on being peaceful, relaxed and calm.
  • Ask yourself “what’s the worst that can happen?” Then ask “what are the chances of that happening?” If the chances are minimal, “fagetabottit!”
  • Recite the serenity prayer.
  • Let go and let God.
  • Breathe.

A ship in a safe harbour is safe, but that is not what a ship is built for.

— William Shedd

Exercise: What Has Stopped Me in the Past? Self-sabotage and Fear!

Sometimes we suffer from anxiety and sabotage our efforts at success because of hidden beliefs and fears that we did not even know we had. Self-pressure and perfectionism are common blockers of motivation and change. Write down 5 ways your fear has stopped you from pursuing your dreams.

Courage is not the absence of fear, rather the mastery of fear.

— Dan Rather

Exercise: Disputing Irrational Beliefs

Write down an irrational belief that you hold, such as “I must be absolutely sure before I make a decision”:

  • Can you think of any support for this idea?
  • What evidence is there to support the falseness of this idea?
  • What is the worst thing that could happen if you hold on to this idea?
  • What positive things could happen if you gave up this idea?
  • What are some alternative thoughts that might allow you to try more things and feel better about yourself?
  • When you say you fear death, you’re really saying that you fear you haven’t lived your true life. What is your true life? That which makes you happy.

— David Viscott

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