Are you working hard to achieve your dreams but no matter how hard you try, you just don’t seem to be getting anywhere? It’s true that outside forces often prevent us from achieving specific targets in life but sometimes, we can be our own worst enemy too – holding ourselves back from the things we want, whether it’s due to fear of the unknown, self-doubt or an obsessive need for control.
In her book, Sabotage, Emma Gannon describes self-sabotage as ‘the voice that tells you to drink a bottle of wine the night before a big job interview because you “probably won’t get it anyway”. Self-sabotage is the voice telling you not to start that new side hustle because “it probably won’t be any good and other people would do it better.”’
You’re afraid to take risks
As human beings, we’re programmed to avoid risks and anything that could hurt us. While our brains play a vital role in protecting us from genuine danger, they sometimes cause us to behave in a way that sabotages our success.
Dr. Judy Ho is a psychologist who’s spent years studying self-sabotage. She writes: ‘To understand how self-sabotage is tied to our human existence, we need to take a look at the two simple principles that drive our survival: attaining rewards and avoiding threats. We are essentially programmed to strive for goals because achieving them makes us feel good. That dopamine rush is an incentive to repeat those behaviors.” However, Dr Ho warns, problems arise when, in an attempt to avoid risks, our brain intervenes and rewards us for avoiding a potential threat – even if that ‘threat’ may well have paid off if we’d just given it a try. She adds: ‘Self-sabotage occurs when your drive to reduce threats is higher than your drive to attain rewards.”
Next time you hold yourself back from completing certain tasks, question whether fear is standing in the way. Try to pin down precisely what it is you’re afraid of and ask yourself: ‘Are these thoughts I have facts or feelings?’ Often, feelings cloud our judgement, and we convince ourselves that something negative is bound to happen when, in reality, the outcome is far less likely to be as bad as we predict.
You value other people’s opinions more than you should
Argh! Telling you to stop caring what other people think of you is so much easier said than done. It’s human nature to let one bad comment ruin ten positive ones, but the sooner you let go of desperation to please others, the sooner you free yourself from the confines of other people’s expectations. Placing other people’s opinions of you too highly is a form of self-sabotage; you’ll never be able to achieve your dreams in life if you keep bending and shaping yourself to cater to every person who gives you feedback.
Natalie Lue describes herself as a ‘recovering people pleaser’ and talks about overcoming people-pleasing behaviour on her website, Baggage Reclaim. She writes: ‘Suppressing my needs, wants, expectations, feelings and opinions (people pleasing) are as natural to me as breathing. As a result, it’s become part of my daily self-care to be conscious, aware and present about where and why my inner pleaser is showing up. I’m learning to be cool with where I’m at instead of beating me up for not being ‘more successful’. Also, as I continue to grow, I refuse to feel guilty for growing.’
You let unimportant tasks take priority over the work you should be doing
Most of us are prone to procrastination from time to time, but if you constantly find yourself mindlessly scrolling through social media, organising your sock drawer, or washing your housemate’s dishes when you have work to do, you need to ask yourself why you’re standing in your way of success. What are you trying to avoid? Picture yourself 5 years from now and ask yourself where you’d like to be in life. Will the avoidance tactics help get you there or do you need to step out of your comfort zone, exercise some self-discipline and hold yourself accountable?
You’re a ‘perfectionist’
If you’re the type of person to cite ‘perfectionism’ as your greatest weakness during a job interview, this one’s for you. Whether you take hours to write one email, lie awake at night worrying that a colleague will critique your work, or you’re scared to send the first draft of your novel to your editor because there might be a few typos in it, perfectionism is holding you back and preventing you getting stuff done. Think of how many hours you’ve lost to trying to perfect your work and imagine what you could have done with that time instead.
Gary Vaynerchuk is a fierce opponent of perfectionism. He says: ‘I hate perfect. I think perfect is the worst. Perfect is based on insecurity. You’re scared of other people’s feedback on it so you’re aiming for some theoretical perfection. I don’t care what they think, thus there is no perfect.’
Remember that perfection means different things to different people and it’s impossible to please everyone. Rather than spending hours agonising over one small piece of work, set yourself a time limit to complete the task and submit ‘send’. Your creations ideally need to be free from any glaring errors, but perfect is impossible to define.
You’re scared of self-promotion
In Sabotage, Emma Gannon writes: ‘I have noticed that many creatives don’t necessarily struggle with creating their work but rather with the idea of promoting it to the world.’
There’s so much pressure to be humble and to let other people sing our praises that shouting about your achievements or simply saying the words ‘I’m really good at X, Y, Z’ in a job application can feel like bigheaded behaviour. But guess what? When you avoid self-promotion, this is an act of self-sabotage. Give yourself permission to show off every once in a while. A healthy dose of confidence can be charismatic and surprisingly endearing. More often than not, the people who insist you keep your achievements a secret are jealous and scared of what you’ll achieve when left to your own devices.