Are You Guilty of Self-Sabotage?

Last week I was a guest on a podcast, and the topic of discussion was self-sabotage. It may seem like an odd topic for leadership, but it’s not as counterintuitive as you may think, especially in the midst of a crisis.

Self-sabotage begins with things that the overwhelming majority of us have done at some point in our lives:

  • Procrastination
  • Self-medication (drugs, alcohol, overspending, over-exercising, overeating)
  • Creating unnecessary drama in our lives
  • Neglecting to say no
  • Failing to honor our boundaries

Any of these sound familiar? Chances are when you’ve turned to one of these things, you’ve been in a state of crisis. While this list isn’t something you want to strive for at any point in your life, it’s when these acts become a pattern of behavior that it speaks to the deeper issue of self-sabotage.

Why would we self-sabotage? In my experience, it often comes back to one of five reasons:

  • We want reality to align with our perceptions of ourselves. We work hard to align our behavior with our beliefs about ourselves. Messages from childhood can continue to follow us and impact our behavior in adulthood. One of the messages that I took out of my childhood was from my mother: “I love you, but I don’t like you.” I work overtime to be likable, to a fault, to be enough to overcome the message of unlikeability.
  • We value control. We tell ourselves it’s better to orchestrate our failure than open ourselves up to the possibility of failure entirely out of our control.
  • We fear what others think. As stakes in our lives get higher, we may fear a more prolonged fall to hit bottom. By laying back and not leaning in, we may be able to avoid others knowing who we believe we truly are.
  • We find comfort in familiarity. Have you ever wondered why people continue to pick the wrong partners over and over again? The familiarity can be comforting.
  • We get bored. Sometimes we create chaos – pick a fight, miss a deadline, overspend for a great deal – just to get a rush.

Acknowledging and understanding self-sabotage is valuable, but the goal is to stop it. Here are a few steps I’ve found can make a difference:

  1. Identify your core unmet need.
  2. Commit to taking radical responsibility for your life. If you aren’t responsible for your life, who is?
  3. Give up “Someday when…” thinking. (i.e., “Someday, when the kids are older, I will focus on myself.” “Someday when I get a better job, I will get my finances in order.”) Often, excuses or blame are at the root of “Someday when…” thinking. When you’re making excuses, you’re excusing yourself from exercising your creativity, strength, and power.
  4. Accept where you are today, rather than excusing, blaming, denying, and resisting your life. Acceptance is the gateway to change. What you resist, persists.

Every time we trample our truth of who we are and what we need to please others, we are diminishing our connection to ourselves and creating self-doubt (“Do I REALLY need to feel appreciated at work?” “Do I REALLY need my partner to listen to my concerns?”).

I want to leave you with a few questions to ponder:

  • If you are not where you want to be today in your life, what are you going to do about it?
  • If you aren’t responsible for your well being, who is?
  • If you are waiting for a better time to create needed change, what if it never comes?

I hope you’ll take some time to honestly reflect on these questions and learn to recognize the symptoms of self-sabotage the next time they appear.