We’ve all been told at some point that we’re our own worst enemy. It may have been when we did something that was very clearly against our own self-interest, hesitated too long before making an important decision or simply stopped doing something that we really enjoyed. These are all things that can all be seen as self-sabotaging, the cycle of behaviour that stops us achieving our goals lowers our self-confidence and leaves us feeling tired and frustrated.
Self-sabotage can affect nearly every aspect of our life, including relationships, career aspirations and personal goals such as weight loss. There are many reasons why we may self-sabotage, but on the whole it is generated from a lack of self-belief or self-worth. The most easily recognised traits of self-sabotage are procrastination, lack of motivation, overindulgence and on-going conflict within work or personal relationships.
Some people have patterns of behaviour that create self-sabotage, for instance the golfer who arrive too late to warm-up properly before the game. This gives him an excuse to be average but he can listen to people praising him for having ‘tried so hard’. Trying hard is a popular phrase used by people to indicate effort without results so the next time someone promises to ‘try’ to do something and fails, look out for the excuse that, ‘OK I didn’t succeed, but look at how hard I tried’. Trying is code for self-sabotage.
Putting self-imposed limits on potential is another self-sabotaging trait. People apply for a job, go to the interview and nail it but then purposely ‘blow’ the next stage. They cannot bear the reality that they might expose themselves to risk so self-sabotage means they can put their failure down to ‘bad luck’ or how the interviewer ‘looked at me in an odd way’ and never take accountability for themselves. Other people can have a genuine ‘fear of success’, which is often linked to ‘Imposter syndrome’. This can result in people who deliberately ‘fail’ a task so they can ‘succeed’ in their own mind in their desire not to succeed – strange but understandable if you accept that a person’s self image is more important than reality.
There are a number of Cognitive Distortions that allow people to ‘grab failure from the jaws of success’. The most challenging is the need to be perfect which can often mean that someone may destroy their work so they submit nothing at all rather than something that does not meet their own spurious definition of what ‘perfect’ might be. They may ‘overwork’ a task and reduce their own productivity which allows them to build a narrative of how ‘no-one tries as hard as me’ or that no one ‘cares as much as them’.
However it appears, self-sabotage gives us the feeling that we are protecting ourselves from disappointment when really we’re just stopping ourselves reaching our potential. By understanding and recognising our self-sabotaging ways, we can use our resilience to help replace negative thoughts with positive ones that build confidence and self-belief, which in turn will enhance performance.