The Peculiar Art of Self-Sabotage (and 3 Ways to Combat It)

September 25, 2018

It’s very peculiar.

You know what you need to do…

Be productive! Speak up for yourself! Stop saying “yes” to things you don’t want to do!

You’ve made promises to yourself…

Wake up early to go to the gym! Get organized once and for all! Be the best version of yourself every day!

(Or simply avoid snarfing down the entire box of Wheat Thins…)

The next thing you know, despite those goals, you’re hitting snooze, agreeing to volunteer to run the 2nd grade bake sale, avoiding difficult conversations with your boss, insisting the scale is lying and stuffing those Wheat Thins hand to mouth until the box is empty.


How did that happen?


Also, am I the only one with a Wheat Thins problem around here?

foot on banana peel The Peculiar Art of Self-Sabotage (and 3 Ways to Combat It)

Why do we keep slipping up?

We start our year with resolutions. We create weekly and monthly goals. We begin each day with the best of intentions.

And then we dismantle the plan bit by bit, sometimes without even realizing it.

Before we know it, we’re off the wagon, lying in a heap of our own self-doubt.

We blame the forces that seem to conspire against us, the hurdles we have to leap, the roadblocks in our way.

In doing so, we make excuses for our own behavior.

We’re so “Crazy Busy,” that we can’t get anything done at all…

We all know we should do better and yet… we don’t.

Isn’t it peculiar, how we do this?

Welcome, my friend, to the Peculiar Art of Self-Sabotage.

I am an expert in this particular art form. I eat healthy all day only to polish off that box of Wheat Thins at night. I’m a goal-setter but also a procrastinator. My book is written, but only in my head.  Go ahead, ask me for a copy. I’ve got lots to say about it.

For some answers to this peculiar self-defeating, goal-killing behavior, I sought an expert to ask  the question:

“Why do we keep getting in our own way?”

Kelley Biskupiak, a life and career coach and founder of Be You Bravely, sees in her practice plenty of self-sabotage stemming from self-doubt. It’s one of the reasons she and her business partner Susan Rietano Davey created Prepare to Launch U, an online course that prepares women personally and professionally for the return to work after taking time off to care for family. That particular career transition, she says, is fraught with self-doubt and self-sabotage.

Kelly B. The Peculiar Art of Self-Sabotage (and 3 Ways to Combat It)

Kelley Biskupiak, life and career coach

“We all have a default button,” Kelley says. “We default into habit. You have a big goal but then you don’t even start with step one. Because you don’t know what’s going to happen. So we seek out the familiar.”

Like those (bad) habits.

Kelley has identified three common ways women sabotage their best efforts:

Perfectionism, Pleasing and Hiding.

1. What’s So Great About Perfect?

“We’re perfectionistic because we fear being judged and don’t want to fail.”

I’ve written before about how Perfectionism is a Creativity Killer. It’s also a key ingredient of self-sabotage. Perfectionistic tendencies keep us from trying anything we can’t do… well… perfectly, resulting in those old – and unhelpful – habits.

So, how do we combat it?

“You have to get really good at being uncomfortable or you’ll miss opportunities left and right. You’ll miss the chance to get out of the stuck place you’re in,” Kelley advises.

She says it’s OK – even expected – to feel scared when you press send on the email or open yourself up for criticism and rejection. It means you’re growing. And it doesn’t feel good. Actually, it feels like…

“Growing feels like crap.”  (That’s right. Kelley said crap). “It’s why they call it growing pains!”

2. Who Are You Pleasing?

“There is something very dangerous happening when we stop being the visionaries of our own lives and try to be the visionaries for everyone around us.”

Do you always put someone else’s needs before your own? You may be a pleaser if you sacrifice your self-interests in favor of helping everyone else with theirs.

“It gives us the excuse of being so busy helping that we have no time for our own goals,” says Kelley. “Give yourself permission to be on your own priority list! You have to go after your priorities with complete and total intensity. So you have to stop saying yes to those things not on that list.”

Kelley also recommends sharing your goal with a support team.

“Don’t keep it a secret. Share your goal with the people who can support you in making it happen. You need cheerleaders in life. You have to ask.”

3. What Are You Hiding From?

“We sabotage ourselves by not owning our own goal.”

We hide when we fly under the radar, push off our goals and pretend our dreams don’t matter. Kelley sees clients all the time who give up too early because the task at hand is “hard.”

“It’s the uncertainty of the outcome,” she says. “People would rather stay safe because getting out there is scary. Trying is scary.” 

Instead, we find unproductive and unhealthy ways to spend our time.

“We numb ourselves in other ways. We eat too much, drink too much, binge watch. We keep ourselves in a cocooned safe place,” Kelley explains.

She advises women to push through the tendency to avoid challenges. “Step into the power of what that goal is. Stand into those shoes. Own the part.”

So, what’s the part you want to play? A bit player in someone else’s plot or a starring role in a story of your own design?

Would you rather stay with your bad habits or build better ones that can take you someplace new?

The outcome is only uncertain because you haven’t been there yet.

Don’t stop before you’ve started. And don’t lose sight of the goal.

“Get super clear about your values, your strengths and your voice,” Kelley encourages.

That’s an art. And there’s nothing peculiar about that.

How about you? How and when have you self-sabotaged your best efforts? What happened?

Valerie Gordon is the founder of Commander-in-She, a career and communications strategy firm helping women at all levels and in all businesses with the storytelling skills to be successful at work.

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