The theme of the month is self-sabotage. I’ve chosen this subject because I honestly don’t know many people who don’t suffer from this, at least occasionally. Let me share a story with you. Two friends, let’s call them Leslie and Celia, decided to go into business together. Celia needed help marketing herself and called on Leslie. Leslie had Celia sign the industry standard contract that all her clients sign and began her work. Things were going well and Celia was making more money than she ever had.
Then, out of the blue, a month into the contract, Celia decided that she didn’t like one clause in the contract and wanted to change things. Leslie asked if there had been a problem with how things were being handled. Celia answered that there were no problems, in fact Leslie was doing a great job. Celia wanted the contract changed because in the past there had been people who treated her unfairly.
At that point Leslie was deeply offended that Celia would think that she would ever be dishonest and Celia was furious that she wasn’t getting her way. A month of legal wrangling ensued and at the end all that was accomplished was the destruction of both a business relationship and a friendship.
Hearing this story all I could think was that this was a classic case of self-sabotage. Sometimes, even when we know that something is going really well, we decide to throw a wrench in the works for no reason other than our deep and, often, unconscious belief that we don’t deserve the good that has come our way.
While this example is a fairly obvious case of self-sabotage there are ways in which this pattern affects us that are subtle and often beneath our awareness. When we don’t apply for a job that we are interested in and qualified for we may be self-sabotaging. When we don’t take an action that will advance us in some way because we are constantly questioning ourselves, we may be self-sabotaging. When we put ourselves last as a regular habit, or decide that our dreams come are less important than those of others, we are self-sabotaging.
The why's of self-sabotage are as abundant as the ways in which we do it; and while the why is interesting I’m more interested in how to stop.
Because self-sabotage is often such a subtle pattern doing a little excavation of your past is a good place to begin as you work towards breaking the cycle. Taking the time to look back and identify times when self-sabotage reared its pesky head in your life can help you notice patterns. Being able to see that you are likely to self-sabotage in a specific area of your life will help you the next time a similar circumstance comes around.
In addition to doing a bit of excavation it can be really helpful to enlist the help of a trusted friend. It can be so hard to see what we are doing when we are doing it. We are in motion and, often, not taking the time to notice what is happening. But others do. How often have you noticed that a friend is taking an action that you can clearly see is not in their best interest? They, from the outside, can see what we can’t. They notice that we are letting an opportunity pass or taking actions that are guaranteed to undermine us in some way. They have a perspective that we lack. So talk with a friend and see if they will be your partner as you work to change that pattern. Perhaps you can do the same for them.
Whether you decide to go it alone or with support the steps that you want to take are the same. First you want to bring awareness to the challenge. Recognize that you are self-sabotaging or that you are in a position where you may be likely to do so based on past behavior. Once you are aware you can make choices as to how you will behave. You can say, “I notice that in the past when I’ve been in this situation I tend to walk away, ask for less than I’m entitled to” or whatever your particular pattern is. Then you can consciously make a different decision.
If you are collaborating with a friend you can do this for each other. You can notice the pattern and call attention to it. You can brainstorm ways of stopping the behavior in the moment and deal with the challenge in front of you. One challenge, one moment at a time.
These patterns don’t just disappear, they take work and time. Treat yourself with compassion as you dismantle behavior that was likely years in the making. Each time you notice that you are self-sabotaging is a victory. Each step you take towards ending that pattern is an accomplishment. The payoff is living a life where you are an advocate for yourself, not a saboteur.